Introduction

A song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

 

In Psalm 121 the word »shamar« is used six times in eight verses. The word is multilayered and means to shelter, protect and observe (honour) someone or something.

Shaken by the crisis of the Corona virus, many people are yearning to be shelter, protect and observed (seen). We take up this desire in the title »May you be sheltered«. Not just as something we wish to have for ourselves, but also as something we are willing to serve. In 1908 a group was formed in Palestine under the name »HaShomer«.This group served their neighbours as guardians and keepers of the Jewish settlements that were just being founded. They honoured them and protected them from attacks from those around them who did not wish to share the land with them.

Already in the first days of this crisis we have heard tales of panic buying and Corona Parties. In some people there is the dominant impulse of »every man or woman for him or herself« and »save yourself if you can«. As people of faith and the People of God we must set a sign against this mentality. »May you be sheltered!« should be our call in this time. Let us protect and keep one another. That is what this column wishes to serve.

As God asked Cain, »Where is Abel your brother?« He said, »I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper (shamar)?« (Gen 4,9) Our answer should be that we will be »HaShomer« for our brothers and sisters.

May you be sheltered!

 

Vallendar, March 21rst, 2020

Erik Riechers SAC

Rosemarie Monnerjahn

 

* Under November 2nd, you will find our further thoughts regarding »Breath for the long march«.

Nächster Abschnitt

Living with the Resurrection

 

To really hear the message of the Resurrection, the messages of the Risen One in the comprehensive and biblical sense of the word takes time. So it is good and beneficial that the Easter season lasts so long, because to become truly human we need time and practice.

Simply perceiving the messages is not enough here either. We must - like the disciples once did - take in what we have experienced and heard. What all Easter stories have in common is that Jesus comes quite unexpectedly, into very different everyday situations: at the tomb and on the way, behind closed doors and while fishing at the lake. Gradually, faith and confidence unfold in his own people: he is alive. He is with us. The ending of Matthew’s Gospel tells us, » And behold, I am with you all the days, until the completion of the age«. Trusting this is the exercise of the Easter season, back then as now. He also calls us by name. We, too, meet him in the wounds and in the breaking of the bread. We, too, hear him when he promises peace and asks us for our love. He also sends us. In this way we can grow into the third step of biblical listening after perceiving and receiving: taking it with us into life.

Then life as Easter people can truly begin, a way of life that is shaped and permeated by what we have heard. 

A prayer of Pope Francis may accompany us on the way to live Easter »further« :

 

All-powerful God,

you are present in the whole universe

 and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness

all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

 

Fill us with peace,

that we may live as brothers and sisters,

harming no one.

 

Teach us to recognize

that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

 

We thank you for being with us each day.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 23rd, 2021

 

 

Easter in Desert Times - Invitation to Prayer

 

Sometimes we barely notice Easter because we are so distracted.

Sometimes we breathe a sigh of relief for a day or two, but then other issues, in their » importance « push themselves to the fore in such a way that the tender impulses of life are stifled.

Sometimes the desert within us is so strong that we are afraid to fully enter into life for fear of falling into the trap of a mirage.

Let us try to perceive this Here of our life as well and, standing honestly in it, entrust ourselves prayerfully to the Risen Lord:

 

In the desert of our hearts

you, Hidden One, call out to each and every one of us:

Have no fear, come!

And: Follow me!

Let yourself be seized by the fire of my love.

This fire never says: It is enough.

Even with the thorns of our heart

you light a fire;

even the stones within us, the barren places,

you make glow.

In the midst of the desert of our heart

you forge a path for yourself,

let us glimpse your presence.

 

Risen One, the breath

of your presence creates us anew –

day by day.

Out of petrified blocks of ice you form

us into human beings.

Your forgiveness, fresh as on the first day,

creates us anew.

While yet in the darkness of our guilt,

in the prison of our habits

- your face: human, merciful,

and invigorating.          

               Markus Grünling in: Gegen die Schwerkraft des Todes 2008  

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 21st, 2021

 

 

Only gradually

 

Today is the 16th day of the message »Jesus lives!«

 

The pandemic dominates the headlines – for such a long time!

»On the side«, so many other needs for so many of us!

 

Is it any wonder that we have grown timid?

 

                 Much in our lives is difficult, gloomy, uncertain . . .

 

How was it once a long time ago for those who had bound their lives completely to their Master, Jesus, and were completely distraught after the darkness of death? Two departed, many shut themselves in, it is also said that some went back to their old work in resignation. Fear and confusion prevailed.

 

                 How well we understand this!

 

I found these lines - I do not know their source - but they speak so honestly of the path that the resurrection takes in our hearts.

 

»Only gradually my heart learns your jubilation.

Too powerful are the images of death for me.

I know too much of the torments of the earth

and too little of the one who overcame them.«

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 19th,  2021

 

 

3rd Sunday of Easter 2021                          Luke 24, 35–48

 

Sometimes the urgency of our hunger blinds

us to the fact that we are already at the feast.

To accept this can change everything; we

are always home, never exiled.

- John O'Donohue

 

The Gospel according to Luke tells the story hidden in John O’Donohue’s words. The urgency of their hunger blinds the disciples to the fact that everything they hunger for is right before their eyes. Their reaction? »They were frightened and greatly afraid, for they thought they saw a ghost.«

This is the way of things when we are too fixated on the urgency of our hunger. If, like the disciples, we remain only in the role of spectator, then the hungers that frighten and scare us will not give way. Then makes no difference how the resurrection breaks into our lives or where it appears in our lives, even if we are already at the feast.

In a conversation, a man tells his companion all the longing and hope he carries within himself regarding his future. Then he says »I want to live. This is my decision.« His companion says to him, »No, these are merely your considerations. Decisions produce concrete actions and signs, not just drastic new insights into your problem, which you don't actually want to address. Since you want to postpone the challenges of decision-making, you hide behind your considerations, which give you the warm and comforting feeling that you are doing something, yet all the while you do not have to make any investment whatsoever." The man nods while listening to his companion and then days to him, "I hear what you are saying. I will give it due consideration.«

The risen Lord comes to us with the offer of a new life, not a ready-made solution to the urgency of our hunger. But human beings are not obligated or compelled to accept the offers of God. We can also reject this offer of new life.

Paschal life consists of five clear steps: death, resurrection, the 40 days, ascension and Pentecost. Each of these steps also has a deep meaning for people who want to live paschally.

Death means the loss of life. In this step we must mourn and honour our losses.

Resurrection is the offer of a new life.

The forty days are the time of maturation, reflection and exercise, so that we gradually choose the new life.

Ascension is the exercise of letting go of the old life so that we can engage in the new life.

And Pentecost is the reception of a new spirit.

The Lord brings his offer of new life to those places where people are too concerned with the urgency of their hunger, where they have become too passive and reserved in shaping their lives. Hand in hand with this offer, however, comes the core question: How much life do you want to dare? For only dared life demands concrete signs and steps from us. Only when we dare more life do we have to master it and shape it. The question "How much life do you want to dare?" is a frontal attack on an unlived life. 

In this biblical story, the concrete signs and steps that Jesus dares to take for the sake of the new life are clear: encounter, touch and conversation.

Even if the disciples think they see a ghost, Jesus is not a ghost. The spirit that fills him is tangible and touchable, because encounter, touch and conversation make the Spirit of God tangible.

»Touch me and understand«: Here we encounter again the old biblical principle of life. First life, then understanding. First let yourself be grasped, then grasp what is happening.

»Touch me and understand: No spirit has flesh and bones, as you see it with me.« What has flesh has substance, there is something to it. And the bones form a skeleton in us, a supporting structure for the substance of our flesh. Analyses of the life we may, under certain conditions, possibly, one day, at an appropriate time, perhaps implement offer us neither a supporting structure nor the substance we need to act. A life that is lived has flesh and bones, as we see in Jesus. The primary place where tradition and experience meet is the flesh and bones of every human being. Thus, encounter, touch and conversation make the Spirit of God tangible.

»Look at my hands and my feet...Touch me and understand... With these words he showed them his hands and feet.« Here the story employs grand images to speak truth to us: an authentic, resurrected life has hands and feet. In the image of the hand, it tells us: here is life that can tackle, that can act and create. In the image of the foot it shows us:

Here is life that is mobile, accompanying, on the way.

And then Jesus eats. »Do you have anything to eat here? They gave him a piece of fried fish; he took it and ate it before their eyes.« In this image of the fish and the eating, another aspect of authentic life in the resurrection is unveiled. What Jesus is demonstrating to his friends is essential: What is an essential part of your life also belongs to my life. Every life, including resurrected life, needs to be nourished.

Fish is eaten. Fish is something that can serve and nourish the lives of hungry people, but only if they are willing to do the hard work of gathering these fish out of dark waters and hidden depths and bring them up to the place where they live and work. Fish, as we know, do not lie on the surface of the water and they certainly do not jump into the boat by themselves.

However, this fish is not raw, but fried. It has been processed and prepared so that it can nourish and strengthen life. Here, too, we are expected to invest in our lives and make a contribution. If they do not jump into the boat of their own accord, fish certainly do not jump into our frying pans.

These are the powerful images of this resurrection story. They will be ignored to our peril as long as we do not value the Bible for both its images and its thoughts. These stories are not strangers smuggled into human life, but the inevitable companions of a people bound by birth and death. They tell us: everywhere there is spirit and life deep within: be it in people, in dreams, in stories, in songs. They have life in them. But we will have to meet, touch and discuss this life. It will, like fish, have to be brought out of depths and shaped if it is to be food for us for a lifelong journey. We cannot live the life of the resurrection as passive bystanders of our own existence.

How much life will we dare? If it is only spirit, then everything remains vague, beige und bloodless and without sharp contours. That will never lead to a life that is dared, because it asks absolutely nothing of us: no attitude to be taken, no action to be risked and no decision to be made. The spirit that is in Jesus spurs us to dare to live more. How far may our lives rise? How much life are we willing to dare?

The resurrection is God's offer of new life. Yet, the nature and challenge of all offers is that they are invitations. As pleasant as it is to receive them, but they are completely worthless until we choose to accept them.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, April 18th, 2021

 

 

Against the gravitational pull of death

 

If we want to look further and deeper at the Easter message and, above all, live it, then we are challenged to take it with us into all the heaviness that we encounter and carry. We cannot make light of it, we cannot avoid it, and we do not want to suppress it.

But how can we learn to live with it?

By taking the biblical experience of Easter seriously.

Let us allow another voice to have its say on this:

 

One stands up.

Against the gravitational pull of death,

he rises from death.

Takes from death its heaviness

once and for all.

 

Radiantly bright are now the prospects.

A spark of hope for the healed world:

Beyond death: Life!

 

Life beyond death -

new perspectives open up

for life here and now!

 

Very heavy burden remains burden,

immeasurable suffering remains suffering

and death remains in the world.

But burden and suffering and death do not have the last word.

The last word is reserved for another.

And he answers

the gravitational pull of death

with the explosive force of life.

    Ursula Schauber from: Ibid. (Pub.), Gegen die Schwerkraft des Todes. Fastenzeit und Ostern, 2008

 

Death encounters us in many facets of our lives and makes our progress difficult.

Let us take it for what it is: a passage unto more life.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 16th, 2021

 

 

We should not abandon one another

 

Am ersten Tag der Woche kam Maria von Magdala frühmorgens, als es noch dunkel war, zum Grab und sah, dass der Stein vom Grab weggenommen war. Da lief sie schnell zu Simon Petrus und dem anderen Jünger, den Jesus liebte, und sagte zu ihnen: Sie haben den Herrn aus dem Grab weggenommen und wir wissen nicht, wohin sie ihn gelegt haben. Da gingen Petrus und der andere Jünger hinaus und kamen zum Grab; sie liefen beide zusammen, aber weil der andere Jünger schneller war als Petrus, kam er als Erster ans Grab.

Joh 20, 1-4

What is Mary's first reaction after seeing the stone rolled away from the tomb? She returns to her companions with her message. She comes to them with everything that is inside her: with the emotions that this experience has aroused, with the fears that it has provoked, with the unspoken hopes that it has awakened. She has come back and created a place of sharing, a place of encounter. But unfortunately it does not become a place of dialogue, of conversation.

Why not? Because on the part of the disciples there is no response to her experience. No one asks about what she has experienced, how she feels and how she is doing with all this. They abandon her. They leave her alone with everything that is in her.

Have you ever returned from a great vacation, a moving celebration or a lecture and wanted to tell others about what had fulfilled you? Have you ever seen a moving movie or read an inspiring book and wanted to share it with others? What happens when no one really listens to you? What happens when there is no echo to your experience, only silent disinterest?  You will feel abandoned. Disinterest in our interests is always perceived as disinterest in our person.

Peter and John have what they need for the time being and then they set out to pursue their own agenda. They satisfy their curiosity, their hunger for knowledge, but they do so by sacrificing a friend and companion.

The search for life and truth cannot be authentic if we sacrifice other people to achieve our goals. Sadly, however, this is often the experience with unhealthy religious agendas that make us so myopic and put blinders on us, so that we overlook or, worse, ignore God's people, especially those who suffer. We see only what we need of the religious experience we seek, and then we are willing to sacrifice others to get it.

This is exactly the opposite of the way the resurrected love lives and acts.  Jesus, the resurrected one, refuses to leave everyone else behind. Jesus always returns to us. He appears and looks for us where we are, in the conditions in which we live, in the situations and experiences that have us in their grip. This is the love of Jesus and this is the love that the disciples miss: a love that refuses to seek its own fulfillment at the expense of others. This is the love they seek, but not the love they emulate. They leave Mary behind.

We can become so consumed by our religious ideals that we forget the priority of human life in the loving heart of God. Then liturgical purity becomes more important than the participants in a worship service. There is an obsession with regulating the life of faith that often ignores the life of believers.

This is what the disciples are doing. They ignore the life of this believing woman. Without her, they wouldn't have even heard the story that sets her in motion. But they leave her behind. And they do it twice.

After they had explored the empty grave and what was of interest to them, they go home. Mary, who followed them back to the grave on her own, they leave alone with her tears.

Leaving people alone in their grief is not the way of the Risen One. Let where he appears in resurrection stories. He is ever to be found where his disciples are suffering, whether from anxiety, depression, grief, doubt or hopelessness.

This is often the reproach to the hierarchical church: You have abandoned us in our grief and vulnerability. Many people in difficult relationships have experienced that the official church would rather condemn them than accompany them. In example after example, victims of abuse have not been respected and accompanied because ministers wanted to avoid the scandal that the recognition of their pain brings with it.

A few weeks ago, we in Germany witnessed the publication of the abuse report for the Archdiocese of Cologne. Immediately afterwards, an auxiliary bishop was relieved of his duties. Afterwards he wrote: »I am even more ashamed to have paid too little attention to how wounded people feel, what they need and how the church must encounter them. This is a failure as a pastor and as a human being.« If an auxiliary bishop can only say that after he has been exposed in the abuse scandal, then we have to ask: Where have you been all these years? What have you been so busy with that you don't know what wounded people feel and need? Certainly not with these people. He had time for the church career and was always concerned about the people who could promote him instead of caring about the people who needed his protection.  His concern for the cult of personality around Cardinal Meisner, and the cultivated denunciation of all those who did not observe every liturgical rule has been willful, because he did not make sure that the rules of canon law were observed as soon as it was about the most frail people.  When these become the concerns of shepherds, then there is little time for the care for the souls of the people. This is how people are born who end up leaving Mary of Magdala crying at the tomb.

John draws a strong contrast between Mary and the disciples. In her grief, 1. she thinks of the others,  2. she returns to them (does not leave them alone), 3. she tells them her story (and thus something that could also strengthen their life in a time of grief) and 4. she takes detours into account for the life of others (she could also stay in the garden to pursue her interests and continue her way).

The disciples, on the other hand, 1. think only of themselves and leave Mary behind, 2. do not seek her out, 3. tell her nothing of their story (and thus share nothing that could strengthen Mary's life in a time of grief) and 4. simply go home when they are done. Here there are detours and no one waits for Mary to be ready.

A healthy Easter spirituality must ask the question, how will we seek and encounter the Risen Lord? If we want to celebrate Easter »further«, it is certainly not by abandoning one another.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, April 14th, 2021

 

 

»Further« Celebrating Easter

 

Liturgically, we celebrate the Paschal Mystery on all Sundays until Pentecost. But in our consciousness, Easter fades into the background at the latest with White Sunday, that is, after one week. What a pity!

We would like to counteract this and to further celebrate Easter with you - on the one hand temporally, on the other hand also in forms and through the voices of other people. In order to broaden our view and our hearts, we always let others have their say. Last week it was Willi Bruners. Today Susanne Ruschmann from Freiburg speaks to us about what happened and happens in the early morning:

When,

in the dark of the morning

you go to the graves of life

more night than dawning day

in your heart

 

when your sorrow does not want to end

about everything you carried to the grave

your hopes, plans, failed love

your living longing that died in the midst of life

the meaning of your present, which you believed would carry you

into the blossoming future and beyond the future

 

then remember

that once before

one who was hope and meaning for so many

mocked, failed, robbed of life

was buried in the abyss of death.

 

And call to mind

that those who buried him, those who wept for him

did not experience his rebirth

no return to life, as if nothing had happened.

Everything remained true: the hope that died, the sorrow, the death.

When they saw him, he was still bearing his wounds.

And yet they knew:

now a new beginning blossoms for us

as there never was one before

because he, who is life itself

awakens new life

from the depth of the grave and the night of death.

 

Then set out

in the early light of your Easter day

and seek life.

But do not look for it in the grave.

It encounters you different and new

strangely at first,

marked and tender

in the midst of everyday life.

In working, loving

in hoping and mourning, in failing and starting,

and in the midst of you.

Susanne Ruschmann, from: Ibid.  (Hg.), Es wird in aller Frühe sein. Fastenzeit und Ostern, 2009 

  

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 12th, 2021

 

 

No Doors can bar him

 

2nd Sunday of Easter 2021                          John 20, 19-31

 

»On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them…«

»Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them…«

 

Jesus comes even when the doors are locked. John repeats this sentence twice. With such a taciturn narrator, this is always a sign that something important is at stake. Why? Because when something is only said once, we only have one opportunity to understand it and put it into practice.

But what is repeated gives us more than one chance to absorb and digest what is said. That is why John emphasizes twice that the doors were closed. Thus, he signals in advance that these closed doors play a significant role both times. When it comes to the closed doors of our personal lives, we will also need a God who makes more than one attempt to penetrate through them.

Every time I hear this story, an image of my childhood comes back to me. When I was very small, a nun gave me a holy picture with the subtitle: Only you can open the door. In the picture there was a man. He was sitting behind a closed door, cringing, paralyzed by fear and inner darkness. Outside, in front of this door, stood Jesus. With one hand he holds a lantern, with the other he knocks on the door. And here you had to look very carefully at the picture, because only then do you notice that the door has only one knob on the inside. Jesus cannot enter, except if that the man first unlocks the door from the inside. And so the subtitle: Only you can open the door.

Part of the image reflects the experience of the Gospel while also reflecting an all too common experience of our lives. We often live behind closed doors. We feel constricted and enclosed. But even if we have shut these doors ourselves, that does not mean that we are always able to open them again on our own. When then the message resounds »Only you can open the door«, it sounds like mockery to us.

Today's Gospel offers us an alternative story. After Jesus' resurrection, he appears to the disciples who, as John describes it, »were gathered in a room«, full of fear, behind closed doors. Jesus comes right through the closed doors, stands in the midst of their fears, and breathes peace upon them. A week later, he does it again. »Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked.«

As cute as the holy picture of my childhood was, it was not harmless. Because it cannot answer a question that John clearly answers. What if we cannot open the door of our fears? Such life situations happen occasionally. These days, people told me about a woman who took her own life. Their narration was filled with consternation and deep sadness, but also a helplessness. Why couldn't we reach her? Why couldn't we appear behind these closed doors of her heart to do something, to make a difference? Indeed, here we encounter the limits of our human ability. And where we come up against this limitation we will hear the words Jesus spoke to Peter when he reached the end of his imagination of what is possible: But nothing is impossible for God.

However, we should not consider ourselves immune to such hours. Sometimes we, too, are too afraid to open the doors. Other times we are paralyzed by worry. Sometimes we just can't find or muster the strength to get up and open the doors again.

What then? Does that mean that Jesus then shrugs his shoulders and walks away simply because we couldn't open the door? Should our moments of weakness, darkness, heaviness and paralysis be able to determine the places God may enter?

The biblical story denies such an idea quite energetically, and it does so twice. Because in both instances Jesus comes to us behind closed doors. Did we really imagine anything other than this from the Jesus who shatters lock and stone? If neither the wood of the cross could hold him, but the rock-sealed tomb was able to imprison him, what chance do doors closed by human hands have, be they in our homes or in our hearts?

When we are so paralyzed by fear and darkness that we can no longer help ourselves, when we come to the moment when we can no longer open the door to let in light and life, God still comes through closed doors.

God comes through all the locked doors of our lives, stands in the middle of our fears and breathes peace upon us. There are doors that we have personally locked and bolted. The love of God does not stand helplessly in front of such closed doors. Precisely because he appears even behind closed doors, we realize that there can be no God-less, no God-empty spaces.

This experience can change our lives. A woman wrote to me these days, »I discovered that I have heartache with my personal God. And somehow, despite pain, it was liberating for me. Because in this way I realized for the first time in my life, and continue to feel, that there are no godless spaces. This is completely new for me. A whole new experience.«

This does not mean that everything immediately becomes good, that all worry gives way and only lightness reigns within us. For, as John so aptly tells us, after Jesus had already once come behind closed doors to relieve his people's fears, it is only eight days later that we hear that the doors are closed again. We need more than one chance to get many things done in life. We are very fortunate that the Lord who writes twice for us on stone tablets, the God who writes twice for us in the dust, is also the Lord who comes twice behind closed doors.

And yet we should not misunderstand the message. Here John speaks comfort to us. For from where does the voice of Jesus come that would like to speak to us again? In the picture, it comes from outside the house. There is a door between a man and Jesus. And this voice invites us to open the door.

In John, the voice comes from inside the house. The Jesus who would love to talk to us stands in the space of our fears. No door stands between our timidity and his willingness, between our weakness and his strength. This is true consolation, because this twofold narrative reminds us that all these things are given space and place and time in the spaces of our encounters with Jesus. His voice is beside us, where we are. This voice comes into the spaces where we are pressed, constricted and trapped.

This resurrection story also tells us of the disciples' experience of Jesus' ongoing yet transformed presence. And today we hear twice that this presence of the Risen One is an accompanying presence, ready to enter all our spaces, whether we have already cleaned them up or not. The presence of Jesus opens doors for us from the inside, so that we can go out into life again.

Here is one who is present and near, entering the rooms of our lives. We humans have plenty of fear of contact. Jesus does not share any of these fears.

Of course, we still have all of our freedoms behind these doors. We can keep them closed. We can continue to stay there. There are doors that we personally keep locked and bolted. But we should never, ever underestimate God’s freedom. The love of God does not stand helplessly before such locked doors. For, there are no God-less, no God-empty rooms. Although we human beings can be quite stubborn, compared to the stubbornness of God, we are all just amateurs. God does not come only once.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, April 11th, 2021

 

 

If only someone could do that

 

Many would like to live like a butterfly; life should feel easy, be simply beautiful, perhaps cozy, and preferably sociable - Where can we eat well, what shall we wear? Stories of suffering? I don't want to hear about it! It's bad enough that we have not been able to travel for so long! Are you worried? Treat yourself to something nice, distract yourself! Pain? There's a cure for that! Scars from old wounds? Everything is covered up, concealed, and smoothed over with words.

But life is not only easy - neither in the larger world nor in the smaller one and in no single human life. Hunger, flight, and wars are realities just like illness, loss, separation and pain. Why are we afraid to accept these realities as well as the sunny sides of life?

Why do we find it so difficult to look at the dark and to say ‘yes’ to injuries and scarring,  to neither deny nor to condemn them?

Is the fact that we follow a Master who has lived and suffered through life in all its breadth, covering up nothing, glossing over nothing, not precisely the extraordinary thing about our faith? The scars are the very sign of the Risen Lord. They belong to him just as every suffering we go through belongs to us. If we understand this, we do not need a permanent religious elation, which pretends that we only have to believe correctly and everything is easy. Nor do we need to maintain a superficially light façade, for fear that the heaviness will take something away from life. If we could accept our own wounds, then we would not ignore and marginalize all those people who suffer, because their pain reminds us of our own pain.

The peace of Easter could dwell in our hearts and communities, in which everything has its place and the whole of life takes on significance.

 

Willi Bruners found wonderful words for this many years ago.

 

»Peace be with you.

When he had said this,

he showed them his hands and his side.«

(Jn 20, 19f)

 

If someone could do that

 

show his scars,

his wounds, the blood

not yet dried

 

            and not curse

            not judge

 

if someone could do that

 

it would be his turn

to excavate heaven

 

the forgotten dead

 

            from: Wilhelm Bruners, Verabschiede die Nacht, S. 74

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 9th, 2021

 

 

Step by Step

 

Easter is not a feast of one or two days. We celebrate it in the liturgy for weeks. We approach the mystery, we spell it out again and again. There is a reason for this. Experiencing the resurrection is not a triumphalist event that comes upon us and clears everything up in one fell swoop. It was not that way from the beginning. The biblical stories are clear on this point. It was and is always a tender, questioning approach that finally warms the heart and sets us in motion.

Willi Bruners put it into words in this manner:

 

Step by step

the chaos clears

the life becomes recognizable

that lies before us

 

               feeding

hungry people

who wait for bread

 

               visiting

sick people

who yearn

full of anticipation

for a kindly look

 

Summoning forth the dead

who are hoping

for the words

of resurrection

 

When we move out

of the house

of our fears

and disappointments

we become free again

for each other

and give the demon

of endless death speeches his walking papers

 

Anew we discover

the traces of life

anew we discover the resurrected one

anew we discover in the chaos

the great connections

which slowly become clear to us

and become transparent

to an open future

in and with

 

HIM

                                                                 w.bruners

 

Perhaps we will take time again and again during these Easter weeks for an inner and also outer journey to Emmaus. We could perceive and name questions, fears, longings and hopes within us. We could sense and discover the Risen Lord in new possibilities and life spaces in a way we never expected.

Let us open the eyes and ears of our hearts, so that our Easter light may dawn on us again and again!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 7th, 2021

 

 

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

 

Easter Monday 2021                          Luke 24, 13-35

 

The resurrection stories of the biblical narrative are rich and complex at the same time. They tell us about the disciples' experience of Jesus' continuing yet transformed presence. And that is why there are no ecstatic resurrection stories. The disciples are happy that Jesus' presence is continuing, but cannot easily come to terms with the way his presence has been transformed. They are always startled, mostly overwhelmed, frequently frightened, and for a great extent oblivious.

Precisely because it is so difficult to adapt to this transformed presence of Jesus, all the resurrection stories reveal to us four identifying signs for the way the Risen Lord enters our lives.

  1. First he enters into our present, unfiltered and unpurified life situation.
  2. He comes unknown and uninvited.
  3. He first reveals himself as a kind neighbor.
  4. Only after the experience of the effect of his transformed presence in our lives do we recognise him as Master and Lord.  

 

  1. First he enters into our present, unfiltered and unpurified life situation.

The present life situation of the disciples is devastating. They once lived with the great certainty that Jesus was a prophet, »mighty in deed and word before God and all the people«. With his death, this »great certainty« turned into the »great disillusionment« for the disciples. His death not only ended his physical life, but in the hearts and minds of these disciples, the truth he believed, his great certainty that God is gracious and merciful, was also destroyed.

»But we had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.«

It is a devastating sentence, because they speak of hope in the past tense. How many questions are woven into this one sentence? Can the ultimate power of life be merciful if this very man and all he stood for is crucified? Was the joyful confidence that characterized Jesus just a fata morgana? What kind of love allows Pilate to die in his bed and Jesus to be nailed to the wood?

 

  1. He comes unknown and uninvited.

The resurrection is the disciples' experience of Jesus' continuing yet transformed presence. But because this presence of Jesus has been transformed, they do not recognize him. His resurrection does not solve the riddles of human existence.

A long loving look at the reality of this resurrection story shows us that the two disciples encounter and journey with Jesus, but that does make everything crystal clear, nor does it resolve their doubts and fears or soothe their troubled hearts.

The two of them share their path and their stories with Jesus, but his presence does not put an end to all the storms of their lives, so that now they could calmly return home.

I remind you gently, that this is a story in which hope is spoken of in the past tense. The two of them pour out their grief about the vicious persecution of the chief priests and leaders of the people. They mention that »today is already the third day«, but no alarm bells are set off.

They speak of the remarkable women of their community.

When the twelve deserted him, the women remained.

When the morning was still dark, the women brought the spices.

When the tomb was empty, the women proclaimed the good news.

When they were not believed, the women did not give up.

But none of this, none of their own story, seems to have any effect on them. And the Risen Lord’s presence is not changing the way they hear and service their own story an experience.

Why is it all still so confusing? Because the resurrection does not solve the riddles of human existence. The Risen Lord is their companion, but no one in this biblical narrative I able to walk around and claim that all the mist of doubt and uncertainty have been lifted.

That is not how resurrection works. The characteristic of our Christianity is not that we are well informed about the coming heavenly future. The resurrection does not clear up once and for all the mystery of the relationship between God and his people.

Instead, it teaches us that this relationship is real. Our experiences of the Risen Lord will be found where find our doubts and uncertainties accompanied. The Risen Lord will first call on us to tell our stories in all their numbing, confusing, messy and chaotic fullness. The Risen Lord is not the one who suddenly appears and says: »I am back. Don’t worry about anything. Now I will tell you everything.« He is the one who first says: »Tell me everything«.

The Risen Lord eases us into the fullness of the mystery of this relationship.

 

  1. He first reveals himself as a kind neighbor.

The resurrection is the original religious experience for Christians, but does not dispel the mystery of God or of our life with him. All the resurrection stories show us that the disciples are as shocked by the resurrection as they were by the crucifixion.

Like all of Jesus’ actions, the resurrection is an invitation. He invites us to overcome death. How? By taking our present, unfiltered, unpurified and real lives and immersing them irretrievably into mysterious relationship God enjoys with his beloved people. Easter is an invitation to a world of possibilities and perspectives we have not even thought of yet. »Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.«

The resurrection experience is first connected to a kind neighbor and fellow human being who opens our perspectives to all the places between heaven and hell where life can blossom.

When Jesus presented to them all that Moses, the prophets, and all the Scriptures have to tell about, he reminded them that wild things happen when one dares to walk with God.  He is gently leading them to a lesson that John Shea put this way: »Most people who have drunk deeply of God have walked wildly through life«. Jesus told them the Stories of God and the Stories of Faith, and these stories recount how grace is insidiously at work healing our wounds. This happens on the road to Emmaus, while he is talking about it. »Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?« He told them the stories of a God who issues surprising invitations and of a boring old world that will be shot through with the unexpected power of the Son of Man.

The resurrection stories are stories of faith. They are a poetic overflow of faith experiences. Whatever they may say about the Risen Lord, they tell us more about ourselves and how we realistically experience life after encountering the Risen Lord.

 

  1. Only after the experience of the effect of his transformed presence in our lives do we recognise him as Master and Lord.

This is what all the resurrection stories teach us. Only now and only gradually will our eyes open. Our hearts burn for a long time while we are on the road before they realize who the arsonist is.

The resurrection and the challenge to shape life beyond death experiences is difficult for us, then as now, because grace works through the most unlikely people. Here is one who brings them out of their sorrow and depression. They do not recognize him at first, just as Mary does not realize who the gardener is, who does this for her. First the experience of his transformed presence in our life, then the knowledge of whom we are encountering. Here is one who draws them toward new perspectives beyond old guilt. They will not recognize him at first, just as the Peter does not recognize the fish-cooking and bread-roasting man on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius who is doing exactly the same thing for him. First the experience of his transformed presence in our life, then the knowledge of whom we are encountering. Here is a good man who will lead them out of them beyond the disappointments that were too large and the stories that were too small. Only at the table will they fully recognize him. First the experience of his transformed presence in our life, then the knowledge of whom we are encountering.

So keep your eyes open for the signs of the Risen Lord:

  1. First he enters into our present, unfiltered and unpurified life situation.
  2. He comes unknown and uninvited.
  3. He first reveals himself as a kind neighbor.
  4. Only after the experience of the effect of his transformed presence in our lives do we recognise him as Master and Lord.

 

Erik Riechers SAC

Easter Monday, April 5th, 2021

 

 

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.

 

Easter Sunday 2021                          John 20, 1-11

 

In Genesis 28, 16-17 Jacob, who has absolutely no expectation of an experience of God in himself and in the place he presently finds himself in, comes to a startling realisation. »Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.« And he was afraid and said, »How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.«

When it comes to the resurrection, I think a great many of us assume that it will occur in any place aside from within us and in the places where we dwell. Yet, today’s story from the Gospel of John leads us to the same startling realisation in the garden where the rock is rolled away that Jacob had in the wilderness with a rock under his head. »Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.«

Hidden in the folds of John’s story is an older tale of love and longing. It guided his heart and his hand as he was writing his first Easter story for us.

 On my bed by night

I sought him whom my soul loves;

I sought him, but found him not.

 I will rise now and go about the city,

in the streets and in the squares;

I will seek him whom my soul loves.

I sought him, but found him not.

The watchmen found me

as they went about in the city.

“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”

 Scarcely had I passed them

when I found him whom my soul loves.

I held him, and would not let him go

until I had brought him into my mother's house,

and into the chamber of her who conceived me.

Song of Songs 3, 1-4

 

If you are looking for a trustworthy and sure-footed guide on the path to resurrected, redeemed life, I highly recommend Mary of Magdala. She can cure us of one of the worst problems that Easter faith faces: the romanticising of the resurrection.

Too often we speak and sing about the resurrection as something finished, as a final product.  But not all the darkness that lay heavy upon our hearts has disappeared. Like the disciples in every resurrection story, we have a problem: none of us lives such an antiseptic life.

We dream of resurrected, redeemed life; of friendships coming back to life after long hibernation; of the revival of old love stories long lost; of peace putting an end to war, of food following famine, of health replacing disease, and of freedom trumping oppression.             

Indeed, this life is fulfilled for Jesus, but not for us. On our side of the tomb, we experience the promise of resurrected life as Mary did in the Garden: neither completely finished nor a hope in the distant future. Mary of Magdala is the guide to this mystery, because she alone goes through all the processes. She does not take shortcuts and does not quit in the middle of the journey (unlike Peter and John who simply go back home). She teaches us: this risen life is not a possession, but a process that must unfold in us through the power of God. This is important if Easter is not to be just a pause on the road to despair.

This first Easter experience of Mary is like the experience we have had innumerable times in the course of our lives. Our life is painfully incomplete and imperfect. Only those who take this experience seriously understand the deepest reason for Jesus' death: a true love that wants to redeem something must be ready to fight for what it loves. Authentic love seeks, »the one whom my soul loves«. We will not shed the blood of our heart for what we do not want to redeem.

In the Song of Songs we see this willingness to struggle for that which we have grown to love. What a tremendous and arduous outpouring of loving effort this woman makes for the sake of her love: Searching through long nights and not finding what she is looking for; roaming the city, scouring the streets and squares; stopping others and questioning them in the hope of finding some hint, some direction; grabbing the beloved, not letting go, and bringing him home.

In the Gospel story of the first Easter morning, John looks admiringly at Mary of Magdala and recognises the same willingness to struggle for the sake of great love that he knew from the Song of Songs. Mary is cut of the same cloth as the Old Testament singer: She rises early, wanders through the darkness only to find emptiness. She walks back to where she started and discusses the situation with others, but finds little understanding and no support; she walks back to the Garden again, having been left behind by her companions. She stand before the tomb (on the outside). She needs a time for weeping that Kohelet knew must come. She dares to stares into the emptiness. She risks being questioned. She turns away from darkness and confinement to light and spaciousness, from tombs to gardens. And then there is more questioning, more recognition and even more letting go.

But John does not stop there. He sees this willingness to struggle for the sake of love in the Risen Lord. The underlying question is: Whom does my soul love? This is, in fact, the key question. God answers this core question of love. Too our lasting astonishment, and often to our disbelief, we are the answer. Jesus, the Risen One, tells us that we are ones for whom he was willing to struggle for the sake of great love.

This is the eternal message of God's stories. They show us a God who is willing to shed his blood for the people he truly loves. They show us a God who is ready to wrestle for us. If it were not so, he would not need to part the Red Sea and confront military powers. If it were not so, then he need not rain carbohydrates from heaven. Then rock would then continue to stubbornly and silently refrain from gushing forth water, even if a thirsty people wail before it. If God would not struggle for us, then the first garden story of Adam and Eve would have been the last one, and the present garden story of Jesus and Mary would never have existed.

John knows all of this and yet, with the eye of the eagle, he also recognises that this resurrecting, redeeming life pulsates not only in God, but also in Mary. And in us. This resurrection life refuses to write off and abandon the one whom my soul loves. This life continues to write human narratives that others have long since consigned to the grave.  This heart is to be found in our God, but it is also to be found in his beloved people. It is a heart that knows what is worth fighting for, what is worth suffering for.

Perhaps this is the best kept secret of Christian faith. We carry a redeeming love within us.  Redemption is just another word for the divine spaciousness that God gives to all people in all the narrow places where their lives are at stake, no matter how they got there or whether they know the name of the Lord. We participate in this work of redemption, because we, too, are able and willing to wrestle for the life of the world for the sake of great love. Why else do we struggle with unemployment, social injustice and economic inequality?  Why do we muddle through complicated relationship histories and not immediately throw in the towel? Why do we bend over backwards for people who don't always appreciate our efforts? Why do we not immediately withdraw when death, illness or despair infect the lives of others and burden our lives?

We dwell in a time when we feel overwhelmed by crisis. Our confidence in the future is shaken. So join me, Easter people, not in triumphalist and unrealistic hymns of Easter glory, but in the earthy, grounded story of a remarkable woman and her going into that garden.

Remember, my fellow grave goers and garden guests: we will never struggle for what we do not love. We will never wrestle for what we don't care about. We will never put anything on the line for what leaves us cold. God struggles with us and for us, and that is the only sure and reliable sign of love. He pours this resurrecting, redeeming love into us, and it makes us ready to struggle, for each other, for the world, for justice, for the children, for the poor. Resurrection is flowing through our veins.

The way of Jesus, the way of the Gospel, and the way of a paschal spirituality are the ways of wrestling. Wrestling will make us see. We will see what we really love. We will see what is worth wrestling for. We will see what is really in our heart. Lead on, Mary of Magdala. And remind us that there are things that can only be seen with eyes that have wept.

 

Erik Riechers SAC

Easter Sunday, April 4th,  2021

 

 

What wondrous love is this?

 

Good Friday B 2021                            John 18, 1 – 19, 42

 

It is easy enough to get caught up in the dramatic and heart-wrenching passion of Jesus. This hour and this ambience allow us to feel the depth of his pain with a new ferocity. Knowing his innocence, we are all the more horrified at the injustice done to him. Knowing his kindness, we are all the more appalled at the cruelty he endured for our sake. The viciousness galls us, the tragedy tears at our hearts, and his humiliating death has saddened our souls for centuries.

Several years ago, a teacher took a group of Kindergarten children on a tour of the church. The Stations of the Cross particularly moved one of the little boys in the group. As he moved along the stations, watching the story of Christ’s passion unfold, he grew more and more agitated. Finally, he came to stand under the great cross, and his youthful sense of outrage and injustice exploded forth. Hands on his hips, with defiance in his voice, the young boy burst forth, »I am going to kill the guys who killed Jesus!«

My friends, this is not the highest theology of the cross I have ever heard, but it does touch upon the one mystery of this day which must be dearest to us. Like the little boy, the passion and death of Jesus Christ must touch us deeply and move us personally. Like the little boy, the passion of Christ must awaken a passion for Christ in those who follow the road to Golgotha with him.

In order to touch us on yet deeper levels than sadness and anger, we need to look at three facets to the mystery that looms over us this day.

 (I)

It is love that brings Christ to the Cross. Throughout the passion narrative of John we hear how Christ moves through the gradual stages of coming to the cross. Yet, John makes it very clear that Jesus did not have to go at all, if he did not want to. This is not the suffering and death of a powerless man. When Judas comes with the posse into the garden, Jesus does not run and hide. He steps forward freely to face the music. When he admits to the lynch mob that he is the one they are hunting down, the soldiers fall to the ground. Jesus offers himself up for the arrest, but insists, »So if you are looking for me, let these men go«. He stands unabashed and fearless before the Sanhedrin. In the face of Pilate’s insistence that he has power over Him, Jesus retorts, »You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.«

Indeed, this power to avoid the cross makes the death of Christ far more astonishing. The lengths he was willing to go for us, in suffering and death, find their real meaning in the fact that he did not have to go at all. This is a voluntary death, a freely chosen suffering. It is a death mirrored throughout the ages, in mothers and fathers who toss aside personal safety to run into a burning building to save their children. It is a dying reflected in a tender story recounted by Sister Joan Delaplane.

»Five year old Johnny Quinn loved his big brother, Tommy. The doctor told Johnny that his brother was very sick and needed a blood transfusion, and the doctor asked: ‘Johnny, would you be willing to give some blood to your brother?’ Johnny gulped hard, his eyes got big, but after a moment’s hesitation he said, ‘Sure, doctor.’ The doctor took the blood and Johnny was resting quietly on the table. A few minutes later, Johnny looked up at the doctor and said: ‘When do I die, doctor?’ It was only then that the doctor fully appreciated the extent of this little boy’s love.«

It is love, not force, which flings parents into the inferno. It is love, not force, which makes Johnny pour forth his blood for his brother. It is love, not force, which brings Christ to the Cross.

This moment must cause our hearts to crack. We are the reason Christ comes to Calvary. He harbours a love for us so deep, that it gladly embraces what he could easily avoid. For us, he enters into a misery and cruelty that would be instantly relieved if he would only detach his heart from our destiny. If we were standing before Pilate at Gabbatha, at the place called »the Stone Pavement«, would we not be tempted to cry out to him, »Leave us behind, save yourself.«? Yet, he does not take his leave from us. He takes the cross for us. Love, love for us, and not our guilt brings Christ to the Cross.

(II)

Which leads us directly to the second mystery of this day. If in the first instance love brings Christ to the cross, then in the second instance love keeps Christ on the Cross. It is a wonder of the cross that Christ does not have to go to the wood, but voluntarily goes for our sake. It is a marvel of matching magnitude that he does not have to stay, but freely chooses to do so.

Here is the Lord of the entire universe, present when God first peeled back the waters to begin the work of creation. He has power to climb down from the cross. He has power to call upon legions of angels so that he would not even dash his foot against a stone. His word grants light to eyes that languish in darkness, and strength to set legs a’ strolling that once were lame.

In the face of the agony of the cross, the taunt of the crowd, and the humiliation of the soldiers gambling for his clothing before his dying eyes, Jesus remains on the cross. He lingers in this pitiless place of pain. He does not leave this horrifying moment, filled with callous disregard for his person and his dignity. Filled with the agony of this brutality that sears from skin to bone marrow, Jesus stays on the cross.

The reason for this is simple. He must complete two works of mercy. The first is a work of revelation and the second a work of redemption. These two works are vital.

In his staying on the cross we have the work of revelation, namely, that God will remain with us in the painful moments of love. He will not walk away. We will not be abandoned when the going gets rough. His love for us keeps him near to us. The cross reveals that we are loved to death.

The second work of redemption is equally important. When Christ stays on the cross, we learn that no one can be saved by love, if we do not remain in the places of suffering with the beloved. The cross redeems us by granting us the experience that we are loved by a God who is present in dreadful, pain-racked, blood-soaked places and times we ourselves would like to flee.

(III)

Thus we come to a third moment in which we win a deeper appreciation for the cross. Remember the little boy beneath the cross. He was so moved, he wished to exact vengeance from the people who had hurt the friend he had in Jesus. If we wish to share his passion on an adult level, then we must ask ourselves clear cut questions. Will we allow our love for others to bring us to the cross? Will we allow our love for others to keep us there? But will we also avoid the revenge and violence that the cross often awakens in us?

We only go to the cross if we are willing to deal with something other than our own agenda, concerns and comforts. This is the question the cross draws from our hearts. Do we love anyone enough to do for them what Christ has done for us? If we are gripped by the happenings on Golgotha, then we must let love bring us to the cross, and that will demonstrate itself in whether we will avoid or embrace the places of suffering in our beloved. Will we freely go to the places where love is crucifying? Will we freely stay in the places where the very presence of our loved ones is a passion?

In this year of physical distancing, we cannot celebrate our beloved ritual of venerating the cross. But here there is an invitation here that takes us beyond the ritual to the very heart and soul of life. If your heart is as moved as that little boys, you must move to a veneration of the cross in every place where it is erected on the landscape of your life. There are friends who weep in silence, but whose tears we need not hear. We are not forced to the heart of their suffering. We can shut our eyes to the tears that redden theirs. We can feign deafness to their sobbing. When the elders ache to tell us the stories that are tedium to us and relief to them, will we stay? We venerate the cross when it is an agony for our hearts to watch the palsy of our parents. We do it when we wade into the terrors that afflict their souls and allow ourselves to be tormented by them. Our knees bend before the wood of the cross when we ache with every fibre of our being as we stand by friends undergoing daunting and severe medical treatments. The cross touches our flesh when wild horses could not drag us from the side of the dying, while everyone else flees the discomforting reminder of our mortality. 

The cross is forged of every instance where we suffer because we are committed to the other in love. This is the wood of the cross on which our redeemer hung. What about us? Will we love, even when there is an easy way out and nothing or no one can force us to stay? Will we remain in places of the suffering of our beloved, even when we could exit stage left?

Exactly twenty years ago, I celebrated a Good Friday that was the most poignant for me to date. Three earlier I met a couple, Kevin and Jodie, in whose flesh I saw engraved the image of Christ crucified. Jodie was pregnant with her fourth child, and the baby was in danger. After a series of attempts to save the child in the womb, the doctors held out to the couple one slim hope of survival, which was to induce labour. For 36 hours the labour went on, and then the child was born. I was called and raced to the hospital to baptise the little one. Twenty minutes later, young Keegan Patrick died in my hands while I welcomed him through baptism into the family of the faith.

The parents did not have to go to this cross. Abortion was counselled and offered, but refused. They willingly went through weeks of discomfort, hours of pain, and the anguish of losing a beloved son to death. They did not have to go to this cross. Moreover, once they went, they did not have to stay. But go they did. And then they stayed there. Because of this, their child, who drew only 55 minutes of breath, experienced his life wrapped in a momentous love that was willing to suffer so that he might have those 55 minutes.

This infant experienced in his parents what we experience in Christ. The words of an old hymn capture Keegan’s experience of Christ’s redeeming love, and ours, so very well.

»What wondrous love is this, o my soul, o my soul?

What wondrous love is this, o my soul?

What wondrous love is this,

that made the Lord of bliss,

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?«

Keegan died knowing only the fiercely dedicated love of people who were willing to suffer crucifying passion in order to let him know life. I would say that his parents were the perfect preparation for meeting Jesus Christ. May the same be said of us.

 

Erik Riechers SAC

Good Friday, April 2nd, 2021

 

 

Do you understand what I have done to you?

 

Holy Thursday B 2021                            1 Cor 11, 23–26 and John 13, 1–15

 

On Holy Thursday we stretch out our hand to touch the body and blood of the Lord. One day later, we stretch out our hand to touch the wood of the cross. If touching the Mystery of God means we must be ready to touch such mystery to the lives of others, then we must seriously consider the question of Jesus at the foot washing. »Do you understand what I have done to you?«

(I)

The beginning of the second reading from Paul’s exquisite first letter to the Corinthians really does not tell us anything we do not already know. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus took a loaf of bread and broke it. In the course of many years of cushioning Christ on palm and tongue, we are quite accustomed to seeing a bread broken. It is an experience common in our kitchens and done in our dining rooms.  Breaking bread is a routine. However, routine actions are not meaningless actions. Often they are laden with a significance that goes unseen and unnoticed, because we repeat the action so frequently. 

In this vein, the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper is far from mundane. Consider a loaf of bread in your hands, on your table. It contains food for the hungry. It satisfies growling stomachs, and gives basic nourishment to keep nerve and sinew from failing. However, none of this potential windfall of sustenance and strength has any hope of being released if one vital requirement is not met. The loaf must first be broken.

Consider the body of Christ upon the altar. It contains food for the soul, and satisfies the hungry heart. It brims with life-giving presence and keeps body and soul together. However, here too, there would be no table of plenty if Christ did not grant one special blessing. His body must first be broken. If Christ does not break the bread for us, then no one eats. If he does not pour out his blood for us, then no thirst is ever slaked.

The very act of breaking makes sharing possible. Breaking partitions a possession so that it can be enjoyed by the many. If one hangs on to the whole, then there is nothing to be shared, and nothing can be given to others as a blessing. The breaking of bread and body is the shattering of possessiveness.

Two critical lines of Paul’s letter teach us this lesson. »Our blessing cup is a communion with the blood of Christ.« »For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.« These two sentences link the Eucharist to the cross, and for good reason. For the willingness to break his life open for us in the Eucharist would be nothing without the willingness to break open his life for us on the wood of the cross. If he would be willing to do it at the table, but not on the cross, then the cross would be a meaningless moment, and the Eucharist a hollow ritual. Why would Christ break open his life to feed a people he did not want to save? Why nourish a life you do not want to redeem? Christ’s life must be broken open for us otherwise no one lives. His life must be poured out for us otherwise no one is saved. Stated very simply, genuine loving requires a real breaking apart of what we possess, whether it is bread, body or presence.

(II)

Authentic love requires a real breaking of our bread. There are many forms of bread that feed us, and the genuine love unveiled for us on the cross and in the Eucharist teaches us that we must share them with others if their nourishing fullness is to be unleashed. Break your bread. Break the bread of your life. Break the bread of your tables. Break the bread of your joys.

The willingness to break our bread for the sake of hungers in other people is the essence of what we commonly call sacrifice. Sacrifice entails breaking open our lives. We break them by means of selflessness and service. We break them open by means of self-denial. Yet, a true sacrifice always means that we have clear purpose. That purpose is to let others live, flourish and grow. A sacrifice must benefit another, not just empty me. If you break the bread of sacrifice, it is not enough that you go hungry. Others must eat. Your freely chosen impoverishment must give birth to unexpected enrichment in another. It is not wise to break your bread if there are none with hunger enough to eat of it. Such bread will only grow stale. It is not wise to pour out your wine when there are none to drink of it. Such wine will only spoil and sour.

(III)

Which raises a final issue. Will we live a life worthy of the Eucharist? Will we live a life worthy of the sign of the cross? Will we break the bread of our tables? Will we break the bread of our lives? The only way we can be sure that the Eucharist of this night and the Cross of tomorrow’s sorrowing have engraved the divine image of our Lord and Master into us, is if we are caught in the act of breaking the bread of sacrifice.

In the breaking of the bread, a father or mother might abandon a career-making opportunity for the sake of the children. Thus, they break their bread of power and personal fulfilment, in order that their children can feed on their presence and attentive love. Expensive theatre tickets might be left unused, because a friend’s need was greater than our taste for entertainment. In that moment, the bread is broken, and we give of what is ours to feed another.

Jesus asks the disciples after the foot washing, »Do you understand what I have done to you?« When we forsake a long anticipated pleasure, because greater duty commands our presence; when we give up golf links for the sake of great loves; when we turn off the favourite TV program to listen to the weeping of our children, when we give up a day off to make someone else’s day; then we can faithfully answer the question of Jesus. Yes, Lord, we know what you have done for us. You have taken all that is yours, broken it for sharing, and given it to us that we might yet live. And we have done likewise.

To walk the path of sacrifice requires one overwhelming reality above all others. You must consider someone worthy of a sacrifice. You must see that person’s life as valuable enough, precious enough, to break your own life open for its sake. If you cast your gaze upon another, and consider what you see to be beneath your dignity, beyond your contempt, and too woefully inadequate to merit your care, I assure you that you will make no sacrifice for them.

All that fashions Holy Thursday is made of a quiet joy tinged with sadness. Indeed, there is a quiet joy, for we know that his breaking is our blessing. There is a touch of sadness, for we know that not just Christ’s bread, but his body must be broken. It is imperative to know this to be the way of all our breaking. It will be marked by a quiet joy, and tinged with sadness. You will know the quiet, satisfying joy of restoring life and blessing to the shadow lands of shattered hearts. Yet, you will also know the touch of sadness that comes with sacrifice, for real losses are suffered. This is a critical hour. It can lead the heart to bitterness and resentment. Looking back, we will notice some of our dreams were left unfulfilled, certain aspirations were necessarily lost, and certain pleasures were denied, all because of others we have loved more than ourselves. Then, like Christ, indeed with Christ, we must answer the ultimate question. Were they worth it? It is with trembling that we must come to this night of Holy Thursday, for after knowing all that he endured for us in the foot washing, in the Eucharist, and on the cross, this is the place, this is the hour in which Christ whispers to us: You were definitely worth it.

 

Erik Riechers SAC

Holy Thursday, April 1, 2021

 

 

What sets the resurrection and the life in motion?

 

In Johns Gospel (John 11, 1-44), the Evangelist weaves a magnificent tale about the death of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. At the beginning of the story, his two sisters, Martha and Mary, take center stage. Here are two sisters who suffer the same fate, namely, the loss of their brother. Each of them goes on to have a personal encounter with Jesus. Both of the sisters start off their conversation with Jesus by saying exactly the same thing to him. »Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.«

The obvious expectation would be that two such identical encounters would lead to the same result. But that is not how it plays out.

Martha starts off her encounter with Jesus with her statement: »Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.« She sheds no tears, shows no emotion. She also does not give Jesus a chance to respond. Instead she forges ahead with a theological declaration. »But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.«

For his part, Jesus does not directly address her theological statement. He goes directly to the heart of the matter, namely, that which Martha’s aching heart most needs in this hour: »Your brother will rise again.«

Martha takes this very existential, personal reassurance and moves it into the realm of abstraction. She speaks of far off days when wondrous things will happen. »I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.«

Jesus responds to her by bringing the topic back to the present moment. »I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?«

Martha responds again, this time by professing her belief in him as the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. But she utters not a word about believing that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, here and now. She speaks about faith in general, but not about her earthy, pressing need for resurrection and life in her grueling moment of need.

Then she goes home. And then it is Mary’s turn. She goes out to see Jesus, who is still outside the village. »Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.« An astonishing moment, because it shows us that the encounter with Martha did not set anything into motion. He is still exactly in the same place he was before he spoke with her. The Resurrection and the Life have not moved.

Mary starts off the encounter exactly as her sister did. »Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.« But she says this while on her knees and weeping. Her encounter has no statements and professions of faith. But it is full of tears.

»When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved.« And immediately the resurrection and the life are set in motion. First Jesus asks where Lazarus lays buried. Then he joins in the weeping. From there, he goes to tomb, accompanying the mourners to the place of their loss and grief and to the wellspring of their tears.  

It is the tears that move him. It is not the discussions, not the professions of faith, but the tears. Because tears are the language of the affected and the afflicted. They are not born of our thoughts on bereavement and loss, but of our existential experience of what these things do to us. As important as the discussion about faith is, in the end, if it does not reach the heart, it remains a cold, clinically-detached and lifeless reality. It will not set anything into motion. For the heart is the place where everything is decided.

The starting points for real movement toward resurrection and the life are the experiences of life that knock us to our knees and fill our eyes with tears. Pure doctrine will not be enough to bring us to the place where the resurrection and the life can be experienced. But we will weep our way there, for where we weep, we reveal ourselves for what we truly are and show what we genuinely need. Those tears speak of what is really happening with us and within us. They reveal what is we normally keep well hidden within our hearts. Tears are the place of encounter. They are the language of the soul. And they speak to God. And they set the resurrection and life in motion, because they move the heart of God.

Erik Riechers SAC, March 31st, 2021

 

 

Allow ourselves to be grasped

 

Perhaps personal experiences of unhappiness make us more thin-skinned.

Perhaps the uncertainties and threats posed by the pandemic, that has lasted so long, make us more sensitive.

Thus, it may be that as we enter Holy Week we feel more strongly about the kind of journey on which we are accompanying Jesus during these days of remembrance and what tremendous tension is expressed in the narratives: the tension grows, the conflict comes to light, who can still be relied upon? Words and actions take on an even greater importance in the face of death. Everything is of critical importance.

In the 12th chapter of his Gospel, John recounts Jesus' last visit to his friend Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, before he goes from the east up to the Mount of Olives and then on a donkey down to the city. Mary lovingly anoints his feet with precious nard oil. Immediately the rift among the disciples becomes apparent as Judas makes the accusation of wastefulness. Jesus, however, speaks of his burial. How confusing and frightening for all who hear it!

Jerusalem fills with people on pilgrimage to the Passover; but Jesus' enemies lurk on every corner and the crowd distances itself from him - nothing is to be expected from those who called out to him at the solemn entrance.

Then there is the last meal in the closest group around the master. Jesus speaks of the utmost, of blood and dedication, »for you and for all«. Every word a legacy. John prefaces his narrative with a poignant account: Jesus kneels on the ground and washes the dusty feet of his own on the last day of his life. Earlier it is told, that Jesus knew »that he had come from God and was returning to God« (Jn 13, 3). What an anchoring and perspective!

And then there is no more evasion: betrayed and arrested, accused and paraded, mocked and cruelly humiliated, lonely and abandoned at the mercy of the mob, tortured, tormented, murdered. And at the end the word: »It is finished!«

During no other week of the year are we so confronted and challenged to live life authentically, faithfully and fully, so as not to repress suffering, but to endure this tension. These last days of Jesus can take hold of us so that we become fellow bearers and are borne along with our own crosses.

I believe it is the only way to experience Easter.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 29th, 2021

 

 

By the side of the road

 

Palm Sunday B 2021                                        Mk 11, 1-10

 

We often speak of this moment in the grand Gospel story as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It is a language I prefer to avoid. While I am quite sure that the spectators along the way felt something of triumph in this procession into David’s City, I am equally sure that Jesus did not.

This is a story about a path taken. Where such stories are told, a number of things happen. Who will the traveler meet on this way? How will they meet him? What will others do to help the traveller along the way? This story is no exception. Thus, I would take a closer look at what the people in the tale are willing to accompany Jesus on his way, and the one thing no one is willing to do for him in this moment.

While Mark will tell us what many will do (will spread cloaks and lay down branches), that does not tell us what everyone does. What we can say, is that no one active tries to hinder or impede Jesus on his way. Many will remain as neutral observers and unobtrusive bystanders. They place no stumbling blocks in his path. That is the path of minimalism. It shows no support or encouragement for Jesus, his mission or his way, but it equally does not discourage him. There is no investment, no involvement here, just the cool distance of the spectator and the withdrawn aloofness of those who avoid taking any position whatsoever. That is how we often experience people on our own path through life. They are not our enemies, but they are certainly not our companions either.

Then we see the two disciples who have been sent to secure his transportation. Having fulfilled their task of procurement, Mark tells us:

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it.

They make the first effort to make a contribution to easing Jesus’s way. But the image is more nuanced than we might notice. They “threw” the cloaks on the colt. When we throw something to a person or over the back of an animal, it is an image of rough, inattentive, and gruff living. It lacks the tenderness and thoughtfulness we experience when a person takes time to attend to our needs with time and sensitivity. It conveys the idea, that this is something we want to get over and done with. This, too, is an experience we have when we are on our path. There is always an experience of being helped along, but it lacks warm and heartiness.

Then we meet the many. Of them Mark says:

And many spread their cloaks on the road.

Notice the change in tone. These people do not throw the cloaks, like the two disciples. Instead they spread them out, an image of attentiveness and taking the time to make careful preparations. It is an image of deliberate action. We would immediately notice the difference if a person welcomed us to the table by throwing a tablecloth over it, of if they took the time to spread a tablecloth over it. That would make a difference to the way we feel welcomed.

For a second time, cloaks, garments, are invested. A garment is something that belongs to us, which is readily at our disposal. We do not have to go far to find a garment. There is rarely a time when we are wearing them, carrying them everywhere we go. The many spread their garments on the road, and thus make the path somewhat softer and gentler for Jesus. However, once Jesus has passed by, we can easily take them back again, brush off the dust or wash them, and even repair them if necessary. Then we can put them back on and return them to the service of our needs.

There is nothing negative about that. It is a small help offered to another to make his or her path a little easier, to make their journey somewhat more comfortable. We have known such people on our own path through life, and surely have appreciated their small gestures and kindnesses. They let us borrow a tool, share a room or use their facilities. Then they reclaim for their own purposes.

Mark then moves on to describe yet another response:

And others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.

This is an image of a greater and heightened investment and effort to ease the path of Jesus. These people do not reach for that which is close at hand and readily available (their cloaks). They move out to the fields, move out in the greater world, in search of other resources and means with which they might smooth the path Jesus is taking. And they make the effort to gather them in and carry them back. Furthermore, what they are willing to lay down is something they are willing to leave behind. Unlike the garments, these branches serve the sole purpose of making Jesus’ path somewhat softer, easier and more comfortable. We, too, have known such people on our path through life. They have made a considerable effort to smooth our way. But they go a step further than garment-spreaders. They invest resources they are not getting back. Such are the people who share a meal with us, knowing that they are not getting the food back afterwards. The gratitude for such people is usually also a little deeper, for they also go a little further for us.

So, what is lacking? What is the one thing no one is willing to do for Jesus in this moment? No one offers to go share the path he has taken, to go all the way. Every one of these moments, precious as they are, show us temporary aid, not long term accompaniment. Mark tells the tale very subtly:

And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, »Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!«

Some go before him, but only for a short stretch of this path. Other go behind him, again only for a short stretch of his journey. But no says to him: I will walk the whole way with you. This is not to demean or belittle the other offers, but they all stop short of the one thing we all will need on our long journey through life: companionship.

This has consequences. Sharing short stretches of a person’s journey, especially the exciting or particularly pleasure parts, is not all that difficult. Easing our journey and preparing that way for us are valuable gifts, but in the end they cannot and will not suffice. We also need companions, people who will walk with us through every landscape of life, rick every curve with us, and weather every season with us. The consequence of this story in Mark’s remarkable Gospel is very clear: no one will stand with Jesus at the foot of the cross. Mark tells the starkest story of all the Gospel writers, leaving absolutely no one near the cross of Jesus when he dies. The other Gospel writers soften the scene in their telling. But I hold with Mark. If we have no companions on our journey, but only bystanders, then we will be alone when we reach our Good Fridays.

We have encountered all these types of people on our journey through life. Yet, we should not leave this story on this note. Instead, where do we stand in the story? Are we bystanders who ease the path for others, to a greater or lesser degree? Or are we companions who offer others the accompaniment on all the paths their journey may take?

I invite you to join me in prayer with Padraig O’Tuama. May his words lay a gentle yet rich blessing upon our Palm Sunday.

Jesus,

 

person of privacy and publicity

popular - for a while - but not populist;

you held your centre,

based on what you understood to be your call.

 

Help us to hear a call,

not to greatness, or grandiosity,

not to position or prominence

but to the deepest call of all:

love, creativity and justice.

 

May this carry us, through

the lauds and lamentations

of our lives.

 

And may we be faithful to love, creativity

and justice, as you were.  Amen.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, March 28th, 2021

 

 

But only he who sees takes off his shoes

 

In my last reflection (Moses and Maud) I wrote about finding the bush that God sets on fire to summon us. Yet the moment we find that burning bush, we must understand and abide by one of the great rules of mystery. We must take off our shoes.

The English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning spoke elegantly and lovingly of this basic rule of mystery and equally eloquently about what happens to those who do not heed it.

»Earth's crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God,

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.«

The lesson is about sensitivity and how to foster and maintain it. Nothing is lost more swiftly nor more easily that our sensitivity toward the experiences of the burning bush. Therefore, let us take a closer look at what happens when we remove our shoes.

  1. We step gingerly and cautiously.
  2. We watch where we step.
  3. We slow down.
  4. We do this because without a shoe to protect us, we are restored to vulnerability and extreme sensitivity.

What Moses and Maud and Elisabeth learned about the Mystery of God is that we must do this before every mystery we encounter, be it the Eucharistic life of our Lord or the playful lives of our children. This must be our posture in the hour of courtship, friendship and colleagueship. This must be our way in matrimony, parenthood and priesthood. Otherwise we will trample over moments of mystery. Then we will not have the life-changing conversations that Moses enjoyed with God. We would have none of the paintings of Maud Lewis to thrill and sooth our weary souls, if the worlds she depicted in colour and form did not first thrill and soothe her own soul. And there would be no poems from Elisabeth Barret Browning, only blackberry harvesters. These people had the depth of the encounter with God, because they followed this rule of the deep heart: approach the mystery with care, with gentleness, with time and with sensitivity.

These should also be the four golden rules of our Lenten springtime, a new and more attentive way of moving through life.

  1. We should step gingerly and cautiously, for everywhere we turn we can find the Mystery of God.
  2. We should watch where we step. There are no godless places or encounters in the world.
  3. We should slow down. We cannot see, recognise and appreciate what we race past.
  4. We desperately need to restore our vulnerability and our extreme sensitivity. The rough and course manner in which we deal with life, love and longing, often hides, disfigures or even abuses moments that should open us unto mystery. The lack of sensitivity will kill the poetry within us, blot out the colouring and shaping of our creativity and stifle the conversations that lead to extraordinary life.                                                                           

If we want to live well with the mystery that graces our lives, we must take off our shoes.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, March 26th, 2021

 

 

Moses and Maud: Those with eyes to see the burning bushes of life

 

When I was studying narrative theology in the west of Ireland, there was a creative exercise that we would often play. We were to name two people from history or literature and then bring them together for a conversation. Then it was our task to create an imaginary dialogue between them.

I recently was reminded of this exhilaratingly creative exercise while watching the life of Maud Lewis, a Canadian painter from Nova Scotia. Both her life story and her paintings are a source of profound inspiration. In all her paintings she draws a world without shadows. She is usually referred to as a folk artist, but I have also found references to her work as primitive art. I could not disagree more. There is something sublime and sophisticated in her art, because she had the ability to show others what a deep inner gift made possible for her: she had the ability to shows us wonder.

Therefore, if I played out the exercise of imaginary conversation again, I would set Maud Lewis across the table from Moses. I believe that they have something in common. Both of them knew something about recognizing and moving toward a burning bush. Therefore, both of them knew something about how to approach and stand before the mystery of God.

I think that each would recognise in the other a kindred spirit. Both of them were children of wonder. Wonder, however, is the beginning of faith. If Moses was not moved by wonder, he would never have turned aside to view the burning bush, but that would mean he would have missed the encounter with God.

Wonder moves men and women to the encounter with God. You cannot gaze upon the paintings of Maud Lewis without being touched by her never failing sense of wonder. She found wonder in trees, birds, fishing boats and tulips, housecats and cows. These were her burning bushes.

We have our own burning bushes. Burning bushes are those moments of wonder that God places in our daily path in order to stop us short. They are moments in which the beautiful God summons us to an encounter that demands a long loving look at the real. They are our first, toddler’s steps toward God.

Moses and Maud Lewis would warn us about the one great peril that lays between us and our burning bushes: out ordinary, unassuming daily grind. Moses was not out looking for spectacular experiences of the divine. He was tending sheep. Maud Lewis did not travel the world for inspiration, but painted what she saw in the world at her doorstep, never travelling more than an hour’s drive from the place of her birth.

When we are caught up in the travails of our daily grind, the question that most troubles our hearts is, »Where are these fabled burning bushes of which you speak?« Yet, the real question is: »Where are the sons and daughters of Moses and Maud, who stop, notice and draw near to the burning bush moments of life?«

A bush is burning when men and women come upon the moment in which they recognise in one another a companion with whom they could forge a community of life and love, and welcome one another into the mutual commitment of the covenant. Yet, the wonder does not hold them all and too many refuse to leave the common path, to step aside and contemplate a life that is not just about them.

The bush burns in the soaring thoughts of impassioned and sparkling oratory of great storytellers of faith. Yet, it is all too easy to pass it by and to give ourselves over to the constipation of thought and the diarrhea of mindless words on television.

The bush is burning when we are startled to find new life within the womb, the astonishment of genuine love, moonlight kisses, tenderness in trial, and hands held through hell. But each of these summons to a new encounter with God can easily we ignored, belittled, even derided with an unadulterated arrogance that believes itself too sophisticated to deal with such trivial matters of wonder.

For this reason we are given a Holy Springtime. This is a race that does not go to the swift, but to the enraptured. The issue is clear. Where are your burning bushes, and do you still have what it takes to turn aside for the path you have chosen for the sake of the God who summons you? Can you be a spiritual son or daughter of Moses and Maud?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, March 24th, 2021

 

 

Regarding Fidelity, Perseverance and Companionship

 

Exactly one year ago, we launched our offer: »May you be sheltered!« The spread of the pandemic and the establishment of the first lockdown unsettled us all; our lives became unusually and painfully restricted, we were literally thrown back upon ourselves, as worry and fear spread. At the beginning of spring, darkness fell. None of us had ever experienced anything like this. Thus, we started out on our communal way in this situation - writing and reading. Today, we are still walking it together today and have just started our 53rd week. It's not as easy as it sounds, for both sides. Neither of us knew a year ago where the path would lead and how long it would be. We had not chosen this adventure, it was completely new. And yet we went and continue to go together day by day and remain on this path until this day and beyond.

In no way can this be taken for granted. It demands loyalty, consistency and perseverance, on both sides. Of course, there are moments of temptation to drop out. When it seemed like the hardest part was done, there were voices that whispered, »That is enough: it more than suffices. Now we ae done. « We remember this from last summer. We know voices such as these from many protracted and challenging times in our lives, and on our own we might succumb to that temptation: stop writing, stop reading. But a sober look made it clear that the crisis was not over and Covid19 was by no means already under control.

Thus, we were challenged more and more to practice the big theme of our Wellspring Days from one year earlier, maintain our breath for the long march. The great works of J.R.R. Tolkien, »The Hobbit« and »The Lord of the Rings« were our companions at the time. Together we now practice what it means to say:  » All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. «. We set priorities. We reject whining. We do what is possible. We keep an eye on each other. We address what should not be suppressed. And we show one another what is valuable, essential and beautiful.

The shadows are still there, the road much longer than expected. A look at Tolkien may remind us again and again: » Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens «.

We have embarked on this long journey through darkness together and are now entering our second year. Perhaps one of the most important experiences is this: Not without companions! Companions share bread with us and raise us up when we stumble; they encourage us when we get tired, they sing with us in the dark and make us laugh when our gaze gets too narrow. All of this is possible while respecting the rules of distance and hygiene. We have all been bearing witness to this for 52 weeks.

That is why we continue: Not without companions!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 22nd, 2021

 

 

Like Grains of Wheat

 

5th Sunday of Lent B 2021                                        Jn 12, 20–33

 

Thirty years ago, while sitting in a park, I observed as a child came running up to its mother, sobbing and clutching a jar to her chest. Somehow amidst the wailing and howling the mother managed to discover the nature of the tragedy that had befallen the child. She had captured and carefully preserved a butterfly in that glass jar. After several hours in the sun, without any ventilation, the poor creature died, much to the horror and stunned disbelief of the little girl. Gently her mother brought her back to a semblance of calm and then said a short and simple sentence. »Honey, it was never meant for that.«

That in a nutshell says everything about the Gospel story about the grain of wheat. »Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it shall remain alone.« Jesus is teaching us that we must not resist every form of dying in our lives. Indeed, there is a form of dying that is of paramount importance to a life well lived before God and his people. There is a form of fruitfulness that can only be born through an experience of death.

Tragic is the realization that we cannot capture and carefully preserve our lives in glass jars. Perhaps we will sob and howl our protest to the heavens, much like the little girl. Jesus will then answer us with a short and simple sentence: »You were never meant for that.«

Look at a grain of wheat. By its very nature it must die in order to bear fruit. That is part of its make-up, part of its essence. If the farmer decides to carefully preserve it in a glass jar, then he is not shielding it from death. Instead, he is denying it the fullness for which it was made, to which it is called and for which it was always meant. The grain of wheat is the image of potential for life and fruitfulness that is yet unfulfilled, a life chock full of possibilities that has yet to unfold itself into the world. Those who would cling to the grain of wheat, must be gently chided: »It was never meant for that«.

Humans are much like grains of wheat. Part of our essence is to die unto fruitfulness. It constitutes part of our nature. No one is going to pretend that it is a pleasant or particularly enjoyable part, but a part it is. Dying to parts of our lives is painful, unpleasant and difficult. It is also necessary if we would become that for which we were created, that which we are meant to be. Every attempt to refuse this death unto fruitfulness is a denial of ourselves, of the fullness and the destiny for which we are intended from the start.

A change of venue is in order now as we turn to a vignette of Father Pedro Arrupe's life, a former Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). In his memoirs he writes of a young man of twenty-two, a victim of the horror that was Hiroshima. The radiation from the atomic explosion had left half his body as one, large, festering wound. Standing before Arrupe he said, »Father, help me.«

Arrupe sized up the situation immediately. »It's going to hurt a lot.« To which the young man replied, »Father, don't hesitate to hurt me; I can take it, but just save me«. There followed what can be described only as a time of terrible healing. The cleansing of the burnt flesh had to be done with boric acid, with the pus already hardened beneath the burns. For two and a half hours the terrible process dragged on. Arrupe wrote that »at the end he was prostrate with suffering, and I was exhausted with the tension«. Then comes the telling comment. »I had to become like an executioner to this man if I was to save his life«.

 We are like that man. There are wounds to be borne in our lives and we are covered with the sores of moments when we have lived beneath our potential and dignity, where we have failed to do justice to our relationships to God, neighbours, and creation and to ourselves. Cleansing these wounds entails pain, and it hurts to remove the scabs in order to be what we were created to be: healthy and strong. Self-preoccupation stripped away from us is painful and causes us suffering, but there is no other option if we are to be that which we are meant to be, a people of service. We must die to egotism, because we are created for self-emptying and selflessness. Greed must perish, for we are meant for generosity. Rugged individualism is peeled away from those destined for community. Racism must pass away in a people intended for justice. Hatred has to die in a heart forged for peace. It hurts to die to all these things. But it is a necessity to die to them, for we were never created for them, never destined for them. If our lives are filled with all these sinful realities we will hear God whispering into our ears the words of the wise, young mother: »You were never meant for that.«

When we encounter a serving, self-emptying, generous, just and peaceful person of communion, we know that this life has forged a life that is something beautiful for God. Yet, we should never forget, that this is a beauty born of a deep dying. None of us can walk away from this process of painful cleansing and still fulfil the purpose of our lives. Through dying we come to life. Through death we are fruitful.

Occasionally we are tempted to turn our back on the natural rhythm of things, desiring to spare ourselves or others the hurt and suffering and thinking ourselves noble and true as a result. Years ago I met a very gifted spiritual director. He made the remark, that he often heard a complaint from people he accompanied. It was never about a lack of kindness, compassion or understanding. It was about his clarity. He admitted that this often cut him to the quick. He was a man in whose heart resided a deep and personal concern for all the people in his care. Yet, his was a real compassion and not a false pity. He called them by name to be the truth, beauty and goodness that God intended them to be. He saw in them potential and fidelity, a real power and loving nobility. But often it was fettered, covered up or weighed down by sin and neglect. Unwilling to let them settle for less, he practised a true compassion by inviting them to liberation, uplifting them to freedom and showing them a vision of what could yet be reality for them all.

 When I heard this old man’s story, I thought he must feel much like Pedro Arrupe. In the end it is often the only way to heal, the only way to save a life. »Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it shall remain alone«. How compassionate would Arrupe have been if he had spared that man the awful pain? It is a telling lesson of our faith. We may spare another the pain of dying naturally like the grain of wheat, and discover that we have actually denied them authentic life.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, March 21st, 2021

 

 

A Man »put in place as a rock« *

 

A faithful companion,

who takes good and reliable care of his wife and son,

who knows what to do in case of danger and acts accordingly,

who does not put himself in the foreground, but always lives up to his responsibility for thos entrusted to his care,

who maintains a deep connection with God -

who would not wish for such a companion, such a father?!

Matthew and Luke tell us all this about Joseph from Nazareth.

And it is precisely this that makes him a role model for many people in their lives: caring like him, listening to God's voice and reliably assuming responsibility. How many institutions in which needy people are cared for bear his name for this reason! In our world, however, self-promotion and big words seem to get more attention; when things get difficult, patience and perseverance are lacking, excuses quickly pass our lips and God is a foreign word for many.

The Jesuit Alfred Delp lived and suffered in his world during the years of Nazi rule. But he persevered and won his very own connection and devotion to St. Joseph. Because of his connection to the resistance, he was arrested in July 1944 and wrote in prison:

Joseph » is the man on the margins, in the shadows. The man of silent assistance and help. The man in whose life God constantly intervenes with new instructions and missions. His own plans are silently overtaken. Always new instructions and missions, new departures and new exits.

He is the man who serves. The fact that a word of God binds and sends is self-evident to him. The willingness to serve, now that is his secret. (...) He is the man who wanted to prepare for himself a sheltering domesticity in the silent splendor of the adored Lord God, and who was sent into the insecurity of doubt, of the burdened mind, of the tortured conscience, of the drafty and wind-open streets, of the unhoused stable, of the unreal foreign life.

And he is the man who went...« *

This brings us closer to the deeper reality of the meager words of the Gospel. Alfred Delp knew what it means when plans are thwarted and fidelity to one's mission is challenged again and again, urging one to set out - into foreign lands, against fears, even into death.

Joseph was a man who endured the tensions of life and moved within them without losing himself. He was able to live all that the evangelists narrate succinctly because he was deeply rooted in God.

He was the kind of person of whom Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: »… a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock..« (Mt 7, 24-25)

The world needs people like him today as well, especially today - how good that Pope Francis places him especially close to our hearts this year!

* Alfred Delp, Gesammelte Schriften, IV, 199f

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 19th, 2021

 

 

 

A Legend of St. Patrick

 

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. May his blessing be upon you.

As soon as we speak of St. Patrick, we are surrounded by a plethora of legends that have built up around his person. And as soon as we hear the legends, we become bemused. We do not take them seriously, because we consider them a little childish, or worse, something for the simple-minded and the superstitious.

The legends around Patrick were born of popular perception. This is how the people saw and perceived him. These stories are a different way of approaching the historical person of Patrick. They are not born of the historical-critical eye of the scholar. They spring forth from the awed and deeply touched heart after the encounter with Patrick. These are not the cold, analytic depictions of the scientific mind, forever condemned to stand among the bystanders and spectators of the world. These are the stories of encounter, of the warmth that was felt, the horizons that opened the hearts that trembled because they were privilege to meet Patrick. They knew that what they experienced in the encounter with him was riven with God. These storytellers were never spectators, but participants.

Permit me to share my favourite legend of Patrick. One of the stories begins when Patrick takes leave of his parent’s home in Britain to return to Ireland. He takes his beloved walking stick with him, made of the wood of the ash tree. On his journey, he repeatedly stops to gather the folks, break the bread and to tell the stories of God. He takes every opportunity he gets to preach the Good News of Jesus.

When he would pause in a village, it was his habit to thrust his walking stick into the ground. For him it was a sign that he would not just move on, but was ready to stop and stay awhile. One day, he reached a village and decided to stop there to share the stories of God and the stories of faith with its people. As usual, he thrust his walking stick into the ground. Yet, this time it took a long time for the stories to be heard. Troubled hearts, anxious hearts, and hardened hearts did not immediately open and welcome his words. There was hesitation, confusion, reluctance and resistance. So Patrick stayed much longer in this place, telling the tales and preaching the good news. And because it took so long a time, the walking stick made from the wood of the ash tree developed roots and turned into a living tree. The place where all this occurred was thereafter called Aspatria, meaning ash of Patrick.

Now let us turn to the people who told this story. They chose the tree as the symbol of what they experienced. In biblical narratives, the tree often serves as a symbol of the human being and his or her growth. The tree enjoys a broad diversity, which one sees in the branches and leaves and fruits it bears.  Yet, this diversity forms a mysterious unity. The unity is the trunk from which everything branches out. This unity (the trunk) gets its life from roots. Roots, however, are buried deep in the earth and do their life-giving work in places we cannot see.

In deeply symbolic language, the people who encountered Patrick are telling us what they experienced, what touched them and what they took away from the encounter. If we stop to listen to Patrick’s stories of God and stories of faith, then what happened to his walking stick will also happen to us. They learned that we have to draw strength from the hidden places. We have to grow in two directions at the same time- We have to grow deep in order to keep connected and well grounded. We also have to grow upward, to stretch toward the heavens, to toward the light. Our lives need to branch out, grow higher and broader, bear fruit and ward the heavens and the light. And we need to trust the unseen parts of this process, happening in the depths (the roots) even while on the surface nothing is apparently happening.

If we move among these people, they will reveal to us the nature of the awed and touched heart after the encounter. What do they remember? What do they ache to tell us about their encounter with Patrick?

Let me write for you an imaginary letter. One night the storytellers behind the legend sit down to write us.

»Friends of the future. We pass the legend on to you, because what is precious to us we would not deny you. We knew Patrick, touched his hands and were touched by his hands. His voice still echoes in our hearts long after they stopped ringing in our ears. To have met the man was to have known something of God. And who can then keep silent? Here was a man who had patience with us. Even when he realised that his message took a long time to get through to us, he did not walk away, curse our ignorance or belittle our lack of learning. He stayed with us, accompanying us by giving us the time and the space we needed to open ourselves to the unknown God.

It is something we have never forgotten. In our day we have often been written off by the powerful, belittled and derided by the learned and treated with disdain, even by preachers. In all likelihood, the scholars of your day, will treat us and our stories in much the same fashion. But we pass our stories on to you, not to them. From Patrick we received dignity. From him we learned, that genuine storytelling and authentic preaching are not ventures for those who are looking for the quick profit and the easy win. In this man we learned that genuine storytellers and authentic preachers are looking for God’s people, seeking out their hearts, aiming to touch their wounds.

And we saw in his walking stick the process that was taking place and unfolding within us.  It took a long time for us to take root, dear friends. We had to go deep, not to be fast. So we tell our story to all who have ears to hear. If you do not go deep, you will never be more than a walking stick. If you do not go deep, you will never become a living tree.«

»Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!«  Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you.

 

Erik Riechers SAC

The Feast of St. Patrick, March 17th, 2021

 

 

But whoever does what is true. . .

 

We are quite far advanced on our way through the »holy spring«. Many of us now love this old name for Lent very much and indeed, we have made good progress. Temporally speaking, this is definitely true, as we are now already in the 4th week of Lent. But is it also interiorly consistent and true? A look out the window can guide us. Outside it is currently quite cold, yet life is bursting forth everywhere. What has begun in the darkness of the earth can no longer be stopped. It shows more and more: snowdrops and crocuses, daffodils and the first tips of the tulips, and shoots of perennials where I didn't expect anything at all. Variety shows in the garden, where my eyes had become accustomed to monotonous, lifeless brown. The growth began invisibly, tentatively in the dark, and is now making its way into the light. 

Do I also feel the first signs of vitality in me, tender beginning, perhaps, of processes that increasingly need space and slowly strive outward? Do I allow them to break through when the time comes? May they show themselves? Perhaps - encouraged by silence, prayer, good company - the truth finally breaks through in my heart that God looks at me, loves me and thinks well of me. This makes me grow and drives me out to a completely new vitality, more color, creativity and agility. It must be allowed to show itself. It wants and must go out into the light. 

»But whoever does what is true comes to the light«, we heard in yesterday's Gospel. Jesus says it to Nicodemus, the respected Pharisee and teacher, who only dares to seek Jesus by night. Longing has moved him to take this step, but at the same time he is afraid. He trusts the familiar securities of his position more than what Jesus' words have triggered in him. He does not seem to be a man of spring.

People of the spring trust the still invisible germ in themselves and let it come into the light by starting to live this found truth. Life that begins to grow within us must at some point be translated into action, into doing. People can talk a lot about what is going on inside them, what ideas and desires they have and what they want to do. But if this is never transformed into action, if the smallest drive of new life is not yet visible in their actions, then they do not live their truth and threaten to wither away. Talking about it is not yet living. When I perceive the truth in me, when new life stirs in me and moves me, then holy spring can come: Let us dare to take the first steps, let us show ourselves to the world, let us go, let us act! With the first shoot of a tulip breaking through the ground, the whole flower is not yet there. But if this breakthrough into the light does not happen, there will be no tulip - no color, no fragrance, no food, no joy, nothing! 

I wish us that we dare to do our truth, so that we grow into the paschal light - sometimes timidly and slowly, sometimes courageously in larger spurts - but always on the way to more life. Indeed, elsewhere Jesus says to his disciples, »the truth will set you free«, (John 8:32) – let us enter into this!

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 15th, 2021

 

 

Mercy is more than a word

 

4th Sunday of Lent B 2021                                          Eph 2: 4–10

 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

even when we were dead in our trespasses,made us alive together with Christ…

Mercy. Hardly has the word fallen and already we feel what longing it awakens in us. It is very welcome in a cold and merciless world. Who among us has never longed for mercy? 

But mercy is not just a word. It should be a way of life. Therefore, we should ask ourselves 2 questions so that we take seriously this experience of mercy, which is also an experience of God.

       1. How does mercy work concretely? (Is it more than being kind?)

  1. How does mercy make us come alive?

The great narratives of the Gospel can be of great help to us, because they trace the path of mercy. Three great characteristics emerge, the primordial experience of all believers in their encounter with their God and the reasons why they experience him as rich in mercy.

 

  1. The first step toward mercy is to have understanding for that which overwhelms others.

In Gospel narratives, it is clear that Jesus he has understanding for the excessive demands on his people, including his disciples. Again and again he shows this understanding when people are not able to carry more, to hear more, or to receive more. They are not able to do more at the moment.

Jesus has this understanding even though it costs him something. This overwhelming of the people and the disciples means that, for the moment, he cannot carry on with his program, even though he still has »many things« to say. But there is no mercy without this first step. Just ask the Samaritan of the parable. It costs him time, oil, wine, and money to help the beaten man. But while he does this, he cannot continue his journey and carry out his plans.

I am fairly certain that we have all had experiences of exhaustion, powerlessness, and being overwhelmed. There have surely been hours when we simply could not go on. I am also sure that in such hours we have occasionally encountered the painful experience of people who showed no understanding for what we were going through. And in that moment we knew, they also have no understanding for us.

Very often there is no understanding, because the other person only hears that what is overwhelming us could now become his problem and that this could change, delay or cross out her plans.

This is what a man told me years ago about a conversation with his boss. This man had brought a multi-million dollar contract to the company, but became very ill in the process. Now he needed treatment as well as time off. Immediately the boss complained about the problems this would cause him and what impact it would have on the duty roster. He never once asked about the well-being of his employee nor about his prognosis. 

If there is no understanding for us when we are being overwhelmed in these situations, then we cannot live well. In that moment, no one feels that they are treated mercifully.

 

  1. The second step toward mercy is patience. 

Jesus sees the overburdening of his people, but he does not assume that it defines us. Just because we humans cannot carry something at a certain point in time does not mean we never will. 

But patience is a tricky business. I once confessed as a teenager to my impatience and its devastating consequences in my relationship with my father and received the not-so-helpful advice, »Be patient!« My response was not patient either as I told the confessor in frustration, »Thanks a lot for that useless answer. If I could already do that, I certainly would not be here confessing impatience.«

What I needed at that time was help. What does patience look like? What steps do I need to take to live patience? Patience will always challenge me to give another person two things, space and time. Patience means giving people the space and time they need for growth, inner processes, maturation, unfolding and development, and for becoming whole.

This is the second step toward mercy. And we know it, because we do not feel mercifully treated when someone does not give us space for what still needs to grow and mature in us. How often do we experience that our tears, our fear and sadness are not given much needed space? No one feels mercifully treated when someone does not give us the time we need to deal with what is still going on inside us. However, we often experience the relentless pressure to be functional. If we are ever sick, sad, or exhausted, there is a merciless pressure that we should be restored and operational as quickly as possible.

The merciful must be able to wait for processes that cannot be accelerated. In this way, mercy can make a person come alive and become vibrant. In such moments of distress, who doesn't benefit from hearing, »Why don't you take the time you need?«

 

  1. The third step toward mercy is the support and fostering of growing greater than we are at the moment.

This third step toward mercy lies in Jesus' promise to send the Spirit. This Spirit will come and deepen what we have before us and within us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus expresses this as follows:

»He will not speak on his own authority. . .

. . . he will take what is mine and declare it to you.«

(John 16: 13-14)

 

Jesus does not pronounce a vote of no confidence in these moments of our lives. His message is not: Well, you have nothing, there is nothing available and therefore we have to start all over again.

Quite the opposite. Jesus expresses his confidence that more is possible than what is presently available. That is why he sends the Spirit. With this he wants to say: what is already there, I will accompany, deepen, support and promote. I will build up what is there, what I find.

To know that I am supported in my desire to become greater, healer, more loving, more just, healthier or better lets me breathe a sigh of relief and revive.

It's not always like that, though. Sometimes we are simply written off as hopeless. Sometimes we just hear that we should change, but get no support. And sometimes we are told that the way we are right now is not the way we should be. It is always a merciless moment, when people to refuse to work with what we have to offer.

Having understanding for being overwhelmed, patience (time + space) for necessary processes of growth and unfolding, and support for becoming greater than what we presently are form the path of mercy. This is the mercy of which God is rich. In this way he gives us a space in which to live.

Mercy is much more than just taking a burden off someone. In the long run, that creates inferiority in the receiver (I can't do it!) and mistrust in the giver (You're right, you can't do it, so I'll take it from you). God's mercy does not want the inferiority of His people, nor does it want to express His fundamental distrust of our ability. The God who is rich in mercy wants us to live, freely, responsibly and creatively.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, March 14th, 2021

 

 

A Swelling Mercy

 

In my last reflection, I told the story of the Ennis Sister and their song, »I will sing you home«. Yet, as my beloved teacher often said, »Every good story gives birth to other good stories«.

A few days ago a friend sent me a video in which »I will sing you home« is performed. He wrote me: »This moved me on so many levels and since I heard it, it rolls around in my heart, day and night. It comforts and encourages me in ways I cannot describe, but which I feel so deeply. I have no words for it, my friend. But I know you do. So I send it to you, because I know you will turn it into something beautiful for others.«

On the video I heard the Holy Heart Chamber Choir sing the song. This was a project that started under the constraints of the Corona pandemic, the students who normally participate in the school choir were concerned about being able to sing under the constrictions of masks and social distancing. Yet, they were confident that their choir director and music teacher, Mr. Robert Colbourne, would find a way. And they were not wrong.

First he listened to what was moving his students’ hearts. Together they chose and arranged this song, which spoke to them about loss and loneliness, love and comfort, and of a courage that sings us home. As one student put it, »It was a song that meant home to us«. In the first moment, they sang for themselves.

But mercy swells and grows. Before long, the choir and their director decided that their singing should be shared, that what they sang could comfort and strengthen others. So they decided to make a video for a music competition sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

But mercy swells and grows. The choir decided to be more inclusive and to translate one of the verses into French, thus allowing a group of another mother tongue to participate more fully in the message and comfort of the song.

But mercy swells and grows. As they grew into the song, and the song grew in them, a greater inclusivity began to unfold in them and they wanted to speak for everyone afflicted by the feelings and experiences that they knew all too well. They wanted to sing everyone home.

So they decided to reach out and include the deaf community. They invited a deaf choir member, Paula Coggins, to sing with them. The Newfoundland Deaf Choir helped the students to learn sign language and to appreciate it as a truly expressive language that employs the whole body as an expression of a deep culture.

On the hauntingly beautiful video of their performance, you will see the result of their efforts.* You will see Paula Coggins singing with them in sign language. You will see shots of students holding up signs with the various reasons why they sing. You will see a series of students holding up signs with a common message: »I sing, because when I sing, I am home!« And you will see the entire choir sing the last verse in sign language.

A tiny group of lonely, frightened, disoriented and isolated people created a video that integrated, included and reached out to innumerable people in their loneliness, fear, disorientation and isolation. A small beginning became something big, because mercy swells and grows.  And that is the story behind the story.

»Every good story gives birth to other good stories.« Rosemarie told us a story about Moses learning a song from God and left us with the question questioning impulse, »Do we have a song for times of trouble?« Her story awakened in me the story of the Ennis Sisters, three women who turned a personal story of tragedy of a suicide in the family into a story in song form. Like mercy, a good story swells and grows. At the moment, it swells and grows in you, beloved reader.

My friend sent me this video, because this song set his heart a swirling. It also moved him to do something more: »So I send it to you, because I know you will turn it into something beautiful for others.«

I just did.

Erik Riechers SAC, March 12th, 2021

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEIFBbHN0PY

 

 

I will sing you home

 

»Do we have a song for times of trouble?« The question that Rosemarie posed in her last reflection has stuck with me since I read it. The line that struck me most was when she wrote of God’s song for troubled times:

»For times such as these God once dictated a song to Moses. Moses, at the end of his life and leadership, had to write it down and teach it to the people; the people had to memorize it for times of trouble and distress that tend to follow sated, self-satisfied times.« 

The sheer loveliness of the scene touched me. What wondrous love is this, that stops to teach us a song, learn it by heart and make sure it is part of the toolbox of the heart, ready at a moment’s notice when the need arises?

Now I am sure, that many of us are touched by that scene. The question is whether we are moved by that scene. Would we follow God’s lead?

In Newfoundland, Canada, a singing trio of sisters, composed such a song. The Ennis sisters wrote a song entitled »I will sing you home«. It was born out of a tragic, painful and emotionally taxing experience in their lives. A young cousin of theirs took his own life. Maureen, one of the sisters, recounts:

»When this happened with Steve it was quite a shock to our family and through that winter, moving through that kind of grief, I really had no idea how to do it. So my writing partner Mark Murphy suggested that we sit down and write a song and so the song came out of a very necessary point in my life of trying to heal through the grief.« * That was in 2008.

Since then, many hundreds of people have sung this song to navigate the turmoil of their personal troubled times. In 2015 the Ennis sisters sang it as part of the service to remember the fallen Soldiers during the 100th anniversary of the catastrophic Battle of Beaumont-Hamel during World War I. In 2019 the three sisters stood on the shores of Juno beach in Normandy and sang their song to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Maureen, Karen and Teresa, the Ennis sisters, followed God’s lead. First of all they wrote a song for troubled times.  Secondly, they took a deeply personal experience and shared it with others, teaching them a song for their own troubled times. Thirdly, countless people learned the song by heart. You can see them singing along at their concerts, at these commemorations, without notes and song sheets. And finally, people bring the song forth during times of trouble. They sing it where grief envelopes them, sorrow overwhelms them, despair is their constant companion and the rawness of life needs a soothing balm.

What God did for Moses, the Ennis sisters did for others in their world. And when people do what God did, I believe we are standing in a privileged place, a holy place, a place where God dwells with the beloved community.

And I believe they found a lovely turn of phrase to describe the holy, healing flow that God set into motion in days long ago. »I will sing you home.« It is what God does for his people until this day. It is what his people do for each other when they live closest to his magnificent heart. This is what such a moment sounds like in the lyrics of the Ennis Sisters.

Too soon to leave this earth.

How could all your work be done?

Ash to ash and dust to dust.

Seemed to me you’d just begun.

 

When grief invades my soul

there's comfort in a prayer, I find.

Though these candles honor you

They burn for those you left behind.

Chorus:

I'll sing for you because I need to.

Right now this is all I know.

I’ll sing so we will not forget you.

I will sing you home.

I will sing you home.

 

Know that you will live

on the lips of those who knew,

what it was you had to give

and what it was they learned from you.

 

This is my prayer for you

and maybe someday I will know,

if it helped your journey home,

or if it helped me let you go.

Chorus

 

We're born unto this earth,

generations one by one.

Ash to ash and dust to dust,

there is nothing left undone. 

Chorus

 

We are living in some fairly troubled times right now. Perhaps we could take up this grand tradition.  Perhaps we could move beyond our personal grief and struggle and open it to others. Perhaps and say to one another, »I will sing you home«. It is a work worthy of God. 

*CBC News, October 29, 2015

Erik Riechers SAC, March 10th, 2021

 

 

Do we have a song for times of trouble?

 

We were sated by so much for so long - and would like to be again.

We followed idols - and did not notice.

Self-confidently we planned our days - and thought it would go on forever.

We had everything under control - now we are standing on shaky ground.

We let nothing be said to us - now we cling to every voice.

Yet: Which one is right? Which one should we follow? Where are we going?

Small boats and big ships are all swaying. We cling to thin sticks: numbers, regulations, ordinances - what is valid today, what tomorrow?

Where is solid ground, a rock in the surf, reliable and faithful?

For times such as these God once dictated a song to Moses. Moses, at the end of his life and leadership, had to write it down and teach it to the people; the people had to memorize it for times of trouble and distress that tend to follow sated, self-satisfied times.

This is how this old song begins:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! »The Rock«, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. Do you thus repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. (Dt 32, 1-7)

 

In detail, the song continues to tell the whole story of the people, once chosen, saved and led, and at some point sated forgetful of God.

Will we find and listen to such a song that sings

            of the reliability and the faithfulness of our God, who was and is and will be,

            who waits for us like a father and in whom we can entrust ourselves?

And if we ourselves still know such a song -

            do we sing it to those who do not know it?

In a time of crisis, Simon Peter said to Jesus, »Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.«  (Jn 6, 68)

Huub Oosterhuis lets us sing:

»May you speak the word that comforts and liberates and that leads me into your great peace. Open up the land that knows no borders, and let me live among your children. Be thou my daily bread, as surely as thou livest. You are my breath when I pray to you.«

Indeed, we have the words and songs for troubled times. Let us practice them again during our Holy Springtime!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 8th, 2021

 

 

What kind of House is this?

 

3. Sunday of Lent B 2021                                          John 2:13-22

 

All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. But while Matthew Mark and Luke tell the story toward the end of the Gospel in the time when Jesus Passion and suffering begins, John makes a boldly different choice. He tells us this tale at the very start of the Gospel when Jesus’s public ministry is just beginning.

What happens at the beginning of a story awakes an expectation. We keep the event in mind, because we want to see how it all plays out. As the story unfolds, we begin to understand the fuller meaning and power of the earlier event, realising there was more here than we suspected.

By putting the cleansing of the Temple at the start of the story, John is already showing us something that will play a distinctive and significant role in the way Jesus accompanies us through life. The cleansing of the Temple is a story of disruption, of being willing to be loud when others hide behind hushed tones and of speaking and living plain truth in places where people choose accommodation as the path of least resistance. When we read this story at the end of a Gospel, it suggests that this is one of the reasons why Jesus is finally arrested, tried and executed. But by placing it at the very beginning of the story, John is saying to us, here is an approach to life and faith that belongs to Jesus from the very beginning, an essential part of who he is and how he lives. Thus, it becomes an essential part of what his apprentices will learn from the Spirit Master.

In this story, we are placed before the Jesus who does not quietly appease all the parties involved. He is willing and quiet able to be confrontational in matters of great importance to his heart.

That, in turn, raises the question, what was so important to his heart, that he overturned tables? What was happening here that made him openly, clearly and publically confront it? What harm or danger did Jesus see here that made him react like this?

The Temple was designed as a set of courtyards that moved ever closer to the Holies and Holies. There was a courtyard of the gentiles to which everyone had access. That was followed by a courtyard for women, then a courtyard for the men, followed by the courtyard of the priests and finally the Holy of Holies. Each successive courtyard became more selective as to who could draw closer to the holiest dwelling place of God.

Thus, the first courtyard, the courtyard of the gentiles, was the most democratic, most egalitarian place in the temple. It was accessible to Jews and Gentiles alike, men and women, and even the unclean were permitted to enter it. Thus, it was the one place in the house of God for everyone. For many, it was the only place in the House of God, because they would by faith, gender, religious status or ritual impurity, not be allowed access to any other courtyard.

Jesus reaction to the business being conducted here has everything to do with that. The one place in the temple that was meant to embrace everyone willing to enter in, was now becoming a place of business and market forces. And one thing we all know about markets, is that they always become a place of separation.

By setting up their stalls here, the merchants let a poison enter the temple: can you afford to be here? If we walk down any street with shops and restaurants, we will subconsciously practice this subtle form of separation and exclusion. We read the menu posted outside the restaurant, check out the prices and then we know, whether we can afford this place. The stores we shop in are silently chosen by that criteria: can I afford this place? If we do not have the money, we do not enter. That is how marketplaces work.

The poor would thus enter the courtyard of the gentiles and quickly realise that they could not afford to be here. They had no money for the animal offerings required for cleansing rituals. It is comparable to places in the world, where people have not baptised their children or celebrated their marriages, because they could not afford the stipend or the fee. This is something that deeply bothers Pope Francis and which he repeatedly challenges.

It bothers Pope Francis, because this is what bothers Jesus. How could the entrance to his Father’s house be the place where the first and deciding question was: Can you afford to be here? Have you ever entered a rather expensive store to simply look and seen how the staff look you over, giving you the distinct impression that they doubt you can afford their products?

The first and deciding experience of entering into the house of God is unmitigated welcome. Jesus is saying: the entrance to my Father’s house is a place where all are welcome. But the first experience and encounter with God is not elitist. It takes place in the rich, chaotic mixture of peoples, in every shade in which they come. The best and the worst we have to offer is welcome here. Where men and women, young and old, rich and poor, sinner and saint and everything in-between can come together and know themselves welcome, that is the place where the encounter with God begins.

And Jesus is not afraid to name this, call it out, and confront it. He does so openly and publically.

That is the challenge of our Spirit Master. We all too easily look away when things are uncomfortable. We do not easily name injustice like this. Because there is a hidden trick to this story. In fact, Jesus could easily have kept silent, because he could afford to be there. His circumstances did not exclude him from entering the house of the Lord. Therefore, he is confronting an injustice that does not directly affect him. He is raising his voice for others. He is overturning the tables for the excluded.

The Church is much afflicted in these days, indeed, battered by many problems, many of her own making. But the most serious problem we as the people of God face today, is whether how we set the starting point for the encounter with God. If we do not start with indiscriminate love and welcome, we turn entrance to God’s house into a marketplace. If we ask, whether they are moral enough, religious enough, pure enough, then we are asking: Can you afford this place?

Religiously elitist groups practice this to this day. They want to welcome only the people they deem worthy, who fit into their image of »appropriate«, who meet their criteria. If you do not have what they are looking for, they let you now in no uncertain terms, that you cannot afford to be there. Some build schools that only accept the children of the wealthy elite. I have seen spiritual programs designed entirely around the executive echelons of businesses. They are created to cater to the powerful, the influential, and of the upper class of the business world, satisfying their needs and serving their agenda. There is no doubt that one must pass the test of the temple merchants to enter this world.

I have also seen the great welcoming spirit of Jesus, in communities that make it clear that money is no obstacle to receiving the finest pastoral care and spiritual accompaniment. I know of superb ministers of the Gospel who make sure that any person can receive the pastoral care they need, regardless of their ability to pay. They go the extra mile to ensure that no one feels uncomfortable, unwanted or »second clas«” because they do not have enough money.

The starting point cannot be what we are able to bring to the house of God, but what we seek in this house.

That is why John puts this story at the start of his Gospel. This is where it all starts. The culture of first welcome, of first encounter, of first contact: it will determine the rest of the story. We need to cleanse the temple with the same passion as Jesus. It is, after all, the way we open the doors to the House of God to a waiting world.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, March 7th, 2021

 

 

Despair or promise?

 

Today, we have a hard time with the word promise when it comes to our personal lives. We are used to having so many more possibilities than the people in biblical times that we have long been on the track of having and holding a great deal, even everything, in our own hands and also of having to deal with it. We are currently experiencing an example throughout the world. A pandemic has been spreading for over a year and at the same time scientists are developing vaccines against it at an unprecedented pace, which can now already be administered. This is extraordinary and wonderful. But it also reinforces in us the feeling that we can and must save ourselves, and we unconsciously transfer that to all areas of our lives.

But what if it doesn't work? What if my illness is not curable? What happens when people deeply disappoint and hurt me and I can't do anything about it and am powerless? What about when a faithful companion has left me and I can't fill the void with anything? Are only resignation and despair left? Or is it precisely here that completely different possibilities and ways open up to set me on the track of my promise?

Through progress and secularization, something went lost in us. The person of the Bible, on the other hand, saw clearly, that agonizing pain needs space and time. And in this moment he was able to turn to God, to whom he unstintingly poured out his heart about what was troubling him. Thus, it became possible for him to find a new perspective on his promise. Psalm 77 is a powerful example of this. The person praying does not mince his words in his distress. He cries and complains, his spirit is desperate and turns in circles at night - we know the feeling. And then he asks: Has God forgotten to be gracious?    Has he in anger shut up his compassion? (Ps 77, 9) And he pauses in the next verse and says to himself: And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed. I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. (Ps 77, 10-11). He remembers the history of salvation of his people and the faithfulness of God, and can enter again into the community of all bearers of the promise of life and future.

However, this does not happen as quickly and easily as it may sound here, and everyone who honestly goes through painful times in his life knows that. How often God repeated his promise to Abraham! How insistently and to the point of exhaustion the prophets reminded the people of Israel of the promise! For the way is long and often irritating. Yes, it requires a long breath and faithful companions and perhaps also the advice that Henri Nouwen gives us for such times: »Cling to the promise«. We cannot find access to it outside; it does not help us to tell our story to all kinds of people. »You must close yourself off to the outside world«,  Nouwen advises, »so you can enter your own heart and the heart of God through your pain. God will send you the people with whom you can share your affliction and who will bring you closer to the true source of love.« He then reminds us that God is faithful to His promises and will give us in this life the love we long for.. »Things will not turn out the way you expect. Your needs and wishes will not be met. But your heart will be filled and your deepest desires will be satisfied. Hold to nothing but this promise. Everything else has been taken from you. Cling to this naked promise in faith. Your faith will heal you.«  (from: Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, , 51998)

We all live because there is a promise upon us - ancient and eternally young. Let us walk with it and keep it alive within us, so that we remember it when doubt gnaws and despair threatens.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 5th, 2021

 

 

People of the Spring

 

Lent is intended to be a holy springtime for us. While nearly everyone feels the charm and attractive quality of this image, springtime also carries within it a spiritual challenge as well as a spiritual responsibility. It calls us to be a people of hope.

My mother was a daughter of the springtime. On every March 1, she would declare loudly and to all of us that spring had officially begun. This declaration was bold indeed, for on the Canadian prairies, winter was still reigning with unbroken power over our lives. The temperatures were cold, the wind icy, and the snow deep. Moreover, we all knew that winter’s grip would last well into April, and occasionally into May.

Therefore, I would gently tease my mother about her declaration of the official beginning of spring by pointing to the prevailing conditions. With unbroken resolve, she would recite to be a verse from a poem she had learnt as a child.

 

Und dräut der Winter noch so sehr

Mit trotzigen Gebärden,

Und streut er Eis und Schnee umher,

Es muss d o c h Frühling werden.

 

And while winter yet threatens

with defiant gestures,

And scatters ice and snow around,

It must become spring.

This is the first verse of a poem by Emanuel Geibel (1815-1884). The poem is entitled Hoffnung. (Hope).

In Hebrews 11:1 we read this line: »Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not being seen.« And that is what my mother was practicing every year. She believed in warmer, gentler days ahead while winter winds whipped about her. She felt assured of a new blossoming life, while icicles hung from every tree branch. She was convinced of the glory of spring while unrelenting cold chilled her bones. That is what people of the springtime do: they defy the momentary experiences of the wintry season and already start living differently, because they are confident that new life is coming. 

My sister is such a defiant daughter of the springtime. (The greatest strength flows through the veins of the women of my clan). Every spring, with breathtaking defiance, she sheds her socks and walks barefoot in her sandals, no matter how many times winter returns with snow, how many times the cold reasserts its grip and how bitter the winds blow across the prairies. I have teased her gently as well over the years, but once the socks are off, there is no going back. That is what people of the spring do: they already start living differently, because they are confident that new seasons are coming. 

When the surprising winter snows arrived here in Germany this year, my colleague went for a walk through the snow piled up in her garden in her bare feet. A tiny, humorous and joyous act of defiance in the face of the wintry season. That is what people of the spring do: they refuse to allow the prevailing experience of the moment dictate how they will live. There is a fierce streak of resistance in them.

That is what the 40 days of the Holy Springtime wishes to restore in us. I leave you with the words of a hymn, so beloved in my home and native land, »Now the Green Blade Riseth«. It is a song of hope for the beloved community moving through the forty days. It is the song of all those who in the midst of the wintry season remain spring-believers, sock-shedders, and bare foot snow walkers. It is the song of resistance for the people of the spring time.

Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,

Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;

Love lives again, that with the dead has been:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

In the grave they laid Him, Love who had been slain,

Thinking that He never would awake again,

Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

Forth He came at Easter, like the risen grain,

Jesus who for three days in the grave had lain;

Quick from the dead the risen One is seen:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,

Jesus' touch can call us back to life again,

Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.*

 

* A gorgeous version can be heard here:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=En28Je8ehDs

 

Erik Riechers SAC, March 3rd, 2021

 

 

On the trail of loneliness

 

One of the increasing plagues and laments of our modern world is the suffering of loneliness. The pandemic has intensified this distress and it is worth taking a deeper look at the phenomenon of loneliness.

A young woman, then in her early 20s and very familiar with this feeling because of her unfolding fidelity to herself and her very unique gifts, told me many years ago, » It's becoming ever clearer to me that we humans come into this world alone and end up leaving it alone.« She began to accept that the feeling of being alone is part of life.

I couldn't help but think of her when I came across a text by Henri Nouwen these days. It comes from a book that Nouwen himself called his »secret diary« and wrote during a very difficult time in his life. In great distress at the time, he went into self-chosen exile and wrote down, step by step, everything he went through and learned. Of course, the feeling of loneliness played a significant role there and he appeals from his own experiences to approach its source:

»Whenever you feel lonely, you must try to locate the source of that feeling. You tend to either run away from your loneliness or settle into it.  When you run away from it, it doesn't actually diminish, you just push it out of your consciousness for a short time. Settling into it only intensifies your feelings, and you slip into depression.

               The spiritual task at hand is not to escape your loneliness, nor to allow yourself to be drawn into it, but to seek out its source, to pursue its reason. It is not an easy undertaking, but if you somehow succeed in identifying the place from which these feelings emanate, they will lose power over you. Determining this source is not an intellectual task, but a task of the heart. You must search for this place with your heart and without fear.

               This search is important because it leads you to discover something good about yourself. Suffering your loneliness may be rooted in the depths of your vocation. You might come across that your loneliness is related to a calling to live fully for God. Thus, your loneliness may turn out to be the other side of your unique gift. Once you can experience this truth in your innermost being, you will find your loneliness not only bearable, but even fruitful. What at first appeared to be a pain may afterwards prove to be a feeling, albeit a painful one, that opens the way for you to a deeper knowledge of God's love.« (from: Henri J.M. Nouwen, Die innere Stimme der Liebe,5  1998)

    The young woman of that time drew nearer to her loneliness, cautiously, with increasingly less fear and a growing openness. In the process, she came to know herself more and more and finally found wonderful companions who were close to her heart.

She became ever more courageous and authentic, in order to venture into her life freely and in responsibility before God and herself, ever anew. And she is no longer afraid of loneliness!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March, 1st, 2021

 

 

A Tale of Two Transfigurations

 

2. Sunday of Lent B 2021                                          Mark 9:2-10

 

Every second Sunday of Lent we hear this story of the Transfiguration. The first thing that happens, is that our eye is drawn toward the transforming light that envelopes Jesus. The story draws our eye toward the glory. Yet, our ear is drawn toward a heralds’ voice from Heaven. The sounds and the sights of this story move us in very different directions. For the minute the voice from heaven’s heights is heard, its message turns our eye back to the person of Jesus. Furthermore, the voice emphasises what it sees and loves in Jesus, and it is neither the light, nor the glory. It is the belovedness.

So today I thought I would get into the action as well and draw your eye away from center stage. Instead I would draw your attention to the other side of the story, where Peter, James and John are huddled together, mesmerized and confused at the same time. This is our side of the story.  Charles Dickens once wrote a novel entitled: »A Tale of Two Cities«. Well, my brothers and sisters, this is a tale of two transfigurations. Across from the trio of Jesus, Moses and Elija, there is a group of three also being gradually transfigured by what they are seeing and hearing. And from their midst, Peter utters an important line: »Lord, it is good to be here«.

This story tells us quit vividly how Peter, James and John arrived at this transformative moment:

  1. Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves

They climbed the mountain with Jesus, moving out of the everyday experience to a more privileged mountaintop moment, where you have a greater overview of life and the world, and are a little more isolated from the hustle and bustle of the valleys and the plains.

  1. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

All of a sudden, the Jesus so familiar to them appears in a totally different light. His whole appearance changes, and they see him from a side they never experienced before. Moses and Elijah appeared next to him in splendor, and for the first time they recognise the wide world of his relationships, a world considerably larger than the one in which they have walked and talked and broken bread with him until now. Like all transformative experiences, this one lets them see old things with new eyes, old relationships in a new light.

  1. Then Peter said to Jesus, »Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.« He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Peter does the talking here, but he speaks on behalf of his companions and, if we are honest, for us. Who wants to leave such a moment behind? We are deeply enough aware of its importance that we know, there is more here than we can grasp and take in all at once. We need more time. We need to linger a little.

Peter wants to make three dwellings, because he wants to stay in this experience and to hold on to this moment.

Over and over, preachers roundly criticized him for this attitude. I will not add my voice to that chorus of complaint. After all, I am just like him. Every place that has ever »held me in thrall«, made me want to build three tents, to stay and enjoy and relish. In every place, occasion and moment that has mesmerized me, I have never once felt the urge to leave.

I seriously doubt that it is task of that moment to want to leave. The question might be better re-framed: What will we do when this moment ends? Having seen what we have seen, and heard what we have heard, is it not possible to go to other places, less thrilling and hardly as overwhelming, and still seek and see and name the belovedness of Christ as clearly as the voice rumbling out of the clouds? Is it possible, that we might go elsewhere and still say of the less overwhelming moments and less dramatic places of life: »Lord, it is good to be here.«?

I cannot help but like Peter. He is so much like us. His instinct is our instinct, and our instinct in these moments of glory is to try and capture the experience. At the same time, we also know that we really do not know what we are saying in this moment, because our own experience tells us this will end badly if we try. Thus, we bring back wine from our holidays, but it just does not taste as good at home. We bring home the recipe for the meal that delighted us and we cook it in our own kitchen, but it is never really the same. Why not? Because genuine moments of transformation always elude our imprisonment. We cannot hold them fast. It does not work in the worlds of our memories and not in our video clips, selfies, and Facebook posts. Whatever dwellings we build, they cannot contain the purest, deepest part of the transforming experience.

So we need to recall the transforming moments of our lives and ponder them somewhat more exactingly. Remember the moments when mountains became moments of mystery and not just piles of rock, when spring blossoms spoke to us of God, when the first word of a child was as moving and momentous as the ten words from Sinai, and a glance across the breakfast table at partner and companion became a feast of revelation.

Linger as long as you can. Don’t waste your time building dwellings, but drink in the moment with your eyes and ears. Be silent with gratitude. These are moments not unlike those Peter, James and John experienced. And therein lays the deep truth, the clue that unveils the mystery: Transfigurations don't happen on mountains. They also do not happen in parks or street corners. They happen in us.

I think of less dramatic transfigurations in my life.

Sitting with a group of old people whose memories are few and realizing that God sees each of them as he created them, as his perfect child. This was a place that had none of the spectacle of Tabor, but all of its splendour. It was a place where I had to say: Lord, it is good to be here.

I once sat at the deathbed of a woman who opened her eyes one last time and said: Thank you for not leaving me alone! It was sad, painful, and sorrowful. When I recall the moment, I feel it transforming me still. And I still can say: Lord, it is good to be here.

I have often sat in my chair reading a good book and my eyes grew wide and I knew what I needed to know without needing words. The book drops from my hands and I am at peace. Is this not the place to say: Lord, it is good to be here?

Like our biblical companions, we too will come down the mountain and ponder a question: What can this rising from the dead mean? Transformative mountaintop moments of life do that for us, leaving us with questions that continue to rouse us from the slumbers that threaten to put our spirit to death. »What can this rising from the dead mean?« is a question that can wake us from passivity, indifference and numbness toward life, love and mystery. What can this rising from the dead mean, when we walk again along the common paths of life, and dwell once more among faces so familiar and places so well known? Will we allow these moments to awaken a deep passion, a consuming fire within us that lets us see them in a new light? Will we allow a voice from the cloud to point out the belovedness in the world beyond the ordinariness that can dull us, just as it called us to see the belovedness beyond the glory that can blind us?

Nikos Kazantzakis once wrote: »God is not found in monasteries, but in our homes! Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God: wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, that’s where God is, too. The God I’m telling about, the domestic one, not the monastic one, that’s the real God.« (The Last Temptation of Christ, Page 70)

May this grand storyteller, who understood our side of this story so well, do us one last favor. Let us listen to a parable that flowed from his quill to bring this to an end:

A man came up to Jesus and complained to him about the hiddenness of God. »Rabbi,« he said, »I am an old man. During my whole life, I have always kept the commandments. Every year of my adult life, I went to Jerusalem and offered the prescribed sacrifices.

Every night of my life, I have not retired to my bed without first saying my prayers. But . . . I look at stars and sometimes the mountains - and wait, wait for God to come so that I might see him. I have waited for years and years, but in vain. Why, Why? Mine is a great grievance, Rabbi! Why doesn’t God show himself?«

Jesus, in response, smiled gently and said: »Once upon a time there was a marble throne at the eastern gate of a great city. On this throne sat 3,000 kings. All of them called upon God to appear so that they might see him, but all of them went to their graves with their wishes unfulfilled.

Then, when these kings had died, a pauper, barefooted and hungry, came and sat upon that throne. ‘God,’ he whispered, ‘the eyes of a human being cannot look directly at the sun, for they would be blinded. How then, Omnipotent One, can they look directly at you?

Have pity, Lord, temper your strength, turn down your splendor so that I, who am poor and afflicted, may see you!’ Then - listen, old man - God became a piece of bread, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, a hut and, in the front of the hut, a woman giving suck to an infant.

‘Thank you, Lord,’ he whispered. ‘You humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water, a warm tunic and my wife and son in order that I might see you. And I did see you. I bow down and worship your beloved many-faced face!’«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, February 28th, 2021

 

 

Why we should not speak of the Pandemic as a Lenten Experience II

 

Fasting is more than imposed abstinence

In my last reflection, I pointed out that unlike the pandemic, Lent is voluntary and not inflicted. We choose to practice Lent because we see it as a meaningful way to restore what has been lost to us. The pandemic is not a choice, but a tragedy we are forced to cope with.

During the Lenten springtime, we turn to the practice of fasting, but here, too, we need to avoid comparing this to the imposed and forced abstinence of the pandemic.

In Isaiah 58, 1-9 the prophet points out that fasting cannot consist in mere abstinence. Simply refusing to eat is a hunger strike, not a fast. The prophet is brutally clear on this matter. Fasting has to open us up to new horizons of service, justice and mercy. Otherwise it is displeasing to God. That is not what pandemic measures do.

In fact, it is a simple lesson for us to learn. I have found it incredibly easy to fast from food in my life, and never widen the welcome of my heart one whit. At other times I have fasted from food, but let my spirit gorge itself on anger, bitterness, and even selfishness. At yet other times, I have fasted and found myself more querulous than I was before the fast. The prophet’s words ring with fine rebuke in my ears. »Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.« (Is 58, 3-4)

This is powerful, provocative language. »You cannot fast as you do today   and expect your voice to be heard on high«. (Is 58,4) Two things are implied in this statement. First it tells us that improper fasting does not gain us an audience with God. However, in the second instance it reminds us that proper fasting is defined as that which garners us a new hearing from God. If you fast, and it does not bring you closer to God, the fast has failed.

My friends, fasting can bring us closer to God by making us more profoundly aware of the concerns of His heart. While we eat, drink and practice merriment, our lives are intensely focused on the concerns of our own hearts, on our personal pleasures. Fasting creates hunger. The question is »What kind of hungers are awakened in us?«  After putting down your pork chops, chicken legs and rib-eye steaks, do your hearts have the same cravings found in the heart of God? These are not questions raised by the imposed abstinence of the pandemic measures.

It is not that hard to give answer to this biblical inquiry. What are the cravings of the heart of God? Simply this:

»Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?«

 

What is the hunger of God’s heart?

»Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?«

If we fast, then what burns in the heart of God must become the heartburn of humanity. If you fast from bread and never let a morsel of it touch the lips of the hungry, then you are simply stockpiling bread. If you refrain from consumption of any and every kind, and give none of what you have saved to those who never have the luxury of fasting because they have nothing to give up, then you have not only spared yourself, but also denied them. None of the enforced abstinence of the pandemic has brought forth such fruits.

Permit Lent to unfetter your joy. Isaiah promises that it will be so. If you let Lent alleviate the greeds of your heart with the needs of God’s heart, then »your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appea; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.« Now that is what I call joy. Yet the fullness of joy found in the fullness of the fast, is that it will grant us a hearing before our beloved God. It is the final promise of the prophet. »Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.« Think long and lovingly on this, beloved of the Lord. What morsel could you possibly eat that would satisfy your heart and soul as much as knowing that in every hour the Lord will answer your plea with his presence?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, February 26th, 2021

 

 

Why we should not speak of the Pandemic as a Lenten Experience I

 

Some people have complained about this Lent after a year of the pandemic. I have often read commentaries that say: »Why should we practice Lent this year after 11 months that have been nothing but one long, continual season of Lent?«

While I understand the frustration the last year has brought with it, and the restlessness that comes with it, it dismays me to hear the pandemic compared to Lent. To use Lent to describe the year of the pandemic is to employ the worst of all possible stereotypes we have about the Forty Days. This question is less a statement about the effect of the pandemic than a revelation of a very negative and false understanding of the forty days. It suggests that the only purpose of Lent is to impose a time of misery, hardship and discontent through imposed sanctions and practices.  It suggests that suffering and pain are the purpose and goal of the Forty Days.

That is not all that surprising, considering the way Lent is often practiced. This is supposed to be a holy springtime, but often it was reduced to one over-simplified question: What are you giving up this year? Entirely lost in the process was the question: What is the purpose of all this? What are we trying to achieve in this season in which abstinence and fasting have a very real role to play? And what is the role of fasting (abstinence) in all of this.

When we use Lent as a description of this time of the pandemic, we employ a cheap caricature of Lent. Lent is not comparable to the pandemic for several reasons. And knowing them will help us to remember the deepest and genuine meaning of Lent.

First of all, the season of Lent is voluntary and freely chosen. Unlike the pandemic, it is not inflicted upon us. It is not thrust upon us, but freely and willingly taken up. We choose to practice Lent, because we see it as a meaningful way to restore what has been lost to us. The pandemic is not a choice, but a tragedy we are forced to cope with.

Secondly, the season of Lent is a conscious act. The measures we have been forced to undertake during the year of the pandemic do not require a conscious choice on my part. They are proclaimed from the outside, without regard for my inner consent. The state decrees them, demands them from us and enforces our adherence to them. Lent is a movement born of inner choice, will and desire. Its measures are consciously taken up. If I do not choose them, there is no who will demand or enforce my adherence to them. There are no penalties, no fines, if you sneak a bite of chocolate, sip your wine or eat meat on Friday.

Thirdly, the purpose of Lenten practices renewal and reinvigoration. As a holy springtime, it wants to restore flow where things have come to a standstill. Like spring restarts the flow of sap within the trees after the cold of winter, so the Lenten spring wants to set love flowing again, where wintry seasons have brought it to a standstill. The measures of the pandemic have a different purpose. They are not trying to set new life in motion, but are exercises in avoidance. They want to avoid contact with what is harmful and not to renew contact with what is life giving.

Finally, the ultimate goal of the Lenten springtime is the restoration of fullness of life. Every exercise of Lent asks what we need to do to find our way back home, to the place where a full and meaning life is possible. The measures of the pandemic are by their very essence not restorative, but preventive. They wish to protect us from potentially harmful infection that can harm us, but that is all. Even if you never catch the virus, it will only mean you have preserved your present state of health, but you have not grown healthier. That is a critical difference to the Lenten spring time. It does not want to avoid winter, but lead us to summer. It does not wish us to avoid hell, but to guide us to heaven.

(To be continued)

Erik Riechers SAC, February 24th, 2021

 

 

»From the mouths of children and infants«

 

»From the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise « - a part of verse from the Psalms that many of us know and love, that seems easy to understand and which we lightly pass over.

Let us take a closer look. What do we hear from the mouths of the smallest ones? They cry out when their needs are existential, they babble to themselves, they try to imitate sounds, they test out their voice: when they get bigger, they often blabber lively and say what comes to their minds; they pose question after questions or tell us what their imagination inspires in them. Children express plainly everything that they feel: Pain and joy, fear and tension, homesickness and the desire for life. All inner processes of liveliness flow past their lips. They have an unmistakable sense of what is real and true, something we have mostly forgotten out of deference to conventions and acquired patterns of behavior. Is it any wonder that God, who loves all life, deems this as praise? Everything that lives and expresses life praises the Creator of all life. Thus, He »creates« praise for Himself from all that the youngest naturally and freely let sound from their mouths. We often deem this incomprehensible or simply cute or try to explain it or even demean it. For God, however, it becomes the praise of life in general, the praise of Him as Creator. Because what the little ones express is existential, pure, honest and true.  

 This verse is at the beginning of Psalm 8, which praises both the Creator and creation, and goes on to emphasize the greatness and dignity of man. 

»From the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise on account of Your adversaries, to silence the enemy and avenger« - unexpected are the further words of this verse. But let us remember: When from praise of the Creator flows naturally from the mouth of children, then all those who neither appreciate nor love life have nothing more to say. They are not on the side of the Author of all life. We all know the voices of people who are know-it-alls and judge everything, who can no longer marvel, who have forgotten how to express their feelings and prefer to repress them. How many people have cut off parts of their inner life? They speak about what »one« wants to hear. They follow a tactic, but not the diversity of life. What counts is what is useful to them, but not what truly serves life.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus holds this very sentence up against the powerful: »But the chief priests and scribes were indignant when they saw the wonders He performed and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked. Yes,’ Jesus answered. ‘Have you never read: ‘From the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise?’« (Mt 21, 15-16).

Anyone who takes notice and takes seriously the little ones and what they say feel how close they come to real life through them. No hour that we spend in this way is wasted time - not for the children, but also not for us. It is an hour of truthfulness. With their help, let us return to the genuine depths of life.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February, 22nd, 2021

 

 

Why we need deserts

 

1. Sunday of Lent B 2021                                          Mark 1:12-15

 

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.

And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Mk 1, 12-13

 

None of the evangelists recounts Jesus' desert experience as briefly and succinctly as Mark. Here no detailed temptations are described. He does not spare a word about stones that should be turned into bread and no one has to bow down before the tempter to possess the kingdoms of this earth. Mark does not tell us about the temptation to throw oneself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to test the rapid response times of the angels.

This brevity of words has a great advantage. Mark pierces through to the heart of the matter and a very fundamental decision. Like Jesus, we hear the words of God revealing to us that we are his beloved sons and daughters. Yet, the story does not end there. As in the Gospel itself, what the Father’s voice speaks to us at the Jordan is where the story begins. We are beloved people, but whether we want to live as such is another question, and one that tests us to the core.

To find out whether we want to live out this dignity as beloved sons and daughters, we need three things: 1. a desert, 2. wild animals, and 3. servant messengers of God.

  1. A Desert

We need places where we are not distracted, where we are thrown back on the essentials of life. T.S. Lawrence answered the question why he loved the desert with the sentence: »It is clean«. Deserts are about curse and blessing, life and death. In deserts we experience life stripped down to the basics. Deserts have no distractions, no amusing entertainments and no superficial conversations about trifles that make us forget what we don't want to notice, look at and tackle.

We need such places and times of desert to find out what really matters to us, what our real convictions are, what really moves us. We need them, because they give us the place where we can break through to the heart of the matter. In the desert, this pursuit is no longer sidelined by the pleasurable distractions life has to offer.

  1. Wild animals

In such desert situations we also live »with the wild animals«. Wild animals devour what they find in the desert. They are looking for prey, and the more vulnerable the prey, the better. They exploit the helplessness of their prey and turn it to their advantage. They turn the plight and weakness of others into something from which they profit.

This experience is not exactly foreign to us. There are also wild animals in our times of crisis that sense an advantage for themselves and relentlessly make use of it. They see when others are helpless and at their mercy and exploit their situation for their own purposes. The Bible also has another word for this: human sacrifice. Human sacrifice is the willingness to sacrifice other people so that I can live better.

We need this experience of the wild animals to examine what we really want to be: Do we want to join their ranks? Do we want to be just as cold and calculating in seeking our advantage, no matter what the cost to others? Do we care less about the fate of others as long as we get off easy?

The temptation is great. In the great refugee crisis of our time, there are people who put their heart and soul into helping maltreated people. There are also others who are smugglers and exploit this great human suffering to enrich themselves. In the pandemic there are people who tirelessly care about others, but at the same time people who think only about their benefits, who demand to jump the queue and be vaccinated first, regardless of the people around them who suffer more and are at far greater risk than themselves. There are is not shortage of wild animals in our deserts. .

  1. Servant messengers of God.

It is said that the angels served Jesus in the desert. This is also our experience in times of desert distress. People are sent by God to serve the life that is destitute, endangered and exposed. There are wild animals that kick us when we are already down. There are also servant messengers of God who lift us up from the dust so that we do not fall by the wayside. There are wild animals that can hardly contain their glee at the mishaps of others, and there are servant messengers of God who share our suffering and pain. There are wild animals who see the anguish of others as an occasion to be triumphant (let's think of such phrases as »I knew it« or »I told you so«). But there are also servant messengers of God who give help and relieve pain to bring a person back to life.

And here we are confronted with the third possibility of a desert experience: what kind of person do I want to be? Because the beloved son or daughter of God is not a wild animal, and should not behave as such. The beloved child is a servant messenger of God, a bringer of salvation, a guardian of the inexperienced and a comforter of the afflicted.

What Mark is telling us is fundamental: what kind of people do we want to be? And only in deserts will we really test what kind of answer slumbers within us.

I hope and pray that we will take this instruction of God to heart. Is there anyone among us who has not made the painful experience that is reflected in a saying of my homeland: When the chips are down, you will discover who your friends are? Well, when we are in the desert, we will discover who our true friends are, but whether we ourselves are cut of the cloth of genuine, loving, serving friendship. There is nothing like a desert to rid us of our self- illusions.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, February 21st, 2021

 

 

»The Holy Springtime«

 

Every year I observe with gladness, in myself as well as with others, what the first signs of spring are and how they affect us. The light increases, the days grow longer and the shadows are already noticeably shorter. The sun is gaining strength; sometimes you can sit in a sheltered corner sunlight and enjoy the warmth as early as February. Gradually, more color comes into the world - the witch hazel is a very early harbinger of yellow and what will follow. Birdsong delights us in the morning, large flocks of wild geese make themselves loudly heard in the afternoon on their migration north.

They are all signs of life, new life, and resurgent life! It lures us out, we feel the desire for purification and more lightness, as well as setting forth and for new beginnings.

In ancient times, there was the custom of the »holy springtime«, called "ver sacrum": young men born in the springtime who had in the meantime grown up were sent out among the ancient Italic peoples, or expelled, to conquer new land and found a new tribe there. So here too: more life, new living space, future possibilities, at the same time saying goodbye and courageously starting anew.

In the early church, people spoke of our Lenten season as the »holy springtime«. It is important to consider the word »holy«.  In the Bible, only the Holy One is holy, God Himself. Nothing is holy of itself, but only through contact with the holiness of God. Where the shadow of the Most Holy falls, there the beauty of holiness is to be found.

The 7 weeks before Easter are meant to bear all the signs of spring, as they now increasingly appear in our latitudes. They should serve as a sacred time of departure into new life when and because we walk through them in contact with God and in relationship with Him. God loves life in all its facets, and we can make this season of preparation a sacred time by making space for all that we perceive and love in nature during the springtime. We can make it a sacred time by perceiving ourselves anew in relationship with God, entering into ourselves and looking at what God has placed within us. »Become what God made you to be« could allow a springtime burst forth: with more glimpses of light where we saw so much gloom; with more warmth where we dealt coldly with ourselves and others; with more color where we had already become so accustomed to monotony that we hardly recognized it; with more voices and music where we wanted our peace and quiet; with more vitality in ourselves and with others, where we were bored.

Indeed, to this end it will good and necessary to renounce the habits that have kept us from all this for too long. But that is the magic of spring, where the dead old leaves are pierced by the pointed shoots of the tulip bulbs and the young shoots of the perennials. New things grow from within and the old may quietly pass away. How much life is within us - let us help it gently and persistently to sprout and eventually blossom.

Let us be told anew: God is a lover of life - it is something sacred to love life. Thus, let us enter into the holy spring.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 19th, 2021

 

 

How do I get back home from here?

 

This question is the theme of our Wellspring Days in 2021 as well as of our Shea Course. Only two months into the year, we are hearing how the theme has found deep resonance with so many people. The reason for that is simple enough: We are all feeling a little lost.

The deepest effect of sin, of living beneath our dignity, is estrangement. This is a remarkable word in the English language. It stems from the French estrangier »to alienate«, and from the Vulgar Latin extraneare »to treat as a stranger«.

It perfectly describes our experience of being lost: living like aliens or exiles, far from what home is and means to us, living like strangers within the lives we have chosen for ourselves and made for ourselves. We know that dreadful feeling of living like outsiders looking in at wat we crave but cannot gain access to. We can experience this in every relationship we know: treating the God of our lives like a stranger, alienated from the world that surrounds, sustains and carries us, exiled from our brothers and sisters, near and far, and even estranged from ourselves.

For many, if not most people, Lent is perceived as the time when we focus on this estrangement. To a degree, that is true. Yet, the Lenten spring is more precisely and accurately our annual pause to pose the question that arises from the ashes of estrangement: How do I get back home from here? How do we get back to the home and the hearth of our hearts?

Ash Wednesday offers a first answer to this question. Six times Jesus will speak about a hidden place (krypto or kruphaoi).

But when you give to the needy,

do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

so that your giving may be in secret. (krypto)

And your Father who sees in secret (krypto) will reward you.

(Mt 6, 3-4)

 

But when you pray,

go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen (krypto).

Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, (krypto) will reward you.

(Mt 6, 6)

 

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,  so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen (kruphaoi) and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, (kruphaoi)) will reward you.

(Mt 6, 17-18)

Go to the secret, the hidden, place. Jesus is worried about getting this right. Whether it is giving alms, praying or fasting, all laudable practices in Lent, none of them will lead us home if they are not born from and flow out of our secret place.

That is the first place we need to go in order to find our way home. It has a rich tradition in Gospel storytelling. Jesus uses it in the parable of Father and his prodigal sons. The youngest son begins the journey home only after this line is said:  »Now coming into himself...« That is the secret place. Only then does his saving memories surface and he says: ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, »Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you«.

When we come into ourselves, we find what he does, the memory of a father who treats his servants better than anything he has known at the hands of his present employers. He remembers a house of bread while starving in a pig sty. He remembers there is a home to which he can return. What he remembers gives him the first step in the answer to the question: How do I get back home from here?

Whatever we choose to do during this Lenten Springtime, we should begin here, in the secret place of our hearts, that room where we come into ourselves, not distracted and waylaid by outer appearances and performances put on for the sake of others. That is the way that leads to estrangement. We should be focused on getting home so that we can say, »I will arise and go to my father.«

I remind us all of a truth we speak often this year that is particularly important during the Lenten Spring. »The path home is long, hard and complicated, but you don’t have to take it by yourself.«

Thus, I wish us all together a good journey home.

Erik Riechers SAC, Ash Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

 

 

Life with Promise

 

Here in the Rhineland, many people are sad these days, because Carnival is not taking place during the pandemic. They miss the exuberance, the celebrating, dancing and singing together. Many console themselves with the beloved music of this time, share pictures of past carnivals, and plan for the future.

But life always holds an incredible palette of shades, and so these days there is also sadness of a deeper kind. In front of me is a death announcement: from my circle of acquaintances an almost 94-year-old woman died. Her family speaks in it of love and gratitude for a full life and a peaceful death.

At the top of this announcement is a promise that touched my heart, because I immediately felt the attitude with which this family looks at the life of their mother and grandmother and how they go through this time of mourning:

»Do not fear,

for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name,

               you are mine!«

                                                           (Is 43)

This promise – pointing beyond death – stands over the life of the old woman. Here a family mourns in the face of the final farewell from a loved one, in the deep faith and trust that what Isaiah pronounces as God's word to his people in exile was also spoken precisely to this woman .

Do not be anxious, do not worry, do not fill yourself with fearful thoughts of lies ahead.

                For I myself have already delivered you, you are free.

You are already called, by me.

               You, I have called you by your name, it is YOU who are meant.

Do not forget: You belong to me.

What a boundless offer of home and belonging! You no longer have to roam about and look for a place to stay: You are mine, always have been. Come home!

Whatever weighs down the heart of each of us, whether our stage of life is easy or mighty boulders lie before us: This promise is valid for us as well. Let us hear it anew, let us absorb it into our hearts and shape our lives from it. So that we can go through this and all days with a joyful spirit.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 15th, 2021

 

 

All for one and one for all

 

6. Sunday B 2021                                          Mark 1:40-45 

 

»I never thrust my nose into other men's porridge. It is no bread and butter of mine; every man for himself, and God for us all.« Miguel de Cervantes lets Don Quixote speak these words in his masterpiece. The quote mirrors an attitude that we come to know in various forms and disguises in our lives, our relationships and in our society.

By contrast, Alexandre Dumas lets his Musketeers Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan say something altogether different in the face of the trials, adventures and challenges life has to offer: »Un pour tous, tous pour un« (All for one and one for all).This word also reflects an attitude, but this time it is about standing together rather than standing apart.

These two words are never far from our hearts when we face a crisis and have to make a choice. When waves of refugees shiver at our borders, we can say, »This has nothing to do with us,« or we can say, »We can deal with this together.« Those two words reflect the struggle for dominance over the human heart. Now that a vaccine is available, there are people who feel that once they are vaccinated they should be free from the restrictions of lockdown, no matter how others in society are faring. The fight for enough vaccine makes some countries simply insure that they enough for their population, while other countries worry that developing countries will have as much access to the vaccine as their own citizens.

In today's Gospel, we see the mindsets of these two words grappling with one another. In the laws regulating the lives of the lepers we see more the mindset of Don Quixote. It is the mindset of separation and distance. We separate ourselves from what is unpleasant, dangerous, or troublesome to us. As long as we get what we need, what do we care about the fate of others?

Jesus' way of thinking and acting, on the other hand, speaks more of the attitude of the musketeers. This encounter between Jesus and the lepers is a narrative against the mindset of separation and distance thinking in favor or hearts and minds that think and feel in terms of solidarity.

All the characters in this narrative, the lepers as well as the healthy, are first influenced by the mindset of separation and distance. Thus, the come up with a simplistic formula: The sick should stay away from the healthy. 

Many would argue that this formula is not simplistic, but merely common sense. That perspective is only possible if you are counted among the healthy. Take a closer look at Leviticus 13:45-46. It states that the leper should wear torn garments to stand out from the well-groomed garments of the healthy. The leper should let his hair hang down loosely to clearly distinguish himself outwardly from the well-groomed appearance of the healthy. The leper should live separately, not among those who are healthy. The leper has his dwelling place outside of the camp, so that the healthy ones, can carry on with their lives in peace. Even a child would recognize that the spirit of »one for all, all for one« does not prevail in these »common sense« regulations. All the obligations, restrictions and sacrifices are demanded of the sick. Nothing is demanded of the healthy.

This is how the story in the Gospel is supposed to unfold. But Jesus refuses to have anything to do with a way of thinking that separates and distances itself from other human beings, because this destroys human solidarity. Jesus goes the opposite way.

  1. Jesus had compassion for him.

Jesus himself is not sick and unaffected by the consequences of alienation, loss and isolation that leprosy brings with it. His life is intact. Yet, although he lives in a world of salvation, the broken life of the leper touches and moves his world.

  1. »He stretched out his hand«.

As soon as Jesus does this, he bridges the separating distance that exists between his world and that of the sick person. Jesus breaks the boundaries of separation and distance that the rules have established. The moment he stretches out his hand, he makes his own rule.

  1. »He touched him«.

Once again we return to a much loved theme of Mark: the touches. Through touching, the worlds, experiences, and people that should remain separated from each other come into contact with each other and a touching place is created where before only emptiness filled the space between us.

  1. »And he said, I will it - become clean!«

Here we hear a clear confession of Jesus: He reveals his motivation.  He does not say, »I can«, but »I will«. He wants to restore this person to health, home and hearth, and that is why he takes on the arduous effort of these steps, all of which are omitted if he would only rely on the mindset of separation and distance.

These are the four clear steps to overcome the mindset of separation and distance. But Jesus is never exclusively about the rejection of a negative way of thinking, but about the acceptance of a life-giving way of thinking. For him, it is always about the dominion over the human heart, and that is why he cultivates and promotes a different way of thinking. He looks at people, at the relationships they have with each other and with God, and emphasizes what binds and unites us, what we have in common.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking is not easy to achieve. We always practice what we already know how to do. We are used to thinking and acting in the categories of competition. And when this competitive mindset has us in its grip, we identify with the physical, psychological and social advantages we have that set us apart from others. Then the phrase »I never stick my nose in other people's porridge« wins out. »It's not my bread and butter; every man for himself and God for us all« gains dominance over our hearts.

This in turn leads us deep into the world of comparison. We can then say, »I have better health, I am more intelligent and I have more money than the other«. But it also works the other way around: »Unfortunately, I have worse health, am less intelligent and have less money than the other person«. The world of comparison makes us constantly oscillate between »I am better off« and »I am worse off«. We vacillate between pity for those who have less and envy for those who have more. Either way, in both cases, we withdraw from the other. The clear message is, »That's not me.« In the end, we have drawn clear boundaries, born of the mindset of separation and distance, a mindset that Jesus is working hard to reverse.

When we approach this story, we do so from the role of the healthy. Thus, we assume that the leper is one who is worse off than we are. If we come into contact with him, his circumstances, his situation, his condition, could be contagious, that is, we could be affected ourselves. And already the strategy of withdrawal, separation and distance is off and running. In a flight of piety, we may perhaps even ask the protective God to save us from their plight.

Jesus does not look at the disease, but at the person who has to bear this illness. The disease does not bind us to one another, because we are not lepers. But Jesus' way of thinking asks about being human and not about the illnesses they happen to have.

What binds and unites us? What is the common ground on which every life rests?

We all have value, dignity and meaning. We are all loved, wanted.

Only when this way of thinking replaces our separatist mindset will true compassion be born.

For true compassion is a deeply felt perception that we share what is common to all human beings. Having value, dignity and meaning, being loved and wanted is the world that we all share. If we cannot find this world, we will never be able to sincerely say »All for one and one for all«. 

Then we walk the four steps of Jesus:

  1. We have compassion and let our ideal world be touched and moved by the broken lives of others.
  1. We reach out and bridge the dividing distance. We break through the boundaries of separation and distance that our inherited interpretations and their ways of acting have built up.
  1. We touch the lives of others and come into contact with the worlds, experiences, and people that were originally meant to remain separate from us.
  1. And we say »I want it«. We can also make a clear confession that we are not willing to let others fall by the wayside in order to save ourselves.

 Mark draws our attention to this profound truth. The experience of the other is also my experience. In his play »The Merchant of Venice«, William Shakespeare has Shylock appeal to this common humanity: »I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?«

We should not overlook that this biblical narrative ends in irony. The leper who was obliged to always proclaim he was unclean and impure is now the man whom Jesus asks to be silent. He does not do so. Instead, he uses every chance he get to tell others of the one who saw him, stretched out his hand, touched him and told him that he desired his healing. »But the man went away and proclaimed at every opportunity what had happened.«

Yet, now that Jesus has the reputation of being a healer, two things happen.

  1. He is not allowed to show himself openly in any city
  2. He can only dwell be in solitary places.

This is the irony, because according to Leviticus, this is normally the fate of the lepers. 

  1. They cannot show themselves openly in any city
  2. They can only stay outside the city in lonely places.

How does this ironic twist come about? It is simple. Wherever people think only of what they need or want, regardless of the cost to others, then the others’ well-being will be sacrificed, even if the other is Jesus of Nazareth. Roy T. Bennett is right when he writes in his book »The Light in the Heart«: »Most of us must learn to love people and use things rather than loving things and using people.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, February 14th, 2021

 

 

How do we look at the world?

 

There are days when I feel the restrictions of this time particularly strongly - not so much as an aggravation, but rather more as an impoverishment. Then I am tempted to view all of my experiences through these glasses. However, again and again I am shaken up by the realization that life is more than all that makes the present situation oppressive. The impetus for this was - as I sometimes feel – heaven sent. It comes in the form of a conversation or through a radio broadcast or a story I happen to come across. That is how I recently discovered the poetic author of rhyming riddles and the lyricist, Erika Beltle. She had met her future husband, Theo, during World War II, and he was soon drafted. Their correspondence throughout the war was published years ago. She writes the following in a letter at the beginning of 1942:

»Dear Theo, ... Today I once again wished that feelings did not always have to be first clothed in thoughts in order to be understood by the other person, but that they could be transmitted immediately. The path from the heart over the head is so cumbersome, and the essential is lost. I am in a very cheerful mood today and would like to chirp like the birds. Despite war and a thousand devils, life is beautiful! Perhaps it is because I have planned something like a regimen, a direction, for my future life. One would like to think that a path that is planned almost by the hour has something compulsive about it and would be constricting or oppressive, but just the opposite is the case: it sets me free inside. Because I always experience freedom in connection with a feeling of happiness, I have such a feeling today. ...   Erika«

(Erika und Theodor Beltle, Für Dich will ich leben: Ein Briefwechsel aus dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, 2009)

 

»Despite war and a thousand devils, life is beautiful!« - How is it possible for her to write such a thing in the midst of a war?

Well, she had a good sense of herself. She had a perception of herself and thus discovered the treasure within herself, got to know her own heart, in which much more was alive than words can express. Because she took herself seriously, she could live and create from within herself, and in her situation - she is barely 21 years old when she writes this - that meant making plans for her life - despite all that is cruel and terrible and uncertain! And she made a grandiose discovery: this liberated her interiorly. And she observes very precisely: to feel this personal inner freedom causes a feeling of happiness - in January 1942!

For me, this is an extraordinary testimony to what we have often discussed: true life flows from the inside out. It cannot be consumed. That is why the thoughts of the young woman of that time can be a help and impetus to rediscover ourselves, especially in these months of the minimisation of many facets of consumerism. We are all burdened to varying degrees by what this pandemic forces upon us. But we are free to choose how we look at life and what, of all that is within us and is longing for expression, is allowed to live. We could nurture and foster it like a gardener, we could share it with each other and slowly push forward to happy moments - despite an extension of the lockdown.

And I set aside, for days when I am again overburdened by much that is heavy, a poem from Erika Beltle's later years:                                              

Gardens of Closeness

I have drifted off

like a boat

from the land of your soul.


Fully laden

it sways

on breadths of the sea.


But I throw,

piece by piece

ballast overboard


and strive

to return to the shore,

for only one,

 

light as a butterfly,

finds the gardens

of closeness

the vicinity,

wherein you dwell.

                (from: Erika Beltle, Gesammelte Gedichte - Ausgewählte Werke Band II, 2008)

 

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 12th, 2021

 

 

Poorly told Stories

 

Just a few days ago I began to read a new book by Pádraig Ó Tuama and Glenn Jordan. The book looks at Brexit, borders and belonging and turns to the book of Ruth to hear and heed a story that has the potential to open our eyes to very different horizons of hope and healing. I will surely return to this book in later reflections.

But what caught my attention right from the start is the emphasis on what happens when we only hear poorly told stories. The entire bluster around the Brexit campaign is described as »blunt stories told poorly to push changes forward«. We have witnessed this repeatedly in the last years, be it the AFD in Germany or Donald Trump in the USA. Complex realities are simplified to the point where we have a caricature of the reality we live. The heroes and villains are divided up with fundamentalist zeal and every nuance or fact that complicates the story is immediately ignored, dismissed or decried.

That is no mere happenstance. It arises everywhere in history and the world here people ae unable to deal with complexity. When the multi-faceted, deeply complex realties of real life become too hard to bear, then some people will bend, twist and contort it all to fit into a much more black and white version and vision of reality. This is the atmosphere in which poorly told stories are born.

What we need are well told stories that stretch us, even when we do not feel like being stretched. Here is what Pádraig Ó Tuama writes:

»Stories have the power to face us with ourselves. If a story is told well, it upsets some of our conveniences and challenges the previously unchallenged. Stories have unexpected twists and turns. Stories find heroes in strange corners. Stories reveal something about the behaviour of people previously considered to be above reproach. In stories we find our hearts drawn towards multiple characters, locating ourselves in this one and that one. Stories contain our projections and prejudices, and if we’re lucky – we hear the story enough times that some of those projections and prejudices are coaxed into a new imagination.« *

Indeed, we need such stories, but we need two other components as well. We need storytellers who make these well told stories come alive and who are tenacious enough to tell us stories we need to hear precisely when we do not wish to hear them. Thus, we need storytellers of considerable courage, because well told stories will never simply go with the flow and confirm the prevailing wisdom of the status quo.

Further, we need talented story-hearers. It takes a considerable skill to hear the story you do not agree with in advance. It also takes the gift of courage, the willingness to engage and grapple and wrestle with those multiple characters who rattle our cages and widen our way of look at the world.

I remember once asking John Shea what the sure sign of a poorly told story is. His answer is etched into my heart. »A poorly told story will lead you to every place you always wanted to go.« It will lead us to landowners, but hardly to the woman at the well. It will lead us to supermodels, celebrities and power elites, but hardly to a widow who puts two pennies in the plate. The poorly told stories will lead us to the rich and powerful men and women who guide the destiny and fates of millions, but they will not lead us Ruth.

Let us be on our guard in these days. The long haul of this pandemic has wearied and bruised us. That makes us more susceptible to poorly told stories. But even now the world is filled with good stories and great storytellers. This book I am presently reading is an excellent example of that. I also believe the world is filled with great story-hearers, including the 7000 of you who come to “May you be sheltered” four times a week. Pádraig Ó Tuama asks in the introduction: »Can we be held in some kind of narrative creativity by a story whose origins we do not know?« *

I believe we can.

* Borders and Belonging:

The Book of Ruth: A Story for our Times,

Pádraig Ó Tuama and Glenn Jordan

Erik Riechers SAC, February 10th, 2021

 

 

My life can be glorious - »quite heavy«!

 

In yesterday's homily, Erik laid out what aids and life lessons there are for us in the few verses about the healing of Simon's mother-in-law. You probably felt like I did: you were amazed. And then you began to draw from it - remembering your own experiences and looking to what was to come. But all this presupposed that you really read this sermon in its fullness, without shortcuts, without »I've heard it before«, without premature abandonment.

This is a challenge that we encounter again and again in life: we are offered a fuller and richer life, more salvation and joy. But how do we deal with this offer? Unfortunately, it happens again and again that we do not open ourselves to it. Sometimes we do not listen properly, perceive an offer only superficially and do not break through to the treasure that could be in it for us. Often we are impatient: a church service is too long, an article too detailed, a person talking to us takes too long, and we drop out before we have really gotten started. But there are also challenges to which we open ourselves, but need to work through piece by piece: Yes, I can hear that, but it's so difficult - yes, but what would be the point - yes, but I can't get away with that, . . . yes, but. . . , yes, but! Then we come to a standstill on the inside, stick to what we already know, indeed, to a certain degree we get stuck and then try to justify this. I think this is what Psalm 1 means when it warns against standing in the way of sinners and sitting in the circle of scoffers. It invites us to engage in God's instruction of life, persistently, patiently, steadily: here those are called blessed whose »delight is in the law of the Lord, and meditates on this law by day and by night.« The law of the Lord is the word which the person, who is called blessed, allows to draw near to him and in which he takes delight. But that alone is not enough. It is constantly in his mind; during the day he will look at some things differently than in the night, but he sticks to it and draws from it for his life: »He is like a tree  planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.« Life can then become glorious, and the Hebrew word kabod for glorious means something like: quite heavy!

Thus, why would we pass by it lightly when a source of life opens up to us? Would it not be an outrage against ourselves?

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 8th, 2021

 

 

A Touching Place

 

5. Sunday B 2021                                          Mark 1:29-39 

 

As I was looking out my window a few days ago, I saw an elderly couple I am acquainted with walking past. It was slow going, because for some time this woman is gradually sinking into dementia. At that point, she dropped her gloves to the ground. Her husband bent over and picked them up. Visibly annoyed, he threw them into the basket on the front of her walker, shouted at her to be more careful and then walked off in frustration. That little scene troubled me for the rest of the day.

It is a scene that is repeating itself in many ways on many levels during these drawn out days of the pandemic. It is not unexpected. Confronted with continuous and on-going crisis, we weary, lose our patience, our perspective and sometimes our nerve. In such moments, we are not at our stellar best. These interminable days can grind us down to such a degree, that we no longer feel that we have any resources left to deal with the never-ending story that has become our crisis. We are suffering from the malady of the exhausted soul.

Today’s Gospel can offer us some gentle guidance through this troublesome time. The story we hear today is the continuation of a story that began last Sunday. It is a story that meanders through one complete Sabbath day in the life of Jesus. The journey through this Sabbath is all about a grand restoration. As Jesus moves through this day, Mark tells us in three episodes how the Spirit Master is giving back to the Sabbath its deepest meaning and purpose.  First we hear how Jesus restores the depths of authentic faith and worship through the casting out of the unclean spirit in the man in the synagogue (episode 1). Then we hear two further episodes of this ongoing tale. There is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law so that celebration might once again be possible (episode 2). That is followed by the healing of the people at the gates of the city after the sun sets on the Sabbath (episode 3).

 

»And immediately coming out of the synagogue they went into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother–in–law was lying down with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And approaching her, he grasped her hand and raised her up.

Then the fever left her, and she began serving them.«

You will surely not be surprised when I begin by telling you that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Subtly woven into the fabric of this story is a path forward, through crisis and exhaustion. This path answers the question that burns in our crisis-ridden lives: So what can we do?

Allow me to unveil for you seven steps within the story.

 

1. Tell the story that is not apparent.

»They told him about her.« As soon as Jesus enters the house of the brothers Simon and Andrew, they tell him about the suffering and need of Simon’s mother-in-law. That is a very good place to start.

We need to tell the stories of need and grace in our all too concrete lives to people who cannot know them or note them if we do not  speak of them. We need to tell the stories of the people in our lives who are burning with fever. We need to tell the stories of the people who are out of sight and out of mind for the outsider. Without this story, Jesus does not know the drama taking place in another room of the same house. Without this storytelling, we cannot know the dramas being played out in the other rooms in the lives and hearts of our fellow human beings. Storytelling opens the doors to hidden suffering that would otherwise forever go unseen. Yet, once it opens that door, it leads to solidarity, companionship and an immediate offer of aid. Open a new horizon in the hour of crisis!

 

2. Tell the story without undue delay.

Moreover, Jesus does not need to wheedle it out of his apprentices. »And immediately they told him about her.« There is no hesitation, no waiting for a better, more appropriate or more opportune moment, no beating around the bush. Social niceties and conventions are all fine and good, but how many times do they make us too timid and hesitant to speak of what is really going on, inside our houses, as well as inside our hearts? I have seen it often in the decades of spiritual accompaniment. People will sit and talk about all manner of things before telling the story that brought them through my door in the first place. Even worse are the coy games we play with each other, hinting at the predicament that plagues our hearts, without coming straight out and telling the story. We drop enough clues in our words, gestures and body language, in the hope that others will pick up the trail and ask us what is really  bothering us.

Not these companions of Jesus. They told him »immediately« about her. This gives Jesus the opportunity to act immediately, to make an offer of assistance and healing right away. Do not delay hope in the hour of crisis!

 

3. Choose to approach the other.

»And approaching her…« The story does not dedicate even one full sentence to this simple step. But it is a step nonetheless, and of no small significance. Hearing a story is not the same as being moved by a story. We can also listen quietly, express our sympathy and then swiftly change the topic. We can hear about places of suffering without seeking them out. We can hear the stories of suffering people without experiencing any impulsion to visit them.

Jesus chooses to approach this woman. That is a real choice, a conscious and deliberate decision. To do so, he moves to another room in the house. This is the classic movement we need to practice, moving from the place where the story is told to the place where the story is taking place. This requires us to move to rooms other than the ones we are presently occupying. We are called to leave the rooms in which we have already settled in, that have a warm and comfortable feel about them. When we do this, the places of their discomfort become the places of our discomfort. We approach the other in his or her suffering and need, by entering the rooms of life where suffering is unfolding. This is genuine mercy, because real mercy is not a feeling, but the willingness to enter into the chaos of the other.

Set out to offer presence and help in the hour of crisis!

 

4. Create a touching place

In this story, Mark tells us that after approaching Simon’s mother–in–law, Jesus »grasped her hand.« Like many actions in biblical stories, this looks simpler than it is. The next step to healing is touch. Better said, it is to create a touching place. The cold touch heals nothing and no one. The healing touch requires a space in which a two-fold action can evolve.

The first part is what Jesus does. It is the action of the giver, the offer of connection that shows that he is not afraid to encounter and touch what ails another. To touch as Jesus does in this tale is already an act of storytelling, for it unveils to the troubled person that we are willing to come into contact with them. Moreover, it demonstrates a willingness to connect with all the parts of their life and not just their choicest moments. We are called to be the companions of all their hours, not just their finest hour. Anyone can embrace and kiss the attractive, appealing, beautiful, and charming people of the world. We usually thrill to it. But only Francis of Assisi can embrace and kiss the leper. He does this from the same deep place of the soul out of which Jesus acts.

In stubbornly longstanding crisis, we need to touch the ugly parts, the leprous parts, the feverish parts in the lives of our brothers and sisters. This touching place shows our brothers and sisters, that we are not afraid of all that makes up their personal story, that we will not pick and chose what is attractive and neglect all the rest. To touch like this is to show one another that we are not fair-weather friends. At the same time, it bestows the afflicted the gift of encouragement. If we will not be shunned due to what ails us, then we are less afraid to show what ails us. 

The other part of the touching experience is what Simon’s mother-in-law does. She does not pull back. She allows herself to be touched. When was the last time you let yourself be touched in your distress? When was the last time you allowed another touch you in an hour when you were far from being at your best? I once tried to visit a woman in a hospital who had suffered a nervous breakdown. She, however, refused to let me visit her. Through her husband she expressed her gratitude for my offer, but rejected it every time. This forth and back of offer and rejection went on for months. Nearly a year later, after she had recovered, we came together for a conversation. The first thing she did was to thank me for my repeated offers to visit her. But immediately thereafter she added. »I did not want you to see me like that.«  To which I sadly commented, »I understand, but now you hardly need a touching place.«

We need to create a touching place. This will have to happen often. A favorite hymn of mine is entitled: »The Touching Place«. Its refrain beautifully recounts the mission that must be bred in the bone:

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.

The verses of this song name a myriad of people whose need to be touched we must learn to feel. We must feel for the people we avoid, who appear strange to us, are bereaved or never employed. We must feel the need of a touching place for the women and men who fear that their living has been without purpose or meaning, for parents who have lost their child, for women whom men have defiled, and for the baby for whom there’s no breast. We must feel the desire to create a touching place with Christ for the weary who find no rest, for those confused by life, riddled with doubt, lonely of heart and afraid of new beginnings.

Touch the wounds in the hour of crisis!

 

5. Lend your strength.

As important as it is to create a touching place, this is not enough. The next step for Jesus is described as he »raised her up«. Here we are given a gentle warning. The willingness to touch a person is not the same as being willing to raise them up.

What Jesus does is simple. He adds his strength to the woman’s. He lets a portion of his strength flow through his touch, so that she can draw on it and start to move back into life. The willingness to raise another up speaks volumes about the heart. It tells the other that we will not abandon them midway through the journey. We are reliable companions on this trek. We raise them up to demonstrate our stubborn refusal to leave anything behind. Just because one of our companion has stumbled and fallen for the moment, does not mean we are willing to abandon to forces of darkness and misery. We do not expect our companions to go it alone, to manage it by themselves, at any juncture of our common adventure.

Jesus does not merely touch this woman and then walk away. That is precisely the lesson. Like the Spirit Master, what we touch in the hour of crisis we must also be willing to strengthen.

 

6. Heal in the ordinary places of life

Where can we do all this? In the very first sentence of this episode of the Sabbath tale, we are reminded that we are no longer in the synagogue, in a sacred space. Now we are in an ordinary home. This is a down to earth place where a sick woman lives, and suffers and burns with fever. »And immediately coming out of the synagogue they went into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.«

Everything Jesus does for and with this woman happens in the ordinary places of her life. He does not expected her to seek out a more exotic place to find healing, a holier space that breathes a more rarefied air than that of her home. Where she lives, she is healed. Where she suffers, she is lifted up.

Yet, the moment we follow Jesus lead, then we help restore the backbone of an enfeebled tale of grace. Instead of seeking sacred places, we must learn to sanctify the places in which we are found. Make sure that you do not spend your whole life looking for a special place where God touch you. Instead insure that you make every place special by opening it to the potential and power of God. Make the home, the hearth and the sickbed holy!

 

7. Restore life and thus restore service and joy.

The tale ends with the soft line: »Then the fever left her, and she began serving them.«

That is why this episode is vital to the story of the grand restoration of the Sabbath. The restoration of life will always lead to the restoration of service. This woman was exhausted by a fever that was burning away her strength and will to live. Now she is able to enter into life again. She has the strength and the will to contribute to the well-being of others under her roof. She is restored to active participation in the life of the community

That, in turn, leads to the restoration of joy, a critical element of all Sabbath living. The hospitality she offers, the tables she sets, are not the menial tasks of servants, but the loving care of hosts. She is a key participant in creating a place of welcome, celebration and belonging, because she has been freed from the feverish bonds that shackled her strength and bound her to passivity.

Thus, we should ensure that in the end all these steps lead to this destination. It does not suffice to be merely relieved after the crisis. Once we are beyond it, we should restore and reinvigorate service and joy.

 

John Keats once wrote, »Touch has a memory«. Whether we touch each other and how we touch one will create lasting memories.  We will not forget them once these days are done. I would leave you with a final story, the counter point to the one with which I began.

It is told by Michael Leetch. He lives with his wife of over forty years, Vickie. She is now in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Listen to a short excerpt from what he writes about getting up in the morning with her.

»We go through our familiar liturgy of hygiene and getting dressed, Vickie first. It takes about as long as an early morning Mass by a priest and an altar boy who want to get it right even if nobody's watching. We hug before we go downstairs, and I say, ‘You done good, sweetie,’ and she says, ‘Thank you,’ two words she has always remembered, and I remember Meister Eckhart's saying, ‘If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.’« *

That is a touching place, a home that has been sanctified. And, as we may well note, even in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease, two words are remembered. Indeed, »touch has a memory«.

*Michael Leetch,

 »Life is all about getting up in the morning«

Erik Riechers SAC, February 7th, 2021

 

 

»And the people stayed at home«

 

In the last 10 months, most of us have certainly been on the Internet more than ever before, because communication is possible in this way. Repeatedly we enjoy pictures and texts that are forwarded to us. For example, I was given a poem whose origin has been the subject of controversy on the Internet and which probably did not come from a 19th century novel, but from an American woman who worked for a long time in palliative care, Catherine "Kitty" O'Meara. She was sad and worried in the spring of 2020 and fearful for her former colleagues. She wanted to help her friends and as worry and sadness grew in her, her husband advised her to write. So she simply sat down, wrote down her thoughts, and published the poem on Facebook; she had done that before. But she had never had such a response. Read it for yourself:

 

And the people stayed at home

and read books

and listened

and rested

and exercised

and made art

and played

and learned new ways of being

and stopped

and listened deeper

someone meditated

someone prayed

someone danced

someone met their shadow

and people began to think differently

and people healed

and in the absence of people

who lived In ignorant ways

dangerous, meaningless and heartless,

even the earth began to heal

and when the danger ended,

and people found each other,

grieved for the dead people,

and they made new choices,

and dreamed of new visions,

and created new ways of life

and healed the earth completely,

just as they were healed themselves.

 

What is the reason that these words have had such an effect for months?

Two thoughts come to my mind.

We are touched by the fact that a woman expresses here what is going on inside her, how it is affecting her. At a time when the pandemic in the U.S.A. was becoming increasingly catastrophic, she found words and spoke them to the world.

Second, her words are thoroughly positive in their simple rhythmic sequence. She speaks of life and of life's possibilities being seized and unfolded from within. »People«  no longer) allow themselves to be entertained and determined from the outside, but by staying at home they begin to act freely, to become active themselves, creatively and diversely. Because we are no longer good at this, so many have been complaining for months that the days no longer differ and they more or less one into the other. But it doesn't have to be that way. We could practice . . . and learn . . . and listen . . . and pray.

This poem was created out of a longing for life and salvation - and this longing is in many of us. Let us give it room!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 5th, 2021

 

 

Space for God

 

Recently, in a serious conversation about difficult life issues, the phrase came up, » But we must not forget: in everything, we also have the dear Lord on our side!«

The other person paused and there was a long silence. And then it slowly burst out of him. How he had struggled! What had he tried and done! But instead of things getting easier, more and more problems seemed to arise. He was a believing man - and this thought frightened him. No, it was not the thought itself, but how far it had been from him. He himself had constantly tried to keep everything in perspective; he had worried far into the future, worn himself out on the inside. » How could I forget that?«, he asked himself, murmuring softly,  » Why did I think and feel and worry as if it were all up to me?«

I have not been able to get this out of my mind ever since. Why do you have no faith? Why is your faith so small? The disciples of Jesus were already confronted with these questions. They reacted with shock, dismay, amazement. They had to practice it, just as we have to practice it. Much is in our hands, but not everything. This should not frustrate us, but it may encourage us to do what is ours and leave to God what is His. Then, instead of endless worry, gratitude may grow in our hearts about so much that succeeds in the togetherness of God and his people.

The short psalm 67 gives expression to our trusting petition, with a grateful heart at the same time:

May God grant us grace and bless us,

may he shine his face upon us.

To know on the earth Your way,

among all the nations Your rescue.

Nations acclaim You, O God,

all peoples acclaim You.

Nations rejoice in glad song,

for You rule the peoples rightly,

and nations on earth You lead.

Nations acclaim You, O God,

all peoples acclaim You.

The earth gives its yield.

May God our God, bless us.

May God shall bless us,

and all the ends of the earth fear Him.

 

In the Bible, the fear of the Lord is considered the beginning of knowledge, respect for his instruction in life is considered wise. Because: He is with us on the way, come what may, until the end of days.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, February 3rd, 2021

 

 

The Magnificent Defeat

 

Recently I found myself rereading Frederick Buechner’s book »The Magnificent Defeat«. It is a collection of homilies by this now 94 year old American theologian, novelist and pastor. My favourite homily within this work gives the book its name, his homiletic reflection on Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok.

In this homily, Frederick Buechner points out how often Jacob has achieved the victories and successes of his life through deceit and his willingness to play fast and loose with the rules. He becomes rich, increases his wealth constantly, and has two wives and a multitude of children. He is prospering on every level that matters to us human beings.

After twenty years in exile, he decides to return home. It is just  before he crosses the border back into his homeland that he experiences a stunning reversal of his good fortune and goes down to defeat at the hands of a stranger. His string of wins has come to an end.

The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:22-31: 22

 At this telling moment in his life, a turning point, Jacob does not attain the greatest and most stunning triumph of his life. Instead he suffers what Frederick Buechner describes as »The Magificent Defeat«!

But then Buechner goes on to pose a fascinating question. Why would Jacob, having just suffered such a debilitating defeat, cling with such ferocity to the very opponent who inflicted this ignominious downfall upon him. Why does he insist: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me!" Normally, we like to walk away from those who beat us and forget the entire episode as soon as possible.

I remember the first time I read Buechner’s answer more than 35 years ago. And I share his words with you, in the hope that they will move you, as they moved me, and that you will learn to love them as I have grown to love them.

»The darkness has faded just enough so that for the first time he can dimly see his opponent's face. And what he sees is something more terrible than the face of death-the face of love. It is vast and strong, half ruined with suffering and fierce with joy, the face a man flees down all the darkness of his days until at last he cries out, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me!’ Not a blessing that he can have now by the strength of his cunning or the force of his will, but a blessing that he can have only as a gift.

Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God. And God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight-God, the beloved enemy. Our enemy because, before giving us everything, he demands of us everything; before giving us life, he demands our lives - our selves, our wills, our treasure.

Will we give them, you and I? I do not know. Only remember the last glimpse that we have of Jacob, limping home against the great conflagration of the dawn. Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.«

In this pandemic, we have struggled hard to come up with a great and stunning victory over the Corona virus. For the most part, this triumph has eluded us. Despite our money and technology, the things we most trust, we have suffered a long series of defeats. We have suffered many annoying and frustrating set-backs on the road to the healing which now appears on the horizon. Even when we finally get there, we will still have to deal with lingering and lasting human, spiritual, psychological, medical and economic problems that have arisen from the pandemic, likely for years to come. We will walk away from this pandemic, but we will walk away limping.

Perhaps this is our »magnificent defeat«. Perhaps this is our Jabbok where we can learn that modicum of modesty that become us as men and women of faith who journey with God. We have managed to manufacture vaccines against the virus, but we cannot manufacture what we have come to crave most in these hours of loneliness, isolation, fear, suffering and uncertainty. »Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, February 1, 2021

 

 

Practicing Authority

 

4. Sunday B 2021                                          [nbspMarc 1:21-28 

 

Today's biblical narrative is quite dramatic. Unclean spirits are shouting at the top of their voices in the synagogue, destroying what should be a rather quiet experience. This is because people gather in a synagogue on a Sabbath to praise and pray to God. When we go to church on Sundays, we, too, do not expect high adventurous dramas to take place. But there are no spaces, not even these, that are immune from the presence of Jesus and the upset it brings.

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when a man with an unclean spirit cries out:

 »What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

Have you come to destroy us?

I know who you are—the Holy One of God.«

 

The time and the place do not hinder Jesus. Sacred times and sacred spaces have their own rules, but when it comes to people and their salvation, the rules are secondary.

In biblical narratives, unclean spirits, like demons, are the powers that we ourselves make strong. We make them stronger than they are by the way we look at them.

  1. These powers appear in our lives. They will not go away on their own, nor are they easy to get rid of.
  2. We make them stronger than they are by the way we look at them. We see them as insurmountable, as invincible.
  3. Then we make them stronger than they are by the way we deal with them. The view that makes us see these powers as invincible then leads us to say, »It's no use anyway.« We choose resignation.
  4. Resignation leads us to three classic attitudes:

- Avoidance (we get out of the way of the problem).

- Denial (we act as if there is no problem)

- Suppression (we push it aside with work, entertainment, and distraction)

       And these three moments are how we negotiate with demons.

  1. And already these powers have a free hand to do what they want because we call any resistance futile. They win not by defeating us in battle, but because we never showed up for battle.

Even worse, we can even strengthen and justify many forms of resignation theologically. Traditional teaching says: Avoid everything that is unclean, be it food, people or places. Keep your distance, do not come into contact with it. In this way, protect your purity and your holiness.

In this amazing narrative, there is now an unexpected turn. The unclean spirit, used to shocking others, is himself shocked. Since Jesus is the Holy One of God (as they themselves name him), he would have to avoid everything that is unclean. This is the inherited interpretation for this hour: separation and distance. That is why the unclean spirit is stunned when he detects another strategy in Jesus. »Have you come to destroy us?« Impure spirits and demons have their expectations of us, just as we have our expectations of them. We have the expectation that we are powerless and cannot do anything against them. They have the expectation that we will always continue to play by these rules.

Therefore, this unclean spirit has the expectation that Jesus will say to him: »I will have nothing to do with you«. But Jesus’ answer does not fulfil his expectations.

Jesus silences him. The original text even says: I place a muzzle upon you. Jesus does not negotiate with unclean spirits and demons. There is no strategy of resignation here.

  1. No avoidance (Jesus does not avoid the unclean spirit, but goes toward it).
  2. No denial (Jesus does not close his eyes and continue on as if nothing is wrong).
  3. No suppression (Jesus does not push it aside by taking on other healings, preaching sermons, or distracting himself with other more pleasant topics)

And Jesus drives him out. He is not willing to leave anything to the unclean spirits that belongs to his father, that belongs to the light and life of God.. Jesus recognizes the terrible price of the avoidance tactic of separation and distance: Then he would have to leave this man to the unclean spirits.

The people in the synagoge cry out: »What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.«

The new doctrine is engagement and elimination, not avoidance.

Jesus' attitude is clear. He has the intention to free people from everything that has a grip on them, what they are obsessed with. He wants to free them from everything that oppresses, plagues and terrorizes them. And the effects on the people of witnessing Jesus and his way of dealing with people and unclean spirits are positive and liberating.

This can be liberating for us as well. We also know powers within us that have a hold on us. They take a place in us and we feel powerless to drive them out. We have places in our thinking and feeling where we are so knotted up that we are paralyzed internally, and sometimes externally. We are afraid of what oppresses us and of what we judge to be beyond our powers to alleviate. Our only strategy is to evade or avoid.

But then we see someone who does not flinch, someone who confronts the unholy and exercises authority over it to empower people and improve life situations. We realize that there is another way of thinking and acting, beyond our old, habitual strategies, beyond our inherited interpretations. The inner knots of thinking and feeling are untied. What has held us in check until now is let go. We are free to think and act differently. We begin to experiment with exercising authority over that which oppresses us as human beings. 

We can also exercise authority over what oppresses us and others. Many avenues are open to us:

Sometimes we just offer general help.

Sometimes we provide our specific resources.

Sometimes we enlist support.

Sometimes we go along as companions, standing by troubled people as they venture in new ways.

Sometimes we simply pray.

Sometimes we pray in addition to other possibilities.

It is important that we do not continue to practice a learned helplessness and resignation forever. We should always be looking for what we can do next, using our courage and creativity. 

We are committed to bringing hope, healing and perspectives to people and situations that are in need. That is the mission that is bred in our bones. We have authority. Jesus has shown us the way. We follow him by exercising authority.

Erik Riechers SAC, January 31th, 2021

 

 

Situate yourself!

 

The pandemic with all its challenges, which has now lasted a good 10 months in Germany, is among many people »friable«. They feel increasingly worn down and exhausted. The caution and extreme reluctance to make contact are tormenting them. Uncertainty about how much longer it may last makes people tired and despondent - or careless and reckless. Gerald Hüther, a neurobiologist, writes in his latest newsletter: »Many people, including some politicians, are unsettled and at a loss and are just trying to hold on somehow. Despair and resignation are spreading. The mood in the country is not good, nerves are on edge. Tolerance, prudence and foresight are fading, we have also lost our sense of humor, and anyone who says something inappropriate is immediately  suspected and is fought against.«

Each individual can tell his or her very own story of being affected. Those who like to be on the road and have usually already planned and booked some undertakings and trips by this time, find it difficult to look ahead to the next few months without any such perspectives. Those whose family live widely scattered suffer from still not being able to get together. Those who earn their living in an industry that has had to close down again and again have existential fears. Those who live in a care facility feel increasingly lost and forgotten. Overanxious people no longer dare to do anything, impatient people can't wait to get back to living normally, and unreasonable people do it anyway.

We are in danger of becoming more and more preoccupied with ourselves. This pandemic could teach us something in a special way: Your story is situated in the story of the community in which you live. Your I belongs to a larger WE. More than usual, we realize how much my way of acting has consequences for the community on a small as well as on a large scale. When have we ever been able to see this so clearly as in these long months? In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, for example, people are living so responsibly in this long crisis that there are always days without a single new infection - this spurs individuals on to continue to take good care of themselves and each other and to gratefully live out what community is possible again because of the low numbers. Every I is situated within  a WE!

Narrative Theology teaches us a second form of embedding: The story of each WE belongs to the grand story. There is a story of God with us humans which transcends everything and in which everything is situated- every We and every I. For what other reason would God say to his people:

»Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.« (Dtn 6,4)

Why would Jesus response to the question about the most important commandment with:

»You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.« (Mt 22, 37-39)

Love yourself and unfold your very personal story. Thus be on the way with the others, love them and write your story with them. And remember: everything is situated with the great story of the ONE God.

For me, this means: My personal story is valuable, unique and important, for me, for the community and as part of the common story. But it is also part of the great whole of God's story with His people, which only He oversees and holds in His hands. I like to situate myself in this - it also takes away the pressure of having to do everything myself. It takes away the mistaken belief that everything depends on me. And it strengthens my confidence that everything has a meaning.

Widening our view in this way makes even this long crisis livable.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 29th, 2021

 

 

I raise my voice

 

On November 11, 2018, I preached a sermon in the Koblenz synagogue on the Reichspogromnacht. At that time I spoke the following words:

When I came to Germany from Canada as a young student, I came from a country that until recently was convinced that it had no problem with anti-Semitism. And I admired a country that dealt so intensively with their history. Today, anti-Semitism is growing worldwide, including in Germany. A few weeks ago, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave a speech in The House of Lords on the subject of anti-Semitism. He sent me the text from which I would like to quote a few lines:

»Antisemitism, or any hate, become dangerous when three things happen. First: when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Second: when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. And three: when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so. All three factors exist in Britain now. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. That is why I cannot stay silent. For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.«

Sadly, these factors do not exist only within Britain, but through the world.

On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am disturbed and saddened that the words of Jonathan Sacks have become even more prophetic today. We have all seen the images of the Capitol in Washington being stormed by Trump supporters. But what haunts me is the anti-Semitism that was openly and undisguisedly displayed there. One demonstrator wore a T-shirt with the message »Camp Ausschwitz« and underneath the phrase »Work brings freedom«, a reference to »Arbeit macht frei«.

Such public anti-Semitic slogans can also be seen in Germany. A particularly insidious and despicable tactic used today is T-shirts with »6MWE«. This is short for »Six million wasn't enough«. They were seen at a demonstration in Berlin one year ago.

The fact that there are people who think like this (if you can still call it thinking) does not surprise me, but the fact that they appear like this in public and that there is hardly any protest shocks me. As Rosemarie so aptly put it to me, »This, too, is a virus«. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is also a pandemic.

And like the Corona pandemic, it has the best chance of spreading when people are indifferent as to how they act. Mask deniers, people who hold parties anyway and don't keep any of the social distancing rules are people who don't care what happens to their fellow human beings. And when indifference has spread far enough, then any virus can spread.

Elie Wiesel, himself a survivor of the Shoah, put it aptly and warningly:

»I have always believed that the opposite of love is not hate,

but indifference.

The opposite of faith is not arrogance,

but indifference.

The opposite of hope is not despair,

it is indifference.

Indifference is not the beginning of a process,

it is the end of a process.«

This indifference allows anti-Semitism to take root in our midst. When Rabbi Sacks made his speech against anti-Semitism in the House of Lords in 2019, he figuratively showed how acceptable this sickening and pathogenic hatred can become.

»I’ve just returned from a conference in Warsaw. It’s a city I don’t know well. And I was shaken to discover that the Warsaw ghetto, which existed between November 1940 and May 1943, was pretty much in the centre of town. With its 9 foot high walls topped by barbed wire, holding 400,000 Jews, its existence must have been known by everyone in Warsaw.

And it was there that Jews were systematically starved and enslaved. In the summer of 1942 254,000 of them were sent by train to their deaths by gas in the extermination camp called Treblinka. In April and May 1943, the Germans set about the destruction of the ghetto and the extermination of its population. 300,000 of them killed by bullet or gas. 92,000 who died through typhoid and starvation.

This happened in open view in the centre of one of the great cities of Europe and no one protested.«

 

Take note, you hatemongers, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, anti-Semites, right wing extremists and all who harbour or aid them:

I protest. You shall not have my silence as your ally.

You shall not build your house of hatred in the midst of my city.

I raise my voice and name the evil that stands in our midst.

I raise my voice, to speak on behalf of my Jewish sisters and brothers in the face of mindless vitriolic hatred.

I raise my voice against those who think it is fashionable, funny or acceptable to wear symbols that celebrate the torture, death and extermination of our fellow citizens.

I raise my voice against all those who belittle and taunt the memory of the Schoah and the ravaged dignity of its victims.

I raise my voice against those who insult the survivors of the Shoah, who even today are willing to deepen their pain.

They are my brothers and sisters.

You representatives of inhumanity, I see you and I name you, whether you skulk in the shadows or walk openly in the public square. I will not downplay your toxic presence. Your cruelty, hatred and bigotry cannot turn my heart to indifference.

I raise my voice. »For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 27th, 2021International Holocaust Remembrance Day

 

 

Walking against the fear

 

He was young - and he was an anxious kind of person. He had completed his education well. Now he was supposed to look for a good job. But it was all going too fast for him. He felt another challenge. And it came from deep within him. There was a desire in him to simply set off for a few weeks and go on pilgrimage here in his homeland, which he knew so little about. The thought grew in him, took shape; but soon other voices arose: How will you live? How can you finance it? How will you get through such a summer with your allergies?

He confided in his uncle and he really listened. He perceived his nephew's longing - it was the longing of a pilgrim. Again and again he strengthened this longing so that it did not suffocate under his anxiety. He did not need to do more. In his heart he was on his side.

And the young man chose an external road, travelled to the heart of Germany and set out from there.

On his back he carried everything he needed, in his pocket a little money, in his heart fear and joy and the words of his uncle: » I look forward to hearing from you and I will help you if you need anything.«

His journey had begun. It was summer and sometimes he spent the night in the forest. He grew bolder and after a few days, as he passed through a village as evening drew near, a friendly couple in a garden returned his greeting and struck up a conversation with him. He readily entered into the conversation and ended with an invitation to camp in their garden for the night.

From then on, he kept asking people along the way if he could use their garden for a night. And it was usually possible.

Joy grew in him, as well as a gradual realisation: If I dare to walk again and again, against my fears, and just keep walking, I have good experiences every day. I move forward and most of my worries do not occur at all.

Confidence grew in him - confidence in himself and in the people he met.

When his uncle told me about this pilgrimage of his nephew, he was still on the road. His uncle spoke of it with pride, but also with emotion. Every now and then, his nephew would call briefly, the young man who had taken the risk of setting out against his fear. He had not chosen a spectacular destination in an exotic country - and yet he was exploring a previously rather unknown terrain: himself.

Can we too rise against our fears again and again, enter a new day and dare new ways of acting? I very much hope so.

May the Old Irish blessing be upon him and us:

May God keep you on your way through life.

May God warm you when fear makes you cold.

May God strengthen you when doubt gnaws at you.

May God encourage you when longing moves you.

May God hold you when sleep envelops you.

May God flood you when love makes you hope.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 25th, 2021

 

 

Hither! After me!

Sunday B 2021                                                     Mk 1, 14–20

 

Jesus proclaims a most disturbing secret. »The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.«

This sounds very comforting, but it is actually meant to make us all wide-awake. Because if the kingdom of God is here, the time of waiting is over. And if the time of waiting is over, then the time for change has come. And it is not just a little that needs to change. We have to change the way we think, see and judge. We have to change our actions and our behaviour. The paths we take will have to change and we will no longer be able to take some directions to which we have become accustomed.

The Kingdom of God means its intrusion into our worlds. It is the in-breaking of our God who wants to bring out the fullest potential of our life and love. The kingdom of God is the entry of our God into our relationships with Him, with creation, with our neighbours and with ourselves to allow their fullness to blossom.

This movement into the kingdom of God, into this full, rich, unfolding of life as God has always intended it for us, will not happen without one of the ground rules that the story of vocation that we hear today proclaims. In the biblical narrative, Jesus first says, »Hither! After me!« It is an imperative, a command and not a mere invitation. This word is filled with a sense of urgency. There is a need in the world and a mission in the heart of Jesus that cannot wait. This is reminiscent of Jesus in John's Gospel. There he says to Lazarus who is still in the tomb, »Hither! Get out!« There is always an urgency in God to call us out of the places of death, be it the cemetery or the places of everyday life that threaten to become the graveyards of our souls.

Immediately after this »Hither! After me!« from the mouth of Jesus, an action follows on the part of the disciples: it is a »leaving behind«. (Greek = aphetes). Andrew and Simon leave their nets behind. James and John leave their father and the day labourers behind in the boat. There is no moving into the kingdom of God without the willingness to leave something behind in order to engage with something new that lies ahead.

How will we practice the art and craft of this leaving behind in order to move forward?

I doubt we will leave behind fishing nets, family members and colleagues, although for some of us that may still be the call. Yet, within the well-defined contours of our lives, there are more than enough examples of how our living and loving have evolved into unhealthy and undesirable patterns. There are relationships that were meant to foster and explore togetherness and equality that degenerate into dominance and subordination. Sometimes we are trapped in anger instead of liberated by love. Unhealthy arguments and even revengeful feelings arise at times. Enmities arise and hearts become poisoned. How could they ever lead us to where life is to be found?

Therefore, another part of the story should not be ignored: »Repent and believe the gospel!«  We will not enter the kingdom and respond to God's desire for us to live in His full, rich unfolding of life if we do not change our chosen ways. That, however, will not happen if we refuse to turn back on those paths that lead us away from that fullness. Being on the wrong path is not fatal. Staying on the wrong path, once we know it cannot lead us into life, is fatal.

All this is necessary because the call of the Lord, the call of the Kingdom of God, is a call for the life of the world. In the venerable world of the rabbis, this mission is called »Tikun olam«, the repair of the world. This idea of world repair was deeply connected to the hope of a Messiah who would break into the world.

This call of Jesus is the call of a Messiah breaking into our world. It is a call out of the passivity in which we let the world and its agonies pass us by while we pursue our personal interests, hoping that at least we will manage to muddle our way through. This is an attitude we need to »leave behind«.

At the same time, it is a call to get involved, to get off the bench and onto the playing field and get our hands dirty. There is no conversion if we only change our opinions. Repentance means changing our actions, the way we live in the world, the way we move through our world. It is not our primary task to avoid or condemn this world, but to make it whole, to make it better. We should fix the world: Tikun Olam.

Opportunities to repair and improve the world abound. If we want to use them, we human beings must become guardians of love. Guardians look out for the places where love is not only possible, but required: racism, cruelty, injustice in the workplace, neglecting the poor in our midst, ignoring the plight of migrants, etc. Without guardians of love, we will not recognise these places for what they truly are: the places most in need of our love.

Being a guardian throughout the night requires some pretty basic skills:

1. It requires courage:

The places where the redefining and life-changing love of the kingdom of God is needed are unlikely to be found in the places of our comfort.

2. It requires creativity:

The places where the life-growth of the Kingdom of God are needed are places that have not yet been touched by it. Therefore, there will be no fixed and ready-made strategies. We will have to think them up, on the spot, on the run, off the cuff.

3. It requires perseverance:

For the emergence of the kingdom of God and its relentless desire for the fullness of life will never be a one-time experience. Around every corner, a new place will emerge. In every niche of the heart, in every corner of our relationships, whether in our families, in society, in the church, in the marketplace or in the workplace, new needs will arise to repair these worlds.

There is a moving gospel song entitled: »There is a balm in Gilead.« The biblical inspiration for this song comes from two passages in the book of the prophet Jeremiah:

»Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?«  (Jer 8,2 2)

 

»Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt! In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you.«   (Jer 46, 11)

 

The singers of this song see Jesus and the kingdom of God as this balm and thus proclaim:

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.

 

Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God as a balm, but it remains a most disturbing mystery. »The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand.«

If we want to repair the world, make the wounded whole and heal the sin-sick soul, then we must rise up and go to Gilead. We must rise up and embrace the kingdom of God, this way of life that God has always intended for this world and his people.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 24h, 2021

 

 

Vincent Pallotti: The Man of Perseverance

 

In my last reflection I spoke of Vincent Pallotti as the man who stayed. However, Pallotti also knew very well that the struggle of a life becomes very long. That is why he asks us never to forget that no matter how many barriers are put in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the voices of millions of believers who are calling for God's relationships in this world.

I am continually inspired by the first generation of civil rights workers who marched with Martin Luther King Jr, protesting, practising non-violent resistance and facing physical violence, imprisonment and sometimes death. John Lewis died of cancer on 17 July 2020. He was a pioneer in the civil rights movement. A few weeks before his death, he wrote: 

»Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.«

He was 80 years old when he wrote this. He was 23 years old when he joined Martin Luther King. He knew what he was talking about. There will be no new world without women and men of perseverance.


Occasionally I hear that the intuitive vision Pallotti had, represented and shared with others is just words. Just words! What does that mean? When was the last time that words were not important? When was the last time that great people did not use words to move hearts and point directions? When was the last time a person did not use words to proclaim their deepest feelings and convictions? When was the last time that words could not be empowering?


We will always have these prophets of doom among us. They use fear as a weapon. They do not want us to dare to hope that there can be something better than what they want to feed us (and of course guide and control).

They tell us:

You are in the dark.

You have no voice.

You are powerless.

You cannot renew a world,

satisfy hunger.

make peace

create justice.

In Vincent Pallotti we have someone who not only describes our value and dignity before God, but who wagers on it. Here is one who tells us: Be proud to be called. Be proud that God has chosen you, sent you, given you such trust. Because he believes that you can do it. 

That is why perseverance is so important. Because it shows us that God also values our perseverance. Even today, in this crisis, in this pandemic, we can act. We could rekindle our passion for God again and again, because »our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.«

We are called by God. He sends us to all the towns and villages where he himself wanted to go. God has confidence that we can do what He can do.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 22nd, 2021, Day of the death of Vincent Pallotti 1850

 

 

Presence is the Programme

Vincent Pallotti: The Man who Stayed

 

The year is 1835. A cholera epidemic wreaks havoc in the city of Rome. Many left the city, fleeing to save themselves. But not Vincent Pallotti. He stayed. He was present in the hour of suffering and death of his fellow men and women. 

He had no medical solution for cholera, but he stayed because he had the power to offer spiritual, human and also physical relief. He did not discover a vaccine, but he stayed because he could find creative ways to organise food for the neglected people who had nowhere to go. He could not prevent many children from becoming orphans, but stayed to give them shelter and educational opportunities so they could find a welcome in a brutal and unjust world. And long after the cholera epidemic ended and people returned to the city, he continued to work with strength to help people who continued to suffer from the side effects and repercussions of this devastating epidemic. 

What can we learn from this story from the life of Vincent Pallotti? Presence is the programme. 

Not only his words, ideas and visions have something to say to us, but also his life. St. Vincent Pallotti reminds us that there is a task for us as Christians that we cannot avoid: We are called to shape lives. We are called as mature Christians to seek solutions ourselves and to take responsibility. We are called to keep alive the enthusiasm and love that are within us. But this is not possible if we do not appear where the people are. Presence is the programme. That is why we have to stay.

Vincent Pallotti was convinced that God has given us the power to change the conditions of this world.

This power of God gives us the courage to set out for new shores. In the relentless wilderness of brutality, violence and inhumanity, we have the possibility and the power to offer life to our fellow human beings. This primal calling to be Collaborators of the Most High gives us undreamed-of power to change the conditions of the world and to shape them in such a way that they look like the Kingdom of God. Presence is the programme. That is why we have to stay.

We can eradicate some poverty. We can discover peace and justice as new territory. We can bake, break and share bread until everyone has enough. We can heal our church. We can renew the face of the earth. Presence is the programme. That is why we too must stay.

Too often we are paralysed because we cannot solve or redeem everything. Then we fixate on what we cannot achieve. Pallotti, on the other hand, was convinced that everything we have to offer is of value and counts. I learned from him: You can only fashion what is given. But this demands something of me that all considerations about optimal conditions never encourage: I have to show up. Presence is the programme. That is why I have to stay.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 20th, 2021

 

 

Questions

 

I want to be one of those people

who are not satisfied

with quick answers and

pragmatic solutions.

They search and ask.

When they hear well-meaning,

oh-so-sensible advice,

they sense another voice

deep inside.

They have the courage

- and the yearning -,

to follow it, in order to remain

to themselves.

They go their own way.

They question the appearance.

They endure dry spells.

They discover the sacred.

 

A great and versatile artist of the first half of the 20th century was such a person: Hans Arp. I love his sculptures; but his »Questions« make me think:

Questions

You stupid little days

does a dying word of redemption

never cross your painted lips?

Do you never kneel

before a cross?

You stupid little days,

you only know coming and going.

Do you not know

that at every moment

the holy infinity is gazing at you?

 

These questions make me pause and lead me to an old trail:

Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

And I pray Psalm 1 anew.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 18th, 2021

 

 

We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.

 

2nd Sunday B 2021                                           1 Sam 3, 3–10.19

 

I once took part in a training course for pastoral workers. It was about pastoral counselling. It was just awful. Lofty words without any connection to real life were paired with methodological steps of appalling clinical coldness. And not once did we speak of the people, let alone their souls. No, they only spoke to us about clients. 

One older colleague, a Protestant pastor, gave up listening at some point, opened a book and was absorbed in reading. During the lunch break I went to him and asked him about what he was reading. He held up the book and I read the title: Life Together. A book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Then he shared a passage from the book with me:

»There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother's confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.«

After that he only said: »True listening is an adventure of the Christian life.«

In great moments of life and story, a one-sided wish is awakened in us: we want to find someone who listens to us like that. What seldom happens is that we wish to become that listening heart for others. The complaint is clear: No one is listening to me. That drowns out the question: To whom am I listening?

The reading from the Book of Samuel tells how the young prophet learns from his old master Eli how to listen to God. This is an important theme for the spiritual life. What we completely ignore is the last sentence of the narrative.

Samuel grew up

and the Lord was with him

and did not let any of his words fall to the ground.

(1 Samuel 3:19)

 

Here God wants to teach us how to listen to the word of others so that they too can grow up: We, too, should take care that none of their words fall to the ground!

Let us take a closer look at this fine image. When we carry something, we are not always careful that it does not fall to the ground. That is not necessary. But with certain things we do! When do we take care that they do not fall to the floor? With things that are fragile, irreplaceable and precious to our hearts. They deserve and enjoy our special protection and care. When what we carry is coarse, insignificant, easily replaceable and disposable, our handling of it is more superficial, careless and careless. What is truly precious to us alters our attitude. Then we are careful, mindful, caring and protective.

Let's observe how an infant is placed in other hands: careful, mindful, caring and protective. No one takes that trouble and exercises that care when we pass a tennis ball from hand to hand in a group-dynamics exercise. Because we immediately recognise where the fragile, irreplaceable and precious lies, and it is not in the tennis ball.

To listen well, we must come to a deeper realisation. The delicate, fragile, irreplaceable and precious moments in people's hearts lies in their words. Our words express the innermost parts of our being, they reveal facets of our deep heart and are thus delicate and easily broken.

We learn this most easily when we want to confide something intimate, private and sacred to someone. How long does it take before we have the courage to entrust someone with the words that speak about these parts of our lives? And what happens when we finally dare to do so, but are met with ridicule, derision or scorn? That is the moment when our words are dropped onto the floor.

Because our words carry a part of who we are and what makes us, they are precious to the heart of God and worthy of protection. They must not be dropped on the ground, because their fragility reflects the fragility of the human heart. Therefore, people's words should be precious to us and worthy of protection.

Listening requires three steps in the Bible:

- perceive (be present)

- receive (integrate)

- taking along (shaping life from it)

Thus, true listening is at the same time a work of mercy. Mercy means that we voluntarily and consciously enter into the chaos of another person, just when we could easily avoid it.

And that is always what happens in true listening. It pulls us out of worlds we would prefer. Samuel would rather rest and recuperate than be jolted out of sleep three times, have to get up from his bed three times.

Listening to another person pulls us out of very pleasant and comforting worlds in which we feel and enjoy peace, strength and security. When I listen to another, I voluntarily and consciously enter a world of chaos that can rob me of sleep, exhaust me, and overwhelm me. Listening is entering into a world of pain, worry, abandonment, fear and hopelessness that is not mine and does not necessarily have to become mine.

Authentic listening will mean that I engage with issues that are not mine and that I could easily avoid by simply not listening. We know this truth and we are afraid of it. Why do we not answer the phone when certain phone numbers come up on the display? Why do we avoid meeting and talking to some people? And when we have engaged in the chaos of the other by listening, how often do we moan and say, »Oh God, if only I hadn't heard that?« Sometimes we put our hands over our ears and say, »I don't want to hear that«, fully knowing what chaos is waiting for us on the other side of listening.

God did not let any of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. God is merciful and enters into our chaos. Listening is a work worthy of God. But most of the time we find it quite difficult to participate in this work.

What happens when children tell us something that is important to them and we laugh at them or sneer at their words, because we dismiss what they have said as insignificant?

God does not allow any of these words to fall to the ground.

What happens when we mock other people's deepest convictions, when we scoff at what others hold sacred and speak disrespectfully about it?

God does not allow any of these words to fall to the ground.

We see what happens when people share their words on Twitter and Facebook, and they are subsequently harassed, savagely insulted, and even threatened.

Bonhoeffer was right: »But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share.« Here we have to make a fundamental decision of faith. Will we leave sisters and brothers in their pain and suffering because we are too afraid of their chaos? Or will we consciously and freely choose to notice, absorb and take with us what is happening in their lives? Only when we ask and clarify these questions will we really know whether words will fall to the ground or be caught.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 17th, 2021

 

 

The Strength to ask the right questions

 

Now that we have been in the Corona crisis for a long time, there is a growing tendency seek a solution and to damn the consequences. The longer the crisis lasts, the more intense the search for answers becomes. There are voices calling for vaccines to be admitted without proper testing. There are others who new measures be taken, harder or softer, without any reference whatsoever to the possible consequences.  In search of a quick solution, there is a willingness to give up the search for the proper questions. The demand for quick solutions makes us ever more willing to dismiss burning questions as irritating inconveniences .Thus, once we have found a solution, we tend to ignore the proper questions such as: Is this the right path? Is this the only solution to our problem or only the quickest one? What will be the consequences of this path and who will pay the price for it?

When we become exclusively interested in answers and solutions, we start to grow ever more distant from the storyteller of God, the Jesus of the Gospels. His style of teaching does not depend on rote memorization of answers, unlike the subtle suggestion of our catechisms. Rather than people willing to take notes at his lectures, Jesus is interested in finding and fostering hearers of the word. And hearers of the word learn the art and craft of becoming genuine listeners. Jesus invites the hearers of the word to explore the stories of God and come to a conclusion. He will guide their thinking without telling them what to think.

The stories of God and the stories of Faith are not good teaching tools for people who seek simplistic answers. The Storyteller of God offers no quick, easy and patented solutions to the mystery of life. Instead, he has come to invite us to join him on a journey of great adventure. But adventures are nasty things for those who are care only for solutions: they make us wrestle with our assumptions, force us to confront our conveniently one-sided images of ourselves, drive us to wrestle with God and guide us to the humbling reality that there is someone greater than ourselves and even matters greater than our personal concerns.  Once that happens, we start to seek the proper questions.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: »We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.«

This is real faith, and that is hard work. We live in a world in which we love to talk about being free, but then want someone to tell us what to think and what to do. We love to think of ourselves as free thinkers who have broken through and moved past the old, worn-out stories of the past. In reality, we took stories rich with layers of meaning and purpose and replaced them with cheap pseudo-stories. We took magnificent biblical stories that forced us to move beyond easy answers and replaced them with trivial tales of convenience, always tidy in their black and white depictions and always without complication.

The Storyteller of God is on the move through our world and still doing today what he did in the days of the Gospel: upending all inherited assumptions, ideas and concepts we hold to be beyond question. He hopes to move us to the faith of Mosche, described and admired by Elie Wiesel in his book Night.

»And why do you pray, Mosche?«, I asked him.

»I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.«

I think that is a very good idea in the midst of our crisis. For if we pray to God for the strength to ask Him the right questions, who knows what astonishing and unexpected solutions might be given?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 15th, 2021

 

 

What troubles your heart?

 

On New Year’s Eve, a friend of mine lost her mother. When I received news of this several days later, I was deeply saddened at her loss. I sat down to write her a letter of condolence, and I celebrated a Mass of Resurrection for her mother.

Over the course of the day, my sadness deepened.  My friend was present at the funeral of my mother nine years ago and again at the funeral of my father just over a year ago. 8000 km separate Vallendar from Edmonton, and that makes that impossible for me to attend. But it troubles my heart that I cannot return this sign of closeness of heart, to practice this most essential form of presence in the hour of grief for a good and faithful friend.

It is so simple an action, going to a funeral and supporting a friend in the time of mourning. Like most simple actions, we take it for granted. But while we do so, we often forget those among us for whom it is not possible to take part in what we take for granted. As Jesus Sirach says: »The day of prosperity makes one forget adversity; the day of adversity makes one forget prosperity«.(Sirach 11, 25) It is the nonchalance of this forgetting in the day of prosperity that worries me more with every passing year.

Many thousands of people in these days, who have lost family and friends to the ravages of the corona virus, now enter this experience. They were often unable to visit and accompany their beloved people in their dying, and often not able to mourn their loss in a deep and necessary fashion. In places such as Bergamo, Italy, hundreds of people were not even allowed to attend the funerals of their family members.

And it troubles me. When the pandemic ends and the day of prosperity returns, we will gradually resume the normal routines of our lives. Will we then forget the days of adversity and what they tried to teach us? Will we then forget all those for whom the days of adversity do not automatically end when ours do?

For Jesus Sirach also says this: »When (the wealthy man) says: ‘I have found rest now I will feast on my possessions,’ he does not know how long it will be till he dies and leaves them to others.« (Jesus Sirach 11, 19). It is an old story in the biblical tradition. Luke picks it up when he tells us of a man who forgets everything else as soon as he is blessed with the unexpected large harvest. »‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’« (Luke 12, 18-20)

I worry what will happen to the people who have suffered the hardest losses. When we come to the unexpected harvest of blessing, will we forget everything else to build bigger barns, and never spare a thought for those who need to honour the memory and lives of their dead loved ones? In our time of ample gifts, when it is possible to relax, eat, drink, be merry, will we share with them the time and the space of grief and mourning? As life goes on for so many, will we permit it to flow past those, for whom it cannot simply go on as before?

Would it be worth it to survive a pandemic only to come out a colder, crueler and more self-centered people than before? »Let not your heart be troubled«. (Jn 14, 1) That is direct and good advice from Jesus himself. But there are times when it is good for our hearts to be troubled so that we can move into the next line. »You believe in God, believe also in Me.« I doubt whether the barn builder was thinking of God or life or anything else as he enjoyed his untroubled heart. And then a terrible thing happens. We wake up to the horrid realisation that our horizon of concern is the same as the width of our shoulder blades.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 13th, 2021

 

 

A Request for Blessing for Being Alone

 

A few years ago, in a beautiful neo-Gothic little church in Ireland, I took along a bookmark from the Benedictine nuns there. I liked the prayer text and the design very much. I rediscovered the beautiful little bookmark as this New Year began. And the words began to speak to me in a whole new way. Some of the experiences and hardships that people had recounted to me and over which they also lamented over the past months resonated with me.

Whereas before the pandemic the feeling of being alone could be covered up with all kinds of activities, many of us have been painfully confronted with it for months and are no longer able or willing to avoid it.

I invite you to look at the situation honestly and to take it into prayer. This can change our view, away from the perception of something lacking toward the perception of grace.

 

I Live Alone

 

Stay by my side, O Lord,

For I’m alone.

I need your presence with me

Night and day, to share my home,

To guide me on my way.

 

Keep me safe from danger;

Fill my heart with joy.

Give me your peace, your gift

To share with those whose hearts

Are troubled or despair.

 

And even when the shadow

Of the cross falls on my path

I see your Easter sunlight

Through the dark.

 

I live alone, dear Lord,

But I am sure

 Your gaze is ever on me

As on an only child.

 

Abide in me, dear Lord,

That I may live in you.

 

Amen.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 11th, 2021

 

 

I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word.

 

Baptism of the Lord B 2021                                           Mk 1, 7–11

 

I recently had a most unpleasant encounter with two people, who took offence at the idea that they might be sinners. Like nearly every conversation of this sort over the course of the last thirty years, this one was also an utter waste of time. Where there is no nuance, there can only be caricature. Can we find a way to speak of the reality of sin in such a way that we can do the biblical stories and our lives justice?

I believe that a moment from the baptism of the Lord can help us. It is the moment when Jesus rises out of the water. Immediately three things happen: the heavens open, the spirit descends on Jesus and a love speaks to us of love and belonging. It is a defining moment.

When we descend into the waters, we know we need some cleansing. Something is sticking to us, clinging to us, of which we would rid ourselves. It is a deep moment in the recognition of sin. Wilhelm Bruners defines sin in this way: Living beneath our standard. It is simple yet decidedly biblical. When people sin, they slip beneath their own personal standard, no longer living as they would prefer to live. It is a matter of failing ourselves, of not living up to a standard we know to be truly fitting and suitable for ourselves.

Yet, it has become close to impossible to have this conversation about slipping beneath our standard, because we tend to fall into the extremes. The one extreme is utter denial of this experience of sin. Yet, sin is part of our experience. We do not always act worthily, justly or with dignity. Our love often is lacking. Denying this is futile, because we are often dismayed, disappointed and disheartened when such moments occur. We know that we are not always that which we wish to be and what we are called to be.

But the other extreme is to believe that these moments define us. To sin is to slip beneath our standard. But it is not an expression of who we are. When we act sinfully, we often say: I hardly recognise myself anymore. We often do not know what drove us to say or do something, and usually do not wish to identify ourselves with these moments. Because they do not define us. The sin is not our standard, but the moment when we slide beneath it. For the most part, it is not an expression of our deepest conviction, not the manner in which we would prefer to act, not the way we would normally choose to live.

The moment Jesus climbed out of the water, everything was washed away that does not truly belong to us. And everything of true significance remains. The sin is washed away, not the heart and mind and soul of a human being. The waters of the Jordan carry away the sins of mortal men and women, it does not carry away their dignity, goodness, kindness and loving care.

If we slip beneath our standard, admit it, wash it off and return to that standard. When we rise from the waters, the sin will be washed clean, but the heavens will still open. All the lines of communication with God will remain open, conversation will still be possible and even desired.

If we slip beneath our standard and return home to it, the cleansing waters will carry away what stuck to us for but a time, but it will not deprive us of the spirit of God. The spirit will still descend upon us, the Lord and Giver of life will still live and move and breathe within us. We will still know and be moved by his inspiring presence.

If we slip beneath our standard and seek renewal, the waters will rinse off the brokenness of our relationships, but not the relationships themselves. The voice of God will still speak to us of love and belonging. We will still be considered and called a child of our God, and we will still be called beloved. Our God will delight in us, take pleasure in us, and rejoice in us.

The ignoring of sin will make us self-righteous and arrogant. We will start to think that everything God gives us is based on strict reciprocity and that God owes it to us, because we have nothing dishonorable clinging to us. It will not allow us to experience the merciful and gracious love of our God, who speaks the word, seeks the encounter, loves the lost, even when we ourselves know that we have no claim to any of it, and that we can stake no claim to having acted so magnificently or convincingly, that we would be worthy that he should enter under our roof.

Exaggerating the experience of sin makes us equate our weaker moments with our standard. »Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.« (Romans 5, 20). Like Jesus, when you come out of the water, you return to the genuine standard of your life. Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote some fine words that only a person who comes dripping out of the Jordan like Jesus could write:

»God's grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God's grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word ... it's that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn't about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace - like saying, "Oh, it's OK, I'll be the good guy and forgive you." It's God saying, "I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”« *

There is someone waiting for us on the other side of every slip beneath the standard. There is always a way home. There is always a way back to conversation, inspiration and loving relationship with our God.

 

*Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Erik Riechers SAC, January 10th, 2021

 

 

»There is still enough time.«

One of the challenges for all of us in these long months is the testing of our patience.

Already in the springtime I heard: »Hopefully the lockdown will soon be over. Then we can live normally again.« When I remarked that the virus would also accompany us throughout the summer, I only received raised eyebrows.

Like so many things, this is being revealed and exposed by the pandemic, but it is not new. It has long seemed to me that patience is less and less a virtue of ours today. This is not only fed by experiences in traffic or at cash registers and counters, where queues of people can form and we repeatedly experience breaking in line, pushing or at least grumbling. We can observe this lack of patience in ourselves and in others in all areas of life.

We get sick and healing takes time - but we have to and want to get back on our feet quickly.

We want success at work - but quickly, please!

Instead of saving for a long-term goal, we prefer to take out a quick loan.

We consume supposed solutions instead of patiently practising living from interiority to the outside.

It is difficult for us to wait patiently without resigning, to persevere with a deep breath. We worry when we desire a good development for our children or friends and it doesn't seem to happen. We help and do what we can, but nothing seems to bear fruit. How impatient we can become then!

A few days ago I came across a dialogue that is unusual for our time. One person is very concerned about a young man whose heart is filled with hatred and sadness, and speaks:

» ‘But his heart is full of hatred for his father's murderer, and it is a damned chain that no one can break. Not even you, who allowed yourself to be crucified for these cursed, rabid dogs.' 'The world is not yet over,' Christ said serenely. 'The world is barely past the beginning, and in heaven time is measured by billions of centuries. There's no need to lose faith, Don Camillo. There is still enough time, there is still enough time.‘«

Indeed, her Don Camillo and Jesus speak with each other in the novel »Don Camillo and Peppone« by Giovanni Guareschi, published in 1957.

»There is still enough time.« When was the last time we heard that? Have we ever heard it and taken it seriously? Yet this sentence is like a balm for our harried souls. It takes so much pressure off us and suggests to our hearts:

Transformation will take place. Promises will be fulfilled. Paths will be taken. Maturation and growth are permitted.

We are not finished and we have enough time.

And we are part of a much bigger story. Our individual stories have meaning, our actions have consequences, but not everything depends on us and not everything has to happen immediately. »Being human takes time « Columban the Elder once said.

It is given to us, so let us take a deep breath.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 8th, 2021

 

 

The Favorite

 

Wanderer, you look tired. The disappointments of your life are etched into your face. Discouragement has drained the colour and the joy from your soul. You should not go on like this. Do not pass me by. Won't you sit with me for a while and warm yourself by my fire? I am but a simple storyteller, but you are welcome to share my bread and company. Come, sit down. While you eat, I will tell you a little story.

Many years ago, when the world was much younger, but already felt old a young man walked over to the fields to visit his grandfather.

He found the sitting on a finely carved wooden chair gazing at a camel. Everyone simply referred to this camel as the »the favorite«, for it was well known, that she had a special place in the old patriarch’s heart.

The old man looked up as his grandson approached and smiled. Even now, after all these years and having grown into manhood, the young man felt a wave of awe sweep over him and reverence touch the places of the deep heart. For his grandfather was one of the legendary 3 pilgrims of the star. Ever since he could remember, he had heard the story of his grandfather and his two friends following the star and finding the child of light. After the three star pilgrims had returned home, they continued to make rich contributions of learning to the land, but nothing they ever did afterward compared to the great journey they had undertaken. They were legends, and his grandfather was one of them.

Smiling back at his grandfather, the young man said, »You have come to admire ‘the favorite’ again? Why does your heart draw you here so often, grandfather, to this one camel? Surely you have more precious possessions than this old and worn out camel?«

The old man looked startled at the very thought. »I have many possessions that are more expensive than this camel, but none more precious. She was with me on the star journey and has ever a place in my heart.«

His grandson smiled. »It is fine, grandfather. I was just teasing you a little. We all know why she is your favorite, for she reminds you of the greatest adventure of your life.«

Shifting slightly in the chair, this old friend of the heavens and intimate confidant of the stars, furrowed his brow. “She is not a souvenir of my sentimentality. She was a teacher of a great life lesson to me and my companions.”

Immediately, instinctively, the grandson sat down on the ground and crossed his legs, leaning forward to eagerly hear a tale from this beloved grandfather, cupping his chin in his hands. It really is the only way to receive a story, Wanderer. The grandson had done this since he was old enough to walk, and never once regretted taking the time to hear one of grandfather’s stories. And here, too, the grandfather did not disappoint.

»When we had reached Bethlehem and found the child, we entered the house of Miriam and Josef. I have often spoken of it, but no tale has ever done my heart justice. We came out of the house, but we spoke no words to each other. There was joy, oh indeed, but only in silence. The words came much later.

Yet, our silent reverie did not last long, for a woman soon shattered our silence. We had paid her to care for our camels, to groom and feed them. She had done the job poorly and half-heartedly, for she was far more interested in eavesdropping on us then doing her wages justice. We were still deeply immersed in the experience of the finding, of the seeing and encountering when we saw her. We were so full of joy that we would have embraced her, but she began to talk. Her words were laced with the most vile and pernicious of all poisons, discouragement. It is injected through the ear, but it always reaches the heart.

‘All this fuss over that baby? And gifts of such value placed into the hands of peasants who do not know or appreciate their true value?  You should not be the ones bending your knees. Those two should be doing you homage. That child is one of thousands of worthless peasants, and you are filling his parent’s heads with foolish ideas that he is some kind of king? Like his lowborn father, he will rule over sawdust and be glad if they even bother to toss him coins for his labours. What an idiotic waste of a journey. You will go down in history as three foolish men who were deceived by the stars, which you failed to properly interpret.’

For all the wisdom I have acquired over my long years, I have never known a silence as painful as that one. I was so grieved I could not find words. All the joy and reverence of my heart was wilting under the assault. It was what I least expected in such a moment of bone-deep holiness and haunting beauty. My companions looked as stricken and appalled as I felt.

At that very moment, as the woman continued to spew her venomous words over our joy, my camel became my teacher. With his left hind leg, he gave the woman a powerful kick in the backside, sending her flying ten meters through the air. We ran to her aid, fearful that great injury had been done to her. But we found her merely bruised, more harm done to her dignity than to her body. That is when the three of us started to laugh.

We laughed and laughed. We laughed until tears trickled down out cheeks. We laughed until our sides ached. In the end we were all sitting on the ground, racked with waves upon waves of laughter. We all ended up on our backs staring up at the sky. And then we saw it. The star. It never shone brighter for me than in that moment.

We had lost sight of it once before, while we were in Jerusalem, and were overwhelmed with joy when we found its light again. But his was different, in many ways more powerful. We had lost sight of the star, of our joy, of this deepest experience of our hearts due to the nagging, disparaging words of the woman. We let our hearts be poisoned by a person who could not hear what we had heard, could not see what had already seen with our own eyes, and could not pause in wonder before that which we had looked at and our hands had touched. Unable to honour the grandeur of this place and hour, she tried to strangle our joy with things of utter insignificance, with narrow-minded prejudice and small-heartedness. Her discouraging words had nearly managed to distract us from a deep satisfaction we already possessed.

In that moment, my camel saved us. She became my teacher. What use is it to find utter joy and meaning, if you cannot guard it against those who have none for themselves and would have others join their misery, hardness and cold-heartedness? My camel tossed her from the circle of holiness and awe, showing me that such people must not be allowed to remain in the holy places of our hearts and lives. Since then, she was ever my favorite.«

Now Wanderer, stay but a little while longer with me. For the tale does not end here.

Forty-five years later, this grandson told his own grandchildren of this moment with his grandfather. When the tale drew to a close, he told his wide-eyed grandchildren two things. Come closer, lean toward me, Wanderer, for I would not have the night wind steal my words before they can reach your ear. First, he swore that he saw the light of the star shimmering in his grandfather’s tears. And then he told them this: When he looked over with newly won respect at »the favorite«, the camel winked at him.

And do you know what the great-great-grandchildren of the star pilgrim did when they heard that, Wanderer? They laughed and laughed and laughed, until they too rolled onto their backs and saw the heavens.

Now, Wanderer, tell me truly: Does bread not taste better when buttered with a story? Does the fire not burn brighter and warm deeper when fed by a good story? It was good of you to share my bread, my company and my story with me, Wanderer. You already look a little less tired and a little less discouraged. My goodness, if I am not mistaken, I see a twinkle of the star in your eyes.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 6th, 2021

 

 

Let us walk sheltered

 

Thresholds

can be hurdles.

It helps if others

climb over them with me,

take me by the hand,

perhaps even carry me.

And then?

I cannot tarry here.

From behind I am pushed,

from before I am pulled.

In the distance I cannot

recognise anything.

That makes me

timid.

But to stand still

or even

to remain lying down

is not possible -

that makes me lifeless.

Thus, a first step, a second,

a third . . .

at my pace.

The path emerges.

I sense supporting ground.

I see people on my right and left.

The sky becomes bright.

And someone whispers to me:

»Go on! He who shelters you,

does not slumber!«

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 4th, 2021

 

 

Words that can light fires in our hearts

 

2. Sunday of Christmas                                              Jn 1, 1-18

 

This prologue is like a manual of John's Gospel - it's all here in this poetic jewel. But precisely because it is a poetic jewel, we find it difficult. The language is hard to understand because it is not clear, plain and straightforward.

Broken hearts, shattered relationships, being wounded by someone, being betrayed, being lied to. Even trying everything to save a relationship and realising it was in vain. Now try to tell about it clearly, plainly and straightforwardly. As if everything in life could be described with the precision of an encyclopaedia.

John tells a story of true friendship without romanticisation. Because romanticisation takes neither the love nor the lovers seriously. And I want to help you understand his story with the help of another narrative.

In his book The Fault in our Stars, John Green tells the story of two teenagers who meet under difficult circumstances. Augustus is seventeen and suffers from a bone tumour. His friend is sixteen and has a brain tumour.

I would like to highlight one scene to help understand the prologue better. Here Isaac is talking about his friend Augustus at his funeral. It's about his friend visiting him in hospital after his operation. It saves his life, but in the process Isaac loses an eye.

»I was blind and heart broken and didn't want to do anything and Gus burst into my room and shouted, ‘I have wonderful news!’ And I was like, ‘I don't really want to hear wonderful news right now,’ and Gus said, ‘This is wonderful news you want to hear’, and I asked him, ‘Fine, what is it?’ and he said, ‘You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!’ «

This is John Green's way of describing what John wants to tell us in the prologue. God is an authentic friend who breaks in on our lives and not my invitation only. He comes unexpectedly, with wonderful news, even when are not in the mood to receive it.

Furthermore, the prologue not only tells us that that God can deal with broken relationships, but shows us how.

 

  1. The problem in the relationship is recognised and a costly plan of action is undertaken.

John describes this moment when he says that we human beings did not want to receive God and his message any more than Isaac wanted to receive his friend Augustus and his message.

»I was blind and heart broken and didn't want to do anything« is a state we all have been in. And yet that state is broken into, always a costly act, whether for God or for man. This lays in the poetic words »And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not comprehended it« as well as in the words »The true light that enlightens every man came into the world.« To recognise the problem in the relationship is already not that easy, but taking action beyond resistance and disinterest is the true art, and one that is mastered by our God. When we spend too much time proclaiming the terrible state in which God found his people, we spend too little time proclaiming that he is more than capable to dealing with us, regardless of the state we happen to be in.

 

  1. The Initiative is relational and personal.

When Augustus wanted to give his friend the good news, he burst into Isaac's room. He didn't write him a letter. Nor did he make a phone call or, worse, send a message on social media. He works relationally and personally. He appears himself. John tells it like this: »and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.« In verses 14-18 we have a description of Jesus' life when the Word »dwelt among us«, »pitched his tent among us« or »made his home with us«. The tent of presence was the symbol of God's companionship of his people on their 40-year journey through the wilderness. The life of Jesus, the divine presence in human form, thus reveals the relational and personal nature of God more fully than ever before. John is the storyteller who shows us that Jesus can show us what is really on God’s  mind and, more importantly, in his heart. »It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.« [Jn, 1,18]

 

  1. Success is not guaranteed. This is an open offer. And rejection is an option

Isaac's first reaction to his friend's message was: »And I said, ‘I don't really want to hear wonderful news right now’.« When we dare to love, we assume that it must then automatically met with success. But love is an offer that can always be rejected, otherwise we wouldn't have to talk about daring to love in the first place. Risk is always included in love stories. And John is not writing a romanticised form of the love story between God and his people. He writes: »He came into his own, but his own did not receive him.« John is like a novelist describing the pain of unrequited love: Loneliness, isolation and rejection. In the face of a needy world, Jesus comes as God's Word with a gift that satisfies all longing, but the loving offer is also rejected. Even divine love stories do not have to have a happy ending.

 

  1. The act of love is unconditional. God does not wait until the »guilty« show that they have changed.

Augustus literally hears from his friend Isaac, that he is not at all open to his message. »I was blind and heart broken and didn't want to do anything.« This statement remains true even after his friend enters his hospital room. Augustus does not wait until Isaac changes his mind or his mood improves. He is not concerned with his level of popularity, but with a message his friend desperately needs so that he does not lose himself in sadness and hopelessness.

John admires the same tenacity in God: »the true light that enlightens every man came into the world. He was in the world and the world became through him, but the world did not recognise him.« Which did not stop God from showing up in the room of our pain any more than it stopped Augustus.

 

  1. God's initiative is a loving offer that shows that the motivation is the well-being of the »other«.

The wonderful news that Augustus announces shows that he is concerned about the welfare of his friend. When people tell us »I have wonderful news«, it is revealed afterwards that they have been promoted, got a coveted place at the university, got an excellent grade or the job they longed for. But Augustus shows that he is not concerned with himself. »You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!« What we shouldn't lose sight of is the fact that Isaac tells this story about a friend who himself does not survive his cancer.

When John tells us »In him was life, and the life was the light of men. But to all who received him he gave power to become children of God, we have seen his glory, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,« we hear his version of »You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!«

John's friendship story not only shows the manner in which God is a good and committed friend to us, but also that he is a God who approaches life from a perspective very different from ours. God is happy for us, as Augustus was for Isaac, because we have the opportunity to experience life in a new way. And God dares to tell us this for the same reason Augustus tells his friend Isaac: because he has not been spared this reality of life, but is in the middle of it, as we are. He pitched his tent right next to ours. God himself suffers the pain of unrequited love: loneliness, isolation and rejection. He shows us that love opened up ways for him to deal with it. And these ways are open to us as well. 

Erik Riechers SAC, January 3rd, 2021

 

 

Walking under his name

 

Every day is a beginning, something new, unprecedented; but on the first day of a new year, we feel this especially. We become more aware of this threshold and - the older we get - also of what we carry across its threshold in terms of sorrow and joy, sadness and hope, anxiety and confidence, gratitude and disappointment. Really quite weighty!

Yes, life is like that, not only since the pandemic. But God says good things about precisely this life of ours! He blesses it! On the long and arduous journey through the desert, which often seemed hopeless, he pronounced this blessing in a way that we love to this say and place over the New Year:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

The good that God promises to His own has a threefold face: protection, grace and peace. Salvation is promised. It is a blessing that flows directly from God's name: I am here. When the way becomes dark: I am there. When crises shake you: I am there. When you become frail: I am there. When you feel lost: I am there. I see you, I shelter you, I look upon you. My name is upon you.

Blessed like this, we can go on, even today, when we may perceive the threshold to be like a hurdle and feel our way only hesitantly. We can entrust our name to this name. Then perhaps we can contemplate with Andreas Knapp:

 

Name

 

Your name

is not smoke and mirrors

but sound and image

a good omen

unmistakable writing

Alphabet of life

 

your name

invented by love

tenderly whispered

not a lonely echo

but an echo of the heartbeat

password to you

 

your name

lifeline in HIS hand

engraved more imperishable

than in the most granite tombstone

carressing- pet -name

unceasing

                               Andreas Knapp, Weiter als der Horizont

                             

A blessed New Year!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, January 1st, 2021

 

 

The Swaddling Clothes of Welcome

 

When Jesus came into the world, angels appeared to the shepherds and sent them in search of the Saviour. In order for them to recognise him, they give the shepherds the following instruction:

 

And this will be a sign for you:

you will find a baby

wrapped in swaddling cloths

and lying in a manger.

 

In the book of the prophet Ezekiel there is a word that can bring the meaning of the swaddling clothes closer to us.

 

And as for your birth,

on the day you were born your cord was not cut,

nor were you washed with water to cleanse you,

nor rubbed with salt,

 nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.

(Ez 16:4)

 Ezekiel describes a birth of a very different kind. Here is a picture of the people of Israel being brought into the world without swaddling clothes. This is a metaphor of being exposed, of being at the mercy of others.  And it is an awful image of a defenceless life left to fend for itself, abandoned from the start. For the swaddling clothes described in the Bible consisted of a cloth that was tied together with cloth bandages. After the birth of an infant, the umbilical cord was cut and tied, and then the child was washed, rubbed with salt and oil, and then wrapped in swaddling clothes. These strips of cloth were intended to keep the newborn child warm and ensure that its limbs grew straight. Swaddling clothes speak of warm shelter in a cold world. They speak of loving care and an appreciative willingness to protect and serve this life.

Years ago, John L. Bell wrote a wonderful carol about the search for the child.

 

I sought him dressed in finest clothes,

where money talks and status grows;

but power and wealth he never chose:

it seemed he lived in poverty.

 

I sought him in the safest place,

remote from crime or cheap disgrace;

but safety never knew his face:

it seemed he lived in jeopardy.

 

I sought him where the spotlights glare,

where crowds collect and critics stare;

but no one knew his presence there:

it seemed he lived in obscurity.

 

Then, in the streets, we heard the word

which seemed, for all the world, absurd:

that those who could no gifts afford

were entertaining Christ the Lord.

 

And so, distinct from all we'd planned,

among the poorest of the land,

we did what few might understand:

we touched God in a baby's hand.

 

And that is why Luke uses this detail of the swaddling clothes. The Son of God comes into a cold world, exposed to jeopardy, poverty and obscurity. But we should never paint the world in shades too dark. For there are also people in this world who protect, shelter and lovingly welcome the child. These are the people who wrap all new life from God in swaddling clothes. 

And it can certainly does us no harm to remember who the people were who provided the swaddling clothes. May we be numbered among them.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, December 30th, 2020

 

 

Before the eyes of children

 

In these Christmas days or, according to old tradition, 12 Holy Nights until Epiphany, the stories of Selma Lagerlöf are fine companions for me. Timeless, they widen the view from the Holy Night into our lives and thus go with me through this time. One of these stories is »A Christmas Guest«.

Little Ruster, who is already getting on in years, is a poor musician and flute player. There had been good years for him, when he and others played music and led a lively life, but that was a long time ago. As Christmas approaches, he turns up at the splendid estate of a former comrade, the violinist Liljekrona - with nothing but his flute, a quill and brandy. He is reluctantly taken in; the lady of the house considers him as an imposition on the children.  He disrupts the festive preparations that everyone here loves so much and who work toward the enchantment of Christmas. Finally, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, he leaves the estate with wounded pride - the stable-boy is to take him in a sleigh to another farm.

Yet, the enchantment of Christmas does not come to Liljekrona and his family. The violinist withdraws from his family and plays his violin so wildly in his room that his wife becomes frightened.  In the meantime, Ruster goes from house to house through the snowstorm - no one takes him in. » Then all at once he saw himself. He saw how miserable and degraded he was, and he understood that he was odious to people. “It is the end of me,” he thought. « And as he looks at his life like this, he suddenly becomes very humble and he believes his life will come to an end in the cold and darkness of this Christmas Eve.

Only when he is suddenly taken in by light and warmth does he realise that he is back in Liljekrona's house - the stable-boy had wearily returned home, without Ruster having taken notice. The master of the house continues his romp with the violin, but his wife is transformed; she is filled with compassion and then she entrusts her boys to Ruster while she does some last chores in the kitchen. With children, however, the man is completely inexperienced: » He was almost shy of them, and did not know what he ought to say that was fine enough for them. « Then he turns to what he knows, his flute. And by means of the tones they come to the notes and through them to the ABCs. Yet Ruster is not satisfied with himself. » He was turning over the old thoughts from out in the storm. It was good and pleasant, but nevertheless, it was the end of him. He was worn out. He ought to be thrown away. And all of a sudden he put his hands before his face and began to weep.« Then Liljekrona's wife steps before him - full of understanding, full of confidence and with the offer to teach their children in the future. She admonishes him to look the children in the eye, but he does not dare to do so and says so. » Liljekrona’s wife laughed loud and joyously. “Then you must accustom yourself to them, Ruster. You can stay in my house as schoolmaster this year.”«

This laughter reaches Liljekrona. When he comes out of his room, he can hardly believe what he sees and what his wife has just arranged and he does not understand her courage and he asks what Ruster has promised. » ‘Ruster has promised nothing. But there is much about which he must be careful when he has to look little children in the eyes every day. If it had not been Christmas, perhaps I would not have ventured; but when our Lord dared to place a little child who was his own son among us sinners, so can I also dare to let my little children try to save a human soul.’ «

Liljekrona's face twitches with emotion - as it always does when he hears something noble. And he kisses his wife's hands.

Now Christmas is truly celebrated!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 28th, 2020

 

 

The Complexity of an Authentic Life

 

Holy Family B 2020            Luke 2,22-40

 

Normally when we think of the coming of the child, we expect a fairly simple and straightforward story. It should make us happy, comfort us and warm our hearts. However, many people have celebrated this Christmas season with mixed feelings. Sadness was mixed with joy. Many expectations were only minimally fulfilled, or not at all. There is a mixture of hard reality and stubborn hope, of the cold facts of life and the unquenchable longing of faith.

Today we hear a biblical story that is just as complicated and complex. The reason is simple: the reality of human experience is always complex. In this story of the coming of the child we see the fulfillment of a promise of redemption and at the same time a prediction of times of trouble and pain. This child is destined that in Israel many will fall through him and many will be raised up, and he will be a sign that will be contradicted. There is no escape from reality here. Here we have the real-life story of the Gospel. And we can take from it three life lessons for mixed experiences.

 

Do not speak ill of poor and feeble beginnings

It is easy to overlook the signs of poverty in the story, but they are present. Because Mary and Joseph are poor, they cannot afford to bring a lamb as a sacrifice to the temple. Therefore, they have no choice but to choose the option open to the poor: »a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons«. The very fact that they bring these offerings is already a humiliating public confession of their social and economic status. The constant frustration and humiliation that so many of their compatriots also experienced surely aroused a desire for God's promise of redemption to be fulfilled.

At this point Simeon and Hannah enter the story, two people who neither ridicule nor denigrate the poverty and simplicity of this young couple. Instead, they see something in their present situation, indeed in what they already possess, that is not only realistic and focused, but also generous and inclusive. So often in our crisis situations we experience sarcasm, irony, condescension, prophets of doom, and know-it-alls. Here, however, are two who find warm words for poor and powerless beginnings. For this is how all stories of God begin.

 

Grant others the life you long for yourself

Luke tells us that Simeon was a man on whom »the Holy Spirit rested«. What the Spirit wove in him makes Simeon show a remarkable openness.  Intuitively, he felt the urge to visit the temple, and he took it as a guidance of the Spirit. Simeon not only sees the baby, but recognises the significance of the tiny life he holds in his arms. In a cascade of words that encapsulate Simeon's thoughts and prayers over the countless years, he speaks the words of what we now call the Song of Simeon.

When we humans hard pressed for long periods of time, the desire of our hearts can become too small. Then we want deliverance from what is oppressing us here, today and right now. Then it can happen that we wish it only for ourselves. Simeon, on the other hand, sees God's salvation as something that encompasses the whole earth. Not only his nation and his people should see and experience God's salvation, but all peoples and nations.

How often crises become nothing more than gaining an advantage over the enemy. But Simeon sees that God is inclusive and not partisan. God does not want to divide the world into winners and losers, but to let everyone share in the gains. His redemption is for the whole world. Here Simeon stands in a tradition as old as Genesis. For God's promise to Abraham says that through his descendants all the nations of the world would be blessed. This generosity is a fruit of the Spirit who dwells in us and rests upon us. The glory of Israel will be realised to the extent that Israel is a means of blessing to the nations. This was Simeon's vision of Jesus' life and ministry. 

 

Speak blessing that touches the deepest realities of life instead of avoiding them

Simeon then blesses Jesus' parents. But even his blessing is complicated, for with the blessing come words of warning, of prediction, of conflict, of division, of opposition. (Behold, this Child is appointed to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against). For Mary it will mean personal loss and suffering. (A sword will pierce your soul as well.)

Simeon's blessing is anything but a glossing over of reality, a whitewashing of the cracks with blind optimism and sentimental good humour. Simeon's blessing faces the reality that where the love of God meets the sinfulness of human beings, suffering is the inevitable result. The blessing comes from the knowledge that the way God has chosen is to deal with the suffering of the world by accompanying those who suffer as one who suffers with us.

Another remarkable person, Anna, then comes along. A woman who had experienced tremendous loss but refused to give in to bitterness and resentment and found meaning and fulfilment in prayer and fasting day and night! She was a person of faith and hope who looked to a better future. She was also open to see the significance of this child and shared her joy of this discovery with all those who were waiting for the »redemption of Jerusalem«. Anna had lost so much, but instead of being bitter or resentful, she found fulfilment.

These are the complex steps through all times of crisis that enable us to resist the bitterness of spirit after a great loss.

John Shea has taken a long, loving look at the realities in the Song of Simeon. May his words, also complex and mixed, help us not only to celebrate Christmas but to face the days ahead with grace and kindness.

 

The Song of Simeon (Lukas 2, 29-32)

 

When I sing the canticle of Simeon,

I envy his privileged place in salvation history.

His aged eyes see the child of promise,

his ears hear the infant cry of the Saviour.

This allows him to go in peace,

to take leave of life.

 

Simeon holds the child of promise in his arms

and sings that life has become so full

there is no need for more of it.

Fulfillment has arrived.

 

How many have wanted to be able to say,

»Now you can dismiss your servant in peace«?

 

I think of a friend who died

while his children were still young.

As I sat at his bedside,

he was agitated and unable to talk.

I asked him

if he was worried about his wife and children.

He nodded.

I told him they would miss him,

but they would do well.

He held up his hand

with the index and middle fingers crossed,

the sign for ‘Hope so!”

 

No song of Simeon for him.

 

We know how deep bargaining goes in us –

the parent prays to stay alive

until the child is married or a grandchild is born.

We hold out hope there will come a time

when we will be ready.

hope that when our time comes

We will have partaken of a feast

that will so satisfy our hunger

no more will be needed.

Then our fist will open

and we will let go of the tight grip we have on life.

We will surrender without regret

and lay down the burden of our days.

May it be so!

 

But I am not sure.

For many of us,

for me,

there may be no resolution within life,

no culmination of our efforts.

We may die unfulfilled, with work undone,

with others carrying on without us.

 

But if there is a chance

to make Simeon’s words our last song,

we must radicalise ourselves as servants.

It is the servaant who departs;

all others merely stop.

if we have given our life away,

we may know the Spirit well enough

to embrace its unfolding in ourselves

and in those we love,

to trust the larger Mystery

that connects us beyond separations.

 

Our heritage of service will sustain us

knowing that the One we have served

is faithful

in ways beyond our ability to image.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, December 27th, 2020

 

 

God starts anew in the child

 

Christmas Day 2020

(For Julia, Lukas and Johannes)

 

»For unto us a child is born« (Is 9,5). When we hear that, we could wonder if God really has it all together. Because even a brief glance at the painfully broken world around us tells us that the very last thing we could use right now is a child.

Every day we hear exactly the opposite from politicians and economists. They tell us: we need more troops to protect us from terror, not a child. We need ingenious people to develop new technologies so that we can once again become leaders in the globalised world economy, but not a child. We need heroic people to open up new worlds. We need entrepreneurs to get the economy going again and reduce unemployment. In such a world, we have been waiting a long time for the angel to announce: »Fear not... Today in the city of David the Saviour is born to you«. But how dare God then tell us: »You will find a child lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes«.

 

God provides a path all his own. The surprisingly new thing about the Gospel is precisely that God became small and vulnerable and, of all things, fruitful among us in this way. He prefers to come into the world as a child. The three basic attitudes before the child that we learn in Bethlehem and which becomes a blessing and salvation for us are demanded of us again in Cana and on Calvary, in Jerusalem and Jericho.

Firstly, a child slows us down. A child slows down the normal pace of our lives. This truth is painfully clear to us. Children cannot keep up with adults. They cannot walk as fast as we can. Mentally, they cannot match our speed. Children need more time to learn. They are slower to understand, need much more time to prepare, to readjust. Therefore, if we want to lovingly engage with a child, we have to adapt to their pace.  

And it is in this that we are blessed. When we engage with a child, our lives are slowed down and decelerated until we can engage with new levels of experience, enjoyment and exploration. It is not children who race past miracles, but adults. Children don't need to be reminded to notice the beauty and magnificence of life; adults do. When their questions cascade down on us, we have proof that they can really see, admire and take in the world. Their inquisitiveness gives rise to wonder, and wonder is the beginning of all faith.

That is why a child has been given unto us. God wants to slow us down so that the most important encounters, the fullness and the truly significant things of life do not pass us by without a trace. In the child he slows us down so that we can perceive our life, notice our orientation, take a look at the movement or immobility of our life, and get involved in the burning questions. But what begins in Bethlehem is carried through in the life and work of Jesus. In Bethlehem we learn a basic attitude of faith. How else will we perceive the lilies of the field, the birds in the sky, the poor widow, the prodigal son, the woman bleeding to death on the inside, the insecure Zacchaeus, or the mourning Martha, if we run past all the places of encounter with God? To live fully we need the pace of a child. If we want to slow down, let us welcome the child. That is why he is given unto us.

Secondly, a child unleashes our generosity. Children are not our partners. They cannot contribute equally and effectively to the family, the state and the community. They need much more than they can give. They need our material resources, because they cannot sustain their own lives. They need more affirmation, because they are not yet strong enough in self-confidence and courage. They need to drink from the cup of our love, patience and strength for a long time. They need more time. Plain and simple, we cannot love children if we do not meet these demands. And it is these demands that forge the core of our generosity.

In this sense, children are the first teachers of our generosity. For most parents, a life of selfless service begins not before the marriage altar but before the baptismal font. The moment a child is born to them, they are immediately enrolled in the school of generosity. Without a versatile generosity, children cannot be loved or educated. They make us transcend the stinginess with which we treat time and love to offer and provide more, and more and more of it. Self-occupation diminishes and concern for the child grows.

That is why a child is given unto us. In the child, God begins again. He stretches our hearts to make room for a greater, a divine, generosity. This is how he works with us from the manger to the cross. We need generous hearts if we want to leave the nets on the shore and throw the last penny into the plate. Only generous hearts can turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile and bless the persecutors. No step of the way with Christ can be taken without a generous heart. That is why a child is given unto us, because in the child God wants to start all over again.

Finally a child softens our angers. This is not to say that they are never the cause of your anger. Indeed, your children can infuriate you with a stunning ease. Spilled milk, interior decoration inspired by crayon, missed curfews, and incomplete homework and housework can make your blood boil and your hiatal hernia dance for joy.

Yet even in the hour of our anger they can save us. In the encounter with their vulnerability we begin to draw from the wellsprings of our compassion. Vulnerability opens us up a new access to long forgotten tenderness. Their vulnerability makes them defenceless and easily hurt and this breaks through our otherwise armoured hearts. This vulnerability of children makes us open to a love that transcends our anger, our bossiness and even our drive to violence.  Their defencelessness makes us stand protectively over them and calms our anger. The helplessness of children draws help and comfort from us. When we face children who are small in stature, strength and vitality, our hearts change to mercy and gentleness where once there was only impatience and anger.

God brought us a new life in the form of extreme vulnerability. He came to us as a small child, totally dependent on the care and protection of others. In the child, God starts from the beginning. When God comes into the world as a little child, God cannot walk or talk; first someone has to teach him. That is where the story of Jesus begins. He needs people so that he can grow up. God says: "I want to be weak so that you can love me. What better way is there to help you return my love than to become completely weak so that you can take care of me? “God becomes a stumbling God so that he can depend entirely on our love. The God who loves us is a God who becomes vulnerable, dependent on people in the manger, dependent on them on the cross; a God who basically asks, »Are you there for me?«

We spend so much time protecting ourselves from pain, betrayal and hurt that we put our hearts behind bulletproof glass. But here is the God who wraps his heart in swaddling clothes. In Bethlehem a child is given unto us, because vulnerability is the way to love and life.

This is always the way of Jesus, from the manger of his birth to the showing of his wounds after the resurrection. In his flesh, we constantly learn that in him, God provides a way of his own, the way where we live openly and without fear in our vulnerability. In Jesus we see a person who perceives the needs of the smallest children and who weeps for Lazarus. Here is a person who is not afraid to sweat blood in front of us, who does not hide his fear from us and openly admits to us that his heart is saddened unto death. Here is one who is receptive to the wounds of life for the sake of love.

A new mother once told me: »Everything I have done and achieved in my life has not prepared me for this encounter«. It is not too late. We can still grow a little smaller to meet him at eye level. The child is patient. We probably prepared for something else, imagined it quite differently: it doesn't matter.

So I conclude with a poem by my teacher John Shea. Here, too, a child can help us learn the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.

Sharon's Christmas Prayer

She was five,

      sure of the facts,

      and recited them

      with slow solemnity

      convinced every word

   was revelation.

      She said

 

they were so poor

they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

to eat

and they went a long way from home

without getting lost. The lady rode

a donkey, the man walked, and the baby

was inside the lady.

They had to stay in a stable

with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)

but the Three Rich Men found them

because a star lited the roof

Shepherds came and you could

pet the sheep but not feed them.

Then the baby was borned.

And do you know who he was?

 

      Her quarter eyes inflated

      to silver dollars,

The baby was God.

 

      And she jumped in the air

      whirled round, dove into the sofa

      and buried her head under the cushion

      which is the only proper response

      to the Good News of the Incarnation.

 

 

I wish you all a blessed and joyous Christmas.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, December 25th, 2020

 

 

The Surprising Fullness

 

No matter how hard we try, we cannot exhaust the possibilities of the Stories of God and the Stories of Faith. They will surprise us with their delightful insights that defy every attempt to limit them to inherited interpretations. And they will make us think when we least expect it. They will make us ponder when we least wish to do so.

Denise Levertov, in her book A Door in the Hive, offers us yet another look at the encounter between Gabriel and Mary. In a time when we are strictly limited in our freedom and ability to encounter one another as we would like, it is all the more important to discover the deepest potential that such encounters offer. That way, we will not take them for granted, when the days of unfettered encounters return. 

 

 Annunciation

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’

From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece

 

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,

almost always a lectern, a book; always

the tall lily.

 

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,

the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,

whom she acknowledges, a guest.

 

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions

courage.

 

The engendering Spirit

did not enter her without consent.

 

God waited.

 

She was free

to accept or to refuse, choice

integral to humanness.

____________________

 

Aren’t there annunciations

of one sort or another

in most lives?

 

Some unwillingly

undertake great destinies,

enact them in sullen pride,

uncomprehending.

 

More often

those moments

when roads of light and storm

open from darkness in a man or woman,

are turned away from

 

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair

and with relief.

Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.

But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

____________________

 

She had been a child who played, ate, slept

like any other child–but unlike others,

wept only for pity, laughed

in joy not triumph.

Compassion and intelligence

fused in her, indivisible.

 

Called to a destiny more momentous

than any in all of Time,

she did not quail,

 

only asked

 

a simple, ‘How can this be?’

and gravely, courteously,

took to heart the angel’s reply,

the astounding ministry she was offered:

 

to bear in her womb

Infinite weight and lightness; to carry

in hidden, finite inwardness,

nine months of Eternity; to contain

in slender vase of being,

the sum of power–

in narrow flesh,

the sum of light.

 

Then bring to birth,

push out into air, a Man-child

needing, like any other,

milk and love–

 

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,

when she could still refuse.

 

A breath unbreathed,

 Spirit,

 suspended,

 waiting.

____________________

 

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’

 Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’

 She did not submit with gritted teeth,

 raging, coerced.

 Bravest of all humans,

 consent illumined her.

 The room filled with its light,

 the lily glowed in it,

 and the iridescent wings.

 Consent,

 courage unparalleled,

 opened her utterly.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, December 23rd,  2020

 

 

Perhaps

 

Yesterday, on the 4th Sunday of Advent, the focus was on the great scene of Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary. It accompanies us through these last High Advent days. For we already know: not only the spark of a single interpretation flares up when we contemplate a biblical story.  Just as a hammer blow on a rock causes sparks, according to rabbinical teaching, a verse of Scripture allows many interpretations.

 

That is why today we give you a different view of Mary (and of us), who heard the promise of the angel - promise and imposition at the same time!

 

Perhaps

if I become very quiet

I will hear the language of the stars

in the blue of the night.

Perhaps

if I grow very still

I will hear the word of yearning

in the dawning of the morning.

Perhaps

if I am all ears

I will hear the melody of silence

in broad daylight.

Perhaps

if I let you in, angel,

and you touch me

with the wings of heaven

perhaps

you will awaken my yes,

perhaps then the miracle will grow.

Perhaps. Now?

Come!

»Nothing is impossible for God.«

 

                              Hildegard Nies (Laacher Messbuch 2009)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 21st, 2020

 

 

How a Yes to God can develop

 

4. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Luke 1, 26-38

 

When we hear this story, there is a tendency to jump to the result. Then we emphasise the »yes«. The impression can arise that Mary's assent was the automatic response to Gabriel's greeting. What else is she supposed to say to the angel?  But in fact this »yes«. comes after a complex exchange between the two.

There are three moments in the conversation between Gabriel and Mary.

Gabriel greets Mary and questions are awakened in her that lead to inner struggle and debate.

Gabriel announces God's message for Mary to her and Mary asks questions that lead to the enquiry of the external circumstances and processes.

Gabriel explains to Mary in general how God wants to work with her and she considers everything carefully until it results in consent.

 

What emerges from this threefold exchange is not a foregone conclusion. While Matthew speaks about Mary in his Gospel, in Luke she is a woman who thinks for herself and speaks for herself. She appears as a great woman and not as a helpless little maiden.

 

Gabriel greets Mary and questions are awakened in her that lead to inner struggle and debate.

The first step of this conversation is Mary's reaction, not to the presence of the angel, but to his address (v. 29). Mary is not disturbed by the fact that an angel has appeared in her house, but by the words he speaks in greeting. What is given here as »troubled « dilutes the force of the Greek diatarassō. The word means a thorough, deep and life encompassing disquiet. This feeling is reflected in the intensity of Mary's inner debate. We do not know what the images and words in Gabriel's greeting triggered in Mary. Perhaps she is thinking about how young and inexperienced she is. Perhaps Gabriel's greeting awakens feelings of being unprepared. Perhaps she feels how poor and insignificant she is in the eyes of the world. What we know from Luke, however, is that she takes time to think thoroughly for herself. She examines all the different things that could be behind this strange encounter and where they could possibly lead.

 

Gabriel announces God's message for Mary to her and Mary asks questions that lead to the enquiry of the external circumstances and processes.

We have no idea how much time passes before Gabriel continues. Just because we can read a story quickly doesn't mean it goes that fast. But eventually the moment comes when the angel sees that Mary is ready to hear more. Then he begins to present his announcement. Again, Mary enters the conversation, but this time she moves on to an enquiry of the external circumstances and procedures. It is worth noting here the contrast with Zechariah's question from the previous story. Like Mary, he too was »troubled«, but whereas he asks »How will I know?«, her question is the much more practical »How will it come about?«. This response, with its implicit willingness to consider further, suggests that a new and differently focused phase of clarification has begun.

Dr Edith Eva Eger describes this phase through two questions that people asked in the concentration camps. Some asked: Why? This is what she calls the paralysing question, because it leads to passivity while we wait for an answer that we probably won't get. She chooses the question: What now? This question seeks what is really essential, namely the possibilities for shaping life that could lead to a future.

 

Gabriel explains to Mary in general how God wants to work with her and she considers everything carefully until it results in consent.

Even now, there is no immediate »yes«. Gabriel's statement in response to Mary's questions again raises some serious issues for Mary to confront - especially given her status as an engaged woman, the intended mode of conception and the punishment for violations of the betrothal set out in the law. How would her fiancé, her family and her wider community react? What possible fates awaited her? Could God really be at work in and through such an unlikely and precarious scenario? No wonder she has to take the time to look, think and weigh so that she can come to a considered decision. A »yes« to God is not born that quickly. In this case, her reflection leads her to answer the question in the affirmative - she overcomes the fear of the likely risks and volunteers to be a partner in God's proposed plan. But even if her reflection had led her to a different answer, it would still have been the same profound and informed act of self-determination.

Years ago I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. Too often faith is presented in this manner. In such an understanding questions, considerations, doubts and struggle have no place.

But the path of faith is the path that Mary walks in this narrative. The path of faith is not just about the question »What do I have to affirm quickly and unconditionally?« We need to recognise when to pause and reflect before moving on to the next step. Instead of viewing questions as doubts, we should consider what kind of questions or perspectives are useful when we are trying to understand a situation and make a decision about an appropriate action. The absolute clarity with which we occasionally try to answer questions of faith tends to question whether faith is just something to gain more certainty. Perhaps experiences of faith are also given so that we can grow and live in all those life situations where there are no definite answers.

A »yes« to God is not born that swiftly. And when this »yes« passes over our lips too quickly and thoughtlessly, then it cannot develop it potential, then it will not be what it is meant to be for us. For here we are to carry a promise of God in us and focus our lives around this promise. We should say »yes« to that, which is in our hearts: the breath of God that animate the human family. When a »yes« to God is born in this way, then it is a call to our deepest vocation, namely, to believe that at the very core of the matter, we are made by and for love.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, December 20th, 2020

 

 

Everyone is born there

 

This year, many of us are missing a trip to one of our places of longing. There are places that do our souls good, where we can experience being at peace with ourselves and recharge our batteries. The majority of humanity hardly has a chance for such an undertaking. But many know the longing for holy places - at least once in a lifetime they would like to visit them and take on the great burdens of a pilgrimage.

This was on my mind yesterday morning when I prayed Psalm 87. At the beginning the it refers to  the holy mountains; in the Bible they are again and again places of experiencing God, of encountering the Mystery, the very Other, the HOLY, and the experiences are varied.

Then the singer of the Psalm singles out one mountain: Zion. It is founded by the Lord like all others, but he loves it above all others. Among us humans, this could lead to a competition, a ranking, a separation between belonging and not belonging. But not with God! The glory of this city of God is that everyone belongs - and in a way that has to do with the deepest questions of being human, the whence and whither of it: of Zion it will be said: » Everyone is born in her. «

This little psalm sings of a great longing. Wherever we come from - one day we will step through Zion's gates and realise: This is where we come from. This is where we belong. This is where everything that makes us live springs forth.

Truly a reason to dance!

His foundation on the holy mountains -

The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

Splendid things are spoken of you, O city of God:

“Let me recall Rahab and Babel to my familiars. Look, — Philistia and Tyre together with Cush— and will say,

‘This one was born in Zion.’ ”

And of Zion it shall be said, “Everyone is born in her, and He, the Most High, makes it firm-founded.”

 The Lord inscribes in the record of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.”

As singers and dancers alike: “All my wellsprings are in you.”

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 18th, 2020

 

 

We Wear the Mask

 

In Germany a new and hard lockdown of the country begins today. It is much the same in many parts of the world. There is much to complain about and no shortage of people willing to do the complaining. No one was hoping for a Christmas like this, but this is the Christmas we will have.

Among the tighter restrictions given to the churches here, we now need to contend with two aspects that directly impact the way we celebrate the Christmas liturgies with each other. First, we are not allowed to sing our beloved Carols while we worship. Second, we must wear a mask throughout the time we are in the church.

Of the two restrictions, the singing is getting all the publicity and rivers of ink are flowing in commentary. But to me, the second one, the wearing of the mask is the more troubling. It is not a problem for me as a public health safety measure, not even in the celebration of the Eucharist. What troubles me, is that we are very selective in our opposition to mask-wearing. When they are made of cloth, people complain loudly and at a length, even claiming this constitutes a violation of their personal freedom. But when the masks are not sewn of cloth, but woven out of human reluctance to share life and feeling, story and wound, then we are remarkably silent about the effects of mask-wearing.

Can we honestly claim that this is the first Christmas in which we will wear a mask? Do we sit in our pews or at our Christmas tables with open hearts and transparent faces? Have none of us ever felt the need to mask our true feelings, what is truly happening within us, in order to keep the others happy, or at bay? Have none of us worn the outer mask of Christmas joy to cover deep and welling sadness in us? Have none of us faked enthusiasm at the gatherings of kin and clan, masking our deeper hope that it will all just go away? Does Christmas automatically make out conversations more forthright? These are the masks we wear at nearly every Christmas and beyond.

Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote a brilliant and gorgeous poem entitled »We wear the mask«. May his words give us a chance to think about the masks we wear, that no government edict can demand or enforce.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!

When the pandemic ends and the masks come off, will we actually show each other more of ourselves?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, December 16th, 2020

 

 

Giving witness to the Light

 

In our latitudes we are entering the darkest week of the year. At its beginning, however, or quite deliberately, there is a saint of light: Santa Lucia (Dec. 13) from Syracuse in Sicily, who died as a martyr at the beginning of the 4th century.

We know little about her, but as happens so often, the people continued to tell in legends what they loved and admired about her, for example that she brought food to fellow Christians in their hiding places under cover of darkness. She needed both hands to carry the food, so to find her way in the dark, she is said to have put a wreath of lights on her head.

For a long time she has enjoyed a special affection in Sweden. Thus it came to be, that Selma Lagerlöf wrote a legend in 1921 entitled, »The Legend of Santa Lucia‘s Day«. In it we come to know the cold and greedy Mrs Rangela, who had her farm at the mouth of a bay, which she secured with a drawbridge and mercilessly levied tolls on anyone who wanted to take this shortcut instead of a day's walk around the whole bay. It is worth reading how it came about that a young relative of hers married the rich widowed Lord Eskil at the nearby castle and took care of his eight half-orphans.

This young woman Lucia was the opposite of her aunt in everything. From childhood onwards she loved the stories of St. Lucia, whom she chose as her patron saint and carried in her heart as an example. Thus, with almost childlike devotion, she helped pilgrims across the bay in her boat and thus began to arouse the wrath of her merciless aunt, who now schemed against Lucia. But this young woman would not be dissuaded from her goodness. Indeed, it almost caused her  physical pain when in autumn her cellars and barns filled up to an extraordinary measure, while she kept hearing how many people in the country were starving and had lost everything after war campaigns and looting. Finally, she used a long absence of her husband in late autumn to put her heart's desire into action with the help of all the servants. Wherever she still found survivors, she provided them with everything they needed to get through the winter. » As long as she still had gifts left, Mrs. Lucia sailed along the Vänerstrand, and her heart was as happy and light on this journey as never before. For just as there is nothing harder than to remain silent and inactive when one hears tales of someone else's grave misfortune, so it brings the greatest happiness and sweetest peace to anyone who tries to remedy it even in the very slightest degree.« Relief and joy spread through everyone as they sit together again in the castle at home on the eve of Saint Lucia's Day. But then everything tips: her husband returns early, full of anger about the waste, being well informed by the wicked Mrs Rangela.

It is enchanting to read how the frightened and desperate Lucia, thanks to the help of her patron saint who bursts radiantly from heaven, is able to comply with an impossible ultimatum from her husband and everything turns out well in the end. Indeed, Eskil promises to enter into the service of two noble ladies: »One of them is my wife, the other St. Lucia of Syracuse, to whom I will erect altars in all the churches and chapels I have on my estates, beseeching her she will keep that spark and guiding star of the soul which is called Mercy alive among us, who languish in the cold of the north.« *

At the end Selma Lagerlöf writes: » On the thirteenth of December, at an early hour of the morning, when cold and darkness held sway over Värmland, even in my childhood, Saint Lucia of Syracuse entered all the homes scattered between the mountains of Norway and Gullspangålf. She still wore, at least in the eyes of the children, a dress white with starlight... And I wished that she would never cease to make her appearances in the homes of Värmland.« *

Each one of us can become a witness to the light - like Lady Lucia in dark Sweden, like Santa Lucia once in Syracuse, or like long ago and still alive today the Baptist of whom the Gospel said yesterday:           

» There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.« (Jn 1, 6-8)

The darkness is there - let us bear witness to the light!

* »The Legend of Santa Lucia’s Day«  by Selma Lagerlöf, in: The Christmas Story Book

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 14th, 2020

 

 

God cannot be shaken off so lightly

 

3. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Is 61, 1-11

 

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.

If you listen to any one voice during this Advent season, then hopefully it is this one. Because Isaiah raises his voice so that the speech about God and his people might take on a new tone. And this tone deserves that we say: It has reached my ear.

With his typical verve, Isaiah announces how the Spirit of God works in his people and what this Spirit does in them. More than anything else, Isaiah emphasises that this God is not ashamed to be our God. Quite the contrary. He stakes a claim to our lives, and not an insignificant one. This God wants to be part of our lives, but not in any old way. Anointing is his style. Through it he testifies to his abiding and personal interest in us. This is how he makes his claim. For God can call, choose, give, enrich, and reward without touching us. But anointing does not work that way. Anointing is not possible without touch and contact.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.

Touch is inevitable when anointing takes place. Therefore, the one who wants to anoint cannot be afraid of touch. This is how the first subtle note in Isaiah comes out. Distance is not God's thing.

But anointing immediately awakens a second image in us, namely the image of oil. Anointing is not possible without oil, and only oil will do. For oil carries within it the deepest symbol of the way God touches us and what this touch does to us.

Firstly, the oil gets under the skin. It is absorbed by us, absorbed into us. Oil penetrates invisible levels of our body and becomes a part of us. Oil is not like water, which glides over the surface and then rolls off again.

Secondly, oil leaves a trace. We only need to remember the last oil stain on a shirt, blouse or tablecloth. Oil shines on the skin, not like water that dries and then disappears without a trace.

Thirdly, oil is difficult to remove. It sticks to skin and fabric. We cannot easily wipe it off. With luck, soap, solvent and vigorous scrubbing, it can be removed with difficulty. Water, on the other hand, dries by itself.

Therefore, this anointing of the Spirit brings a new tone to our relationship with God that is as smooth as oil.

First, like oil, God gets under our skin. The touch of our God is not a superficial experience. It penetrates deep into us. The touch of our God becomes a part of our lives. We may remove (and deny) every outward sign of the God relationship, strip away every form of prayer, worship and church, but God remains a part of our lives. The power of his Spirit continues to work invisibly in us.

And because God got under our skin salvation becomes our life message. We can heal broken hearts, break the chains with which people are bound and give sisters and brothers a year of grace instead of being a hellish experience for them. It may be under our skin, but it is all within us

Secondly, like oil, God leaves traces. And these traces show up when we neither expect nor suspect them. There are the tears that well up long after we have deemed ourselves immune and hardened. We know the remorse that arises even after we have given in to indifference. We feel longing even though we pass ourselves off as satiated. Restlessness plagues us although we would swear that we are fully satisfied.

A very exhausted, disappointed and frustrated mother told me about her daughter and the sheer endless strain she has had with her for almost 10 years. Drug addiction and rehabs alternated at regular intervals. And now she was done. She said, »That's it for me. I just don't care. It doesn't bother me anymore. All this doesn't affect me and just leaves me cold.«

I listened for a while before saying, »Somehow I imagined indifference to be less exhausting.« Then we both laughed before talking about the marks left by God's love in and through this mother.

It does happen that we feel hardened, hurt, irritated and annoyed towards God and his life in us. Yet we long for salvation, and not just for ourselves. We still want to put the fragments of our hearts back together. There is no such thing as permanent indifference. Every time we are outraged by brutality, exclusion, corruption or other desecrations of human dignity, we long for justice. Like the mother, we pretend that we have become so indifferent. But indifference looks different.

Thirdly, like oil, the experience of God is difficult to remove. God sticks to us, does not let us go and does not write us off. The touch of God is not superficial. He clings to us with amazing passion. Not even death can loosen his grip on our hearts.

The voice of the prophet rises and a new sound is heard, even in our time. Perhaps especially for our time. For we are used to quite different tones. We hear old tones from stories of a God who scorns or condemns us for every transgression of the law. Or we hear the echoes of teachings about a God who is only squeamish about contact with us, as if we were lepers (sinners). We have heard voices often enough, even in the church, that we are not good enough, that we are weak, inadequate, limited and incapable.

But the Spirit of the Lord has gotten under our skin. His traces can be found in us. There is more life, power, goodness, passion and love in us than others suspect. Most of the time, there is more God in us than we even suspect.

This God is in us. He cannot be taken out of us, beaten out of us or preached out of us.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.

These are quite different tones, but they make for a much more beautiful sound. This is what life in God sounds like.

If you listen to any one voice during this Advent season, then hopefully it is this one.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, December 13th, 2020

 

 

»They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. «

 

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,  the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God.”

Is 35, 1-4

 These words were spoken to a people in exile - today they are spoken to us!

We know desert places and desert times. Sometimes we think we can no longer get through. Where is there a perspective? Will our strength suffice? It threatens to dry up and all stability is gone.

We somehow hold on with increasingly weak hands and feeble knees.

We need images in order to survive.

We need images of hope.

We need images of life.

Where do they come from? Who tells us about them?

Who paints them in our hearts?

Laughing, even rejoicing, flourishing - unimaginable! As unimaginable as for the Israelites in the Babylonian exile!

But - just for today – let us let go of our misgivings, our negative perspective, our self-made limitations. Let us allow ourselves be drawn into the images: a land with green trees and people who can live from their yield; the Carmel Mountains with their cedars and vineyards; the magnificent, fertile plain of Sharon, then as now the image of fertility in Israel. All this exists, even today, because people had visions and took action for them: they planted trees and vines, they created gardens and plantations.

They believed the images and possibilities more than the appearance of the arid, dry land.

And we? We should not be fainthearted and unimaginative in hoping that everything will be as it once was after the crisis. Let us allow Isaiah to tempt us to greater things. Let us dream how we could live better, draw from greater depths and shape things in a completely new way.

That one day it may also be said of us: »They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.« (Is 35, 10)

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 11th, 2020

 

 

What does waiting do to me?

 

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2, 1-5

With this text (and quite deliberately in this Advent season of the pandemic) a question is put to us. What does waiting do to me? Because waiting can have very different effects in and on us humans.

How do I deal with waiting? Do I take the time of waiting to nourish the passion within me, to nurture, to challenge and encourage that burning drive within me that says

»Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths« ?

This is the reaction of the waiting people of Israel to the vision of Isaiah. For it is written:

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

The question remains: Is that our reaction? Do we feel like scaling mountains to encounter what we have seen? Do we feel like going to the house where we can live? Do we want to learn new ways? Do we want to wager new steps? Or does waiting seduce us into comfort, listlessness and disinterest?

Isaiah calls upon us to wait for something completely different, something greater. Otherwise we will only expect small solutions to small problems.

What do we expect at the end of all days? Or what do we expect after this pandemic?

- Something elevated? (The house at the top of the mountain)

- A deep-seated reliability? (The house firmly established)

- Breadth of vision? (The house towering over all the hills)

- Great movement? (All nations flock)

- A new setting forth? (Many nations make pilgrimage)

- A disarming peace? (Where swords are forged into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks)

- A new lifestyle? (Where the art of war is no longer taught)

 None of this has to happen. We can also just wait for the pizza to arrive. We can wait for the end of the day. We can wait for retirement, for the end of the pandemic or for the next holiday.

Thus, the question: What does waiting do to me? Hopefully, it will awaken in all of us an expectation and a vision that is greater than the mere restoration of what we previously had.

Erik Riechers SAC, December 9th, 2020

 

 

How to be alone

 

In the long drawn-out days of the pandemic, much has been said and written about the impact that isolation and social distancing is having on people. Loneliness grows, there is a sense of being cut off from the relationships that are meaningful, or of being forgotten, cast aside or neglected. Some fall into depression, others withdraw in resignation and yet others enter into smouldering resentment.

 

The focus has been primarily on how to overcome the ill effects of isolation. Yet, there is one art, one craft of the human heart, which has been utterly ignored in the groundswell of advice. We could learn how to be alone, to be, what Robert Ellsberg calls »Masters of Isolation«.

 

The gifted poet and theologian Padraig O’Tuama has written a beautiful poem called »How to be alone«. On this Advent day I do more than invite you to read it. Let his words be balm for the lonely places of your heart, and soul and sinew. Let them swirl about you and through you like the current of the Jordan River, and let that current carry away everything that you are willing to release in order to live more lightly when you are alone.

 

It all begins with knowing

nothing lasts forever.

So you might as well start packing now.

But, in the meantime,

practice being alive.

 

There will be a party

where you’ll feel like

nobody’s paying you attention.

And there will be a party

where attention’s all you’ll get.

What you need to do

is know how to talk to

yourself

between these parties.

 

And,

again,

there will be a day,

— a decade —

where you won’t

fit in with your body

even though you’re in

the only body you’re in.

 

You need to control

your habit of forgetting

to breathe.

 

Remember when you were younger

and you practiced kissing on your arm?

You were on to something then.

Sometimes harm knows its own healing

comfort its own intelligence.

Kindness too.

It needs no reason.

 

There is a you

telling you a story of you.

Listen to her.

 

Where do you feel

anxiety in your body?

The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?

 

The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing

or the clutch of gut like falling

& falling & falling and falling

It knows something: you’re dying.

Try to stay alive.

 

For now, touch yourself.

I’m serious.

 

Touch your

self.

Take your hand

and place your hand

some place

upon your body.

And listen

to the community of madness

that

you are.

 

You are

such an

interesting conversation.

 

You belong

here.

                                   Padraig O’Tuama

 

Erik Riechers SAC, December 7th, 2020

 

 

The humble beginning

 

2. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Mk 1, 1-8

 

Today's Gospel confronts us with the question of our readiness. Offers of new life, no matter how attractive they may be, are quite useless if there is no willingness to accept them. What will it take until we are ready to take the necessary paths of change?

Well, very often this readiness is made unnecessarily difficult for us. It is presented in images that are very romantic, but at the same time very dangerous. The people who are ready are those with glowing eyes and shining faces. They look courageously into the future and say a clear »yes« to the challenge that lies ahead. A little too much corniness and clearly too little a sense of the reality of faith.

The people who flock to John in the desert are of a different ilk. This story focuses strongly on their longing for the forgiveness of sin. Here the longing is described as widespread:

»And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.«

 Some biblical commentaries see the fear of the coming end of the world at work here. People flock to John in the hope that he can save them from doom. But such a description of their motives makes their longing for the forgiveness of sins appear as insincere, a last desperate attempt to save themselves.

Such a readiness is not as noble as the people with glowing eyes marching without a doubt into the future. Even if it is not so beautiful, it is real and authentic. There is a readiness that flows from frustration and dissatisfaction. Sin means that we slip below our deepest personal standard, so that a disturbance arises in the relationship between us and God, between each other and also in the relationship to ourselves. From this arises a different image of the longing for forgiveness.

But it usually happens this way. One day people wake up and discover that they are living an unlived life, that there is no »life« in their lives. They no longer find passion and joy or meaning in what they do or in what they have become. They drag themselves through their everyday life and fulfil their duty, but in deep places of their soul, they know that something is wrong. Underneath the surface that they show to the outside world, they know that something is no longer right. Even if they continue to strive for money and status, the reward will not give up what has been promised. 

This is the state of sin, because here we know that we have slipped below our deepest personal standard. We were not created for this. The river of life and love has dried up and we want to get out. The deepest longing for liberation only takes place when we realise that we are in prison.

These are the people who visited John in the desert. These people, the discontented and desperate, venture out of the cities and villages into the desert. They come to John with the burning hope that something can still change. That makes them ready. Hölderlin already knew: »Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.«

These people do not know in detail what has to happen, but they know the first step when they see it. Desperate women and men risk their future because their past has become unbearable. Inside they feel dead. They feel that they are dying by their own hand.

The first step is to strip, to cleanse and let go. The current of the Jordan will carry away everything they are able to release. But they cannot carry on as before.

This is the first step, but not the last one. This is exactly what John makes clear when he says:

»After me comes he who is mightier than I,

the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

I have baptized you with water,

but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.«

One will come who is even stronger, who has even more power. From him will flow the Spirit for a new life in all of us, if we heed his wisdom. We must apply this wisdom to our daily lives and integrate it into every aspect of our living. Here are at the edge of great leap, and we arrive here ready, open, able and willing.

This is the first step, but not the last one. As Winston Churchill so fittingly stated it in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon, in London on November 10th, 1942: »Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.«

We can say this of the whole of the Advent season and of the long road to conversion: These days are not the end. They are not even the beginning of the end. But they are, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, Dezember 6th, 2020

 

 

»God has visited his people«

 

In these weeks, life during the pandemic is getting tougher for many. The shaping of the Advent time with many familiar external means is largely omitted - what remains is often emptiness, restlessness, sometimes rebellion and much frustration.

For me, it is all the more important what an old Levite, who was condemned to silence for months, once said in view of the birth of his son: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! For he has visited his people and brought them salvation". (Luke 1:68) While his aged wife Elizabeth carried the child, which was so unexpected, he was mute - and this time was fruitful for him. Many things matured in the silence; he went into the depths. And when the child, "John is his name", was born, he could speak out loud what he had found: God had visited his people and he had created salvation for them.

The old Levite Zacharias had experienced, that God works, that we can let things happen, because salvation is already created. God has already come and visited his people.

What we supposedly need for the proper Advent mood usually distracts us so much that we do not even notice this message. That is why I am thankful even for the silence of these weeks.

What Dietrich Bonhoeffer brought into prayer in dark times and existential need, can it not be in us as well?

 

In me there is darkness,

But with You there is light;

I am lonely, but You do not leave me;

I am feeble in heart,

but with You there is help;

I am restless,

but with You there is peace.

In me there is bitterness,

but with You there is patience;

I do not understand Your ways,

But You know the way for me.

 

God has created salvation for his people. He is here. Let us allow him to work in us.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, December 4th, 2020

 

 

What needs to change?

 

During the Advent season we often hear a passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation. (Luke 3, 4-6) 

What do we hear when we listen to this text? Mostly we hear a message that tells us: You have to change. We hear messages like »Pull yourself together«, »Improve yourself«. We are convinced that this is about us getting our lives in order.

The narrative itself says something else. For a start, we are not the ones who have to change. But we automatically assume this, because this is our inherited interpretation.

But this story tells us that something else must first change. The paths must be changed, because they should be straightened. The valleys have to be filled up and the mountains and hills have to be cleared away. Crooked roads have to be straightened, and rough paths smoothed out.

When the astonishment subsides, because we neither heard nor expected this, we notice a deep insight of our God concerning the transformation of His people. The conditions and circumstances around us human beings must be changed so that the Lord has a way to us. The situations in which we find ourselves must change so that the tenderness of our God can reach us. These things have to change so that the gentle voice of God can reach us, saying, "You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

Everything that stands between us and God must change so that we can hear and accept what God actually wants from us: »Come dance with me!« If we also want to change, if we want to be transformed, how can we do that when the tenderness and loving words that could transform us cannot reach us? If we are too blocked, too cut off, or perhaps smothered under duress, how should the word that comforts and frees us be able to touch us?

Of course, we should take repentance seriously during these Advent days, but it is not so straightforward a proposition as we often make it out to be. Very often we have reduced repentance to an act of the will, an act of self-discipline. But repentance is first of all an act of response to an encounter with a loving and merciful God. To take repentance seriously means taking seriously what such a process requires. Often we want people to change and improve, but we do not realise what is stopping them. The same is true of ourselves, when we are annoyed that we seemingly cannot manage a change for the better. For ourselves and for others, very often a way has to be prepared before the Lord can come to us. Once we meet Jesus in a living encounter we can be moved to an intimate encounter with our Abba. After that, all things are possible.

Erik Riechers SAC, December 2nd, 2020

  

 

If the prophets broke in

 

There are few people better suited to guide us into and through Advent than the prophets. Today Nelly Sachs leads us to these wonderful companions on our journey without hiding the fact, that they are also the most demanding companions of this journey.

 

If the prophets broke in

through doors of night,

letting the star-trails drawn in the palms of their hands

gleam golden bright –

 

for those long sunk in sleep –

 

If the prophets broke in

through doors of night

gashing wounds with their words

in the fields of habit

bringing the faraway inside

to the day labourer

 

whose evening expectations died long ago –

 

If the prophets broke in

through doors of night

seeking an ear like a homestead –

 

you ear of humanity

overgrown with cotton,

would you hear?

If the prophets

burst in on the stormy wings of eternity

if they broke into the canals of your ear with the words:

Which of you will wage war against a secret,

who will invent stardeath?

 

If the prophets rose up

in the night of humanity

like lovers seeking the heart of the beloved,

night of humanity.

would you have a heart to give?                        

                                   Nelly Sachs (translation by Sommer, Catterel and Catherine)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, Erik Riechers SAC, November 30th, 2020

 

 

Words that do not pass away

 

1. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Mk 13, 24-37

 

The first text of this Advent season can be very unsettling. The whole world is changing. Everything that is considered reliable suddenly starts to totter. The sun does not shine, the moon no longer illuminates our nights. Stars, the immortal inhabitants of the sky, are driven away.

We are so busy with this part of the story that we then ignore two wonderfully comforting passages.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.

and

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

Allow me to turn our attention to the first sentence. »From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.« Here Jesus teaches us how to recognise God in our lives, even in times of turbulence. For us human beings, the invisible God can be experienced in the same way as the fig tree experiences the invisible summer: through transformation. John Shea writes:  »No one has seen summer, yet its presence is proclaimed by the budding tree. No one has seen God, yet his presence is proclaimed by the transformed person.« (Stories of God p. 165). We will experience God and be transformed by his presence, just as a tree is transformed by the summer.

Transformation, however, is about movement. We can always recognise change by this criterion, namely that something is in motion. Mostly it is gradual and often barely noticeable. But that is not the point of the change that God wants to bring about in us. It is not about speed, but about continuity. It is not about being ready, but about unfolding. It is not about immediate success, but about receptivity. The question of transformation is the question of Advent. And the question is not: Are you there yet? No, the question is: Are you already on your way?

Transformation is always about movement, a movement from disaster to salvation. Because people often ask me for some helpful clues about this summer-transformation of our God, I give to you what I have sketched out for my students. The transformation movements in which we recognise God go

from non-salvation to salvation;

          from non-wholeness to wholeness;

          from apathy to love and empathy;

          from fear to freedom;

    from loneliness to community;

          from the diabolical ( that which mixes things up) to peace;

          from the ordinary to the extraordinary;

          from boredom to celebration;

          from barrenness to blossom;

         from having no wedding garment to wearing a wedding garment (the biblical image for the readiness to do what this hour requires of us).

If we look again and again in this Advent season at where and when this happens in our lives, we will clearly feel where God is at work in us, like summer in a fig tree.

Then comes the second comforting sentence:

Heaven and earth will pass away,

but my words will not pass away.

What are these words that will not pass away? These are the words of love, hope and encouragement that bring about the summer-transformation of our God. They are not the analytical words that explain love, but narrative words. The narratives of God speak immortal words about the places, times and people who embodied and revealed love for us. These stories of God are transforming. They enable us to experience the presence of God and in this presence they transform us like a tree is transformed by the presence of summer.

Today's text describes a period of uncertainty. Everything seems to fall apart. There seems to be no more reliable ground. What can a person do against so much hatred and stupidity in the world? Should we be vigilant? Yes. Should we be prepared? Of course! Should we be cautious? Without question!  But we also should keep to the eternal word, which is always love, the source of our courage and the source of our hope. This word can be the thing we hope for when we are in turmoil.

During this Advent season many of us are living in times of trial. There are fears about money, fears about stress, there are fears about addictions and diseases. Some worry about their children, others about their parents. And it is precisely at this time of year that the old stories of our lives rise up more frequently. The sun and the moon do not have to fade in order that we feel that our wold is shaken to its foundations. Maybe we live with grief, or we worry about a job or a personal injury, whether public or private. In all these cases, be prepared, be vigilant, be wise, but also hold on to the word that is always love. It alone can transform us.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 29th, 2020

 

 

A new view

 

It is now almost 20 years ago that I first encountered the clarinettist Giora Feidman. It was on a late summer Sunday afternoon in front of Engers Castle.

Like many others I was there very early. I found a good spot; many people went for a walk, some bought themselves something to drink - it was relaxing and nice to have time. Not far ahead of me a family with two grown-up daughters settled down. The two of them were constantly in animated conversation with their mother. The already older father seemed rather remote. He did not take part in the women's conversations or they did not involve him. He repeatedly got up and came back with a glass of beer. At some point I saw that the daughters cast rather embarrassed glances toward their father, but they did not speak to each other. This repeated itself several times.

Almost imperceptibly, clarinet music suddenly resounded delicately from the back, as is the custom with Giora Feidman at the beginning of a concert. The master slowly moved forward through the middle, gradually everyone became silent and the concert began. And soon he had arrived at the music I had come for: Klezmer music. With his instrument, the artist told stories - sometimes funny and cheerful, sometimes serious and melancholic - the whole range of life spread out before us, and it was so lively, so moving, that sometimes I would have loved to jump up and move to it. 

Then my eyes fell on the daughters in front of me. They were a bit restless and kept looking to the left, toward their father. When he turned his head a little to the side, I saw it too: a stream of tears flowed through the deep furrows of his cheeks. He did not try to wipe them away or hide them. He just let them flow.

The young women kept looking at him and at each other, but now the look was different. They saw him with different eyes. No longer an embarrassed distancing - they were touched. They gave their mother a sign and she nodded. A devotion spread before me, a reverence for what Giora Feidman had made resound in this man. 

I will never forget the tears in the deep furrows of those cheeks. But I will also never forget the change that had taken place in the women.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 27th, 2020

 

 

Love is here!

 

Not only have we felt restricted for months, we have also felt impoverished. We talk about loneliness and cold. But this is never the whole reality - not even now. Permit yourself to enter into some thoughts that show us another reality, a reality to which we »only« need to open ourselves:

»As more and more love is released into the world, a wonderful Healing is taking place. It is like balm poured into wounds, healing and making whole. Love starts within the individual. It starts in you, and it grows like a seed, bursting forth and revealing great beauty and wholeness. It is what is taking place now. Many souls feel that something is happening to them, but they are bewildered and do not realize what it is. They search without, hoping to find a clue which will show them what is taking place. Other souls feel a stirring but are afraid of what they feel, for it is new, it is strange and unknown, and they try to shut it down. Nothing will be able to stop this release of love. It is like the genie in the bottle; having been released, it cannot be put back again. It cannot be hidden or ignored. Gradually it will begin to reveal itself in everyone. It has come to stay.«  *

Our God is love and love is in us. Let us surrender to it and let it flow through us: warming, attentive and creative, alive and growing.

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 25th, 2020

* Eileen Caddy

 

 

A People Made for the Promised Land

 

»O, fly and never tire,

Fly and never tire,

Fly and never tire,

There’s a great camp-meeting in the Promised Land.«

 

This is part of the inscription which Barack Obama placed at the beginning of the first volume of his memoirs, fittingly entitled »A Promised Land«.

When I sat down and started reading the book I was struck by many things. The beauty of his use of language, the simple graciousness and warm humanity of the man all are a welcome treat. So is his astonishing honesty about his achievements and his failings. Here is a man with whom I would love drink a cup of coffee.

Yet, the deepest impression of the book thus far is the reason that I would also love to sit down and pray with Barack Obama. Here is a man cut from the cloth of genuine biblical hope.

What deeply inspires me is that he lived as the Psalmist has prayed: »But I will keep hope alive.« Psalm 71:14 .  For four years he has had to watch as everything he worked for was attacked, rescinded or cancelled by his successor. Every single thing he had worked and struggled for was suddenly no longer important: his marked tone of compassion was replaced by self-aggrandizement; his measured and thoughtful response to crisis gave way impulsive narcissism; his consistent call for unity was abandoned for social division, racism and white supremacy; his innate kindness and basic human decency in the great social discourse was supplanted by Twitter polemic and alternative facts; the common good  was tossed aside for personal enrichment, nepotism, and basest corruption. The country he led and so loved was plunged into darkest crisis, constitutionally, morally and physically.

I have known moments of despair and doubt in my life having endured far less devastating setbacks than these. Yet, here is a man who invokes the greatest image the biblical story has to tell, namely, that we are on the way to the Promised Land. What is desired, but not yet achieved, the place we yearn for, but have yet to reach, is not lost. We are on the way, even when we are wander through the desert years.

We have suffered disappointments and setbacks in this time of pandemic. We have experienced losses and sometimes we get the feeling, all these restrictions, lockdowns and measures may be in vain. But we are the children of the Promise and must keep hope alive even during the long stretches of the desert journey.

The Gospel Spiritual »The Gospel Train« (especially the stunning version sung by Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle *) always helps me to recalibrate my soul unto hope.

The Gospel train is coming
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheels a- moving
And a-rumbling through the land

Refrain: Get on board, little children
Get on board, little children
Get on board, little children
There's room for many-a-more

I hear the bell and whistle
She's coming round a curve
She's loosened all her steam and brakes
Straining every nerve

Refrain

The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class on board this train
No difference in the fare.

Refrain

She's nearin' now the station
Oh, sinner, don't be vain
But come and get your ticket
And be ready for this train.

Refrain

 

So get on board. And keep hope alive until we enter that good and spacious land of the God who is our Promise Maker and Promise Keeper.

Erik Riechers SAC, November 23rd, 2020

 

*   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txWQZQbr_ag

  

 

Because it is just and right

Christ the King A 2020   Mt 25,31-46

 

The world in which kings move is usually very sharply divided between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, above and below. These criteria play a big and important role in the world of the powerful and the rich. But now Jesus introduces us to a king after his own heart. Immediately something strange happens when he comes.

Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

This king will undertake a separation. But not by the typical royal standard. He is a king, says Jesus, but he is a shepherd who separates sheep from goats.

The standard by which this shepherd-king separates them will be explained later in the story. He separates them according to the way they have treated him in the past. Not origin, possessions or majestic arbitrariness, plays the decisive role here, but something over which we ourselves exert great influence, namely our way of living before God and with each other.

If that is the yardstick, then there is a difficulty, because both groups admit that they never saw the king and therefore did not know that it was he whom they treated in this way.

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?

The answer of the Shepherd-King is telling:

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.’

He who comes »in his glory and all his angels with him« and sits »on the throne of his glory« identifies fully with the least of among men and women. This glory is not what we think it is. For this Shepherd-King identifies himself with the opposite of all that we think is royal and majestic: Pain, suffering, being wounded, poor, lowly, disrespected: this is where he is present.

The righteous do not recognise him, but they do what is necessary, what is right. They do it because it is »just and right«.  That is the key to this story, because the other group will also say: When have we ever seen you in these situations? »Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?«

However, they deal with the unrecognised shepherd king in different ways. The righteous say: »We have not seen you. We have seen this person in prison, and have simply done what was necessary. We saw this hungry person, and we just did what was right. We have seen this sick person ... and have done what love, goodness and humanity demanded of us.«

The second group says: »If we had known it was you, we would have been there immediately. If we had known it was the king, we would have done it all for him.« In other words, this second group acts according to a typical royal standard.

In a typical royal manner, they pass their judgement on the world. Not the shepherd-king of this parable, but the cursed ones divide the world into camps: the world in which they live separates rich and poor, powerful and powerless, above and below: the royal standard is their watchword. Their problem is that they are dealing with a king who does not adhere to it.

In the world of the second group, the rule is: we do such things for kings, for the rich, the powerful and the important, but not otherwise. They divide the world into those for whom it is worthwhile to work hard and those where it is not. Icy calculation is the issue. Their action is determined by cold calculation: who is important and who is not. They are not interested in the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the captives, but only in hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and captive kings.

The righteous are not calculating. Wherever people are suffering, they want to help, alleviate, and serve. They do not ask who deserves it and who does not. The true separation that is found in this text is in the way of thinking of the second group. They have divided the world into the significant and the insignificant. This is the world in which they live.

Here we encounter an old, deep truth of the biblical stories: It is not God who makes the great division. We create our own separations and then live in the world we have created.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 22nd, 2020

 

 

Of Warmth and being sheltered

 

Outside it is getting darker and colder; the pandemic is intensifying that November feeling for many people and indeed more people are shivering and feeling alone and lost.

Let us tell stories of warmth and shelter against this:

I see a newborn child in front of me, wrapped in a hand-knitted blanket made of wool. The wise midwife has sensitized the mother: This child comes from a protective warmth of a good 36° C into this much cooler world. The young mother now takes care day and night that her child is surrounded by warmth. The woollen cloth is always with her when she carries him around the house. She is driven by conscientious care and I think of the words of the prophet Isaiah:  »Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?« (Is 49:15)

Motherly care is a divine care, the warming cover has something heavenly about it.

And I am wondering where I could give warmth but do not keep it in mind. How much cold there is in the world, because we don't even notice that we too could spread out »woollen blankets« and create a warm atmosphere. But we don't take them to hand, and no warm word comes over our lips.

Let us look again at the picture of the wrapped newborn. The warm blanket is not just laid over the baby, but he is enveloped, wrapped in it. The midwife also had a wise suggestion about this. This wrapping not only helps to keep the warmth in, but also to keep the baby completely by itself. It does not get »out of control« so easily when it becomes restless. It is also then safe and secure in the warming wrap. And when he is "in need", when he gets hungry, the mother is not far away.

We have long lived in a society of insecurity. Where do children find a shelter? They have no warm nest, no rituals that provide shelter - instead they are stuffed full with cold consumption.  When, as young people, they then let the problems of our world and their future draw near, they protect themselves through indifference or develop almost panicky fears, because they have not experienced that they are allowed to take shelter, that there is warmth and security - in and despite it all.

Thus, the view of the warmly wrapped child invites me to remember my own sheltering - come what may. At the end, the prayer of the 2nd Psalm, after speaking honestly about the realities of the world, says: »Blessed are all who take refuge in him.«

May we, especially in these dark days, pause again and again and look for the one who gives us warmth and with whom we can find refuge - come what comes! For it is still true: »Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.« (Is 49, 15-16)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 20th, 2020

 

 

Living in Exile

 

I was recently approached by a young student who asked me if she could interview me for a school religion project. Although I am usually very reluctant to do such interviews, this one turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As soon as she began to ask her questions I was taken by her interest in the biblical stories. She did not simply ask me about my life, but very specifically about the role, importance and effect of the biblical stories in my personal life.

The question that most struck me was this one: »What is the hardest personal experience of your life that the biblical stories helped you to cope with?« If I was a little caught off guard by her question, she was most certainly stunned by my answer. »The biblical stories have taught me most about how to live in exile. Living in exile has been the hardest experience of life.«

Israel lives in exile for large parts of its story. Jacob lived 21 years in exile before he could go home. The Tora is rich in its storytelling tradition of teaching us how to treat those among us who are exiled, the foreigners and the strangers. Prophets wrote from exile. Psalmist sang from exile. And none of it is easy or comfortable.

The biblical stories have taught me that the experience of exile is an experience of accommodation. You learn to fit in, to speak a new language, follow new customs, and deal with utterly different perspectives and ways of thinking. The biblical stories to learn to make a contribution, to heed and respect the people and culture that has taken you in, to help build up the land and the life of its citizens. In this, Daniel and Mordechai became my friends and my companions.

At the same time, exile is a process of fidelity. The biblical stories have taught me to stay true to my heritage in the midst of a dominant culture. It has taught me the importance of standing by my deepest first loves and precious ways of life that have fostered, nourished and carried me. While living in exile, it is a constant struggle not to abandon, forget or neglect the precious heritage of our origins. That is particularly difficult in a place where no one else shares or understands that heritage. Thus; I learned to sing with the Psalmist: »If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.« (Ps. 137, 5-6)

In all the years I have lived in exile, I have learned most keenly a lesson deeply rooted in the biblical story: exile is a place of brokenness and incompleteness. Like all exiles of the Bible before me, I will never truly be fully accepted as part of the people and culture I find myself in. Exiles may be welcome guests, accepted and well treated, but at the deepest level they always remain outsiders, foreigners, »not from here«. My accent, the smirks at my repeated errors in the speaking of German, my cultural preferences and my often differing perspective often become reminders of my exile. I have lived and worked in this land for 15 years, but as soon as I differ from the dominant opinion it is immediately attributed to my being a foreigner.

The young student was deeply affected by my answer. Then she said: »You know, you don’t have to even leave your family or your homeland to feel like an exile. You just don’t have to fit in, and already you’re in exile!«

She is absolutely right. And to all those people who live in exile within their own families and cultures and homelands, I can highly recommend the three great lessons of the biblical stories:

Grow into the world of your exile and make a contribution. At the same time, remain faithful to your soul, to the most holy moments and convictions of your life. And learn to live within a broken and incomplete experience without letting it convince you that you are a broken and incomplete person.

The young student thanked me and ended the interview with a lovely compliment: »I don’t care what people think about the way you speak German. But I want to tell you, that you knew how to speak to my heart.« And that makes me feel at home while living in exile.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 18th, 2020

 

 

»A Picture is worth a Thousand Words«

 

We humans love pictures - ancient cave drawings already bear witness to this. In our time we seem to have become addicted to them. For a long time, only trained photographers were able to take and develop pictures. Most of us still remember sending holiday films to the lab and waiting anxiously for the finished photos. Today, almost everyone has their pictures in their pockets thanks to our smartphones. We often capture moments faster than we can take them into our hearts and share them with each other: views of peaks and sea surf, sunsets or exotic markets, fixed rope routes, beach pictures, especially many fall pictures of home in these quiet weeks - what have we not already collected in this way.

When we later take the time to immerse ourselves once again in our photographs - perhaps in an album - we often have the same experience that I describe from my own experience. When I look at photos from a very intensive trip to Israel years ago, for example, the picture shows me a certain situation at the time, but my inner eye sees more. I suddenly see the face of the Bedouin boy who was standing close by when I photographed the herd of goats.  Or when I look at the group photo, behind the smiling faces I see one or the other sad story that I got to know during the common pilgrimage. I am glad about the memory pictures, they help me, but they do not show the whole reality.

Yes, pictures can even distort, colour and falsify reality.

Our whole world of social media is full of images that show how people want to be seen. Millions of young people are posting themselves on Facebook and Instagram and just as many are eagerly clicking through this flood of images, waiting for approval, being rated and judging others.

How do we deal with pictures? What can they do and what not? Do they really say more than 1000 words?

For a long time now we have been capturing striking moments of our lives with pictures. Have you ever looked for a photo for the obituary of a loved one? We would like to have a beautiful photo, but it should be honest and authentic, show these people how they were, express something typical about them.  They should be seen as we knew and loved them. How much effort it takes to find such a picture, and in the end it is only an approximation.

Newborns are photographed a lot. Already on the second day professionals come to the clinic to take perfect pictures. At home, almost every hour, the parents experience moments that are so unique and new that they capture them and send them to their families and friends. This is very beautiful and delightful, and yet I am reminded of what a young mother said during this time: »"Now we have already taken so many pictures, but it is always only partial. No picture shows our child as it is. The picture is always just a miniature perspective - our child is much more!«

This thoughtful pause of the young woman leads me to the word of the Scriptures that we should not make an image of God, which we then worship as a cult image, and then attach it to God to make him tangible. (Dt. 5:8)

Should we not take this into consideration for images of human beings? For we hold pictures in our hands and have pictures in our heads and then pin people down to them. We saw a raised eyebrow and hold fast the image of an arrogant person. We perceived a tired face and categorise the person as old or dull or lacking in energy. We are impressed by a radiant face and believe that the whole life of this person is easy.

Yes, pictures are good, important and enriching. But let us not predetermine reality based on a picture that always shows only a moment, tells of an episode. Let us remain open and wide: behind every picture there is a much bigger story!

A human life is more than 1000 pictures.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 16th, 2020

 

 

Refusing to put a brave face on it

33th Sunday A 2020   Mt 25, 14–30

 

Today’s Gospel awakens automatic interpretations in us. We are used to interpreting this story as a warning against wasting our talents. In this interpretation we see the third servant as the scapegoat, as the one who acts wrongly, does not assess the situation correctly and therefore wastes the trust of his master and disappoints his expectations.

But as natural as this interpretation has become for us, it is powerfully flawed. This interpretation is based exclusively on our current understanding of the economy and the world. It ignores the world in which Jesus originally told this story. Equally important is that it ignores the life of the storyteller himself, namely the situation in which Jesus finds himself while he is telling the story.

We have read this story with the assumptions of modern economic theory. In our world, wealth is something that can, indeed should, be increased through work and investment. Even more, we admire such wealth and see it as legitimate and right. These are the assumptions that I have spent years bringing to the text. This was not surprising, because they are also the unquestioned assumptions of the world in which I have spent my whole life. Therein lies the problem. Not that I had my assumptions, but that I did not question them.

For Jesus and his listeners never lived in the world of my unquestioned assumptions. They lived in a society that was based on agriculture. In their world, wealth was not an unlimited possibility that could be increased and multiplied by hard work and wise investment. In their world, wealth was a limited commodity. There was only a certain amount of wealth distributed throughout the world. So if one person suddenly had more of it, it meant that another person automatically had less of it.

In the world of Jesus, the »gains« of the first two servants are due to the impoverishment of another person. We see this world view in the parable itself. It is repeated and escalated in the Master's answer in Vv28 and 29.

»So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.«

If I had just quoted this from the economic platform of a political party, would we accept it so casually?

The third servant says, »Here, you have what is yours.« He gives the Master what belongs to him, not what he has taken from others, so that the man who already has abundance is not given more.

We should not ignore the Master's suggestion either, for he is steeped in corruption and misconduct. »Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.« The first two servants promptly played according to the rules set by their master and paid him back the money with interest. But usury was expressly forbidden to the people of Israel.

If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.

Exodus 22: 25

Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.

Levitikus 25: 36-37

You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.

Deuteronomium 23:19.

All this gives us a very different perspective on the third servant. Instead of seeing him as a man lacking in initiative, one who wastes talents, we now see a man who is deeply afraid of his master's power politics. Despite this fear, he refuses to play the game. He will not become an accomplice to the machinations of his master. He is not willing to play along, because playing along means exploiting others to make a profit for oneself. Despite peer pressure (the other two servants are playing along) and despite the threat of punishment for not meeting his master's expectations, he does not give in.

Instead, he exposes the Master and his way of life as false and names the corruption of the powerful: »Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seedOnly thieves, corrupt people and exploiters reap what others have sown and gather the fruits of the labour of others. In reality, this servant speaks truth to power. He also suffers the consequences, as so often happens with whistleblowers. He reminds us that such an attitude can be costly.

The whole story reflects the attitude and situation of the narrator, Jesus. He does not play along either. He refuses to participate in a religious system that is corrupt and calls corruption by its name. And he is punished for it. If he had been willing to make common cause with the religious, political and social powers of his time, he would have had a much easier life and would certainly have been praised by these powers as a »good and faithful servant«.

The third servant is presented to us as an example of the attitude of Jesus. He can give us something to think about in connection with crises and our way of dealing with them. 

He speaks to us of the need to bear witness to the underlying injustices and inequities in a system or situation, even if everyone else is willing to play along in the hope of gaining personal advantage. And he shows us how hard it is when this makes life difficult for us.

However, and perhaps more importantly, this story should make us more alert to the worldviews, assumptions and prejudices we carry within us. We bring them with us (often unconsciously) to this story and to all other life stories. My world and my experiences are not determinative for the whole world and every experience. A different perspective gives a different interpretation. And different understandings will challenge us to pay attention to our own assumptions and perspectives when we try to read a particular conflict situation.

We are facing the current crisis with many such assumptions. If economic stimulus packages are passed one by one; if small sports clubs are closed down in a lockdown while multi-millionaires are allowed to continue to earn football players; if some businesses are allowed to stay open while cultural events are cancelled altogether: then we see the assumption of a society: the main thing is that the economy is booming. Could or would our understanding of this crisis be different if we did not just look through our usual special lenses?

Are there other perspectives and interpretations of life and the crisis that might be worth trying and absorbing instead?

It is much easier to read the parable as a lesson about the use of our talents than a call to step out of systems that are inhuman and exploitative. But this parable begins with the words: »The Kingdom of Heaven is like...« We should ask ourselves, which interpretation better reflects the heartfelt concerns of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 15th, 2020

 

 

Thoughts

 

My head

is never empty.

Always

new thoughts come up.

They create

feelings,

unrest.

I feel

delivered up to them.

Often they drive me

into heaviness,

into darknesses.

Powerless I am drawn

into a whirlpool.

How do I

get out again?

 

Then I remember

an exercise that I had almost forgotten:

 

» Be a doorkeeper of your heart and do not let any thought in without questioning. Question each thought individually and say to it: 'Are you one of us or one of our enemies?' And if it belongs to the household, it will fill you with peace. But if he is of the enemy, he will confuse you by anger or excite you by lust. «

 

Thank you, Evagrius, desert father,

I will start practicing

again.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 13th, 2020

 

 

May his Memory be a Blessing

 

It was with great sadness that I received an email from London on Monday evening. It informed me of the death of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He died on Saturday at the age of 72.

We became acquainted through the planning of a convention in which Narrative Theology was to serve as the platform by which Christian and Jewish believers entered into dialogue with one another. Our contact consisted of several phones calls and a number of email exchanges. I never had the privilege of meeting him face to face.

In our telephone conversations I was impressed by the sheer warmth and generosity of the man. He, in turn, was deeply appreciative of how we took the stories of God seriously. He particularly loved the fact of our deep appreciation of the Old Testament and how seriously we took them.

My fascination with this man led me to read more of his works. And there my fascination ripened into deeper respect and, eventually, reverence. The deep Jewish love for the Stories of God shone through him. He had a mastery of the technical side of biblical exegesis, but never assumed the cold, analytical tone of the exegete. His voice carried the warmth of the biblical storytellers.

Hear it for yourself. Here an excerpt from his article »A Nation of Storytellers«.

»The great questions – »Who are we?«, »Why are we here?«, »What is our task?«, – are best answered by telling a story. As Barbara Hardy put it: “We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticise, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative. « This is fundamental to understanding why Torah is the kind of book it is: not a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of interlinked stories extended over time, from Abraham and Sarah’s journey from Mesopotamia to Moses’ and the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. Judaism is less about truth as system than about truth as story. And we are part of that story. That is what it is to be a Jew…By making the Israelites a nation of storytellers, Moses helped turn them into a people bound by collective responsibility – to one another, to the past and future, and to God. By framing a narrative that successive generations would make their own and teach to their children, Moses turned Jews into a nation of leaders.«

I mourn his death. The world is a colder place without him. And for me personally, it has become a lonelier place, for we live in a world in which the Stories of God are not often taken seriously. The loss of a storyteller of God is a grievous loss indeed.

Zichrono livracha. (May his memory be a blessing).

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 11th, 2020

 

 

From lamentation to dance

 

Many years ago I experienced a woman, long widowed, who withdrew completely after the accidental death of her youngest son.  From then on, her walk to the cemetery was part of her daily routine, she only opened up to her closest family, her formerly beloved piano playing and singing had fallen silent. She did not moan, but she often lamented and cried. And so it remained for a very long time. She avoided going to church on Sundays, because she was uncomfortable with all the people - especially on holidays. Instead, she preferred the manageable weekday services. Even on All Saints' Day or All Souls' Day she went alone to the grave in the morning, she never took part in the official blessing of the graves. In these years of her mourning I was impressed by how firmly and faithfully she remained in her relationship with God, despite it all, never opting out. She felt seen by him and also expressed her sorrow and sadness before him. She knew that she had nothing to hide from him. She did not work through her grief, as we often speak of »grief work« today. No, she lived through the grief. It belonged to her. And she took her time.

A few years later, her eldest married and this celebration filled her with joy. Indeed she enjoyed it, just as she enjoyed her first holiday trip in a long time. Then her grandchildren were born. How do they speak of their grandmother today as adults?

They tell stories of a cheerful woman who always entertained them with her stories and poems and with her singing! They remember that there was no domestic celebration that she had not embellished with her piano playing. A Christmas Eve without their grandmother's »Christmas angel« at the piano was unimaginable long into her old age. She could take the worries of her growing grandchildren seriously and then gently guide them into lightness of being. And she was able to rejoice from the bottom of her heart, enjoying a meal together just as much as an excursion or her classical music in the afternoon.

Her life became a testimony for the verse of the psalm:

»You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth

and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!«

(Ps 30, 12-13)

The older she got, the more grateful she became. She never denied the heaviness in her life, but also not the beauty and happiness. It all belonged to her and she had gone through everything with her God.

She remains a great example for her grandchildren and they keep her last words to them in their hearts: »I would still like to stay with you.«

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 9th, 2020

 

 

Don’t forget the Oil

32nd Sunday A 2020    Mt 25, 1–13

 

In 1985 Neil Postman wrote a fascinating book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it he wrote:

»When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.« (p. 190)

»The kingdom of heaven will be like this.« When a parable begins in this fashion, we should not lose sight of what Jesus is focusing our hearts on. The kingdom of heaven always consists of two parts: the inner consciousness linked to an external action. This kingdom of heaven, the inner consciousness linked to an external action, is incarnated in Jesus. He offers it to us, his apprentices.

The turning point in the parable comes at this point:

But at midnight there was a cry,

»The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.«

At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps,

and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones,

»Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.«

But they replied,

»There may not be enough for us and for you;

you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.«

 

All ten women have been waiting for this moment. Now it is time for the lamps to give light. But the lamps can only shine if they have oil. The foolish have no oil and ask to borrow some. The wise refuse for seemingly foolish reasons. They seem to care for themselves rather than share with those in need. Instead, they suggest to the foolish, »go ...and buy«. In this brief and enigmatic exchange, the foolish show their stupidity and the wise show their wisdom.

The truth of the oil in this story is: everyone must have their own oil. The lamp is a metaphor for the inner life of human beings. Every person has a lamp of inner life. The oil is the symbol of that, which must fill the inner life of a person if it is to have a radiant, luminous effect on the outside world at some point.

Each person must supply this oil from his or her own life. The inner life of a person is like a lamp that has to be filled. But with what? These are the oil questions of the inner life: With which resources do I fill my soul? What do I read? What do I occupy myself with? With which topics do I wrestle? What do I absorb within myself? What am I open and receptive to? You cannot develop spiritually by accepting someone else's inner life and actions as your own. Every person needs oil for himself or herself. The path of each person is unique, each lamp produces its own wattage.

The foolish do not know this path of individual maturation to become a new person in God. They know only the way of going and buying, of seeking what they need outside themselves. »Going and buying« is an image for an inner life that is directed and focused outwards. And this strategy of »going and buying« is deeply rooted in people who live from the outside to the inside. They believe that if the outer world is in order, then the inner world will be satisfied.

In the first story of the feeding of the multitudes in the Gospel of Mark (6, 30-44), the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can »go and buy themselves something to eat!«. (v. 36) When Jesus tells them to provide food, the disciples say: »Shall we go and buy bread for two hundred denarii and give it to them to eat?« (v. 37) Jesus points out to them their own inner resources: »How many loaves of bread do you have? Go and see!« (v.38). But they insist that the only place where they can find food is outside themselves.

While Jesus gives the Samaritan woman to drink, the Gospel of John tells us that the disciples had »gone into the city to buy something to eat« (John 4:8). The foolish have no means of their own and are therefore addicted to going somewhere else for their livelihood. They cannot imagine any other way.

The parable shows us that there are some things that simply cannot be done or achieved at the last minute - for example, you cannot condense three months of study to the evening before an exam and expect to get a good grade. Some things require advance planning, preparation or practice if we want to use or apply them successfully in the hour when we need them urgently. If we did not take care of a deep and supporting inner life before the crisis, it will not be available to us in a time of crisis like this. This is what lamps without oil look like.

Secondly, the parable underlines that not everything can simply be borrowed from someone else when we need it. Things that can determine and guide our response to others in a positive way in this long and tiring time - generosity, kindness, grace, solidarity and helpfulness, a sense of the common good, etc. - must be things that we possess for ourselves, things that come from our own embodied, existential experiences with God and the world. We must continuously cultivate attitudes and habits such as hospitality and generosity that enable and support constructive and creative reactions when we find ourselves in situations of conflict and crisis.

What happens otherwise is that we never find the oil in our lives that can touch the deepest innermost part of ourselves and others. Given the power of our culture, we can go on like this for years until something in our life breaks: then the death of a loved one occurs; a relationship breaks and perhaps our heart as well; a diagnosis is pronounced with the word »incurable«. At some point, a crisis comes along that is strong enough to suddenly empty all the stimulation and entertainment in the world. Then we are forced to look into our own depths, and that can be a frightening abyss if we have avoided following it for years. It is always a shock when lamps have no oil, because then we do not have what we need to break the darkness with light.

The poet Rumi once wrote: »I have lived too long where I can be reached!« If we do that, we end up as the people who still have the lamps with them, but no oil: not bad, just busy; not immoral, just distracted; not soulless, just preoccupied; not profoundly contemptuous, just without practice.

Dear sisters and brothers, when the groom arrives, or the crisis, it is not the best time to start practising.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 8th, 2020

 

 

What we do not need at the moment

 

Many years ago, when I was still a student of theology, I had the opportunity and the privilege of attending a lecture series on Liberation Theology. The guest speaker was none other than Gustavo Gutiérrez, a man often described as the father of liberation theology.

The entire series of lectures was very daunting, because this very soft spoken man never once let up in his honest, brutally frank assessment of the problems that theology faces when it seeks the liberation of the poor. At one point he remarked that he often encountered a great enthusiasm for the theology of liberation until the moment came, when one had to face the existential issues from which people needed to be liberated.

But he did not spare us. He described scenes of stomach churning violence against the poor when they dared to seek a liberation from oppression and a betterment of their situation.  He told us tales of poverty that shook us to the marrow of our bones. But he also told the tales of the oppressors, of the greed that drives them to sacrifice human beings for a little more profit, of the suppression of the most basic rights of human beings to keep the poor in line through fear and intimidation, and of the human rights violations as common in some places as traffic violations in our countries.

One of the participants in the lecture series was particularly and deeply affected by the stories and the storyteller. On the last day there was a question and answer hour in which anyone who so wished could ask Gustavo Gutiérrez a question. This young man, inflamed and enthused by Gustavo Gutiérrez’s words, rose, went to the microphone, but he did not ask a question. Instead he made a statement. It went something like this:

»Every word you spoke was brilliant and seared my soul. Now my heart is burning with the desire to help. I want to come to Peru, I want to be part of a theology that liberates. I am heartily sick of living here in Canada, of the whole decadence of the West. I have had it with all the consumerism and the luxury and society that cares about nothing else. I cannot stand to live here any longer, in a world where egotism is king.« His statement was considerably longer than the words I remember, and as it continued, it back more and more a tirade against the land in which he lived and his fellow citizens. The tone got ever sharper and fury, frustration, resentment and anger became the central themes of this words. When he was finally done, he simply said that he would come to Peru and live with the poor.

The room was stiflingly silent. Many found the moment awkward, others felt personally attacked by his comments and still others felt helpless in the face of so much anger. All of us, faculty as well as students, were at a loss for words.

But not Gustavo Gutiérrez. In the same soft spoken voice he gave his answer, which I give to the best of my recollection. »This is about the Kingdom of God.  If you wish to come to Peru, because you love the poor and because you love the Kingdom of God, then you are heartily welcome. But if you would like to come with a bellyful of rage, frustration, anger and hatred against your own country and its people, then stay at home. We already have more than enough rage, frustration, anger and hatred of our own.«

We would do well to heed these words in this time of Pandemic. Rage, frustration, anger and hatred will not lead us to the Kingdom of God, and thus, they cannot lead us to the solutions, healing and life we crave.

Erik Riechers SAC, November 6th , 2020

 

 

Light in dark times: Lantern windows

 

During these weeks a small movement has been created and is spreading especially among families and in kindergartens: the action »Lantern Window«: »Hereby you hang one or more lanterns in a window that is best facing the street and make them shine with light bulbs or LED tea lights. Then evening strollers, young and old, can marvel at the fantastic lanterns.  Since the St. Martin's procession is unfortunately cancelled in some towns this year, this is a nice alternative, especially for children, to go for a walk with their handmade lanterns and admire the illuminated lanterns in the windows. In the spirit of St. Martin, we want to give hope with the help of the lanterns, in these difficult times.«

When I read this in our local paper, I immediately felt like making a lantern again after many years and putting it in the window as a sign – others will follow. The reactions of my daughters in Stuttgart and Canada were similar and they remembered many lanterns they had made as children.

In fact, in this year during these weeks that by nature grow increasingly dark, for many the days have grown darker still; existentially threatening, emotionally difficult, socially poor in some circumstances - all a potential breeding ground for frustration and emptiness, for sadness and even depression.

To rise up against this, igniting lights and making them visible was already our thought on Monday: »Enkindling a light is not particularly difficult, but keeping a light alive is a skillful and challenging task, even an art form. We see this as the imperative of this hour. We must protect the flame of hope from every headwind of passivity, indifference, lack of perspective or even despair that blows towards us.«

I am also occupied with the topic of making lanterns. Almost every kindergarten and primary school child loves to choose a lantern motif and then get involved. How proudly the finished lantern is later shown and (usually) with what joy it is carried through the dark streets! The effect of the light is embellished and enhanced by a variety of colours and shapes. All this is also possible this year - even without the official St. Martin’s procession! And maybe it is even more necessary than ever!

That is why I love the action »Lantern Windows«. Thus, how about creating an adult version of this action? We invite you to do so: Wherever you see a beautiful lantern these days, take a photo and send it to us. We will post it on Twitter, accompanied by a »light-filled« quote.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 4th, 2020

 

 

Breath for the long march

 

»The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with weary feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.«

 

We placed this song from Tolkien's book The Hobbit over the Well Spring Days of last year. There we repeatedly spoke of the breath needed for the long march. A new lockdown begins today in Germany. In many variations and forms similar things are happening elsewhere in the world. We ourselves have noticed that we need a much longer breath than we thought we would in the spring. We feel how this lockdown is weighing on us, something we did not feel at the beginning of the crisis. Our inner reactions to both political decisions and irrational behaviour within society have a different quality than at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Although the crisis has been going on for a very long time, we must now be very careful not to fall into a trap. It is very easy to get the feeling that we are starting all over again. »Oh no, not again!« And there is a danger in that, because although this second lockdown reminds us of last March, the subject has changed. Seven months ago the main topic was how to get through this crisis. But now there is an additional theme, namely how can we keep hope alive until we get through this crisis?

When we sat together and thought about what we would like to write to you today, there were two impulses in us. First, we would like to repeat and renew our initial encouragement to you today. In our very first column of the series »May you be sheltered« we wrote on March 21rst, 2020:

»In some people there is the dominant impulse of »every man or woman for him or herself« and »save yourself if you can«. As people of faith and the People of God we must set a sign against this mentality. »May you be sheltered!« should be our call in this time. Let us protect and keep one another. That is what this column wishes to serve.«

We can repeat this today at the beginning of a second lockdown. We are tired, but not discouraged.

 

 

The second impulse came from a photo that Erik brought back from Brakel. There is a lantern house next to a statue of the Mother of God and Child. In this photo we also see an image of the way forward in the coming weeks.

It was built to protect the burning light. Many external elements, like wind and rain, try to extinguish the light. Enkindling a light is not particularly difficult, but keeping a light alive is a skillful and challenging task, even an art form. We see this as the imperative of this hour. We must protect the flame of hope from every headwind of passivity, indifference, lack of perspective or even despair that blows towards us.

What Rosemarie particularly noticed and liked while looking at the picture was the height of the lantern house. If we are to protect the light inside us, it will not be by hiding it. »Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.« (Mt 5, 15) This lantern house stands high and increases the light, making it visible. We see this, too, as an opportunity and a sacred task for this time. What burns within us in the lusty desire for love, life and faith, we must hold high. It is not a question of putting it away or hiding it. We lift our light even higher. It should also have something defiant, even challenging about it. We not only defy darkness, but also wind and rain.

The third thing we want to take away from the photo and share with you is the fact that the lantern house must not be airtight, otherwise the protection of the house will suffocate the very flame that it is to protect. What we build together as companions of faith is a house of light that breathes. We must nurture the light of belonging despite all distance. The culture of conversation must not be interrupted, because we wear masks but not muzzles. And even if this crisis is very demanding, we must not forget that there are still many important issues that must not be stifled by an over-fixation on Corona.

The pilgrims on the Camino called out to each other »Ultreja«. It means as much as »onward, forward!« In this manner, the pilgrims cheered themselves on with a word that gave them courage.

We consciously and encouragingly call out to you: »May you be sheltered«.

 

Vallendar, November 2nd,  2020

Rosemarie Monnerjahn

Erik Riechers SAC

Nächster Abschnitt

Socially distancing ourselves from holiness

All Saints 2020    Mt 5, 1–12a

 

When I read Rosemarie's reflection last Friday, one paragraph awakened a strong memory in me. »We should not place saints on a pedestal and move them to an unreachable, at most admirable, distance. Their lives were human like our own and they were children of their time, just as we are the children of our time. They can become our companions when we look at the sources from which they lived, how they were called and how they lived their lives with their God and ours.«

I thought back to an All Saints Day 25 years ago. Then the celebrant started the celebration with the sentence: »Welcome to the Day of Distancing«. Long before Corona forced to practice social distancing, we have practiced it with the saints. When we »place saints on a pedestal and move them to an unreachable, at most admirable, distance«, we distance ourselves from them.

The real question of the day is: what do the Beatitudes have to do with the communion of saints? They describe the culture that sanctifies a community. That is, blessed are those who do not use violence in and for the community. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for themselves and others. Blessed are those who act in mercy and live in peace and are even willing to suffer for the just cause

But the Beatitudes also have another important function: they show our naivety about our own attitude if we want to challenge the world to more justice and peace.

What is this naivety? It is that we think we can act unjustly, violently and mercilessly for the sake of the holy cause.  This naivety can be summed up in four errors which too often permeate and desecrate our community.

  1. »The urgency of my cause is so great that in this case it is all right to exclude the normal laws that govern public discourse. Therefore I can be disrespectful, arrogant and ugly to those who oppose me.« (Spokesman for George Bush)
  2. »I judge success and failure on the basis of measurable political performance. I am less interested in a Kingdom of God in the long run than in short-term political and social gain.« (US theologian from the peace movement)
  3. »I may exaggerate and distort the facts a little in order to make the concerns of justice clearer, but the situation is so appalling that I do not need to be very conscientious about the exact truth.«
  4. »I am a victim and therefore outside the rules!«

 

Here we encounter the painful truth of this feast day.

Unfortunately, we are again and again ready to use the language of love and justice to justify hatred and injustice. We claim that we are being forthright, even though we are actually only tactless. We claim that we speak »clear« words, but I wonder when the word »clarity« became synonymous with »hurtful«.

This attitude (the willingness to suspend the beatitudes for a holy cause) is the reason why our relationships, families, our society and our communities are not more salutary.

No matter how much we commit ourselves to a good cause, no matter how sacred it is and may be to us, the moment we ignore the attitude of the Beatitudes, every good thing becomes an ideology.

When we use violence, be it physical, moral or psychological, when self-righteousness rather than justice is our hunger and thirst, when winning is more important than mercy, when we are no longer prepared to endure tensions so that all lives can be saved, but only want a solution in our favour so that we are well provided for, then neither the community nor its cause is sacred any longer.

Unfortunately, our actions, for their part, often imitate the very violence, injustice, hardship and selfishness that they seek to challenge.

There is far too much talk of moral indignation: But it very often leads to a replica of the behaviour that caused the indignation. Indeed, moral indignation is ambiguous: the more indignant it is, the less likely it is to contribute to a real moral improvement.

Righteous indignation is also such a dictum. (I need to vent my anger or my frustration). Righteous indignation is often the first sign of the metastatic cancer of violence. It tends to give the indignant ones permission to do or to approve of things that are structurally indistinguishable from those that caused the indignation.

Unfortunately, this is more often than not the case in our struggle for the salutary and just community of Jesus, even when it is conducted under a Christian banner.

On this day we celebrate all those who have lived holy and salvific lives. It is these people who are our role models, because they point out to us that we have to be different from the selfishness, aggression and injustice that we are trying to change.

And they rebuke us. Every time we deviate from the Beatitudes' way of life, and want to justify it with religious motives, then they say to us: Call it by name, or call it what you want, but do not call it holy. The saints are very sensitive about this. Because them, this is character assassination.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 1st , 2020

 

 

Holy Companions

 

Someone complained these days that he is increasingly caught up in the maelstrom of the numbers: compulsively he has to inform himself daily about the new status of Covid-infected people and more and more he notices how this makes him feel worse and worse and he is gradually feels like a der caught in the headlights. This means that he is slowly succumbing to paralysis.

This is understandable and often a consequence of the nature of the news and the way we listen to it. But to react and live like this is beneath our dignity. If we immerse ourselves in the stories and songs of the Bible, then it resounds to us from every place that we are created in the image and likeness of God, with the mandate and the abilities to fashion our lives.

In Psalm 8 David sings: »What are mortals that you are mindful of them, and human children that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned then with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.« So we can and should shape what is given to us. For many months the Sars-Covid-19 virus has been part of our lives and the way we deal with it increasingly restricts our freedom.

Whereby shall we orientate ourselves? Where can we find role models? What carries us and lets us walk upright even now?

I grew up with people who lived with the saints. If they were at a loss at certain junctures of their lives, they would turn to a particular saint in their prayers. They were not people who just laid their hands in their laps; they did what they could, but I remember their deep confidence that the saint would help and support their need.

We should place saints on a pedestal and move them to an unreachable, at most admirable, distance. Their lives were human like our own and they were children of their time, just as we are the children of our time. They can become our companions when we look at the sources from which they lived, how they were called and how they lived their lives with their God and ours.

Perhaps they can help us come to clarity about what really matters, to patience in order to endure lean times, to inner freedom and a new state of my life and vocation.

Perhaps this is precisely the time in which we are called upon to creatively encounter people who have lost themselves and see no value in their lives, now that so much is falling away.

In this way we could also become companions of authentic life for others.

For many of us Willi Bruners is such a companion of our time, who can lead us into the depths with his inimitable language. Thus, in these days before All Saints,   I like to read his »Revelation« of ourselves:

 

Revelation

when I ceased

admiring, envying

                    the others

 

the angel opened

                my eyes

 

and showed me my mystery:

                           the king’s child

 

I hardly recognized it

                                  again

 

I had fought too long

                against myelf

 

wilhelm bruners

 

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 30th, 2020

 

 

Small Beginnings and Mighty Shelters

 

»What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?

 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.«

Lk 13, 18-19

 

Whenever we hear the parables of the Kingdom, it is easy to skirt the surface and ignore the apparently insignificant details. Thus, in this instance, we dive straight into the heart of the parable and say that the small beginnings of the Kingdom (be they as tiny as mustard seeds) will eventually develop their fullest potential until they are grow into realities as large as trees.

The seemingly insignificant detail we brush aside is the remark about the birds. They will come and nest in that tree, find home, rest, and refuge within its branches. A whole new dimension opens itself up those who seek the Kingdom. All parables of the Kingdom invite to an experience of God. The Kingdom is the experience of God’s loving action unfolding in the world we live in. Parables tell us how we will encounter it, where to look for it, and the characteristics for which we should keep an eye out in order not to miss it.

That is why details count. The in-breaking of God’s love in our world, the Kingdom, will indeed start small. Like the tree growing from a mustard seed, it most certainly will grow larger, take up more space and become ever more apparent and harder to overlook. But for us, like for the birds, this moving, flowing, unfolding divine love will also become a place of mighty shelter. That is one of the characteristics by which we can detect the growth of the Kingdom. Wherever mighty shelter develops out of small, simple beginnings, there the Kingdom of God is on the move.

In the beginning, before planting, growing and unfolding, the mustard seed is insignificant to a bird. It would be only a fraction of what it needs to eat to stay alive, an almost insignificant morsel barely able to still contribute to the stilling of its hunger. That seed will later become a mighty shelter for the bird.

A soft word, a brief encounter, the tiniest gesture of kindness or the simplest acknowledgement have become mighty shelter for people throughout salvation history. Lasting friendships have ensued because of them. Life changing relationships have grown out of them. Great loves have been born of them, which have gone on to endure for decades. When small beginnings evolve into mighty shelter for the heart, then we know that God is on the move.

I have known more than one mustard seed moment in my life that has given me mighty shelter. One of them of them is in my room. It is my very first copy of John Shea’s Stories of God.  It was already a used book when I bought it off a table at a conference in Toronto. I bought it for no other reason than to help me kill the time on my long bus trip to the hotel on the other side of the city. It was a distraction, pure and simple. It had no meaning, appeal or deep purpose for me. It certainly was not meant to make an significant contribution to my life. I still remember thinking, I can always toss it into the next garbage can when I am done.

Nearly 30 years later, I am still not done with that book and what it did to me and for me. It fired my imagination, enkindled my soul, opened to me the horizons I have sought out ever since, and changed my image of God, changed the way I do theology and ministry. It changed the way I think, feel and act. Above all, it gave me a mighty shelter for the deepest longings of my soul and it helped me find my welcome in the world.

The conference I was attending cost me 500 Canadian dollars. The book cost me 50 cents. There are still mustard seeds that becomes sheltering trees. There are still small beginnings that become mighty shelter. Because God is still on the move in the world. We should try harder not to overlook God, just because the in- breaking of divine love comes in the smallest of packages.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 28th, 2020

 

 

To bless life

 

It is now some 40 years since I heard a critical young colleague say that it would be irresponsible to bring children into this world.

What would young people today say to this? Especially in this year 2020, which has seen so much confusion and in which we have lost so many certainties that for decades seemed self-evident?

Anyone who, especially in this year, experiences families into which a child is to be born, can experience what so often happens when people lovingly allow themselves to enter into life.

Where life is stirring, the time of expectation has replaced the longing for new life. It shows itself in many different ways. Sometimes restlessness and tension grow, but joy also grows deeper and deeper. Patience is needed, but also the good handling of emerging worries. Those who accompany expectant mothers can be deeply touched by their transformation from concern about oneself to the responsibility for the unborn child, for the life that already contains everything, but is not yet visible and which needs to be guarded and protected. Sometimes this lets them feel insecure and anxious. How blessed and important are good companions by your side!

Many preparations are made. Relationships change and often become stronger. In-laws and families feel a new connection and closeness to each other. This not only creates a nest for the expected child, but also a net that carries everything that is needed.

What we experience in times of pregnancy occurs everywhere that new life is allowed to grow - at first hidden and inconspicuous, but nourished and carried, expected and longed for, until it is finally »born« and brought into the world.

 

So we should bless life right now, wherever we encounter it, perhaps in this or similar ways, promising each other that God is always present as well:

 

May God keep you on the way through your life.

May God warm you when fear makes you freeze.

May God strengthen you when uncertainty gnaws at you.

May God encourage you when longing moves you.

May God hold you when sleep envelops you.

May God flows through you when love gives you hope.

May God envelops you when life grows within you.

. . .

Let us be of help in choosing life, serving life, rejoicing over life and in receiving it kindly.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 26th, 2020

 

 

The Temptation of a Crisis

30th Sunday A 2020    Exodus 22, 20-26

 

There is a sad truth about the times of crisis. There is no crisis so bad that there are no people will to exploit it for personal gain.

The plight of refugees is a profitable opportunity for human smugglers. High unemployment in poor countries allows some companies to pay the workers a fraction of the price they would pay the workers in their own countries. This then leads to unemployment for workers back at home, because their jobs are eliminated and outsourced to foreign lands. When tropical storms threatened the East Coast of the USA, some businesses saw this as an opportunity to quickly raise their prices.

The Prophet Hosea raises his voice against oppression and injustice and in doing so found colourful and lively language. One of his most important lines was:

»For they sow the wind,

and they shall reap the whirlwind.«

Hosea 8,7

 

And this word helps us to understand the God who pours out his heart in the book Exodus. God makes it abundantly clear that his people should not exploit the strangers, widows and the orphans.

Here the warning is not only that we should not abuse the people themselves, but also that we should not see their present emergency situation as an opportunity to exploit them. After all, strangers, orphans and widows find themselves in situations where they are easy prey. And such situations lure unscrupulous people to use the advantage of the hour to manipulate them. »Now we finally got them where we want them.« This is where a mutation of the heart happens, because normally the healthy person sees in emergency situations the chance to help others, not to enrich himself or herself.

Those who sow this wind will reap the whirlwind. For God says: I hear this. And I react to this.

»Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.

If you do and they cry out to me,

I will certainly hear their cry.«

 

Furthermore, in strong, even drastic language, God says that people of this kind will learn in their own flesh and blood what it means to exploit the poor and their helplessness and impotence. Those who act and live unjustly will not benefit from this. Those who drive others away do not reap fertile land, but desert wastelands.

God is very concrete here. No interest should be charged when poor people need help or support.

»If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor,

you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.«

 

If a coat is placed as a deposit, we should return the coat after sunset. But why not? Taking a deposit is simply a normal business practice. But in an emergency situation it becomes an exploitation of someone else's difficult plight.

»If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge,

you shall return it to him before the sun goes down,

or that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body;

in what else shall he sleep?«

 

These words are particularly serious. They contain everything that God abhors about human greed, cold-heartedness and exploitation. For the image says:

Woe unto those who take from others what gives them warmth: for then they are responsible for more cold creeping into the world and penetrating into God’s sons and daughters.

Woe unto those, who take from others what gives them shelter and protection: for then they are responsible for exposing people to a life without refuge.

Woe who take from others what gives them a home, in which they can wrap themselves up to find peace and rest: then they are responsible for people having to move into the night of life, homeless and at the mercy of others.

And here, too, God says: I hear this. That is what I react to.

»And if he cries to me,

I will hear,

for I am compassionate.«

 

The path of exploitation is deceptive. It promises unscrupulous people that exploitation will make them rich, happy and content. In reality, this path makes a person cold, unjust, merciless and narcissistic.

»For they sow the wind,

and they shall reap the whirlwind.«

 

This is not a threat.

This is a promise.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 25th, 2020

 

 

Seeing with the eyes of God – Seeing with the eyes of the heart

 

Psalm 32 in the new Luther translation reads

»I will instruct you and show you the way you should go;

I will guide you with my eyes.«

Ever since I read this 8th verse, the word » I will guide you with my eyes « has been on my mind. God sees me, his eyes guide me. And when I let myself enter into this guiding and leading, I grow into the vision of God. This will change my own vision, this will change my heart.

To this end there is a wonderful story by Oscar Wilde: »The Happy Prince«.

It tells of a swallow that cannot take its leave of a lovely reed in autumn and thus misses the departure of its companions to Egypt. Before it finally wants to leave, he pauses at the top of the statue of a prince covered all over with gold, with a ruby in the sword hilt and eyes of blue sapphires. 

As he wonders about the odd drop that falls on him, he looks up and sees that the prince's eyes are filled with tears – »and tears were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity. 'Who are you?' he said. 'I am the Happy Prince.'     'Why are you weeping then?' asked the Swallow; 'you have quite drenched me.'

'When I was alive and had a human heart,' answered the statue, 'I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.'«

And then the prince tells of a seamstress whom he sees through a window, she works, thin and worn, on a festive robe for one of the ladies of the court; her son lies ill in bed and asks for oranges, but his mother can only bring him water from the nearby river.

 »Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.«  The swallow resists. He must finally leave to follow his friends, but finally the sadness of the prince touches him so deeply that he agrees to stay one more night and become the prince's messenger. He picks the ruby from the pommel and flies over the roofs of the city.

»At last he came to the poor house and looked in. The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was so tired. In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman's thimble. Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy's forehead with his wings. 'How cool I feel,' said the boy, 'I must be getting better;' and he sank into a delicious slumber.

Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done. 'It is curious,' he remarked, 'but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.' «

The way in which the prince's open eyes change his heart, what this finally does with the swallow's eyes and heart, is well worth reading about in Oscar Wilde.

It leads me back to Psalm 32:

»I will instruct you and show you the way you should go;

I will guide you with my eyes.«

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 23rd, 2020

 

 

The salty, wet stories of the heart

 

During these past few weeks I have received many emails from people telling me stories of their life during this time of crisis and stress. What has struck me lately, is how many times people have mentioned their tears. That would be, in and of itself, a good thing.  Yet, nearly always these references to tears have been negative, pejorative and self-critical. They are implying, that there is something wrong with them when they feel themselves full of unwept tears. Often the implication is that they are not tough, resilient or courageous enough. If we stay with that interpretation, then sooner or later we will try to try the tears out of our stories.

Years ago I held a retreat weekend for a group of families in Milwaukee. My partner, a woman religious with great artistic talent, had a wonderful idea. Every time I would interpreted a biblical story, she would lead the group and have each of them draw a picture of the story they had just heard.

On the Saturday afternoon I told the group the story of Isaiah 25:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,

of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the Lord has spoken.

Is 25, 6-8

This time my colleague split the group up, the children went to one room and the adults to the other. Both groups then proceeded to draw the story I had just told them. When both groups returned, the pictures were posted on opposite walls and the families told to walk through the room and take a look at what the people in the other group had drawn or painted. Then she guided a respectful conversation between the generations and opened up a warm and very heartfelt exchange of what they had learned from one another.

As this exchange ended, my colleague asked me to comment on the pictures. I pointed out what had not only struck me immediately, but a point on which no one else had bothered to comment. In every painting made by the children, there were tears on the faces of people at this great banquet of God. No one adult in the room had painted a single tear. After I pointed this out, I was interrupted by a man who insisted the children had got it wrong. So I repeated the words of the story. »He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…«. There was a great silence. Then the man said, »I just always assumed that the tears would have to be wiped away before we are allowed to enter heaven. I thought I would have to clean up my act before I get in.«

I simply said to him, »The biblical story tells us that heaven is not the place where tears are forbidden, but the place where God wipes them away.«

Indeed, tears are important enough to God, that they have a place in the banquet halls of heaven. God has deepest reverence for the tears of his people, because the tears that we weep are stories of the heart that are still seeking words. The tears we do not weep are the stories of the heart that are left untold. But God always takes stories seriously. That is why God cares about them, keeps track of them and respects them. Do we really believe that our story-laden tears will have no place in the house of the God of whom the Psalmist writes: »You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?« (Psalm 56:8)

In the book of Revelation there is a similar scene:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Rev 21, 1-4

Even in the new heaven and the new earth which God makes, we will be permitted to bring our tears with us. But it would be wise to sit up and take notice of a marvellously comforting part of the story. The wiping away of tears in heaven is reserved to God. He does it himself. He does not send angels to do this for his people. It is his last, loving service to us before the crying ends once and for all.

The biblical story tells us that heaven is not the place where tears are forbidden, but the place where God wipes them away.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 21st, 2020

 

 

Do not reduce your life!

 

You see the tasks that lie ahead, the challenges of your profession. They are in front of you in the morning and keep you busy in the evening.

You put a lot of thought into what you can afford, what is possible or not. You seldom speak of »consuming«, but it does take up a large space in your thoughts and actions.

 You have a lot of restlessness inside you, it drives you out into the world; usually you have a journey in mind when you just come back from another one.

Heavy things fill your life and burden you mightily. Again and again your eyes become dull with grief, perhaps you even withdraw.

You fulfil a lot of duties and you have the feeling that everything rests on your shoulders and if you do not fulfil the tasks, everything will collapse.

Illness is spreading, either in you or in someone close to you. All your senses and many hours of the day are filled with medicine and care, with worry, even fear.

. . .

All this and much more is a reality and a part of our lives.

But none of these realities is ever everything. But why do we often talk about our lives as if everything is dark or duty or burden? Why do we so often reduce the narratives of our lives to one area?

Life is not easy, but it is not narrow either. It has width and fullness and it is up to us alone to open our senses and our heart to it. Let us take off our blinkers and see the blooming garden in times of heavy workloads, experience a walk through sunny vineyards, hear the words of a companion in times of grief, and laugh with children even in difficult times, experience loving staff in times of illness or even perceive the needy neighbour in times when we are easily preoccupied with outward appearances.

In order to live the fullness and tell about it, we should not limit our days and weeks, our life, to one part or one episode. Let us not reduce our life!

Every day we are challenged to make a decision for life, indeed, to choose life, to act on it and to tell about it - in its full breadth.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 19th, 2020

 

 

Placed before the wrong choice

29th Sunday A 2020    Mt 22, 15-22

 

This story is only superficially about taxes and God. At its deepest level it is a story about conflict. It is about the traps people set for each other, but also about how we can avoid them.

The Pharisees are insincere. »Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.« Outwardly, they present themselves as people who are seeking a conversation. But they abuse the outward form of conversation to disguise their true motivation: they want to trick Jesus into saying something incriminating that they can use against him.

They have planned an attack to bring Jesus down. And to this end they are sending two groups: their own disciples and the followers of Herod. And therefore their question: »Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?«

That is why they brought the Herodians with them. They want to keep Herod in power and Herod only stays in power at the behest of the Romans. The Romans only keep him in power to collect taxes. When Jesus speaks against taxes, it is incitement against Rome. The Herodians will witness this sedition and will accuse Jesus to protect their friend Herod.

On the other hand, if Jesus should bow to the Roman tax, he will discredit himself as a prophet and lose his followers. The people who follow Jesus hate the Roman tax for more than just economic reasons. There is also a theological reason why the tax of the occupying power is hated, and that is why the disciples of the Pharisees were sent along with the Herodians.

The theological reason: it is the deepest conviction of God's people that the land actually belongs to God. But if the land belongs to God, by what right do the Romans levy taxes on everything, from the fruits of the earth and the animals of the field to the fish in the sea?

The economic reason is self-explanatory: this taxation was devastating, not an appropriate percentage, but an unbearable burden. And it was deeply linked to bribery and corruption.

Thus, if Jesus approves these tax laws, it would contradict much of His preaching and teaching.

This is the trap that the Pharisees set. But first, Jesus will buttered up. Excessively the Pharisees flatter him as part of their strategy. They want to make him speak »plainly« and reveal himself. They comment on his truthfulness and his refusal to say only what people want to hear, especially those in positions of power. But precisely because he is so sincere, he will not spare the powerful.

They should be proved right: » Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?«  He does not spare them and immediately addresses them as hypocrites. They are not interested in God or taxes. Their only interest is to undermine the influence of Jesus. So it is all about traps and, just like taxes, they still exist today.

The first trap is to lure Jesus and us into an ego debate. If the Pharisees (including those of our time) manage to do this, then we have a duel of the intellect and no longer the search for true life. Then the only question will not be on theological, economic and social issues: What is true, authentic and beneficial to life? In the ego debate, the only question is: Who has won?

This is what happens in the time of the pandemic. We hold discussions about loosening restrictions and lockdowns, about the obligation to wear masks, social distancing and restrictions. Often, very often, I have the impression that it is not about the cause, namely the protection of life. Often, I have the impression that people simply want to assert themselves, because they even want to make a pandemic a matter of winners and losers. 

Reducing these issues to the raw material of a battle of egos strike me as not particularly helpful in regards to the big issues that challenge us. We see this every Sunday evening on the talk shows. The big themes are announced, but what do you read in the newspaper the next day? Who has won! Do we really have to reduce the biggest questions of the country and our lives to a winner-loser debate? If we do, we will continue to talk about who scores points and who wins, but not about life, social cohesion and concern for each other.

The second trap which Jesus avoids is being caught between two false alternatives. The Pharisees want a »yes« or »no«. In some cases a straightforward »yes« or »no« is an appropriate answer. »Is the traffic light red?«, »Is it raining outside?«: Such questions and many others can be answered with a straightforward »yes« or »no«.  

But other areas do not lend themselves to an »either-or« answer. »Yes or no«- thinking is very often applied in the wrong place. Most questions of life and faith should be approached with caution and with a balanced evaluation. In order to avoid the trap of the wrong alternatives, we must realise that »yes or no«- is not enough here 

The answer of Jesus is clear. We must endure the tensions of life. We should not resolve these tensions by choosing between false alternatives:

- either the Emperor or God.

- either mutual protection or personal freedom

- either economic recovery or social friendship.

The biblical narrative says it again and again: there is room and life enough for all in the world that God has created. But to live in it, we must learn to live with tension. Together with the people with whom we live and work, we must bear the tensions and not allow ourselves to be driven to make a decision between the wrong alternatives. And therein lies the temptation. We have grown weary of crisis. Especially when we are tired and overwhelmed, a quick, so-called clean, »once-and-for-all«, »black and white« solution becomes tempting.

And that is precisely the trap. We should not let this trap be set, not even by this crisis. We should not let the issue of justice for endangered lives be turned into a winner-loser debate. But if we are tempted to do so, I will give one last thought. Who guarantees that we will automatically end up on the side of the winners? At the latest when we end up on the side of the losers in the winner-loser debate, we will long for a world in which there is life and space enough for everyone.

Erik Riechers SAC, October 18th, 2020

 

 

A New Existential Language

 

In the second chapter of his encyclical «Fratelli tutti«, Pope Francis gives a very detailed interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He does it because he wants to call us to become the people who know what the Samaritan knew. Only a truly believing person can bring the experience of faith in his or her life to the lives of others. Only then can the message of faith resound in meaningful fashion. Only the one who connects the faith side with the life side is able to make faith effective. Only in this way can faith develop its power.

Imagine for a moment that we are lying on the ground and hear these words from the book of Deuteronomy ringing across the street:

For this commandment that I command you today

is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.

It is not in heaven, that you should say,

‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us,

that we may hear it and do it?’

Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say,

‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us,

that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you.

It is in your mouth and in your heart,

so that you can do it..

Dt 30,11-14

How would that be received? How would we react to it? Probably we would perceive it as pure mockery. This is exactly what Jesus recognizes in the teacher of the law, this willingness to stay on the faith side of the street and to talk about and discuss things that can only be perceived on the life side of the street as unworldly, unrealistic and aloof. Therefore Jesus shows us the direction. People of faith have to cross over into life, not the other way around.

This is the direction of faith, and it is a one-way street. Our task cannot be to invite people who lie broken on the ground of life to cross over the street while we scream: Come over here. Even worse is the variant where, on the side of faith, we think that our only task is to belittle or even condemn the people across the street and then write them off.

This is something that happens time and again among religious people. But there are also always experiences of church which clearly show the way of Jesus. There are a lot of people who exemplarily transform their faith into flesh and blood, deeply believing people who are constantly driven into life by their faith.

However, when we move to the life side of the road, we need a language that is understood there. The Samaritan knows his way around. Oil, wine and money: this is a language that the beaten up, needy man understands. Oil, wine and money translate for him what we as believers understand by relief, strengthening and solidarity for the poor.

Shelter, care, and helpfulness are the language of the Samaritan. This language speaks to the robbed person in his situation in a meaningful way, because it makes it clear to him what we as believers understand by refuge, charity and selfless service. Loving action, accompaniment, sharing the journey: this is a language this man can understand and it translates what we Christians really believe into the language of everyday life.

To promote fraternity and social friendship, we must courageously follow the way of the Samaritan.  We have to go new ways, try new forms, and look for a new language so that we are understood on the other side of the street. We cannot act according to the old familiar fashion and merely pity, insult, or write off the people who cannot yet believe.

And here lies the warning of Jesus: It is not only: be merciful! The warning is: Cross the road that separates faith from life. Otherwise life and faith will pass each other by.

This is what our meetings, assemblies and discussions should be about. Here is the heart of our spiritual life: we are people who are always trying to find new ways to cross this road. It is well worth fighting for.

 

I am not naive about the rule of Jesus: »Then go and do likewise«.

This requires one more step, which will inevitably combine courage and creativity. The parable may end here, but it is not over yet. Luke the narrator does this on purpose.

For in this parable the teacher of the law should act as the representative of us all. We, too, can enumerate the double commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. It was taught to us as children and is part of the general information of our culture. But we find it difficult to put it into practice.

But our substitute in the story, the teacher of the law, is nowhere to be seen. He has left the place. Our excuse is gone and our cover is blown. We are the addressees of the last word: Go and do likewise.

That is well worth fighting for.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 16th, 2020

 

 

Where Faith meets Life

 

In Fratelli tutti  art. 68 Pope Francis reflects on the parable of the Good Samaritan and makes an interesting comment.

 »The parable clearly does not indulge in abstract moralizing, nor is its message merely social and ethical. It speaks to us of an essential and often forgotten aspect of our common humanity: we were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love. We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast. Instead, we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering. That is the meaning of dignity.«

 

Pope Francis thus recognises the real crisis of fraternity and social friendship. It is not mercy that is in crisis, but action.

The trigger of this story is the exchange with the teacher of the law. He has something on his mind and asks Jesus his question. »Master, what must I do to win eternal life?« Thereafter, Jesus tests his basic knowledge of faith and asks him about the law. The teacher of the law knows the answers very well and burst forth like a shot out of a gun:

 »You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, with ally our strength and all your thoughts, and: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.«

But only now does it become difficult, because Jesus is not satisfied with the man's theological knowledge. He recommends the second step to him.

»Do this, and you will live.«

Do this!  Act! That is the point.  In other words, without action, there is no life.

But those who do not want to act do what the teacher of the law does. He takes refuge in theological abstraction and prefers to speculate about the definition of the neighbour: And who is my neighbour? Whatever answer he finds here, he does not have to act for the time being. He procures a time delay for himself.

And that gives Jesus reason to offer this story. This is why Jesus tells the parable, to look at this flight into abstraction and away from responsibility.

Let us look at the parable more closely. In the story there is this road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Each side of the road stands for something. One side of the street represents life and the other side represents faith.

On the faith side of the road, first a priest and then a Levite pass by. These two people reflect the mentality of many religious people. They have a lot of knowledge about theology and spirituality, they know the formulations of the faith and have a good command of the language, rituals and attitudes of the religious. Here we see the side of the road where the teacher of the law is. What they do not have is the ability to integrate their knowledge with life. The contact with life is quite minimal. Lacking a connection with practical life, they remain in abstract thoughts about faith, just like the law teacher. Their discussions in general about the truths of faith pretend to be faith development.

On the other side of the road life is running out. Here there is greed, violence, bloodshed, wrong decisions, injuries, hardship and injustice. And people lying half dead on the ground.

These worlds of faith and life are clearly separated. The man lies on the ground and his life bleeds out. On the other side of the road are people who know and talk about faith, love, justice, care, salvation and healing.

Pope Francis writes: »We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast.« But, unfortunately, it is an option »to be indifferent to suffering«. And it is entirely possible that we allow someone »to go through life as an outcast.« Just keep faith and life apart. Then it is no problem at all.

In the parable, the Samaritan is the only one who understands what this situation, this hour, demands of him and of us. We must transfer what we have learned on the faith side of the road to the life side. Only in this way can life and faith meet. »Do this, and you will live.« Before faith and life kiss, fraternity and social friendship will have little chance.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 14th, 2020

 

 

Changing the side of the Road

 

In his Encyclical »Fratelli Tutti«, Pope Francis dedicates his second chapter to a reflection on the Good Samaritan. He believes that this story of Jesus can show us the way to authentic love of brother and sister and to social friendship. In this week I will return to the parable three times to help us go a little deeper into parable. Like all parables, it is a story of invitation and decision. This time of the pandemic is like the parable also a story of invitation and decision. And if we choose not to accept the invitation to fraternity and social friendship, we will not be protected, but at most we will be spared for a while.

In art. 63 Pope Francis writes:

Jesus tells the story of a man assaulted by thieves and lying injured on the wayside. Several persons passed him by, but failed to stop. These were people holding important social positions, yet lacking in real concern for the common good. They would not waste a couple of minutes caring for the injured man, or even in calling for help. Only one person stopped, approached the man and cared for him personally, even spending his own money to provide for his needs. He also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: he gave him his time. Certainly, he had his own plans for that day, his own needs, commitments and desires. Yet he was able to put all that aside when confronted with someone in need. Without even knowing the injured man, he saw him as deserving of his time and attention.

The road to Jericho is littered with some interesting travellers. On the one side of the road brigands wait to prey on the naive and unsuspecting sojourner; they have chosen their place on the road calculatingly. On that same side of the road a mugging victim lays beaten half to death; he chose his side of the road incautiously.

On the other side of the road a priest and a Son of Levi came a walking. They saw the man, but they »passed by on the other side«. They chose their side of the road very carefully.

Finally there is the Samaritan. He, too, saw the man lying on the roadside. Yet, he is different from all the rest. He chooses to change over to the other side of the road.

Here is as potent and accurate a definition as any for compassion: to change over to the other side of the road. These is a frequent mistake which occurs on the road of human life. We confuse seeing what is happening on the road's other side, with crossing over to that side.

We too see the interminable suffering of those left on the side of the road. We have seen the women whose spirits are as badly bruised as their faces; the student grappling with a learning disability whose self-confidence has been savagely beaten with taunts of »stupid« and »moron« that hurt more deeply than anything sticks and stones could ever inflict; the pregnant teenager whose heart shrivels as her belly swells. We see the horrors Pope Francis describes in the our news everyday: the throw-away world, the lack of human rights, the conflicts and wars that lead to hunger, homelessness and waves of refugees driven by despair etc. We see them, but we do not let our gaze linger. Too often the motto of life is: Cast your gaze to the ground and your cares to the wind, and keep on going! We pass by on the other side.

What we see does not touch us enough to lure us across the road that separates us from the other. We see all these things: they incite us to anger, fill us with indignation, drive us to demand tougher prisons, stiffer penalties, and swifter justice. Yet, they seldom lure us to compassion. Our eyes flit restlessly across landscapes and television screens. If they should linger but a moment too long, they might do more than just see: they might end up taking a good hard look.

Not so with God. Bette Midler sings in her pop song that »God is watching us from a distance«. As a chantress she invokes desire, yet as a theologian she leaves much to be desired. God is not watching us from a distance. He has done for us in the flesh and blood reality of Jesus Christ, what the Samaritan has done in the parable. He has crossed over to the other side of the road. The God of Infinite Love and Mercy comes to us. 

The Gospel tells us that the Samaritan »saw him and was moved with compassion«: God saw the inner and outer brokenness of the human family and was moved with compassion for his people. Just as the Samaritan crossed the road to heal the bleeding man, God has crossed the road to heal us, touching our deep wounds with the flesh of Christ. In the words of John Bell and Graham Maule:

To the lost Christ shows his face;

to the unloved he gives his embrace;

to those who cry in shame and disgrace,

Christ makes with his friends, a touching place.

 

Why did God cross the road? Because once he saw the state we were in, he wanted to get to the other side.

The path to genuine love of brothers and sisters and to social friendship will always start this way. First you have to see what is happening on the side of the road that is not your own. Then you have to linger long enough to let your heart be touched by what you have seen. Then you must be moved to cross over to the other side of the road to touch the reality that would never touch you if you simply passed by. It is the very nature of mercy, in God and in us. Mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of the other.

Erik Riechers SAC, October 12th, 2020

 

 

Of Invitation and Decision

28th Sunday A 2020    Mt 22, 1-14

 

The first impression of this parable is always associated with invitation and rejection. Guests are invited and have to decide what is worth going out and participating in. And this question is also put to us. To what are we invited? What is there in our lives where we would say: This would be worth leaving my usual life and participating in? What happens if we refuse the invitation?

Jesus makes it clear that this dynamic of invitation and decision is about the Kingdom of God. He compares this kingdom to the filling of a wedding hall.

The Wedding Hall is the place where people give themselves over to love and union in order to create a community of life and love. Even more important for the host is his deep conviction that such a human enterprise, such a community of life and love, and the people who dare to live it, deserve to be celebrated. The King desires nothing more than to fill this room with people who want to celebrate just that

The king does simply settle for his longing, but serves it. Thus, messengers of this invitation are sent out.

The first sending of the messengers is as follows: »He sent his servants to call the invited guests to the wedding«.  The invitation here goes to people who were invited beforehand. They are reminded that they are on the guest list, that they are expected and should come. This is not a surprise. They have had time and space to prepare, get ready and adjust their schedules

The arrival of the messengers holds no surprises for them. They have known for some time what they are called to participate in. The messengers simply remind them that the time has come for them to take their place and let love, union, and community of life into their lives. The hour of decision has come.

Their response is somewhat casual. »But they did not want to come.« In other words, they simply do not feel like it. They do not want to free up the time or space required for the concerns of the invitation, which are also the concerns of the host.

Now the king possesses a certain cunning. He knows that a lack of interest can be changed. And that is exactly what he is trying to do.

Therefore the second sending of the messengers is undertaken: »Tell the invited: My banquet is ready, the oxen and fattened cattle are slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding!«

The second invitation comes with a description of everything that is already in progress and has been arranged. When people come together in love and unity, it is worth taking on a lot of bother in order to celebrate. The king shows that he has done his part. His second reminder of invitation is somewhat more urgent: »Do you understand now? Come, take a seat in this room, and celebrate what is happening here!«

Their answer is clearly different this time. »But they didn't care, one went to his field, another to his shop, still others attacked his servants, mistreated them and killed them.«

This time the answer is not listlessness but fatal disinterest. For here violence is used against the messengers. They have come to issue an invitation: come, take part in a place where love, union and a community of life are celebrated. For this invitation they must die.

Immediately an old story unfolds.  The violence of those invited creates a greater violence in the king. »Then the king became angry; he sent his army, killed the murderers and reduced their city to rubble.« A man who wanted to celebrate a union of love and life lets a whole city feel his wrath, not only the murderers of his messengers. But as soon as the violence ends, the king's old longing returns. He wants to hold a wedding. This violence has done nothing for his heart's desire, has not brought him one step closer to his goal. It has destroyed much life and served no life. That is the true nature of violence.

The king does not give up. Now a third sending of the messengers takes place. Off to the streets. However, the criterion of the invitation has changed. This time it is: invite people who are on the road, who are on the move. Not good or bad should be the standard, but readiness and mobility. Up to now only the established and sedentary were invited. But now it should not be people with fields and shops, but people on the road, people who are flexible, who are open toward the spontaneous and unexpected.

At last the king gets what he wants: a hall full of people who share his heart's desire and his joy. Only the servants come back from the first sending. From the second sending nobody returns. But from the third one, all come back.

And the hall is full. The place of love, union and fellowship is finally full, and it is full of people who are on the move and mobile.

The king comes and one of them stands out. He is not wearing a wedding garment. Only this one guest. Yes, the invitation came unexpectedly and suddenly. Yes, the invitation came as a surprise. But this is true for all the guests in this room and yet they all wear wedding robes. Because a king gave each guest such a robe on entry so that no one would cancel their participation simply because they had nothing suitable to wear for such a celebration. One of them did not wear this robe. Only one is not dressed for what must happen here.

This is the place where love, union and community of life should be celebrated. The man may come into the room, but he does not bring the right attitude and willingness. He gets another chance to explain himself, but has nothing to say. And for those who are not ready to celebrate life, love and community, darkness and loneliness await them, they are bound.

 

Brothers and sisters,

Where is our wedding hall? Where is the place where we invite others to share our heart's desire, because it is for us an experience of the Kingdom of God? And how do we fill the hall?

Do we go out into the streets and look for people who are on the move, new people who share our heart’s desire even if they are not part of the old guard of the sedentary?

We should remember: the messengers of the invitation come upon two reactions.

1. No desire – here only the messengers came back. (We know this experience and we can let such people live).

2. Fatal disinterest - here nobody came back. Because the servants of the invitation are killed. For these guests, field and shop are more important than celebrating a wedding. Regrettably, even today, real estate and property are given more attention than the human spaces in which love, life and community are celebrated.

If we let the people of fatal disinterest determine everything, then no one will come back to fill the spaces of life. Then, only the street remains for the people who would fill the space for the celebration of life and love.

Of course, the street can be a place of movement and mobility. But there is one condition for this.

The street must not be the place where we are forced to live. People who freely head out onto the streets are on the move. People who are merely put out onto the street are homeless.

The story of the Kingdom of God is a story of invitation and decision. In a world where many boast about the number of invitations they receive, perhaps today we can think more about which invitations we will accept. Because without a decision, an invitation is worthless.

Erik Riechers SAC, October 11th, 2020

 

 

Not without Rosa!

 

Learning fraternity from children - is this possible? Definitely!

For some weeks now, I have been regularly picking up my grandchildren at two different places: the 4-year-old from her kindergarten, then we have half an hour until the 6-year-old comes out of school.

I love this half hour with the little one. We look for a parking spot, take our time for the short way, meet, if we are lucky, a little dog and she chats lively and tells me about her experiences of the day.

Again and again I try to entice her to use the time to explore a new path or simply to go for an ice cream in the nearby pedestrian zone. But none of this appeals to her. Not because she does not like to go for a walk or because she does not want an ice cream. On the contrary, she loves ice cream very much. But she does not want any of this without her sister. "Only if Rosa comes too!" is always her answer.

And so we stroll towards the schoolyard and wait by the fence. All of Edda’s senses are exclusively focused on finally having her sister back with her and on sharing life - the remaining hours of the day - with her. That is why, in these minutes before the school bell rings, her best place is by the schoolyard fence with an expectant gaze toward the front door: When will Rosa finally come? When the children rush towards us, she calls out at some point:  » I can see her already!« As soon as Rosa is finally with us, Edda is neither exuberant nor pushy. She just walks next to her sister, tells her about the little dog or where the car is, and on this way back, I always have the impression that for her, her world is now complete again. She and her sister belong together. Yes, many hours of the day they have been going their own ways for weeks and Edda feels very much at home in the kindergarten. That is everyday life. But beyond that she wants to share beautiful things with Rosa. She cannot   imagine enjoying them without her sister.

She doesn't want to have ice cream all to herself. Full stop!

The world around us often shows us the opposite: the main thing is that I get something! Full stop!

On which side is more joy?

The minutes before the end of the school day show me how a four-year-old child lives the fullness of the biblical message. It has absolutely nothing to do with morality (we have often made that out of Scripture), but it is simply beautiful and good and gives Edda joy.

Living as brothers and sisters means looking after each other, waiting for each other, enjoying each other, not wanting to be alone. To live this way makes you happy.

I gladly go through this »school« of my little granddaughter every Wednesday and I relish it!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 9th, 2020

 

 

The blunt, direct and incisive question

 

In his recently published encyclical, »Fratelli tutti: On the Fraternity and Social Friendship«, Pope Francis writes about a question that has received a new and contemporary significance through the pandemic:

What should the world look like? He expresses a very deep conviction that deeply saddens and impresses me: we will not return to normality after the pandemic. We shall emerge from this time of crisis either as better or worse people.

To substantiate his vision of social friendship and fraternity, in chapter 2 he uses a beautiful, deep and moving interpretation of a world-famous parable: the parable of the Good Samaritan. With the verve of a narrative theologian, he moves through this narrative of God, pointing out the many roles in it: the robbers, the passers-by (a priest and a Levite), the wounded man (the one left behind), and the Samaritan. Then he asks a question: »Which of these persons do you identify with? This question, blunt as it is, is direct and incisive.« (Fratelli tutti Art. 64)

In a crisis like this pandemic, we all have a role to play. We are either the Good Samaritan, the robbers, the people who pass by, or even the victim. But Pope Francis is very right when he says that this question is blunt, direct and incisive.

»Which of these persons do you identify with?«  The question is blunt, because it challenges us to be authentic people. In biblical stories as well as in the everyday life of our personal stories, we dress up in our favourite roles. This is how we want to be. This is how we see ourselves and this is how we want to be seen by others. This is our abstract and conceptual commitment to a story. But no flesh and blood has yet been brought into play here. There is no skin the game. When it comes to a concrete, existential commitment to a story, we often live out something quite different from what we would like to claim about ourselves. All crises, not just the pandemic, are apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word: they unveil what is really within us. And this question is blunt, because here we are not looking for the masks that disguise us, but for the identity that shapes us. The question is blunt because it confronts us: Who am I really?

»Which of these persons do you identify with?« The question is direct. The question is not whether we understand the story, but whether we know it. The question wants to know where and how we appear in this story.  It is always easier when a story indirectly points us to topics we might want to look at. But the question as to whom we identify ourselves with is not such a question. It cuts through the superficial and gets to the core. Sometimes people complain about biblical interpretations (mostly sermons) because they have nothing to do with their lives. »Where am I in this story?« is a valid question. But there are also disadvantages to asking the question so directly. Because when I notice where and how I appear in the story, it could very well be that I do not enjoy what I see about myself. It could require conversion and change. Indirect questions may be much more pleasant, but they are much less useful for the authentic shaping of a life.

»Which of these persons do you identify with?« The question is incisive. Because the people we identify with in a story will have a decisive influence on the people we become. The stories we tell shape the way we live. If a person constantly speaks about himself or herself as stupid and worthless, then we already know with whom he or she identifies. Then we will not have the expectation that a person who tells stories like this will live self-confidently, purposefully and creatively. A person who constantly talks about his or her helplessness will certainly live a passive rather than an active life. That is why this question is incisive. If I identify myself with the robbers then the exploitative elements of my personal story will be strengthened and confirmed. If I identify with the passers-by (a priest and a Levite), then words like »Every person for himself or herself« and »Save yourself first« will play a decisive role in my life and action. When I identify with the wounded man (the one left behind), I become more aware of what help and care I need, even though I have always believed that I don't need all this because I can take care of everything myself. However, when I identify with the Samaritan, a lot of investment of time and space and resources will be required of me at the same time. This would also be decisive for the person I am and will be from God.

»Which of these persons do you identify with? This question, blunt as it is, is direct and incisive.« Fratelli tutti Art. 64) This question is always posed in parables, but also in every crisis we live through. But in a crisis the question is always blunt, direct and incisive, because we cannot avoid it and we cannot delude ourselves as to the answer. As soon as the crisis came, it became an unveiling (apocalyptic): passers-by hoarded toilet paper while their neighbours were not even allowed to go out shopping for themselves. The robbers raised prices to take advantage of the moment, while others could not even earn a wage. Some just complained about the restrictions on their normal routine, while others wondered how they could help.

Now Pope Francis leads us once again to this story of God and shows us the possibilities it offers for a world of fraternity and social friendship. This also gives us a chance to think again about how we want to appear in this story.

»Which of these persons do you identify with?«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 7th, 2020

 

 

Mercy: Knowing the true starting point makes all the difference

 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4, 7-11

 

A woman heard two sermons shortly after one another. Both had mercy as their theme. But the woman was worried, because during the first sermon she felt an uneasy feeling rising in her as the preacher repeatedly emphasised the unworthiness, sin and ingratitude of humanity and then looked at the mercy of God. In the second sermon, however, she felt very comforted and strengthened. Now the good woman was unsettled and asked me what could be the reason for this, because both sermons were about the same thing.

Not really. In the first sermon, sin is seen as an occasion for mercy. Sin is the trigger, and then God develops mercy as the strategy with which He responds to sin. In this sermon sin takes the initiative. It sets everything in motion, even God. Because we are such great sinners, mercy comes. Because we live so ungrateful, mercy comes. Because we act so unworthily, mercy comes. It is very clearly emphasised that sin sets God in motion, and that mercy is God's answer to the initiative of sin.

In contrast, John writes an essential word: In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 

John emphasises that mercy (love) was God's initiative and that it comes first. Love (mercy) comes before sin. It can deal with sin. But mercy is older than any sin.

Because we need mercy even when we have not sinned at all. Mercy is love that takes the initiative. If the other person does not have the strength, the courage or the possibility to act lovingly, mercy, on its own initiative, creates space of life for people. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

We need this loving initiative of mercy when we are ill, anxious, intimidated, lonely, depressed, exhausted, discouraged, disappointed or simply listless. These are the moments when God speaks the first word, makes the first gesture, takes the initiative. But these are not sins to which he is responding. It is nothing less than the life of his beloved people.

That is why it always matters where and with what you start, because you can end up in a very different place. I always prefer guide people to the place I have found most healing in my own life: the place where God makes the first move and loves us first.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 5th, 2020

 

 

From possession to participation, from competition to cooperation

27th Sunday A 2020

 

These days, Pope Francis preaches often and forcefully about the world we want to shape after the pandemic. A few days ago he said:

»In the normality of the Kingdom of God, there is bread for all and more to spare, social organisation is based on contributing, sharing and distributing, not on possessing, excluding and accumulating.«

Pope Francis thus draws two worlds for us: one world is characterised by possessing, excluding and accumulating and another world would be characterised by contributing, sharing and distributing.

After Covid 19, if we want to move from one world to another, we will face a great challenge. The virus has changed the outer world around us. But the condition of the heart inevitably determines our lives; the heart is ultimately the place, where everything is decided. We would have to change the inner world of our hearts.

Today's Gospel shows us the twofold change of heart that is needed here: the transition from possessiveness to participation and the transition from competition to cooperation.

Let us begin with the transition from possessiveness to participation. We should stop thinking of life as a possession. We may participate in life, but we do not own it.

At the beginning of the parable, Matthew pays much attention to the landowner who planted the vineyard. We are told a lot about him.

 »There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,

put a fence around it,

dug a wine press in it,

 and built a watchtower.

Then he leased it to tenants

and went to another country.«

What is Matthew trying to tell us? Psalm 24 puts it like this: »The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.« The landowner is like the Creator: he makes all the  effort, creates and shapes the world in which others are allowed to live and work, provides the means to enjoy the fruitfulness of this world (wine press) and its security, so that there is room enough in which to live (tower and fence).

The earth does not belong to us human beings! Life does not belong to us human beings. It is not our possession, our property, but something we have leased. We are all tenants. Everyone is a tenant on the earth. The whole of creation is at our disposal. It is even entrusted to us by God, but it does not belong to humanity. It is not our property, but the property of another. We must move from possessiveness to participation.

What happens if we do not get this first of the two movements of the heart right?

There is a deep urge within us to take possession of the world and life. So the true landowner sends us messengers to remind us that we are only tenants. And we do not like that. So we kill the messengers when the message is hard for us to digest.

Let us take a closer look at the parable. When the tenants are finally allowed to speak, it becomes very clear where the problem lies. The landowner sees an opportunity here: »They will have respect for my son!« The tenants also see an opportunity here, but a completely different one. They think to themselves: Fabulous! We have the heir! If we kill him, everything will be ours. Then we own it all.

And that is the point for Matthew. The evangelist sees here, as elsewhere in his Gospel, the connection between the urge to possess and the willingness to kill. Possessiveness and the desire to take something fuels the willingness to kill. When we want something too much, when possession becomes more important to us than participation in life, then the willingness to kill arises.

This is the name in Hebrew for Cain, the first murderer of the Bible. Cain is the same word in Hebrew for possession. Cain wants to possess and he commits murder in order to possess. He murders Abel. Possession, even if it is only the possession of God's approval, becomes more important to him than sharing a life with his brother.

If we forget that we are all participants in this world, then we want to own the earth, life, simply everything. The world that is based on possessing, excluding and accumulating is at the same time the world that is ready to kill for it. Because this world reduces everything to a competition and all people to competitors. This world is then about winning with all the means at our disposal, if necessary with brute force and deadly injustice.

The tenants have not taken the chance to make the transition from competition to cooperation. But therein lies the chance of a world in which everyone can live.

 

Dr. Edith Eva Eger wrote her unique memoir and published it under the title »The Choice«. She describes how, as a young Jewish woman in Auschwitz, she was forced to dance for Dr. Mengele on the day he sent her parents to the gas chamber.

»He must be impressed by my performance, because he tosses me a loaf of bread—a gesture, as it turns out, that will later save my life. As evening turns to night, I share the bread with Magda and our bunkmates. I am grateful to have bread. I am grateful to be alive.

In my first weeks at Auschwitz I learn the rules of survival. If you can steal a piece of bread from the guards, you are a hero, but if you steal from an inmate, you are disgraced, you die; competition and domination get you nowhere, cooperation is the name of the game; to survive is to transcend your own needs and commit yourself to someone or something outside yourself.«

Later, Dr. Eger must go on a death march from Mauthausen to Gunskirchen. She knows that falling down means death. Those who cannot go any further are shot on the spot. But Edith is at the end of her strength and begins to stumble.

»Every part of me is in pain; every part of me is numb. I can’t walk another step. I ache so badly I can’t feel myself move. I am just a circuitry of pain, a signal that feeds back on itself. I don’t know that I have stumbled until I feel the arms of Magda and the other girls lifting me. They have laced their fingers together to form a human chair.

‘You shared your bread,’ one of them says.«

 

Only in this way will we be able to transform our accustomed world of possessing, excluding and accumulating into a in a world of contributing, sharing and distributing. Here our hearts must make the double transition from possessiveness to participation and from competition to cooperation.

Fingers that greedily hold on can also be hooked together so that we can carry each other in the happy world where we can say to each other: »You shared your bread.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 4th, 2020

 

 

For what shall we pray?

 

Once again this week, may Ana and her prayer be honoured. Her words are too rich for us to pass over them too quickly.

After her request for blessing over the largeness that she feels within herself, she continues to pray:

»Bless my reed pens and my inks.

Bless the words I write.«

She requests a blessing over her tools, over reed pens and inks. This is a very down-to-earth, grounded request. For without these things, she cannot express and show what is within her. Without these means she could not fashion anything of what is important and sacred to her. Without these tangible things her wishes would remain unlived daydreams.

She requests a blessing for her words. These words come from the divine spark in her. They grow in her »heaven«, out of here yearning. They are what flow from her innermost sanctuary. They are what is set in motion. Ana’s creativity is what allows the first mothers of the faith to come alive. Here creativity should flow on as a blessing.

These two requests for blessing show what all genuine stories need: Grounding and solid  foundation, an eye for »heaven«, the ability to take longing seriously and, finally,  the water-like getting-into-the-flow that arises from it.

A great trust in her outer and inner gifts speaks forth from these two little pleas: she has tools and words, she sees that clearly. But she asks for blessings in their use. May these gifts not be given in vain, may they not be used unworthily, and may they enjoy God's favour.

Then she speaks out what she herself longs for in her heart for her creative work:

»May they be beautiful in your sight.

May they be visible to eyes not yet born.«

Whatever she will write down, whatever words will pour out of her: may they be beautiful in God's eyes. Beauty is an attribute of God and everything she will write should bear witness to this. For wherever beauty meets and touches us human beings, it leads us to wonder, to pause and finally to the Creator.

Her words should not be short-lived, headlines for a few days or weeks and then out of sight, out of mind! No, she wants them to be noticed by future generations. She is so aware of the preciousness of what she will produce that she does not want any of it to be lost.

»When I am dust,

 sing these words over my bones:

she was a voice.«

In the end, she asks not that God say about her life that she wrote beautiful things and told good tales, but that she was a voice. This woman, with her entire existence and her talent, gave expression, form and sound to what was in her. In the end, may God say this about this life.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 2nd, 2020

 

 

The Fear of what is in me

 

In her column »Blessing for what is in me«, Rosemarie reflected on what it means to ask God to bless what is in us. Like her, I take my cue from the prayer Sue Monk Kidd weaves into her novel »The Book of Longings«.  There, the heroine of the story, Ana, writes the prayer of her heart into a simple prayer bowl:

»Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart.

Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it.

Bless my reed pens and my inks.

Bless the words I write.

May they be beautiful in your sight.

May they be visible to eyes not yet born.

When I am dust, sing these words over my bones:

she was a voice.«

 

The line that strikes me is »Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it.« A line of stunning honesty, for we fear the largeness within us.

We love this largeness when we think of its potential. We dream of what would happen if the largeness that stirs and rumbles within us would be let loose, of what we could do, achieve, and create.

But we fear this largeness when we think of the cost. And the cost is threefold: live freely, take on responsibility and act creatively.

If we trust the largeness in us, we have to live freely. There is no point in speaking of the largeness in us, if all we ever do is execute the orders of others. Then all that remains is obedience, and for that you do not need largeness,

The largeness in us calls us to take on responsibility, to be people who take the initiative in life, set a direction, risk the articulation of a vision, or undertake a course of action. If we only follow the directions and visions of others, then all that remains is obedience and for that you do not need largeness.

Above all, the largeness in us makes us fearful because it calls us to act creatively. Creativity is the most exhilarating of human activities, but at the same time it is the most exhausting. In creativity we do not carry out patterns others have set, but design our own pattern. There is no safety net in creativity. If all we do is copy what others have set before us, carry out their plans and designs, then all that remains is obedience and for that you do not need largeness.

A tiny suffocating world can still be a very safe world. It does not give us much room for freedom, growth and adventure, but it also makes very few demands on us.

To ask God to bless the largeness in us is a bold and risky venture. For once God sees and recognises, loves and names the largeness in us with his warm words, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to ignore or suppress that largeness, no matter how much our fears would like to do so.

The last line of the prayer is inalterably linked to letting the largeness within us live free, responsibly and creatively. Ana tells God what the goal of her desire is, how she wishes to be remembered before God and her fellow human beings: »When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.« Yet, none of us can ever become a voice before we embrace the largeness within ourselves. Rosemarie is right: We need to ask God to bless this largeness. And that blessing of the Most High should lead us to embrace it ourselves, no matter how we fear it.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 30th, 2020

 

 

Blessing for what is in me

 

In a world far away from us

                and yet so near,

a long time ago

                and yet like today,

a young woman passionately seeks

to be truly born

and to be allowed to live what is within her:

»My life was begging to be born!« *

Everything speaks against it: the conventions, the understanding of her role, her father's position and her mother's lack of love and understanding.

And yet the young woman does not give up, learns to read and write, fights for papyrus and inks, quills and colours - and knows who she can trust on her path: her unconventional aunt.

                Blessed are those who have such accompaniment on the path to authentic life!

Full of confidence she shows her aunt her treasures: self-written stories of the barely-mentioned women of her Jewish Holy Scriptures.

And full of astonishment, the aunt reveals to her: You are blessed by God! There is something of the divine in you!

                How we longed to truly hear this!

Thus, at the first light of the day she is able to write down her own prayer in a bowl from which it rises like a dance.

 

»Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart.

 Bless the largeness inside me,

no matter how I fear it.

Bless my reed pens and my inks.

Bless the words I write.

May they be beautiful in your sight.

May they be visible to eyes not yet born.

When I am dust, sing these words over my bones:

she was a voice.« *

*from Sue Monk Kidd, »The Book of Longings«

 

Can we hear our voice in this?

                               Do we want our voice to be heard?

                                               Does it speak what is inside us?

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 28th, 2020

 

 

What use is a voice you never get to use?

26th Sunday A 2020

 

To open, honest and forthright in an exchange is never easy, often daunting and always requires courage. That courage is never needed more than when we need to give an answer truthfully that will undermine the solid world of concepts we build around and within ourselves. What if I recognize the truth of another person’s argument, but am afraid of what it will mean if I admit it? Or perhaps we are so committed to our way of thinking and viewing the world, that we will do anything, including denying what we know to be true, in order to preserve and protect it. 

The chief priests and elders are caught up in this dilemma. They are not engaging in a dialogue of openness that seeks the truth of the matter, but instead are the victims of the calculating heart. Jesus asks a fairly straightforward question. »Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?« And immediately they go into the mode of calculation. They carefully calculate what it will mean if they say it is from heaven, what it will cost them, the possible responses they might expect from Jesus. Here they are particularly concerned with the reaction of Jesus and how they might lose face if he challenges their actions. »If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’«

Then they calculate the responses, repercussions and costs of saying that John’s baptism is of human origin. This time, however, they are particularly concerned about the reaction of the people, who hold John in great esteem. »But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.« 

So they resort to a common tactic. They hedge their bets. They refuse to answer, show their true colours or reveal what they really believe to be true. 

This is the framework of the story which Jesus then tells of the two sons being asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard. The first son is breathtakingly honest, puts on no show and truthfully answers the request of his father. He is not calculating. He is not basing his answer on calculating what his father will say and think, what his brother will say and think, or what the other workers will say and think. Yet, when he changes his mind, is also honest enough to do what he now knows to be honest and right. That is no easy task. To change your mind is to risk the gossip of every crowd. »Why does he suddenly come back? What changed his mind? What is he up to?«  But here, as previously, the first son is free to act, because he does not have to first weigh up and calculate every response of the crowd, nor the repercussions and costs of changing his mind. Thus, he can change a no into a yes. 

Then the second son is asked. His response is the one expected of dutiful children in every generation. And he say what he knows his father wants to hear. It is what good sons and daughters do. Yet, because it is an answer that has nothing to do with the true state of his heart, he does not turn his yes into action. The appearance of being dutiful is more important than doing his duty. 

Jesus uses the parable to tear open the smooth story of the chief priests and elders. They are akin to the second son of the parable. They will give the answer that is considered appropriate, but they are not likely to act upon it, because it has nothing to do with the true state of their hearts. But the trap Jesus sets is a cunning one. After all, he asks them to pass the verdict: »Which of the two did the will of his father?« The trap snaps shut on them when they answer »The first.« They have just been unmasked. They have inadvertently proven that they, in fact, know what it means to do the will of God openly, honestly and forthrightly. But they have chosen the path of the second son.

What Jesus says next is neither insulting or cruel. »Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.«

The tax collectors and prostitutes do not have to calculate what the possible repercussions and reactions of the others will be when they give answer. They have nothing to lose. They do not have to protect their status or reputations. For people who have no reputation to lose from the start, there is no fear of losing face. They can honestly say what they think about the work, words and ways of John the Baptist. We think that having power, prestige and status can only be an advantage, but not on every case. The more we have of these things, the more we are tempted guard and preserve them. The longer we have them, the more we fear losing them. And then it becomes easier and easier to be like the second son: we say what »one« is supposed to say, meet expectations, uphold a masquerade. But none of it has anything to do with our real life anymore, with what we really think or feel. 

In the film »Scent of a Woman«, there is a remarkable speech given by Colonel Slade. A blind veteran, he has come to the Baird School to defend his young assistant, student of the school named Charlie Sims. The headmaster, Mr. Trask, wants Charlie to name those who damaged his car, but he refuses to betray the other students. Their rich and powerful fathers intimidate the headmaster, so it is easier for him to evict the poor student Charlie than pursue the children of the rich and powerful. I let the dialogue speak for itself.

 

»I don't know who went to this place, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell -- whoever. Their spirit is dead -- if they ever had one -- it's gone. You're building a rat ship here. A vessel for sea going snitches. And if you think you're preparing these minnows for manhood you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham. What kind of a show are you guys putting' on here today. I mean, the only class in this act is sitting next to me. And I'm here to tell ya this boy's soul is intact. It's non-negotiable. You know how I know? Someone here -- and I'm not gonna say who -- offered to buy it. Only Charlie here wasn't selling'…..

Who the hell you think you're talking' to? I've been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there isn't nothing' like the sight of an amputated spirit; there is no prosthetic for that. You think you're merely sending' this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are executing' his SOUL!! And why?! Because he's not a Baird man! Baird men, ya hurt this boy, you're going to be Baird Bums, the lot of ya. …

As I came in here, I heard those words, "cradle of leadership." Well, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here; it has fallen. Makers of men; creators of leaders; be careful what kind of leaders you're producing' here. I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong. I'm not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this: he won't sell anybody out to buy his future!! And that, my friends, is called integrity! That's called courage! Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here's Charlie. He's come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It's the right path. It's a path made of principle -- that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey.«

 

In a room full of people who lived like the second son of the parable, Colonel Slade admits that he lived like the second one as well. Yet he comes to the defence of a friend who lived like the first son. He names with painful, raw clarity the cost of living a life in which our voices never match what is within us. But I disagree with Colonel Slade in one regard. He says: »I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it.« But he knew the right path here and he took it. I think he became the first son in that moment, and turned a no into a yes.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 27th, 2020

 

 

Living on

 

We are experiencing - not only this year - so much anxious concern and so much preoccupation with topics and things that may well be significant, but which are ultimately not essential and do not nurture our genuine lives. And even more importantly: they do not nourish and enrich the lives of the people who come after us - how could they gain depth and value from our consumption? What remains of us? Are we perhaps living like fools after all - often with a contorted face?

How different does the story of a young woman appear? She lives far away from her family of origin, very simply, surrounded by nature. It happens more and more often that she roams the woods with her husband and suddenly sentences of her grandmother come to her mind. The young woman often experienced and heard since her childhood how much this grandmother loved the forest. The most impressive and memorable of these were wonderful quotations that fell from her grandmother’s lips. They came from her fiancé, who had not returned from World War II. He was a forestry ranger and how he loved to talk about the fact that he who truly knows how to love nature would never perish mentally. There were also funny incidents. The granddaughter still smiles about the fact that the young man once asked her grandmother if she knew what kind of tree this or that tree was and she just answered: : » a rare one.« 

What particularly moves the young woman today, and me as well when she recounted it to me:

This young forestry ranger of yesteryear and that which moved and filled his heart live on in her. He is close to her, although he has not been alive for more than 75 years. » Sometimes I feel as if I had known him. And when I roam the woods, soaking up the scent and feeling deep joy, I feel so much of him that lives in me, too.« Her grandmother's stories have kept him alive. She herself is amazed that the bond that forever connects her with her grandmother now seems to grow longer.

»If my Oma had not told me about all this - over and over again - this world would not exist in me at all. And somehow Ferdi lives on in me!«    

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 25th, 2020

 

 

9 Gifts of a Clear Beloved Face

 

Recently I witnessed an angry and very nasty encounter between a woman and her colleague. In her unbridled rage she screamed at this man and raged at him. But although her rage was voluminous and her words poisonous, her face remains in my memory. It was distorted into a mask of hatred. And it made an otherwise seemly face ugly, even hideous.

Ever since that encounter, I have been thinking about our faces, their beauty and their purpose. And it brought me back to a very old and decidedly beautiful Gaelic blessing. I heard it years ago at a baptism in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada where I was the parish priest. It was spoken by an elderly Irish woman who had flown in from Ireland to be present at the baptism of her first grandchild. Before I spoke the final blessing, she took her grandson from the arms of his mother, and spoke warm, tender, words of Gaelic blessing over him. After the ceremony, I asked her to translate the blessing. »Father«, she said, »the blessing is a promise of the Holy Three (the Trinity). It is about the promise they place in every face«.

Here is the blessing she spoke.

 

»We place nine pure, choice gifts

In your clear beloved face:

The gift of form,

The gift of voice,

The gift of fortune,

The gift of goodness,

The gift of eminence,

The gift of charity,

The gift of integrity,

The gift of true nobility,

The gift of apt speech.«

 

Then she smiled at me. »I truly believe the Three, Father. It is what they place in every face. The hard part will be to see it when Liam (her grandson) is a pouting child, a rebellious teenager or an angry young man.« Then she sighed and added: »Surely Father, we do some terrible things to our faces, don’t we?«

Indeed we do.

Erik Riechers SAC, September 23rd, 2020

 

 

»You fool!«

 

We do not like to be addressed in this manner. It could be intended to be lovingly teasing in the sense of a joker or a kidder, but there is usually another element to it. We also call fools simple-minded people who act unwisely, are rather clumsy and stupid.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has God speak in one of his parables to a farmer and has him say to him: »You fool!« The context quickly shows us that he does not mean a kind of jester. Rather, this is the way God says: You think and plan like a fool. You imagine that you are particularly clever. But in reality you are clueless.

What is this parable about? A rich farmer expects an exceptionally large harvest, which his previous barns will not be able to contain. So he plans to tear them down and build much bigger ones. Then he will have enough for the next few years.

That sounds very reasonable; in this and similar ways we often secure our lives for the future.

However, God calls him a fool! »This very night your soul will be required of you.« (Lk 12, 20) Why does he call him this? What constitutes the foolishness and simple- mindedness of this farmer?

It is his understanding of life. He understands it narrowly, so narrowly that he believes he has it under control. But this biological life is finite - it will be over this very night! No one knows when and everyone should know that it is finite.

God's idea, his gift of life for us humans is different. It is deeper, wider, and fuller: life in abundance. And it is indestructible. This is the life Jesus is concerned with and he never tires of standing up for it in speech and action: »I came that they might have life, and have it in fullness. « (Jn 10, 10). This life pours itself out. Whoever lives, loves, shares in this way is not anxiously concerned about himself. He works at increasing life, because he knows himself to be a loved and gifted person. Such a life outlasts death, indeed it rises from it and is a treasure that remains eternal.

The sly farmer seems to have no idea about this. That is why he plans like a fool. "Every person is his own neighbour" is neither wise nor true in the sense of the Creator, but is instead short-sighted and has only the ephemeral in mind, as if that is all we have and all that constitutes life.

Crises show us again and again: growth in the quantitative sense does signify or bring about more life. Crises cannot be overcome with »always more« and by hoarding for oneself.

A rethinking is called for, so that we multiply real life and no longer live like fools. 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 21rst, 2020

 

 

Avoidance and Confrontation

25th Sunday A 2020

 

In his poem »Counsel«, Wilhelm Bruners reminds us of a deep and essential life teaching of the biblical narrative: 

»Pay attention to the sequence of things if you want to maintain the power to change the circumstances.

Pray against the five star nothingness that sounds out of every channel.«

 

Now in this story there are two sequences that we should keep in mind. The first is found when the owner of the estate wants to hire workers for his vineyard. Here is the sequence of recruiting the workers of the first hour, the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and the eleventh hour.

Then comes the second sequence, that of the payment of the wages. And here comes the decisive sentence of the narrative: »Now when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward: Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last ones and ending with the first ones! “Here he stands the sequence on its head. In this sequence, those who come last are taken care of first. "So the last shall be first and the first last.«

When he then pays the agreed wage of the first hour also to those who came in the last hour, the workers of the first hour expect a higher wage for themselves, but receive the agreed sum of one denarius.

When we then read and feel (because we are immediately deeply involved and have strong inner reactions to the action of the property owner ourselves) the confrontation that ensues, a question arises. Why does the landowner do this to himself? To his question: »Am I not allowed to do what I want with what belongs to me« we can only say that it is self-evident that he is allowed to do so. But if he wanted to give as much to the last as to the first, he could have saved himself so much trouble by keeping the sequence of hiring during the payment of wages. Then the workers of the first hour would have happily accepted their wages, would have been satisfied and grateful, without ever knowing what he had given the workers of the other hours.

»Pay attention to the sequence of things if you want to maintain the power to change the circumstances.« A deeper level of this sentence lays in the actions of the landowner. The sequence he chooses brings a confrontation that he could have spared himself. But if we want to maintain the power to change the circumstances, we must not avoid such confrontations. »Out of sight, out of mind« is a saying that Jesus questions here. Because there are things that we should mind, even if we wish them to remain out of sight.

For the sequence of payment raises important questions about love and justice, as well as envy and greed. These questions are not private matters, but indispensable parts of what it means to be a community as well as it means to belong. These questions are too essential, large and significant to be entrusted to just a few. They concern us all, not just the willing and open-minded. And we should not be spared these questions.

If we have what we need, why do we begrudge it to others?

We have a roof over our heads, food on the table and care when we are sick or injured. We have these things safely in our hands, like the coin in the hands of the workers of the first hour. Don't the people in the refugee camp of Moria need these things to live? Many people were irritated or even angry when their holidays were restricted.  But here we are talking about people who only want to have a basic security for their lives, for men, women and children who have not been allowed to travel for years. Why don't we grant them what is a matter of course for us? As Martin Luther King Jr. once warned, »Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding of people of ill will.« Thus, these are questions we must not avoid.

Why can't we rejoice that others are allowed to live who had fewer opportunities than we did? The workers of the first hour received a good daily wage. What the others get costs them nothing and takes nothing away from them. They only compare the working hours, but not the possibilities of their coworkers. Not all people have our possibilities, our chances in life. Does that mean that they are not allowed to live with human dignity?  Ralph Waldo Emerson was quick to spot this mentality and call it out for what it is. »Shallow people believe in happiness. Strong people believe in cause and effect.« These are questions we must not avoid.

Why are we so busy comparing instead of creating a life with what is already in our hands? We have so many things that we can create, can do, can afford. Instead of looking at what others have or get, we could create a life with that which he have received. Or have we become people of the envious heart? These are questions we must not avoid

If the landowner had given a denarius as alms to the unemployed of the eleventh hour in the market place, would we still protest? Most of the time we would admire personal kindness and generosity. Why wouldn't we do it if it is linked to a job that gives dignity? A young man from Syria recently told me that his neighbours only became envious when he got a job. Since then he has been »one of those people who take our jobs away«. When the parish community that accompanied him took care of him, it was not a problem. What does that say about us? Where does this attitude come from? These are questions we must not avoid.

W. Bruners recommended at the beginning of my homily: »Pray against the five star nothingness that sounds out of every channel.« What the landowner does is to force us all to confront this five star nothingness. And this confrontation must exist. With the sure eye of a prophet, Joseph Gordon-Levitt confronts the deep problems of a shallow culture: »Supermarket tabloids and celebrity gossip shows are not just innocently shallow entertainment, but a fundamental part of a much larger movement that involves apathy, greed and hierarchy.« This time of the pandemic has revealed much about us as a society and as individuals: Fears, envy, the selfishness of hoarding, the selfishness that forgets others with striking ease. We should not avoid the confrontation with these questions by immersing ourselves in the five star nothingness of consumption, entertainment and distractions of all kinds.

We are like the people of the first hour. We are used to always be among the first. We live in great security and know from the beginning of our day what we will have at the end of the day. But our God is not only the God of the first hour, but the God of all hours. Those who disregard the sequence of payment (taking care of the last ones first) and evade the confrontation, also avoid meeting the God who wants this sequence. But we cannot avoid the question without avoiding the questioner.

Prayer (Alex Wimberly)

God of justice,

God of grace:

in trying to make sense

of this world

and our place in it,

we train ourselves to expect

reward for our work,

and our worth to correspond

to our effort.

As you give us today what we need,

may we consider not

where we stand in relation to others,

but how we might stay

in communion with those who,

like us, are dependent

on divine generosity.

Amen.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 20th, 2020

 

 

We walk by faith

 

When the sun sets this evening, the Jewish New Year will begin, Rosh Hashanah. In preparation of the holiest days of the Jewish year, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks held a series of brief talks on what it means to celebrate these days during the Corona Pandemic. And one line in particular struck me as hitting the mark.

»But the single most significant impact of the pandemic and its consequences, has been insecurity. People have felt that they don't really know what is going to happen: to their health, to their work, to their business, to society, to everyone and everything around them. They don't know  how long a lockdown will last or when new quarantine restrictions will be put in place or when masks will be required and when not required, and what is going to happen with testing regimes. People can't plan for the future. They can't know what tomorrow is going to bring. And that is undermining their sense of security.« *

What impressed me most, however, is Jonathan Sacks instinctive answer to this feeling of insecurity that plagues us. He recalls the great stories of journey for the People of Israel and how each of them taught the People of God how to cope with insecurity: You need to have faith, the kind of faith that lets you set out into the undiscovered country of the future. Or as Jonathan Sacks puts it: »That willingness to journey to an unknown future is of the very essence.« *

The focus of a large majority of those who wearied and worn by the Pandemic has been to find ways to alleviate the insecurity.  The cry is overwhelmingly: Give us back all the old certainties, then we will feel secure once again. Restore all the old certitudes (whether they are authentic or not) and then all will be right with the world and with us. We want the problem to go away. It is also what we often ask of religion: speak the word that makes the insecurity go away.

Yet, this has never been the path of authentic faith. We Christians inherited a great portion of the way we walk by faith from our Jewish sisters and brothers. Jesus may have enriched and perfected it in many ways, but he himself taught that faith is the willingness to set out into uncertainty like Abraham, like Moses , like Ruth. Paul, a man who never denied the rich roots of his Jewish faith in his Christian conviction puts it this way: »We walk by faith and not by sight.« (2 Cor 5,7). We have our own stories to tell about that willingness to set out into the undiscovered country, in the calling of the disciples, the sending of his people to all the nations, to every land, to the ends of the earth.

Thus, our answer is not to make the feelings insecurity go away, but to learn how to deal with the questions that insecurity poses. We have to go to new places. We have to give new paths a try. We have to risk new directions. We have to explore new possibilities. It is not the task of faith to still the storms we encounter in life. The job of faith is to learn to navigate the storms of life. You need to have faith, the kind of faith that lets you set out into the undiscovered country of the future.

God loves us dearly, and nothing endears us to him more than when we trust him to lead us through the uncertainty of life. Jeremiah recounts this when he writes: »Thus says the Lord: I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, how you were willing to follow me across an unknown, unsown land.« (Jer 2,2). That willingness to follow God across an unknown and unsown land will be critical and decisive for how we emerge from the days of the Coronavirus Pandemic and from every other crisis that we face in our lifetimes.

To all our Jewish sisters and brothers and to every person who wants the fresh beginnings the great journeys of faith with God bring, I wish a shana tova (good new year) to you all.

 

* Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks “FAITH & INSECURITY”:

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur During the Coronavirus Pandemic;

Elul 5780 Lecture Series.  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

 

Erik Riechers SAC, 18. September 2020

 

 

Willing to Change?

 

We would like to answer this question in the affirmative: yes, we are ready for change. We know our longing for it and sometimes sigh for it. Often we also keep it hidden deep within us. We may vaguely feel how good it would be to try to change the way we look at things, the direction we take or the way we live.

But – cross my heart: Doesn't it usually remain a mind game, a reverie, and mere speculation? Travelling on our well-greased familiar tracks - are we ready for change? Are we ready to let ourselves be changed?

Then we should honestly lay out our lives »on the table« ; our egocentric anxiety and worry about being short-changed or of missing out on something, our comfort, our lack of trust, our belief that we are always in control.

In March and April of this year our lives changed abruptly and many things were cut back very significantly. But this challenge from the outside also turned out to be an opportunity. It was a relief to us that it was possible to get out of the constant hectic pace of life - yes, it was possible! We were able to enjoy the beauty of spring at home and many a person asked himself why he had always believed that he could only experience beauty in foreign lands.  Neighbourly help developed; young people did the shopping for old people and both were happy about it. The sky was blue without condensation trails and for many weeks out air was cleaner.

We got an inkling of the possibility of changing our lifestyle, of looking at what is essential in a new way and living a different quality of life.

This crisis had what it takes to change us.

But change does not take place from the outside to the inside. We have to let it happen inside, and then live and shape it from the inside to the outside.

Interiorly we would have to let go of our culture of egoism, of domination and determination and above all of consumption. Instead, however, since early summer, voices have been increasingly raised that everything should finally return to »normal« Could it be that our willingness to change is not as strong as we would like to think? Are we in our – from a global perspective - small, spoiled world not able or willing to see the new challenge as an invitation to leave the well-worn tracks and let ourselves be lured onto unknown paths?  Perhaps our longing for full, deep life is too small and our words about the desire for change are empty babble.

In the Bible, prophets appear in times of crisis to motivate people to change, to remind them of their responsibility for each other and before God. But if their hearts are occupied and not open, change is not possible. Towards the end of the small book of the prophets Zefanja it is written:

» Therefore wait for me, declares the Lord, for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed. For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.« (Zefanja 3, 8-9)

Our LORD wants life for all. Let us awaken our longing for it and not suffocate it! Let us engage in the transformation of consumers into designers of authentic life. 

 

 Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 16th, 2020

 

 

What really counts

 

These days of the pandemic have raised a question that constantly accompanies us: What really counts for us? This question is evident in all areas: when, if and how we send children back to school, whether sporting events with spectators should be allowed again, or the areas of our society in which we want to invest something, as well as the areas we call »system irrelevant«. No matter which questions we answer these days, the question remains: Do we even know what really counts anymore?

Reinhold Stecher, the deceased former bishop of Innsbruck tells a fine story in this regard.

»Many years ago, I sat with other religious education teachers from Germany and Austria in a primary school class where we attended one hour of religious instruction on the occasion of a specialist congress. The religion teacher - a layman – worked with children who were obviously enthusiastic about religion, not entirely according to the standards of modern biblical science, didactics and methodology, but with a lot of heart and a response from the boys and girls that was hard to ignore. I was a little amused by the matter, because in the high-level discussions in which the congress was held, things were a little different.

Suddenly a German colleague, a layman, university professor and well-known author, leans over to me and whispers: 'Well, you know, scientifically speaking, I don't quite agree with this man here, but I would love to entrust him with my own children...’.« *

My respect for the religion teacher of this story is great, but my respect for the professor is no less. He was able to see what really counts, namely a lot of heart that calls forth a response from the hearts of the people entrusted to us. John Henry Newman called this »The heart speaks to the heart«. In spite of all of the professor’s competence, scientific theories and personal opinions, he was able to recognise what was so important, so essential, that he would be willing to put what was precious to him into these hands with confidence.

I pray often and hard that we will possess this divine wisdom of the heart in the weeks and months ahead. I pray often and hard that our economic theories, social convictions and personal habits do not blind us to what really counts in the wounded, bruised and battered world beyond our theories, convictions and theories.

Blessed are those who can recognise what really counts.

* Unseren Kindern zuliebe, S. 9-10

Erik Riechers SAC, 14. September 2020

 

 

The Calculating Heart

24th Sunday A 2020

 

When Jesus tells parables about the Kingdom, his aim is usually to unveil a mindset that is hidden but operative within us that goes well beyond the details of story he tells. Jesus is trying to get to the underlying dynamics or attitudes to which we need to attend.

It is easy to point out the obvious pitfalls for the human spirit in this parable: status, power, and control play a mighty role in our daily life. What is less apparent is the quiet, unassuming role played by an unnamed power that slithers into the human heart and drives the story from beginning to end, namely, the power of calculation.

When the human heart falls prey to the world of calculation, then it enters into a world that generates a potent illusion. Calculation lets us feel that we are in pursuit of justice, right order and fairness.  In reality, calculation creates a world that radically limits our options.

At the start of the parable, the Lord has a choice to make. If the Lord of the parable has a calculating heart, then he has no other option but to throw his servant into prison. There is no question, no doubt, that he well within his rights to demand what is owed him.  The sum is duly owed to him and he would justified in rigorously demanding ‘Pay what you owe!’ Yet, by acting beyond calculation, he opens new possibilities of life for himself and for the servant suffocating under the debt load. The servant can live a life dedicated solely to perpetual debt repayment and the king can live a life beyond the never-ending pursuit of truant debtors.

But the servant who has just won an unexpected freedom by being unfettered from a world of brutal and relentless calculation, then proceeds to immediately re-establish that world  when it is to his advantage. ‘Pay what you owe!’ (the motto of all calculating hearts) never comes alone. It is accompanied by violence and aggression (“seizing him by the throat”). For the world of calculation always breeds these retributory aspects. And suddenly the stripping away of a person’s freedom and the imprisonment of a human being who is the very same boat as I was just in becomes a viable option. Calculation always creates a world that radically limits our options. 

At the end of the story, everyone is back into the world of calculation, including the lord. And who benefits from this? Who can live because of this? No one. The first servant is now back in the punitive world of debt repayment that he cannot master. The second servant is locked away in a place where he can do nothing to repay the debt he owes. The lord does not get his money back and now has two servants sitting in prison, losing their service, talent and presence. This is the inhibitory power of calculation. The calculating heart creates a world that radically limits our options.

 Peter’s heart strayed into the world of calculation and Jesus knew it the minute he asked his question. »How many times must I forgive my brother?« That is a classic question of calculation. It is trying to figure out what it owes the others and when that obligation ends. It wants to calculate when it has done the job and can move on. It is works on the oft spoken and yet so dangerous word »enough«. How blithely we think that categories we apply to the world of business, commerce, contracts and marketplaces can be simply applied to every other place the human heart goes. I can ask when I think I have worked enough to earn my wage. My employer can state what wage he thinks to be enough for the work I have rendered. But how do we apply this word »enough« to the ultimate works of love and relationship or to matters of the heart? How can I ask when I have been son enough to my mother? How can I ask when I have been brother enough to my sister? How do I pose the question as to when I have been friend enough to the people who journey with me? As soon as I pose the question, I am replacing a heart of flesh with a heart of stony calculation. And as soon as I pose the question, the people around me would know: he wants to know when he is finished with us. Whom among us would feel loved knowing that the other only wants to know when he can be finished with us. The heart of calculation limits our options very severely.

In all his parables about the Kingdom of God Jesus ruptures the smooth stories of life, mostly by rending the unquestioned perceptions and mindsets that lurk within those stories we love to tell ourselves about ourselves. In this parable, Jesus tears the smooth story of the calculating heart and reminds us that the Kingdom of God is about the ‘chaos of uncalculating love’.(George MacLeod).

Yet I am not inclined to deceive you into believing that this is an easy path. Quite the contrary, it requires an extraordinarily expansive and liberated heart. And when we encounter such hearts, we will be astonished, shocked and, in all likelihood, discomforted. I dare to introduce you to such hearts and let you judge for yourself what it does with yours. This closing prayer of my homily was prayed by women in a concentration camp in Ravensbrück.

 

Peace to all men and women of evil will!

Let there be an end to all vengeance, to all demands for punishment and retribution…

Crimes have surpassed all measure, they can no longer be grasped by human understanding.

There are too many martyrs. …

 

And so, weigh not their sufferings on the scales of your justice, Lord,

 and lay not these sufferings to the torturer’s charge to exact

a terrible reckoning from them.

Pay them back in a different way!

 

Put down in favor of the executioners, the informers, the traitors and all those of evil will,

the courage, the spiritual strength of the others,

their humility, their lofty dignity,

their constant inner striving and invincible hope,

the smile that stanched the tears, their love,

their ravaged, broken hearts that remained steadfast and confident in the face of death itself,

yes, even at the moments of the utmost weakness…

 

Let all this, O Lord, be laid before You for the forgiveness of sins,

as a ransom for the triumph of righteousness,

let the good and not the evil be taken into account!

And may we remain in our enemies’ memory not as their victims,

not as a nightmare, not as haunting specters,

but as helpers in their striving to destroy the fury of their criminal passions.

There is nothing more that we want of them.

And when it is all over, grant us to live among human beings among human beings,

 and may peace come again to our poor earth

 – peace for people of goodwill and for all the others.

Amen.

 

This encounter with the hearts of these extraordinary women of prayer, is an encounter with hearts that did not let calculation determine how they prayed, how they lived, what they hoped for and, for many, how they died.

It leaves my heart inspired and unsettled, roused and rattled. I cannot already pray with the psalmist of Psalm 57: »My heart is ready, O God; my heart is ready«. But I want it to be able to do so. And that is a good start for us all.

Erik Riechers SAC, September 13th, 2020

 

 

Gentle Strength

 

When obstacles stood in the way and threatened to counteract all the good I had in mind, I tried to deal with it by force.

When good words did not work, I tried hardness.

When my heart hurt too much, I protected myself with a hard shell.

When it looked as if I had failed, I beat myself on inside.

 

Then I found this story by Paolo Coelho:

»The monastery on the banks of the Rio Piedra is situated in a lush landscape, a true oasis in the middle of the barren fields of this part of northern Spain. Here the small river becomes a water-rich current and splits into countless waterfalls.

The wanderer roams through this place, listening to the sound of the water. Then he suddenly discovers a grotto behind one of the waterfalls. He sees the polished stone, the beautiful shapes that nature has patiently created.

‘It was not the hammer that gave these stones their perfect shape, but the water with its gentleness, its dance and its song.

Gentleness fashions while hardness only destroys.’«

 

And I wept over this »gentle strength«.*

                                                                      * Paolo Coelho, Unterwegs

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 11th, 2020

 

 

An unfiltered Story

 

Yesterday, on the feast of the Birth of Mary, the Genealogy of from the Gospel of Matthew was read. This unfiltered story of Jesus' birth contains elements that we cannot easily imagine when we sing our Christmas carols. The family tree and family origin of Jesus was far from perfect and pure. And we should never lose sight of this if we want to believe in Jesus, but reject the church because of its imperfection, scandals, and painful history. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but there are many things in his origin, as this Gospel makes clear, which are far from pure, immaculate and spotless.

While this story tells us of the origins of Jesus, it points to at least as many sinners, liars and schemers in the genetic and historical lineage of Jesus as it points to saints, honest people and men and women of faith.

We also learn that the family tree that gave us Jesus is not only made up of the great and talented, but equally of the poor and insignificant. In the list of the names of all the ancestors of Jesus we recognize people who were famous and others who have no claim to having accomplished anything at all special, extraordinary or significant. This story tells us, that the human blood that flowed through the veins of Jesus was produced in equal parts by great and small, gifted and untalented.

What can we learn from this? For one thing, it becomes clear that God can write straight on crooked lines. Secondly, we should not set up an over-idealized picture of the history of salvation. God does not need such images to work salvation. And finally, even if our own lives are marked by weakness and simplicity, they, too, are important for the continuing history of salvation.

The God who wrote the beginning on crooked lines also writes the continuation on crooked lines, and some of these lines are our lives and our personal stories. A God who did not shy away from the schemers and the noble, the impure and the pure, the men the world listened to and the women the world looked down on - this God continues to work with the same troupe today. If the last part of the family tree is already a challenge to acknowledge that completely unknown people were part of the story of Jesus, it might be an even greater challenge to acknowledge that the unknown characters of our time are an essential part of the continuation.

God’s story of salvation was not written only for the perfect. It is also written in the lives of the impure, the sinners, the calculating schemers, the arrogant, the dishonest, and of those without any recognizable worldly talents. No one is so bad, so insignificant, so without talent and so outside the circle of faith that he or she is automatically outside of this story. For God does not write off anyone. He simply continues to write on.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 9th, 2020

  

 

He does not slumber

 

Psalm 121, with which we prefaced all that we have published here since March, urgently and repeatedly places before our eyes, indeed it inscribes in our hearts, that we have a guardian.

Here the person on a quest speaks, the pilgrim, the person who is on the road. He must rely on his feet during the day and at night on strangers who offer him shelter or on the protection of a refuge somewhere in nature. On narrow ridges, on steep slopes, he knows the fear of wavering and stumbling. The midday heat in Israel is unbearable. Sometimes he is so tired that he would prefer not to get up after a midday rest. There may be hours when he does not believe he will arrive safely, because evil and all that is hostile to life oppose him.

This song is written out of the experience of such moments, but also for the times of such experiences.

When I am on a pilgrimage, says the one who prayers here, I know the challenge and keep watch for help. I look up to the mountains, the ancient places of the encounter with God, and I can say: »My help comes from the Lord who created heaven and earth.« This LORD is not only my help, he is the keeper of Israel. Therefore I assure you, who are on the path with worries and fears: » He will not let your foot stumble. . . he neither sleeps nor slumbers «.  Have no fear! Dare to walk, trust your feet, our guardian goes with you. HE will not be distracted and he will not fall asleep - he always guards you! And if you are afraid of the dark night and its dangers: HE guards you! If evil in whatever form threatens you: HE protects you! When fear for your life takes your breath away: HE guards your life! Until eternity, wherever you come from and wherever you go, HE is always at your side!

All our lives are a pilgrimage and pilgrimage is not easy. Sometimes we stagger like a reed and do not know where to place our foot for the next step. Sometimes the arguments during the day are so fierce that we feel exposed and would like to hide somewhere. Sometimes the night is so dark and so long that we lose the hope of a morning light.

Then let us hold to the prayer of the Psalm for the pilgrimage. Let us look out for the places of experiences of God and remember: Our God is the Lord, who created heaven and earth, in whom everything is lifted up and supported and who is therefore our help - always, every day, every hour, no matter how difficult it is.

And we will perceive the saving shadow beside us and the companions who are at our side. We will take courage again for the next stretch of the road and continue on our way - that is life.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 7th, 2020

  

 

The Passion to Win over the Other

23rd Sunday A 2020

 

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

 

Albino Luciani (the later Pope John Paul I) published a beautiful book with the title: »Illustrissimi«. He wrote these fictitious letters to various personalities for his Diocesan newspaper when he was still Patriarch of Venice. And the last letter of the volume he addressed to Jesus. My favorite part is towards the end of the letter.

»When you taught then: 'Blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted', I was not there. If I had been there, I would have whispered in Your ear: "For heaven's sake, speak of something else, Lord, if You want someone to follow You! Do you not see how everyone strives for wealth and comfort? Cato promised his soldiers figs from Africa, Caesar the riches of Gaul, and – for good or bad - they succeeded. Now you come and promise poverty, persecution. Who do you think will follow you there?«

I would likely have whispered the same advice into Jesus' ear if I had been there when he preached the gospel we hear today. Hardly any other text arouses so many protests as this one. I understand that well. 

For here Jesus reveals to us his relentless passion for reconciliation. And those who do not share his relentless passion for reconciliation can only protest his proposals.

This intense passion of Jesus for reconciliation gives us a way of acting within the community of believers. We should employ it when our relationships with one another collapse. If we follow these steps, there is a good chance that the broken will be put back together and we will win each other over.

But it is not easy. And automatic success is not promised here either. If reconciliation does not take place after the first step, then the commitment and action will increase. 

But if reconciliation is not so important to us, then we can save ourselves the trouble. Then we should not lie to ourselves, but also say clearly that regaining our relationships is not important enough for us to make such an effort.

Jesus says we should seek the conversation in private, one on one, as a first step. Sit down, speak things over and put everything on the table. This is of course a question of courage: Confronting another person about his or her behavior is never easy. Therefore, the first step is often simply skipped. Of course, everyone nods their approval at this first piece advice, but very few follow it.

When I hear in conversation what is on a person's mind after a serious conflict with another, I always ask: Did you actually tell the other any of this?  And then I hear mostly: "There is no point. That wouldn't make any difference anyway.” We are quickly writing off what we have not even tried.

So we would rather call upon the next higher authority in the hope that the other is reprimanded or forced to comply. We often seek punishment, because reconciliation requires mental and emotional abilities that we do not possess.

But this step also demands something from the people being addressed for their wrong doing. They too need certain skills. The gospel says that apprentices of Jesus must be able to listen. Listening requires concentration, and in many conversations, we turn our attention on and off at will. When we listen to personal criticism, it is especially difficult to stay focused and attentive. We are often too busy formulating a devastating response. Our defense mechanisms run full steam ahead.

However, it is clear to Jesus that the one who is offended or hurt takes the initiative and seeks out the one who has offended or hurt him or her. Here, too, we follow an unconventional path. According to our ideas it should be the other way round. To our way of thinking, whoever r started the mess should also take the first step to clean it up. 

The result of this first step is successful when the relationship is restored. To "win over" the brother or sister is the goal for Jesus. But to win each other over does not mean that we have to prove who was right from the beginning.

And again we encounter the problem: Often our dogmatism is more important to us than our being together. We would rather walk away as winners than walk away together. 

To win back the brother or sister means that an understanding is reached that brings about reconciliation.  If it can be achieved on this level, then there is no need to go further.

However, if this first step is unsuccessful, witnesses are called in to mediate the dispute. Their role is to sort out what really happened and suggest what could happen to bring people back together. They should accompany the processes which two people cannot manage alone. And that happens. Why shouldn't it? Do we really have to master everything that life throws at us? Should we never be overwhelmed by a situation? Is it reprehensible to admit that we cannot cope alone and could use help?

If this second step does not bear fruit, the larger community is called in to bring the two people together. At this level, of course, action will be more formal and authoritative. What we must not hide is that this step will also make it much more complex and complicated for everyone involved. For the community, this can create pressure for one side or the other to take sides, rather than finding a way for the two people to win each other back. At the same time, the temptation is great for the disputants in the community to seek allies rather than companions.

Should the third step not work, the offender should be seen as someone who has maneuvered himself or herself outside the community.  Such people should be considered las heathens and publicans, people who are in particular need of the community's relentless concern for life and reconciliation. This is not a picture of rejection, but a picture of responsibility. Only Pharisees write off Gentiles and publicans. For Jesus they are people who need special devotion, care and attention. They need a missionary commitment from us to bring them back into the community. Here it depends on how I see the difficult people in my life.

These steps of Jesus reflect his passion for reconciliation. It is his hope and his intention to infect his people with this passion. This divine passion to win back the lost is always looking for the next step, for the next possibility where the hardened heart could open. But in the end only one thing counts: whether we share this passion with God. 

This text arouses protest in us when we simply read it as a course of action that we have to take to win other people over. Yet, the text not only speaks of what we should do, but also of what could be done for us. We usually assume that we are the offended, the afflicted, and the victims of other sinners. And what if it is the other way around? What if we are the perpetrators? 

Do we really want to claim that it is not worthwhile to win us back, that we are not worth seeking and finding, being accepted and taken in again?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 6th, 2020

 

 

Like an Angel

 

The transition from late summer to early autumn is noticeable.

The brightness in the morning makes us wait for it a little longer,

the twilight in the evening comes earlier and earlier.

Regret awakens in my heart, because the bright evenings did my soul good.

But with it also comes a gentle joy at the prospect of more time for retreat and silence.

There I meet an almost 40 year old song from ABBA:

»Like an angel passing through my room«

and I marvel:

At that time I had not noticed it at all.

Long awaited darkness falls
Casting shadows on the walls

In the twilight hour I am alone
Sitting near the fireplace
Dying embers warm my face
In this peaceful solitude
All the outside world subdued

Everything comes back to me again
In the gloom...
Like an angel passing through my room.


Half awake and half in dreams
Seeing long forgotten scenes

So the present runs into the past
Now and then become entwined
Playing games within my mind
Like the embers as they die
Love was one prolonged goodbye

And it all comes back to me tonight
In the gloom
Like an angel passing through my room
I close my eyes
And my twilight images go by
All too soon
Like an angel passing through my room

Writer(s): Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn,  September 4th, 2020

  

 

»In this life all symphonies remain unfinished.«

 

These have been trying days for us all. Yet, despite the uncertainty, the restrictions and the inconvenience of it all, for the most part I have personally found it fairly easy to take the days with a touch of humour and a healthy portion of faith. The crisis has not disheartened me.

Yet, in the last weeks, I have found a touch of discouragement creeping into me. It is not the crisis, but the critics who have worried my soul and troubled my tranquility. There are the theologians who are boldly declaring the pandemic to be the death of the Church. There are the critics who claim that we are not being innovative and creative enough in the face of the crisis, and who seem to believe that they have some birthright to do so with the most vitriolic and nastiest of invective they can muster, assassinating character and truth in the same tirade. Others complain vociferously and at great length that what has been attempted thus far is insufficient: it is not fast enough, good enough or soon enough.

This phenomena is not just a sign of battle fatigue or even of plain human grumpiness. It is a symptom of an affliction of the soul that looks at the Church, the world and life in general in an unhealthy fashion. People who suffer from this affliction expect perfection when none will ever be found. They expect fulfillment before the race is run.

So I turn to a quote from Karl Rahner, who was ever keen to keep our view of life healthy and just.

»All renewal, all progress of the Church will be consumed, as it were, again and again in the experience of the hardships of history, in the disappointment about ourselves, who are the Church after all, and so we must experience her in the same way… We always play the unfinished symphony of the glory of God, and it is always only a dress rehearsal. But therefore all effort, all the always unfinished and unfinishable reformation is not in vain, not senseless. It is simply the task of the servants who sow in tears so that God may reap, the task that only Christian hope can accomplish against all hope, because it alone, believing, knows that even the defeat we accept will continue God's victory on the wood of the cross.«

Karl Rahner touches on this simple yet so important truth. All of life is an unfinished symphony. This is a work in progress and all our business is unfinished business. The question is, whether we can appreciate and live with the beauty, charm and opportunities of unfinished symphonies.

Years ago I heard a song that always comes back to haunt me when the discouragement of insufficiency strikes. It is entitled: »That’s all I have to say.« *

I've had time to write a book
About the way you act and look,
But I haven't got a paragraph.
Words are always getting in my way.
Anyway, I love you.
That's all I have to tell you.
That's all I've got to say.

And now, I'd like to make a speech
About the love that touches each,
But stumbling, I would make you laugh.
I feel as though my tongue were made of clay.
Anyway, I love you.
That's all I have to tell you.

I'm not a man of poetry
Music isn't one with me
It runs from me
It runs from me

And I tried to write a symphony,
But I lost the melody.
Alas I only finished half.
And finish I suppose I never may…

Anyway, I love you.

That's all I have to tell you.

That's all I've got to say.

The songwriter obviously has a great love for the unnamed person of the song, and it drives him to put it into words, to create an expression of his love that would be a revelation to the beloved. The song sings of that, which the singer cannot sufficiently express about the beloved, but this does not defeat him. After all, there is this song. And although he claims, »That's all I have to tell you. That's all I've got to say«, I am glad that he had this to tell and this to say, and someone to whom to say it with all its flaws and inadequacies. It is unfinished, but beautiful. It is not everything, would it not be more than enough to delight your heart and lighten your spirit if someone had this to tell you, even if it was all they had to say?

Karl Rahner wrote »In this life all symphonies remain unfinished.«

For all those who, like me, are fumbling through the dress rehearsal, there is a pleasure all its own in rehearsing for the show which no spectator in a theater will ever know. Be an actor and get on stage.

For all those who, like me, who have stumbled over words and whose tongues were made of clay, there is a joy in the very art of creating something, not just in the finished product. No passive listener will ever come to know this. Be a storyteller and show up with a tale.

For all those who, like me, wanted a symphony and lost the melody, there is a pleasure all its in own in the composing, in creating something of rhythm and melody. No impartial bystander will ever touch it. Be a composer, and write your unfinished symphonies.

Why let a little incompleteness spoil a perfectly good life?

Erik Riechers SAC, September 2nd, 2020

 * A beautiful rendition of the song can be heard here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Utt2wLMbz0k&list=FLCWG96HZx8GTKKe2v0tBdSA&index=4&t=0s

 

 

To Stand Before the Day

 

Recently I encountered anew a special blessing into the day. I remembered how I had discovered it a long time ago and how I had often prayed it in the morning.

Now I perceived it anew, as often happens when something or someone falls out of sight and suddenly appears before us again.

I felt it physically - first in my posture, because I could not pray it sitting down, but had to stand up.

I may stand up at the beginning of the day.

And then to be quietly completely with myself . . . feel all my senses and let them come alive . . . and gradually enter the depth of my soul and my being borne.

 

Experience it for yourself:

 

I arise today

 

In the name of Silence

Womb of the Word,

In the name of Stillness

Home of Belonging,

In the name of the Solitude

Of the Soul and the Earth.

 

I arise today

 

Blessed by all things,

Wings of breath,

Delight of eyes,

Wonder of whisper,

Intimacy of touch,

Eternity of soul,

Urgency of thought,

Miracle of health,

Embrace of God.

 

May I live this day

 

Compassionate of heart,

Clear in word,

Gracious in awareness,

Courageous in thought,

Generous in love.

(John O’Donohue , To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn,  August 31rst, 2020

 

 

Because I am here, Where is it that I am absent from?

22nd Sunday A 2020

 

There is a small scene at the beginning of today's gospel.

 Peter takes Jesus aside.

He reproaches him.

Jesus turns around, looks at his disciples, and rebukes Peter.

Here are his words. »Get behind me, you Satan!«

In an older version, this sentence was once translated as »Get out of my sight«.

Get out of my sight is a clear message. It means that if we do not think as God thinks, then we will be punished, and in the harshest manner. For the punishment is not that we are rebuked.  No, the punishment is the deprivation of closeness and presence. The punishment is that we are sent away, that we are no longer seen, that we are no longer wanted and desired. »Get out of my sight« says, that I am now persona non grata. 

This image of God has been preached to us often enough. We feel the harshness, the threat that lies behind it. It works with withdrawal of love, something that we humans fear very much. But the withdrawal of love is a human strategy and not a divine one. 

But that is not what the phrase »Get behind me, you Satan!« means.

Peter takes Jesus aside, off the path he has taken. He reproaches him. This way leads him to Jerusalem. There Jesus suffered much and was rejected by the high priests and the scribes. In other words, Jesus is setting out on a path that will take him to where violence and abandonment await him.

Then it becomes interesting. Because the text says: Jesus turned around. That means he now has Peter behind him, has him at his back.

Then he looks at the disciples, because they are as affected by this scene as Peter is, and rebukes him.  He makes a course correction. 

Why is this necessary? Peter was the one who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and called him that. He is convinced that this Jesus has the words of eternal life. But now, when he has doubts about the way and the wisdom of the Messiah, he wants to take over the lead. And Jesus tells him through this word and his gesture: »Peter you should be following me. In order to follow, you would have to stand behind me. Let yourself be guided. Let me lead you on paths that you would not take. But this will only happen if someone else knows the direction, and therefore you must stand behind me. If you always follow the paths that you are already on, you don't need anyone to guide you. But if you want to experience something new, unexpected and untried, then stand behind me.«

Jesus leads Peter to the place where is invited to answer the question my friend John O’Donohue loved to pose: »Because I am here, Where is it that I am absent from?« This is a place of awakening. Peter has tasted something of the grandeur of God, and nibbling at the side of the path will no longer satisfy him. 

But nobody is sent away here. Jesus wants to correct the relationship with Peter, not cancel it.

How does Jesus deal with a person who is not yet able or willing to walk in the ways of God?

He corrects the attitude, but he does not send him away.

  • He helps people to reposition themselves, but does not write him off.
  • He makes a return to the path of life (from which Peter deviated - he took him aside), but he does not dismiss him.
  • He clarifies the circumstances, but does not terminate the relationship.
  • He points out the right order, but not once does he want t say to Peter that he has no place in that order.

The withdrawal of love is a human strategy and not a divine one.

»Get behind me« means follow my path. And the name Satanas is an allusion to the Tempter in the desert. Peter is not being demonized here, but is made aware that his present attitude is that of the Tempter in the desert. He thinks like the tempter in the wilderness, who also tried to dissuade Jesus from the way, who also wanted to stand before him (cf. Bow down before me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of this earth).

When people do not have in mind what God has in mind for the world, then the order is distorted.

We human beings avoid the unpleasant; so we will avoid being at the mercy of others and violence. We will get out of the way.

Jesus turns these things and does not avoid them. Instead he deals with them, he confronts these realities.

When people try to avoid the path of life, Jesus clarifies how a healthy, life-enhancing relationship with God works.

This is an image of God that we can live with. And that is the point. No matter what our images of God might be, what use is one that keeps us away from the life-giving presence of the God it portrays? How does an image of God ever help any mortal to achieve anything, including repentance, if it repels rather than attracts?

I am not ashamed to admit, that I have been Peter in my life. There have been times when I have stepped away or strayed from the path that leads to life. Sometimes I was too afraid to go places that seemed too demanding, too frightening or too uncertain. And I have had times when I vocally and vehemently told God in no uncertain terms, that this was surely a mistake. Yet, I would never have returned to the path of life if the response had been »get out of my sight«.

I have been prodded, teased and persuaded to get back in line. I am happy to be here.  There is a distinct advantage to being one step behind the Spirit Master. There is always One who is one step ahead of me. There is always One who is between me and the uncertain future that I fear. If you ask me, there is no better place to be.

  

Erik Riechers SAC, August 30th, 2020

 

 

»Lord, your love reaches«

 

Do we want to have as much as possible or do we learn to accept life and make the most of it with everything that is?

Then it might be, that we gradually no longer wish to be spared from evil and difficult things, but deepen and broaden all our senses. We learn to perceive beauty in unusual places. We feel the divine in moments in which we used to stumble over many things. We perceive that we are given more than we expected and recognize more and more the richness of life in its depth and breadth.

Being brought back to myself more and having less external distractions revealed to me the beauty of a face that smiled despite illness. I saw the splendor of an evening sky on my simple balcony. I enjoyed the spicy, resinous air in our forest. I recognized the treasure that lies in the silence. The desire awoke in me to make contact with people I had not seen or heard from in a long time.

And I allied myself anew with the praying person of Psalm 36 when he speaks:

 

Your steadfast love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep;

 man and beast you save, O Lord. How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

 The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

 (Ps 36, 5-9)

 

He hymns the skies and clouds, the mountains the floodwaters - creation in all its breadth and depth.

He does not deny that we are at the mercy of many things, but he sees salvation and the Saviour and in it the preciousness of divine love.

Let us take the images seriously. When the »heat« becomes unbearable and we threaten to wither, his shadow will be there under which we can shelter. When we feel lost and homeless, he offers us his house and his table where we can refresh ourselves. When thirst consumes us and the longing for vitality dries us out, he dreches us with his abundance. 

Let us look at our life: When and where have we had such experiences?

And how often have we given them to other people?

 »For your steadfast love reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!« (Ps 57, 11) – we are always enveloped by it, we live and move within it.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 28th, 2020

 

 

Which request works?

 

»You cannot have everything!« - You must have heard this sentence again and again as a child (I even have a song in my ears!); perhaps you remember using this sentence against your children and their all-encompassing wishes. We all had and have to learn to decide. What do we really want? What is essential? What serves life? In order to mature, in order to become adults, we must ask ourselves these questions again and again and answer them for ourselves. We simply cannot have everything. How difficult it is for us in our pampered world of prosperity to accept this!

No one has been and will be spared the danger of a tiny virus, the coronavirus, during this year and beyond. People at all levels are learning and practicing how to encounter it and how to deal with it well. Thus, strategies are developed and rules are worked out. We learn them and practice them, because we want to stay healthy and get through this time well. And there were weeks and months in which we were happy, even proud, that we mastered this pandemic quite well as a society. 

But then desires were and are awakened. We want to travel again, take a vacation, we want to celebrate together, meet each other more often and more closely and more relaxed and ... and ... and ... and ...

Indeed, the childlike idea creeps in that we can have everything, an unrestrained life of prosperity with all the freedoms AND health through protection from the virus. Sometimes we even complain that we have not lived » properly « in the last months, because not everything was possible as usual.

In her poem »Request« , so beloved by many, Hilde Domin expresses in inimitable fashion that no one is spared in life and the wish that it be so is neither helpful, nor does it work.

Nevertheless, rich life is possible.

What works is to ask

please

that at sunrise the dove

will bring the olive branch

that the fruit will be as colourful

as the blossom

that even the rose petals on the ground

can become a shining crown.

 

Let us look at the images: they speak of life possibilities, fertility and beauty. May we not overlook their signs in our lives - they are there!

Hilde Domin goes even further: even when the waves threaten to crash over us and everything becomes threatening, there is the perspective of healing and maturation:

And that we, out of the flood
out of the lions den and the
fiery furnace
will be released
renewing ourselves
even more wounded and even more healed.  

To become and be an adult does not mean to expect less, but to live deeper and more fully.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 26th, 2020

 

 

Mass

 

I celebrated Mass the other day. I had been informed in the sacristy of all the precautions and restrictions I needed to heed before I had entered the church. No singing, no sign of peace. Disinfect your hands before distributing communion. Keep your distance. Indeed, always keep your distance.

I went into the Church and prepared the altar. When I looked up, several people smiled at me. When you are a priest, you get used to having all manner of people prepare the altar for you. Out of respect and gratitude for their service, I never interfere, but I take an irrepressible glee when I am able to prepare the altar by myself, whenever I get the chance. I love setting the table.

It speaks of loving thoughtfulness for people you care about. It speaks of reverence, because we do not prepare for that which is unimportant to us. It speaks of expectation, for there is no need to set the table if no one will come and take a place at it. It speaks of the willingness to share, of opening the heart by granting the simple access to the place where you expect to share, where you take what is yours and put it out on a table for others to partake in and enjoy. And when the people smiled at me, I was reminded of my mother, who would smile at me from the kitchen when I set the table in the dining room.

The Mass was simple. It was stripped down to the basics. There were stories of God, followed by stories about the maddening people with whom he is so madly in love. There were prayers for those present and those longed for, soft words for burdened hearts, remembrance of people who presumable think they are forgotten. There was a touch of Thanksgiving in the midst of the mundane and humdrum. A bit of bread was broken and shared. Eyes met where hands were not allowed to touch. There was communion, between those who ate the bread and with the One who transformed it for us. And there was gratitude for the chance of the gathering.

It was pure. There was no pomp. It was not entertaining, but edifying. There was nothing to jazz up the moment. It was more a simple lean meal than a banquet or a feast. It reminded me of meals I have shared with my family and my beloved friends. It reminded me of a dear friend who recently told me of the simple, attentive and loving way her mother used to prepare every Sunday morning breakfast for her family. It reminded me of my teacher’s gently insistent words: gather the folks, tell the stories, break the bread.

One of the people who attended paused after Mass to tell me what she missed: the singing, the embrace at the sign of peace, shaking hands before and after the Mass. I went back to my room and paused to say a prayer of thanks. I had loved it, all of it, every moment of it. The liturgists will ask for my head on a platter and the musicians will decry that the barbarians have breached the sanctuary. Theologians will bemoan my lack of nuance and subtlety. Critical Catholics will protest the lack of sophistication and modern critical commentary to every imaginable ideological concern under God’s uncritical, undiscerning sun. Traditionalists will judge it unworthy for its lack of transcendent, other-worldly ambiance. Yet, none of it changes the fact that I was content, sated by bread and story and companionship. I felt a little more alive, a little less burdened, a lot lighter in my spirit and closer to my God and our people.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 24th, 2020

 

 

Power as Influence

21st Sunday A 2020

 

Almost all conflicts between Jesus and his disciples (and he has quite a few) are about power and authority. »They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them (the disciples): 'What did you talk about on the way?' They were silent because they had talked to each other on the way about which of them was the greatest.« Even in the society of Jesus' day, the question of power was never far from the surface.

In today's Gospel, Peter recognizes that the source of Jesus' power lies in his fully accepting and living out of his role as a beloved Son. Jesus is truly the Son of the living God. For this insight, Peter is rewarded with the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

But while Peter has a special position, as the rock solid foundation and bearer of the keys, later (cf. Mt 18:18) Jesus will say to all his disciples: »Amen, I tell you: Everything that you will bind on earth will also be bound in heaven his and everything that you will loosen on earth, that will also be loosened in heaven.« People from the second row also have to deal with binding and loosing. 

But here the story takes an amazing and often overlooked turn. Because for people of all times the tendency is to use the power of binding and to understand and exercise power as control over life, the world and fellow human beings. But not with God. He tends to turn to the power of loosing, because God exercises power as influence. And we, who have both options, must choose how to understand and exercise our power. It will be seen that this power is more of a challenge than a privilege.

 

1. Mt 16, 21-23

Power that does not withdraw and dispense from life,

but embraces the fullness and the heart of life.

The conflict between Jesus and Peter over the use of power begins in the very next scene of Matthew's Gospel.

Jesus foretells that he will go up to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified and rise from the dead on the third day. Peter does not want to know anything about it: »May God prevent that, Lord! It must not happen to you!«

This sincere token of concern brings him a rebuke. »Stand behind me!« Take your place in the succession and let me show you the way.

The problem lies in the way Peter sees power. Peter sees Jesus as the Son of Power; and he knows how power works with other people. Power is given so that you can dispense yourself from the fates and facts of life to which the powerless are helplessly exposed. The sons of kings do not die in the wars their fathers initiate. The daughters of legislators are not ground down the tax laws their mothers pass. The people in power exercise this power to secure themselves against the factors of life that would otherwise lessen, exhaust or drain them

Those who understand power in this way will find it folly for the Son of the High to simply submit to the conditions of powerlessness. But Jesus redefines the understanding and use of power. Power does not dispense itself from life, but rather embraces the conditions of life in a new, creative way.

The power that God has entrusted to us is not armor, but increased vulnerability. This power is an openness toward life and it wants to overcome the destructive elements within it. We should not want to escape, but to delve into the heart of life.

 

2. Mt 18, 21-22

Power that does not exclude, but includes.

Here we have the second episode of this conflict over power. Peter knows that Jesus has a great tendency to forgive. That is why he offers Jesus a very generous number. »Seven times?« In this exchange, Jesus' rebuke is milder, but it is just as clear. »Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.«

This is more than a contrast between a limited number and an infinite capacity. This is about the power of binding and loosing.

Peter also has the power to bind, but what good is it for if you cannot lock some people up and shut out other people? With people, power is used as a control, and then power will show itself as the ability to determine who is allowed to be there and who is not. We know this form of power only too well. (If you do not do what I want, then you cannot be part of my group. It is practiced from schoolyards to workplaces.) 

That is what Peter does at this point. Insidiously, he asks Jesus when he can finally use the power of his keys and exclude others. Jesus, on the other hand, questions the whole premise of Peter. Power is not for the purpose of exclusion. Power is for the mission of inclusion. The power that flows when you love God, with all your soul, with all your heart, with all your power, brings people together. It does not tear them apart. 

 

3. John 13

Power, not for abstract concepts, but for real human needs.

The third episode and the most famous conflict between Jesus and Peter is told in the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Peter refuses this service. Jesus replies that if he does not let himself be washed, he cannot have a part in him, that they no longer have anything in common. The ever exuberant Peter then asks for a whole bath.

But the question of power in this episode goes far beyond a role reversal. The Master serves specific human needs. Dirty feet are the objects of his care.

Just think of the rhetoric of service that overflows in the Church. This language is often, very often, more noble than this particular service. Talk about it is loftier and the words about it pompous. We speak of serving the Kingdom of God, serving the ideal social order, and serving the vision of the future.

But often, very often, it remains on the level of abstract concepts. Then we tolerate broken bodies and a shattered spirit becomes acceptable. Divine love not only requires that our power be used for service, but that it serve specific human needs.

 

This is what power could look like if we live it out like God on this earth.

1. A power that does not withdraw and dispense from life, but embraces the fullness and the heart of life.

2. A power that does not exclude, but includes.

3. A power not for abstract concepts, but for real human needs.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 23rd, 2020

 

 

Flow over, but do not grow empty

 

Times of crisis in our life are part of our life. Sometimes they last a few weeks, sometimes they turn into adventurous years. Times like this show us what is perhaps also true during times of calm waters: We often feel empty, we are tormented by excessive demands, we look for refueling opportunities.

If we are not careful, we believe we are switching off when we indulge in various forms of amusement. But later we are surprised that we have not recharged our batteries at all, that we have not recovered and that we are very quickly drained from fulfilling our tasks.

Maybe we should practice a new point of view. The attitude of Bernhard von Clairvaux, whose memory we celebrated yesterday, can help us in this.

Bernhard was an energetic monk of fascinating charisma and comprehensive learning as well as extraordinary self-discipline. He gives us the following:

 

Those who are wise, therefore, will see their lives as more like a bowl than a canal.

The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives;

the bowl retains the water until it is filled.

In this way it discharges the overflow without loss to itself.

 

The bowl imitates the spring. Only when it has been filled with water, does it pour itself out in a

stream and becomes a sea. Act likewise. First fill yourself up, then pour over.

 

The charity that is benign and prudent does not flow outwards until it abounds within.

I cannot see myself being enriched by your wasting of your powers.

For if you are mean to yourself, to whom will you be good?

Help me out of your abundance if you have it;

if not, then spare yourself the trouble.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 21st, 2020

 

 

»There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you«

 

When Maya Angelou was eight years old, she was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. But she did not hide it. Instead, she testified against him. He was sentenced to a year in prison but was released the same day. Four days later he was found dead, presumably the work of her uncles.

This had an extraordinary effect on Maya Angelou, because for the next six years she stopped talking except to her brother Bailey. She was convinced that her voice, her words, had killed a man.

Maya Angelou describes this episode of her life in her memoir »I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings«. In it she writes the sentence: »There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you«. She knew the weight of an untold story.

In the book of Proverbs stands a warning that is deeply linked to this:

 »Can a man carry fire next to his chest

    and his clothes not be burned?« (Proverbs 6, 27)

This image of carrying fire next to the chest is always powerful for me. This is an image of the inner processes of our life, of that which moves us interiorly, preoccupies our heart and drives our lives. It is ab image of the untold stories that we bear within us.

We all have such fire, such stories within us. That is hardly the problem, because fire, just like stories, is something fundamentally good, something useful for life. This applies to the internal processes of the heart. No matter how broken, painful and uncomfortable they may be, they too are fundamentally good and beneficial to our lives. They are a part of our story.

Yet fire, like stories, can swiftly become dangerous in two cases.

  1. If left unattended. A burning candle on the Advent wreath is beautiful, gives off warmth and light and radiates security into the winter cold of life. But if we leave the room without putting out the fire then, in the end, more burns than we wanted.
  1. When it is left to the inexperienced. Because children do not recognize the power and danger of fire, they treat it carelessly. The matches in the adult's hand are useful instruments. If we put them in the hands of small children, they can quickly become dangerous for hearth and home. And again, in the end, there is more burning than we originally wanted.

The same danger exists for people when they do not take the inner heart processes of their stories seriously.

  1. What goes on in the heart must not be left unattended, otherwise these processes expand to places where they do not belong.
  1. We must not remain immature in relation to these inner processes of the heart. If we do not know how to deal with them, then they will spread and take up spaces that do not belong to them.

God does not want us to remain immature, that we deal carelessly with heart processes. We should look lovingly and gently at the story within. We should recognize these processes as having a powerful effect and, above all, take them seriously.

»Can a man carry fire next to his chest

    and his clothes not be burned?« (Proverbs 6, 27)

That is why Jesus often turns our gaze inward to look at what is in us, what is happening within us and what drives us. We should grow into a reflected consciousness so that we can clearly see the sources from which our moods arise, our motivations come and our attitudes grow. And we should do so in order that what goes on in the heart does not make us mute and speechless in the end. For the agony of an untold story will then determine everything in life, all our actions, thoughts and feelings. In other words, we should see to it that the clothes (the exterior of life) do not catch fire (through the internal processes).

We could, of course, spend our time putting out everything that lit the fire in the clothes. Thus, anger can seep into our hearts, we explode and the next person who comes along suffers the full fury of our wrath. We apologize and straighten things out (extinguish the burning clothes), but if we do not look at the anger inside of us, then the whole thing happens all over again. It becomes an endless cycle of explosion, remorse, and apology. We only put out clothing fires. Should that be the goal of our life, then we would be better off working for the fire department.

 »Can a man carry fire next to his chest

    and his clothes not be burned?« (Proverbs 6, 27)

Or we can use the time to lovingly and gently look at the untold story within us, at the processes of the heart, deal with it responsibly and keep an eye on it, so that only that burns which radiates light, warmth and security.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 19th, 2020

 

 

A summer day that supports us

 

The thoughts circle and do not come to rest; Heaviness spreads within us. The worries make us brood and we move through the yesterdays or speculate about tomorrow. Can we see and appreciate TODAY in its fullness? Do we even recognize and feel what is essential, the companions at our side, that which supports us?

Today I am sharing a song by Reinhard Mey with you. He does not deny the darkness, but is also not ready to give it supremacy - on the contrary: he knows and names his priorities and he sings about what was, what is and what supports.

 

So many summers spent with you,

Loved and cried and laughed with you.

Let us live happily today on this summer day,

How many more summers might there be?


All good things must end

Let us give away, let us be lavish.

The hand that gives away empties and fills at the same time,

Only what we give away makes us really rich.

Let's scatter happiness with full hands.

All good things must end.

 

So many summers spent with you,

Loved and cried and laughed with you.

Let us live happily today on this summer day,

How many more summers might there be?


The tears, the grief, the defeats

Sleepless nights, questions and laments.

The doubts, the fears, the worries and troubles,

Blossom-dreams that will not fade.

Standing together, borne together,

The tears, the grief, the defeats.

 

So many summers spent with you,

Loved and cried and laughed with you.

Let us live happily today on this summer day,

How many more summers might there be?

Love outshines everything in life

All the stars pale next to it.

The only message, the only meaning,

The only refuge lays therein,

To give one another comfort and warmth.

Love outshines everything in life.

 

So many summers spent with you,

Loved and cried and laughed with you.

Let us live happily today on this summer day,

How many more summers might there be?

Guard the light of this summer day

For the winter day that can safely come.

 (Reinhard Mey, Album »Mr. Lee«, 2016)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 17th, 2020

 

 

To do what is necessary

20th Sunday A 2020

 

In his book, On Earth as it is in heaven, John Shea recounts a seminar about theological reflection that he led in the vicinity of London. On one of the days, the group discussed today’s story from the Gospel of Matthew. The exchange was broad. The participants shared many ideas about the interpretation of this story and how they could be applied to life situations in the present day.

»There was a quiet, older woman who didn't participate very much. But she was observant and seemed very interested. After everyone else had their say, she added quietly, ‘It's your daughter. She wants her daughter healthy and she will do what is necessary.’ «(p. 255)

This woman touched on and named something essential in this story. The Canaanite woman does what is necessary for her daughter, come what may. Jesus is amazed at precisely this woman and says to her: Woman, your faith is great.

Now a question arises: what constitutes faith? Most of the time we think that faith is synonymous with »belief in God«. And great faith is often interpreted as believing in God in situations of suffering. For in such situations of suffering there is a temptation to think that we have been forsaken by God. Great faith, on the other hand, claims that God is present even when there are no obvious signs of that presence. Holy people will always acknowledge and worship God.

 

But that formula does not work in this story. That is not the great faith of this woman. Her faith consists in the fact that she acts in a hardnosed way out of her deepest conviction. She takes nine important steps in the story.

 

  1. She needs to know what she really loves. Important questions must be clarified in her heart before she goes on the streets and confronts Jesus. What are my heart's concerns? What is it worth fighting for in my life?  That is the unspoken premise of this narrative and it is the indispensable prerequisite for any narrative of great faith. We have to recognize what we really love, because only for that will we go all out. We do not fight for what leaves us cold, we do not fight for what is indifferent to us. If we don't care how the story ends, then we won't get involved.
  1. The woman must recognize that her dearest daughter is in danger. A situation arises in the daughter's life that needs healing. But she will only notice that if she watches carefully over her daughter, looks at her again and again and constantly checks what her condition is.
  1. The woman must recognize where salvation and life are possible. The fact that Jesus brings these possibilities of God with and within is useless if she does not know who he is and what he can do. She needs to recognise the potential in Jesus for her life and the life of her daughter.
  1. She is not passive. Her daughter's illness does not paralyze her. She walks towards Jesus. She does not wait at home for God's possibilities to come to her.
  1. She makes her request clearly and precisely. She knows what she wants (have mercy on me) and why she wants it (my daughter is tormented by a demon.).
  1. She does not accept silence. She does not break off the dialogue and does not sneak away just because Jesus does not want to talk about it for the time being. Her daughter's life is too important to her for that, and her concern that her daughter may live safely and freely again is too precious.
  1. She also does not let the feeling of discomfort in the others put her off. »Then his disciples came up to him and asked: Send her away, because she is shouting after us!« She does not go away on her own, just because her concerns make the disciples uncomfortable.
  1. She is ready to enter into confrontation. If she has to persuade the Jewish Messiah and remind him that although there are many ethnic groups, there is still only one God, so be it.
  1. She is a determined servant of these possibilities of God. She uses everything that is available to her. Her character changes in the course of the story. She is loud and assertive, then pleading and indulgent, then smart and confrontational. Her great faith is not just an inexorable devotion to the betterment of a person she loves and her situation. It is also the creative ability to find the way to such a betterment. That is the hallmark of creativity: it has no predetermined agenda. Creativity has a clear mission, but not an inviolable, universal strategy. Creativity does not know what it is about to face. It knows very well that there will be resistance, but it does not know the exact nature of that resistance. So this creative woman is ready, alert, and open to what will be needed. Do I need arguments? Then there are arguments. Do I need reverence? Then there will be reverence. Do I need confrontation? Then there will be confrontation.

 

And Jesus is amazed at precisely this woman and says to her: Woman, your faith is great. She doesn't let anyone or anything (not even Jesus) stop her to get to where life and salvation are.

 

And this path is open to us as well. We, too, could take these 9 important steps of a great faith.

  1. We should know what we really love, what is truly important to us. Only for this will we invest strength and energy, undertake adventures and even make personal sacrifices.
  1. We should notice what endangers our heart's concerns. If we do not realize that they need healing, they can die of neglect very quickly. Just as we pay close attention to our state of health, we should often and regularly look at the health of our heart's concerns.
  1. We should recognize where the possibilities of God are that could bring us salvation and life in our hour of need. Which people, stories, encounters or conversations could give us these possibilities?
  1. We should not become passive, but rather move towards God's possibilities for salvation and life, take steps and become active. This is especially dangerous in forms of spirituality where we are always passively waiting for God's action while we ourselves sit back and wait for him to come.
  1. We should clearly state our concerns. Often we know exactly what we dislike and what we no longer want, but we cannot say exactly what we need and want.
  1. The silence of others about our concerns should neither determine nor prevent us from pursuing and realizing them.
  1. Even if others do not feel comfortable with what is important to us, or even if they reject it, we should not let ourselves be turned away. What touches and moves us does not lose its meaning or legitimacy if others do not share it.
  1. We should be ready to enter into confrontation. For everything that is truly important to us, we have to expect resistance, disinterest and rejection. And if we really love something that is important to us, then we will enter into confrontation for it.
  1. We should use everything that is available to us; be loud and assertive, pleading and indulgent, smart and confrontational. Be creative, ready, vigilant, and open to what will be needed.

 

This is the point of the woman who says to John Shea, »It's her daughter. She wants her daughter healthy and she will do what is necessary.« The full range of human creativity must be practiced in the pursuit of healing, life and the future. That is a great faith.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 16th, 2020

 

 

»Because God gazed at her«

 

In the hot summer of 2003 I spent several days with my eldest daughter in Aachen. She had a lot to do and so I enjoyed the city for two days. When, on the morning of August 15th, the bells of the Church of St. Jacob rang next door, I let myself be drawn and went to the small community gathered around the altar to celebrate the feast of the Assumption with them. The pastor related the following story in the sermon: Some time ago he and a friend visited the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar. There they had wandered from work to work, deeply interested in art, when they witnessed a touching and moving scene in front of a picture of Mary. A little boy there asked his father: »Papa, why is the woman so beautiful?« The father crouched down, took his son on his thigh and answered: » Why is the woman so beautiful? - Because God gazed at her!«

 

We all live from being seen. Not to be looked at, to be overlooked, not being noticed, makes us uncertain of ourselves.

 

Hilde Domin puts it this way in her poem:

Your place is

where eyes look at you.

Where eyes meet

you are created.

 . . .

You exist

because eyes want you,

look at you and say

that you exist.

 

                        (Hilde Domin, Gesammelte Gedichte ,1987)

 

It is told of the simply but charismatic Cure d’Ars that he often sat in silence for hours in his little village church. When asked what he was doing there, he simply replied: »He looks at me and I look at him.«

 

Gazing means more than seeing. It means taking something into our sight, to let our eyes rest on something. To gaze at a human being means turning toward them, to go with them at eye level.

Or, as John O’Donohue formulates it so beautifully: »When we gaze at something with undivided attention, we draw it into ourselves.« That means, when we are seen like this, gazed at like this, we are also drawn in. To be truly seen mediates to us a sense of security and protection.

 

And we hear what resonates when God looks at me: He looks at me as I am, in the depths of my soul, in my personal core; it doesn't matter whether I am important in the world or not, whether I am poor or rich, healthy or sick, productive or in need of help, inconspicuous or magnificent.

 

To be gazed at by HIM makes beautiful.

To be gazed at by HIM makes great.

To be looked at by HIM lets you sing. That is why Luke puts this wonderful song on Mary’s lips:

 

» My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; My spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.« (Lk 1, 46-49)

 

If the loving gaze from person to person makes life possible, how much more so if the person stands eye to eye with God, who is love. This experience gives irrepressible strength, deep joy, creative vitality, sometimes explosively, often gently growing.

 

I am because He is gazing at me.

I am allowed to live what is mine because He is gazing at me.

Receiving my reputation from Him makes me beautiful.

 

At the end of the Liturgy in the St. Jacob’s Church in Aachen, the Pastor dismissed us with the words: »When you now go outside and a person comes toward you, remember: God gazed upon them as well!«

 

Tomorrow may we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary with joy!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 14th, 2020

 

 

The Search for Perfect Solutions

 

In the last few weeks there has been criticism of the solutions and measures that politicians, doctors and virologists have proposed and introduced. Donald Trump may be the most prominent critic of this kind, but it does not seem difficult for him to find a lot of companions in the public lamentation of these imperfect solutions.

I happily admit that none of the measures or solutions are perfect. Masks help, but they cannot always prevent infection. Distancing is effective, but it cannot guarantee that we will not get the virus.

But the search for a perfect solution is always dangerous, because it can cost us life, joy, love and enjoyment wherever they are given to us merely because they are not perfect. But we can live well, even very well, with imperfect solutions.

So I am sharing a wisdom story that can help us to calm down a bit by giving up the search for the perfect solution and taking the search for all that life has to offer us more seriously. The title of the story is: Nasrudin and the Perfect Woman.

Nasrudin, the wise fool, was drinking tea when a friend stormed excitedly into his house. “Nasrudin” he shouted, beaming with joy, “I am getting married! I am so happy. Say, have you ever thought of getting married in your life? "

Nasrudin looked thoughtfully into the distance. “Yes,” he said after a while, “when I was young I really wanted to get married. I spent a long time looking for the perfect wife and the best of all mothers for my future children.

“I traveled a lot in search of her and finally believed I had found her. It was in Damascus. She was hauntingly beautiful. Her hair was black as ebony and her lips as red as pomegranate seeds. She was beautiful not only on the outside, but also on the inside. Her heart was kind and her nature meek and beyond that she searched for the deep truths of life. She was truly was really great, unique, and beautiful. Then Nasrudin sighed. “Unfortunately, she wasn't educated. Of course, that meant she was not the perfect woman. And so I kept searching."

“Despite all my disappointment, I continued my search. Years later, I met a woman again, this time in Cairo. I was very careful and took the time to form an accurate opinion about her, but the longer I was with her, the more she seemed to fulfill all of my wishes. She was both spiritually interested and educated; she knew the most beautiful poems in the world by heart and it soon became clear to me that she had sat at all the seven pillars of wisdom and learned there: she was beautiful, her hair black as raven feathers and her lips red as young cherries; she was graceful and at the same time very mysterious. I fell madly in love with her. ” Then Nasrudin was silent for a long time before continuing. " Yet, my friend, unfortunately it turned out that she had a tendency toward stubbornness so we argued more and more often. After a while I moved on again, because under the circumstances she could not be the best of all women and mothers.

And so Nasrudin continued to tell of the women he met in Medina, Aleppo, Beirut, Istanbul and Amman. All of them had hair as black as the night, like pitch or coal or ink or coffee with cardamom. And each of these women had lips red as scarlet colored cloth, like sun-kissed tomatoes, like the paprika spices of the merchants of the Souk, like roses or like blood.

Yet none of them were perfect. One turned out to be greedy, the other as stingy. One was jealous, another imprudent, and yet another insidious. In the end, none of them was the perfect woman.

The acquaintance, who had been beaming with joy just shortly before, was now sitting there, deeply saddened and full of sadness for Nasrudin. “I think I understand you, my friend. You are telling me you wasted your time. There is no such thing as a perfect woman. And with that you also want to warn me so that I do not fool myself and believe, despite my joy and my being in love, that I have found her! "

Nasrudin looked up and gazed directly at the young man. “But no, my young friend. But no! That is not what I want to tell you at all. On the contrary. Finally, I met the perfect woman. It was in Baghdad. She was even more graceful and beautiful than I had imagined in my dreams. Her hair was black, but our poets have not yet woven a word for that color. And her lips were a shade of red that no flower or plant has ever produced. She was also educated like a grand vizier and wealthy like the caliph. She knew how to entertain her guests wisely so that angels forgot heaven. At the same time, she was filled with a deep love for God, that widened the heart of the Most Holy and Most Merciful, praised be his name. Oh, she was the perfect woman."

The acquaintance leaned forward with great relief in his voice and his eyes wide with curiosity. “And” asked the young man eagerly, “did you marry her?”

Nasrudin shook his head sadly. "No, my friend, unfortunately not" he mumbled.

"Damnation," shouted the young man, indignant and forgetting himself. “You old fool. What possible fault could you find with this one? How could you not marry her? "

Nasrudin looked at him sadly. "Well, my friend, unfortunately for me, she was looking for the perfect husband."

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 12th, 2020

 

 

 

Life through transformation

 

This first summer of the pandemic is very thought-provoking. In many places there is a wordless return to old holiday habits; loud protests are being shouted out into the world against alleged conspiracy theories and supposedly exaggerated government regulations. But whom does this serve? Where does life grow out of ignorance and self-centeredness? I notice rigidity in many faces and statements. But rigidity and hardness have never led to more life. On the contrary! Life always has to do with transformation and presupposes the willingness to let oneself be changed. Do we want that?

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said: »You are nothing but a path and a passage and you can only live from what you transform. The tree turns the earth into branches. The bee transforms the blossoms into honey. And your plowing turns the black earth into the sea of flames of the grain. "(In: The City in the desert, Citadelle)

The stories of God and of faith are full of stories of transformation. People bring what they are capable of into play and then experience that God makes his own contribution and that a change occurs that serves life and leads to abundance.

Let us imagine what would have happened if the servants at the wedding at Cana had been stubbornly resistant. Why and to what purpose should they fill 6 jugs with 100 liters of water each at this stage of the celebration? What is the point of this? But in John 2 we are told that they do so. What then happens makes the feast go on with joy and new abundance. Everyone can live from what has been transformed, from water to wine, from that which people have painstakingly provided to that which makes life worth celebrating.

We all live from transformation. Yesterday we celebrated the anniversary of Edith Stein's death, a woman who let herself be transformed, who could become a grain of wheat. As a highly educated scholar of Jewish origin and with adoctorate in philosophy, she was gripped by an experience in 1917 that began to transform her. A college friend had died in the war and she went to visit his widow in Bergzabern. She worried very much how this encounter would turn out in the face of the pain and grief. What could she say to the troubled woman? But she met a woman who was strong and firm in her faith and thus carried her cross. At that moment, said Edith Stein later, her Judaism had faded, her unbelief collapsed and faith appeared in the redeeming suffering of Jesus. That was her first encounter with the cross and she opened herself into what happened to her as a result. She searched, she read, and eventually the autobiography of Teresa of Avila became her turning point and she was baptized in 1922.

This highly educated woman did not deem her knowledge to be the highest or place her knowledge above everything else. She had an open, searching heart that was ready for encounter and transformation.

The grain of wheat that falls into the earth does not resist and does not hold on rigidly to remain as it is. It lets itself enter into the new environment and lets something happen to itself. The hard shell breaks open and life for many can grow.

Let us not remain or become hardened in this long time of crisis. Let us not stubbornly cling to what is supposedly ours. We could tranquilly trust that transformation is happening in us and through us.

We all live from it!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 10th, 2020

 

 

Where do we hear the voice of God?

19th Sunday A 2020

 

1 Kings 19, 9-13

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.

And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Where do we hear the voice of God?

In today’s story from the First Book of Kings four images for the presence of God are named: A great windstorm, an earthquake, a fire and a low whisper.

A great windstorm, an earthquake, a fire are three classic images of the presence of God. They were all three present on the selfsame mountain on which Elijah finds himself (Mount Horeb is but another name of Mount Sinai) when Moses received the Ten Words from God.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.

Exodus 19, 16-18

When the Prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming of God’s presence, he employs the same powerful triad of images.

And in an instant, suddenly,

you will be visited by the Lord of hosts

with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,

with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.

Isaiah 29, 6

 

These three images of God's presence all have something in common: they have enough power and violence to make themselves heard. They can force us to pay attention. They can force us to take directions and paths that we don't necessarily want to go.

In the rather shallow translation of today's reading, the last experience is described as the sound of a low whisper. But here an important part of the original text is missing, because here the Hebrew always speaks of a voice. It may be quiet and gentle, but it is a voice. Martin Buber translates the passage as follows: »but after the fire a voice of floating silence.«

This is not insignificant for this story of God. The last experience stands out from the first three experiences in two ways. It is quiet and gentle where the others are loud and powerful. But it is also a voice connected to a speaker, while the first three only make noises. A whisper would be merely a sound. Elijah reacts not only to the gentle and quiet, but to a voice. Because where there is a voice, there are opportunities for understanding, communication and relationships.

But a voice of floating silence has little chance against the loud and powerful experiences of storms, earthquakes and fire. It can easily be ignored, faded out, ignored. And it has neither the power nor the attractive quality to make itself heard.

A voice of floating silence only has a chance if we give it space and an opportunity to be heard. Such a voice can be heard when we listen. This is why the Celts say that listening is first reverence.

It is not just about how loud and penetrating the voice of God is in the world: it is about the form and quality of our attention.

We are accustomed to our attention being caught and held. Especially in this time of great fatigue with Corona and the associated restrictions, the call for it becomes louder again: »Entertain to me, convince me, rouse and keep my interest«. In other words, catch and hold my attention. Those who can do that make themselves heard.

Before we shrug our shoulders and dismiss that with »That's the way the world is«, we should at least pause long enough and honestly state the price that such an attitude entails. More importantly, we should clearly admit who is paying this price. Because in a world where only those who can catch and hold our attention can make themselves heard, there is a harrowing downside. Those who cannot do it are doomed. Because the poor, the refugees, the displaced, the youth, the old, the infirm, the sick, the homeless, the hungry and the homeless can neither catch nor hold our attention. They cannot entertain us. And that is why their voice of floating silence is mostly not heard.

That is why it is and remains true: listening is the first reverence. Because there is a second form of attention: I can pay attention to a person. We call this mindfulness. In mindfulness, the ability of the other does not determine whether I hear him, but I take the initiative and purposely, consciously give my mindfulness. Attention is drawn. Mindfulness is given. Goethe captured it: »Because that is the quality of true mindfulness, that it makes nothing into everything at the moment.«

Why would I give my mindfulness to a voice of floating silence? Because behind a voice there is a speaker and I can choose to meet this speaker, be he God or a person, with awe. Because the speaker has worth, dignity and purpose. Because he is loved and wanted.

Thus can a voice of floating silence lure us out of the cave so that we face God. Because God can make himself heard. After all, he has done it before in storms, fires and earthquakes. But this hour is an hour of clarification, because God also wants to know: would you listen, pay attention to me, if I do not force you?

The news these days pull us back and forth between storms and a voice of floating silence.

The civil war in Syria, the refugees without their belongings, the sick struggling for breath and life, the mourning who could not even say goodbye to their dead, but also the homeless and poor on the streets, and widows whose children will no longer come home: they cannot catch and hold our attention. They will only be respected and helped if we give them our mindfulness.

Where do we hear the voice of God?

O God of the softer tones,

you spoke to Elijah with the voice of floating silence.

Weave your words in whispers around us

that we might lean in with intense curiosity inside of leaning back in self-satisfied satiety.

You, whose gentle voice lures us out of our caves and hiding places, in our day and on all days.

Amen.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 9th, 2020

 

 

New ways, new actions, a new perspective

 

Again and again we humans want this: to finally do something different, to set out in a new direction, to gain a new perspective and to live. But the old familiar ways hold us tight. We repeat and practice what we always do. It is more convenient and it seems safer to us.

Since March we, as individuals and as a society, have been faced with major challenges that are new for us all. The worldwide active danger of the Covid19 virus forces new ways of acting on us as well as new ways and a changed view of many things that are taken for granted in life. Many of us accept it and persist in it. Many seemed to accept it and live according to it, but at some point it fell apart. Once again the well-known paths to parties and family celebrations, to beloved spots in the city and elsewhere are being taken again.

The familiar ways of acting are practiced again and the selfish and egocentric view that has been practiced for many years has not really changed and is now breaking it path once more.

So why, as some people initially hoped for, doesn't the crisis lead to a blessing?

Because we don't really want to set out.

Let us look at ancient history of the faith:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went ...      (Gen 12, 1-4)

God is asking Abram to set out in a threefold manner which we like to skim over. He should leave his country, his kindred and his father's house. To set out from my usual country means to tread new paths that I have never followed before, to put my feet on unknown ground and to take a completely new direction.

Leaving kindred behind means bravely taking new steps and not just doing what is usual, what I have always done and what others know and expect of me.

Leaving my father's house requires me to really grow up. Then I do not just take over the way my family thinks and sees, but change my view of myself, of those for whom I am responsible, and indeed of life as a whole. Then I immerse myself into my own experiences, consider and interpret them and gain my own perspective.

God's promise is clear: THEN you will grow up, be blessed, and bring blessings. We could also say it differently: If you do what flows from within you and what be demanded of you in a completely new way, if you walk your own paths and not on well-trodden paths, if you live what is within you and gain your own perspectives, then you will win life and new life will burst forth from you and blessings will come into the world through you.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 7th, 2020

 

 

The Sign of Jonah

 

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Mt 12, 38-41

The scribes and the Pharisees are not the only ones who would like to see a sign. At some point we all desired a sign. We would like a sign that relieves us. The sign should give us a brilliant clarity, rescue us from a tricky story, take away a problem or solve a crisis.

Jesus' answer is merely to promise the sign of the prophet Jonah, and that is not what we have in mind when we dream of a sign. Because the prophet Jonah is not brought out of a tricky situation, but sent deliberately into the heart of the situation. He is expected to go where he does not want to go. The problem is not taken away from him, but he has to take on a problem that he would keep far from himself. God does not solve a crisis for him, but entrusts this crisis to him.

Jonah will be in the belly of the fish for three days. That was an important part of his struggle with that which God entrusted to him. Nothing is spared him. A lot is expected of him. He has to endure darkness, insecurity, doubt and fear. And while these clarification processes are ongoing, he is brought to the place where people need him.

Jesus sees this image as an image of his own way. The Son of Man is brought to the heart of the earth where he has to endure darkness, insecurity, doubt and fear and then, in the resurrection, is brought to the place where his people need him.

That is the only sign we are given. We want a sign from God for our path, especially in times of crisis like this. However, we, too, will endure darkness, insecurity, doubt and fear to be taken to where God's people need us.

People who avoid this path, who avoid this experience with all their might, will ultimately not be where people need them. They want to be spared, but as Hilde Domin puts it so well: »The wish to be spared is no good!«. This is a good thing, because being spared is the basic recipe for immaturity. Those who are spared do not learn, do not grow. Those who are spared never discover what potential, power, talent and transformative power are in them. Those who remain untouched remain unmoved. To be spared does not lead to rest, but to paralysis.

Because in order to be spared we have to avoid people. Jonah wanted to avoid the people of Nineveh. »The people of Nineveh will appear at the Last Judgment of this gender and will condemn it.« Why? Because they know exactly what would have happened to them if Jonah had been spared. Their city, their children and families and their future would have been wiped out. That is what is at stake if we avoid people to spare ourselves.

The tiredness we feel in these long days of the corona crisis quickly triggers the desire for a sign. We too will only be given the sign of Jonah. And that is good. When we are in crisis, from whom do we expect help? Certainly not from those who only want to be spared, because they will avoid us at all costs so as not to be burdened by our questions, worries and fears. In the belly of the fish, in the heart of the earth, in the midst of the crisis, we will find the people from whom we can expect something.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 5th, 2020

 

 

The Fear Before the Adventure: A Prayer

 

O God of all our wild and meandering ways,

my heart withers at the mere thought of adventure,

when I hear the stories of my world.

 

Why are all the heroes so lonely?

Why must their adventures be borne by none but themselves?

What is so splendid about their isolation?

Even their statutes stand lonely above the admiring crowds.

 

In your stories, being an adventurer is not a solo performance

You do not write plays for one actor.

Your cast is magnificent in its breadth of characters.

Mose’s song had Miriam’s dance.

While David’s prowess saved a nation, Jonathan’s fidelity saved his friend.

Esther’s hesitation had Mordechai boldness.

Ruth had Naomi.

Mary had Joseph

Jesus had us.

 

And then it falls like scales from my eyes.

(Saul also had Ananias).

No paths I have walked were ever eased by loneliness.

Adventures without companions are nightmares.

Isolation is but unaccompanied terror.

I would rather stand in the sheltering of my sisters and brothers.

 

O God of all our wild and meandering ways,

my heart blossoms at the mere thought of adventure,

when I hear the stories of your world.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 3rd, 2020

 

 

A Mutual Help

18th Sunday A 2020

 

The Gospel story of the feeding of the multitudes is seen almost exclusively as an example of how Jesus helps his people. But would it be conceivable that this story also gives us an example of how we humans come to the help of Jesus? Could it be that this is about mutual help and strengthening?

 

Because this story begins with a deeply shaken Jesus. »When Jesus heard that John had been beheaded, he retired from there by boat alone to a lonely area.« Jesus was deeply affected by the violent death and brutal injustice against an innocent friend. And so Jesus does what many very badly affected people did before and after him: he withdraws. He withdraws from his work. He withdraws from his friends and fellow human beings. He needs time for himself and wants to be alone for the time being.

 

Well, even if we have no use for the world around us, it often still needs us. Nowhere in the story is it implied that Jesus had enough time to work through everything that depressed and shook him. Nowhere is it said that he is now less affected than before. But the crowds now stand before him. These people are also affected by the news of the execution of John, the violence of their king and the brutal injustice of the powerful against an innocent brother out of their midst.

 

The crowds of people, however, take a different path. As Jesus withdraws into loneliness, the crowd moves toward a common enterprise, towards a common action. In the face of John's violent death, they have not given up the hope of life, salvation and healing. They do not withdraw, but set out instead. They are not looking for loneliness, but for encounter. Abuse of power and the disregard for justice have made them hungry for more life in a world where too much killing takes place; for more salvation in a world where too much harm is done; for more justice in a world where there is too much arbitrariness; for more compassion in a world where there is too much mercilessness. What is increasing here is no the number of loaves, but the hungers of the human heart.

The Jesus who had withdrawn now meets crowds of people who are hungry for more life. And this encounter seems to change something in him. He sees the many people and what he sees in them stirs pity instead of withdrawal. The hunger for life in the crowd awakens the desire for healing in Jesus. This encounter is a mutual blessing, because both sides will be deeply drawn to a world in which salvation, life and healing play the decisive role, and that after experiencing a world in which violence, injustice and arbitrariness seemed to determine everything.

 

In this encounter, Jesus recognizes a great deal in his fellow human beings, including their potential. It is evening and there is nothing to eat here. The place where they are is described in a similar way to the place that Jesus originally sought out when he wanted to be alone: remote, lonely, abandoned. The disciples look at the place and come to the conclusion that there is no potential to feed and satisfy hungry people here. Jesus looks at the people in this place and recognizes something more: »They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat! «

 

The depiction of the biblical story remains much more sober than the language of the faithful. There is never any talk of a multiplication of loaves, nor of a miracle. There is talk of willingness to share and of a rhythmic give and take and give: the disciples give Jesus five loaves and two fish. Jesus takes them, blesses them and breaks the loaves. Then he gives the five loaves to the disciples. They take them and give them to the crowd. The crowd accepts the broken bread and eats, but they end up giving what is left over to the disciples. Throughout the story, everyone involved has been a giver and a recipient. Here, too, the story is based on an encounter that leads to mutual blessing. And again more life arises than before.

 

I believe that in the mutual encounter between Jesus and his people there is a transformative force that changes everyone in the encounter. Jesus and the people learn that people like Herod cannot kill the forces of love and justice that John triggered. Even in the lonely places in life they will not be able to wipe out the spirit. The people who makes life and death decisions at the banquets of palaces as if it were a game, will not be able to kill the willingness to encounter and share. And even if the hour is late, there are opportunities to satisfy hunger, to face injustice with power and to encounter and touch one another mercy and benevolence. The residents of the palaces have no idea of any of this.

 

And what of us? What do we desire of and what will we bring to the encounter that will transform God and humanity? How will we, with Jesus, respond to violence and injustice in our time? Will we be passive, withdrawn people in the face of corona, racism, abuse of power and disregard for human rights, or will we set out with a hunger for salvation and life, looking for someone who shares this hunger with us?

 

I began my homily with two questions: Would it be conceivable that this story also gives us an example of how we humans come to the help of Jesus? Could it be that this is about mutual help and strengthening? I deeply believe that this is not a lesson that Jesus taught his people, nor a lesson that the people taught Jesus. It is lesson that we teach each other, born of encounter and touch and relationship. In the Liturgy of the Hours we begin with the plea: God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me. It does my heart good to be know that sometimes I can come to his assistance and hasten to help him.

 

ERIK RIECHERS SAC

Vallendar, August 2nd, 2020

 

 

Against Exploitation

 

This time of the pandemic brings with it many depressing things. What particularly shakes me is that even in this situation there are people who are willing to exploit people in need. They offer remedies that do not work or try to make money out of them with financial schemes. The prophet Hosea raised his voice against such injustice and coined an important word:

For they sow the wind,

and reap the whirlwind.

(Hosea 8,7)

 

This word helps us to understand the God who pours out his heart in the book Exodus (22, 20-25). Strangers, widows and orphans should neither be exploit nor misused by his people.

 

The warning here is not only that we should not exploit other people, but that we are not to exploit to our advantage the current situation they find themselves in. Because strangers, orphans and widows have come into situations where they are easy prey. And such situations lure unscrupulous people to use the moment to manipulate them. »Now we finally have them where we want them.«

 

Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind. For God says: »I will hear, for I am compassionate.« People of this kind will learn firsthand what it means to exploit this poverty, this helplessness and this impotence. Those who act and live unfairly will not benefit in the long run. Those who drive others off will not harvest fertile land, but desert.

 

»If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.«  (Ex 22, 26-27) These words are particularly serious. They contain everything that God despises about human greed, cold-heartedness and exploitation.

 

There is no keeping of the cloak as a deposit after sunset. Back then, many would have asked themselves: Why not? It's just good business practice. But it is again the exploitation and exploitation of someone else's situation. And again God says: »I will hear, for I am compassionate.« Those who sow such a wind will reap the whirlwind. They will not be rich, happy or satisfied.

 

For the image says:  

Woe to you, if you take from a person that which gives him warmth: because then you are responsible for ensuring that more cold penetrates into the world and into people.

Woe to you who take what protects him: because then you are responsible for the fact that people have been exposed.

Woe to you if you take from a person that which gives him a sense of home, that in which he can wrap himself to find rest and peace: then you are responsible for the fact that people have to move into the night of life homeless and at the mercy of the elements.

God says: »I will hear, for I am compassionate.«

For they sow the wind,

and reap the whirlwind.

 That is not a threat. It is a promise.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 31, 2020

 

 

Lord, To whom shall we go?

 

When people asked the Walter Burghardt SJ how they could personally lived more fully and deeply out of the Just Word of the biblical stories, he loved to tell them to make friends with men and women of justice. Read their words, listen to the way they speak, immerse yourself in their stories. I have often been deeply grateful for his wise counsel. Yet, the older I get the more I go one step further. To make friends with men and women of justice is to make friends with men and women of hope, for the hardest part of justice is to keep hope alive.

Among the most famous quotes from Dante Alighieri's work Inferno, is the line »lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate«, usually translated as »all hope abandon ye who enter here«. They are the words written over the gates of hell.

I have understanding for that line. It expresses a deep truth about the hells we humans create through avarice and envy, through self-absorption and hatreds too numerous to count. And that truth is savagely simple: Every hell ever fashioned saps hope from the human heart.

»All hope abandon ye who enter here«. I have understanding for that line. But I have greatest admiration for those who refused to abide by it. I have sought to befriend the men and women who have seen this writing on the wall and went into a hell anyway, to bring life and hope beyond the leeching powers of hell. 

Howard Zinn was such a man. As a historian and political scientist at Boston University, he was an ardent student of civil rights movements and of peace movements. Following Walter Burghardt’s advice, I read his memoir You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. With every page turned my admiration waxed. Let me share with you my favourite passage from this book, and perhaps you will understand why.  

»To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.« *

»All hope abandon ye who enter here«. I have understanding for that line. But I have greatest admiration for those who refused to abide by it, people like Howard Zinn. Yet, the greatest friendship I have tried to forge with a person who refused to abide with this line, is with Jesus of Nazareth. This is the deepest truth of the line of our Creed. »He descended into hell.«

In these days of Corona and the lamentation of second waves, we might spend a little more time refusing to abide by the line »All hope abandon ye who enter here« and more time writing a story of »compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness«.

*Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 29th, 2020

 

 

Let them be who they will be I

 

The Younger Son

 

In his book The Spirit Master, John Shea tells the story of the Father and his two sons from an uncommon and startling perspective. He lets each character speak the story from his point of view.

 

In these days of uncertainty and hesitancy about Corona and the future, there is a similar dynamic afoot. Varied people have varied interpretations as to what the experience means. Some feel nothing more than the need to restore what was taken from them in this time. Others feel deep-seated resentment toward the restrictions and hardships this crisis brought with it. And some seek deeper meaning in it all while answering the call of the hour in service, accompaniment and love toward to their companions on the journey.

 

This will be a tale told in three parts. We hope you will immerse yourself not only into a magnificent tale told by a master storyteller, but also in the world of the parable and its possibilities. It would be delightful if we grew in understanding and insight into the story Jesus told so long ago. It would be redemptive, if we could also grow in understanding and insight through the story into the moment we are living through right now.

 

Then Jesus said, »There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.«

 

The Younger Son

 

On beef,

the meat around the bone is best:

On woman,

though, I prefer the pump parts.

 

What a feast my father throws!

O belly, we’re back!

No more watch and rumble

while the swine swill and snort

and I bite through my lip and drool

for a munch on one of the carob pods.

But a love slap on the unclean rumps!

They made me remember my own trough –

DADDY

 

I rehearsed a speech,

a mumble masterpiece.

With a mouth turned down,

an eyeful of mist,

repentant as a whore with clap:

I whimper:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven

and against thee.” (voice falters).

            (Daddy, your little boy has done wrong

            and he’s so sorry that he’ll never do it again.

            Really, he won’t.)

“Do not take me back as a Son:

Take me back as a hired hand.”

            (But TAKE ME BACK,

            my belly and I do beg,

you large-lardered,

stuffed-saddlebagged,

wine-drenched

old Daddy.)

 

Grovel a little to guzzle a lot:

Crawl on your belly to feed it.

That is my philosophy.

 

But the old man upstaged me.

He fell upon me in mid-sentence

ruining my clever act.

But the script was magic.

A robe, ring and sandals

suddenly appeared;

and this feast fell from heaven.

It was like I was,

what can I say,

a long lost son,

a dead man come back to life.

 

But I suspect Father is up to something.

No one can be that happy

to see the return of an appetite

That swallowed half an inheritance.

But, then again, I always was his favorite

And I could make him dance to any tune I piped.

Gushy old men are my speciality.

Anyway, the calf is succulent.

 

I have what I want,

and that is what I have always wanted.

 

John Shea, The Spirit Master

 

July 24th, 2020

 

Let them be who they will be II

 

The Older Brother

 

The Older Brother

 

All these years!

Even the servant boy sensed it.

He would not look at me

as he told me the news:

“Your brother is home,

and your father has killed the fatted calf

because he has him back safe and sound.”

He has had ME home –

all these years –

and no music ever greeted ME

as I dragged in

from our fields.

All those mornings!

With him coughing up his night phlegm

and complaining of the cold,

and me throwing a blanket around his bones,

and sitting him on a bench in the sun.

All those days!

With him staring off in the opposite direction

of wherever I was,

growing weary from watching

for the one who does not come,

and me looking up from the earth

to find his back blocking the sky.

All those harvests!

With me, giddy as a child who has found a coin,

yelling for him to come

to see the hundredfold crops and sagging vines,

and him coughing and sighing

like the wheat was dust and the grapes were rocks.

All those nights!

With him droning a prayer

and nodding over his food,

and forgetting to bless me before bed.

And me watching for the embrace

he was saving,

hoping for the words

he was hoarding,

eager for an unfeigned arm

around my shoulder,

for a kiss strong enough

to bring blood to my cheek.

 

Now he tells me that

all these years

we have been

together and have become

one.

“You have been with me always;

and all I have is yours.”

I need more, Father,

I need you to run to ME

out of breath and heart-bursting,

not as you are now

with your sensible “Now see here” logic

about the fittingness of feasting

For someone else.

 

All these years!

John Shea, The Spirit Master

 

July 26th, 2020

 

Let them be who they will be III

 

The Father

 

The Father

 

I have two sons,

neither of whom wants ME for a father.

So they make me into the father they want.

 

One makes me into a pimp for his belly.

He thinks he tricks me into concessions,

cons a calf from a sentimental old fool.

He credits my dancing to his piping:

but the music I hear has another source.

 

He is always empty

so my fullness is hidden from him.

His cunning gives him no rest

so my peace eludes him.

He secretly seizes in the night

what I freely offer in the day.

He wants a father he can steal from.

Instead he has me,

a vine with more wine

than he can drink.

It is hard for him to forgive me

for providing more than he can plunder.

I am abundance.

He must learn to live with it.

 

The other one counts my kisses.

He wants me to count his.

“For two days ploughing,

take this hug.

For a plentiful harvest,

receive this blessing.”

He is so unsure of himself,

he cannot share my assurance.

He lives by measuring what he does not have.

An eye anywhere else

is an eye lost to him.

He thinks I take him for granted;

but I lean on him like a staff.

he is the privileged companion

of my morning pain and evening praise.

I would allow no one else to see

the stumble of my memory,

the embarrassment of my body.

 

But he credits my love to his loyalty.

He wants a father, indentured to him,

paying him back in affection

for his back-breaking labour.

Instead he has me,

an ancient tree with its own soil.

He does not understand

that he cannot calm his panic with a bargain.

There will be chain between us.

I freely tie my wrist to his.

 

I have two sons.

Wherever they are,

I go to meet them.

I am their father.

But I am who I am.

Let them be

who they will be.

John Shea, The Spirit Master

 

July 27th, 2020

 

Desert Experience

 

Oh, how long have I endured on this inhospitable desert floor! I owe the fact that I am still alive solely to my frugality. Of course, my roots are extremely long. And when the winter time brings some rain, I bloom almost abruptly. One or  the other then pauses when they pass this way on their journey from Beerscheba to the south in the early part of the year, and marvel at my white blossoms. It does my soul good. Because for the greater part of the year I look more like a shrub and I am hardly noticed. After all, I am now nearly two meters high - I give shade now and again to one or the other tired traveller.

One such as this was here yesterday. He came alone, dragged himself close to me in the midday heat! He had to curl up to more or less come under my shadow. Somehow I felt that he did not just want to take a break. And indeed: I heard him whisper something about » It's enough, Lord. Take my life «. Oh my, I thought, if you want to stay here, then nobody needs to take your life, then you will dry up all by yourself. Unfortunately, there was no breeze that would have passed through my thin branches - otherwise I would have tried to draw his attention to me. Perhaps he would then see life in me and consider how this is possible here. Maybe then he would look at his life. But there was no chance - he was already fallen into a deep sleep.

Restless and saddened, I kept a quiet watch over him, the tired stranger. I myself know the drought and how close I came during some autumns to drying out and perishing. But I never ceased pushing my roots deeper and deeper towards the water; and as soon as the blessed water came from above, I greedily took it up and let myself flow full with it. It is worth living for that, dear wanderer!

But how could I, a broom tree in the Negev, convey this to my guest!?

Then I heard a voice and the man awoke from it. »Rise and eat!«, it had briefly spoken. Next to him was a still warm bread and a jug of water and you cannot imagine my relief: he ate and drank! Now he, too, allows himself to flow full with water and nourished and then he will want to live on and set off soon, I thought. But there was no sign of this; he lay down again just as weakly as before. No wonderment, no joy, no desire – whereby, he had not had to do anything for these gifts of life! This went beyond my little broom tree comprehension.  We who live in the desert value everything that keeps us alive and draw on it as soon as it is given to us. And how my blossoms dance in the spring wind and with what joy do I pass out my seeds! But this person felt nothing of all this.

Which Lord had he addressed earlier when he wished to die and asked him to take his life? Was it the Lord, Yahweh, whom I heard people speak of throughout the years? They also called him savior, liberator and told stories of life when they passed swiftly through this desert. If he meant this Lord, then it seemed that likely that he would seek to help him live rather than to die. Did he not he understand that?

Perplexed, I kept my eyes on the sleeper and found no peace.

»Rise and eat, lest the way be too far for you « it suddenly sounded forth next to me or within me. I do not know, but the voice was clear, powerful, and determined. And it worked. The man ate, drank, got up and took up his bag. He stretched his stiff body, shook himself a little, and headed south towards Sinai without a word.

A tremor went through me. What kind of Lord must this be? He is asked to take his life, but he stubbornly ensures that life goes on.

I felt a smile deep within me: Indeed, the only thing the man had to do for himself was to eat and drink!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 22nd, 2020

 

 

Choose life

 

»I want to finally live!« I am confronted with this statement repeatedly and in various ways. People speak it after long dry stretches where they feel and find little joy and meaning. They speak this sentence when they are ground down by a lasting lack of orientation and an enduring emptiness. A hunger rings forth from this sentence. A thirst lies at the heart of it.

In the end, however, after the sentence is pronounced, people often discover that it is incorrect. Because when it comes to doing something, to struggling, making decisions and getting involved, they shrink back. What they discover is usually painful and extremely unpleasant, because we are very reluctant to look at this side of our soul. What they discover is what they have not spoken aloud, but what they really want. They really want to live, but only if life is given to them.

In Deuteronomy 30,19  God makes a different, but very clear offer. »I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life,  that you and your offspring may live.« Life is a possibility that God offers us, but we must choose it. Yet, because we would prefer to have life without the effort of choosing, fully finished and served on a silver platter, God calls heaven and earth as his witnesses against us from the very start. This was never his offer. He gives us a choice, not a finished product.

In 1 Kings 19 there is a parallel passage to the Dt. 30,19. Here Elija sits down under a broom and wishes for death. But then he goes on to say what he really wants . »It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.« He does not want to choose death, but rather that God should kill him. The offer of God, also for Elijah is: »I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.« But Elijah does not want to choose. God should become his murderer and thereby relieve him of the need to choose between life and death.

Thus, God sends him a messenger who brings him a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water, touches him, wakes him and says: »Arise and eat.« At that moment, God again presents Elijah with a choice between life and death. In doing so God says to him: »I give you the opportunity to choose life with water and bread. But do not imagine for a moment that I will kill you. You cannot make me the murderer of your life. If you want to die then choose death. Then don't eat and don't drink.«

And lo and behold: Elijah eats and drinks. Then he lies down again. So God sends him the messenger for a second time, again with the same offer. This is not to be belittled, because people often need more than one chance to really take something to heart. At the same time, this decision cannot be postponed indefinitely, because he is laying a desert that will kill him very swiftly if he does not come to a decision. »I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.«

In the end, Elijah chooses life. This is in no way a romantic story, let alone a fairy tale. Because as soon as Elijah chooses life, he has to wander through the desert to the mountain of God, Horeb, for forty days and forty nights. At the beginning of the story, he only went one day’s journey into the desert until he wishes to die at the broom tree. With the choice of life, he not has to cover a distance that takes 40 times as long to cover.

The broom tree hears how Elijah wishes for death. I sometimes wonder what the broom tree would think if it heard the sentence »I want to finally live!« Because at the start, this too is nothing more than a wish. But if we really want to live, then we have to turn this wish into a decision, combined with everything that a decision entails in terms of effort, labour and investment. The desire to finally start living is cheap until we answer a question: What is a life really worth to me? And this is the question we are asked by God when he says to us: »I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 20th, 2020

 

 

Of Wheat and Weeds

16 Sunday A: Mt 13, 24–30

 

I love biblical stories. No matter what the topic happens to be, they always remind me of three important wisdoms for my life: You are not the first. You are not the last. You are not the only one.

I love the messy stories better than the clean ones (and in the end, all the biblical stories are messy ones). Because my life is messy. The lives of my brothers and sisters are messy. The life of the world is messy. What would a clean, flawless and antiseptic story be able to say to us who have never had the luxury of living a life that is clean, flawless and antiseptic?

During this time of crisis, I was recently asked by a reader why he is often touched at the beginning by a sermon, impulse or story, but after a short time falls back into old patterns, attitudes and views. He had read an impulse from the series »May you be sheltered« and felt that he grown more loving, considerate and merciful in the days thereafter. Then he came back in contact with an old conflict and, as he interpreted it, he had lost everything he had gained before.

He is not the first. He is not the last. He is not the only one.

 

People leave the church on Sundays, inspired by a liturgy. They feel rooted, grounded, or realigned once again and feel the renewed confidence that they can face the trials of the world with constant mercy and justice. The parking lot and its traffic will be their first ruin. Honking the horn, they sing songs that are not to be found in church hymnals.

 

That is exactly the experience of the wheat and the weeds. The field of this story is the image for the human heart. Just as weeds can be found in every field, they will be found in every heart. We move between moments of knowledge and clear orientation on the one hand (wheat) and broken and distracted behavior on the other hand (weeds). There are times when we have everything under control (wheat) and then someone or something throws us completely for a loop (weed).

 

As long as we humans dwell in time and space, the kingdom of God will be like this in us. There will always be a struggle between the initiative that God plants in us and the resistances that are within us. The good and the bad will always exist side by side in us. This is not a sign that all of us are always getting it wrong, it is simply the reality of the human heart.

 

That is why Jesus never preaches of conversion as it can take place once and for all. We must immerse ourselves into a process of never-ending conversion. Here a fine distinction is of particular importance. This conversion that is always needed is not only a prerequisite for entering the Kingdom of God. No, this ever-necessary conversion is the way in which the Kingdom of God permeates the earth of our hearts. When the wheat and the weeds have stopped growing and have reached fullness, then it will be necessary to sift them. But as long as our hearts are still growing, as long as we are still in the process of becoming and the fruitfulness of God is still developing within us, that time has not yet arrived.

 

Wheat and weeds grow side by side. They are so interwoven that they form an inseparable unit. Wheat grows from the earth of the heart when we successfully embody our deepest inner convictions about love. Weeds grow out of the earth of the heart if we cannot embody, implement, or implement precisely the self-same convictions about love. We are a mixture of wheat and weeds

 

That is why we need time. All true growth takes time, in us as individuals and in a church or a society. Time is an opportunity for conversion, the chance to change our opinions and beliefs, and to do so again and again. We are repeat offenders. What we need to practice, and this with a little gentleness, is to become a repeat repenters.

 

It will certainly remain that way in this life. I was recently told that it will not be like this at the end of days. That is absolutely correct. But in case you have not noticed this yourselves, we have not yet arrived at the end of days.

 

As long as we still have breath within us, struggling with life is the goal. What we know is the way. We know what we should try, what we want to become and how we can promote and nurture it. That we should live lovingly, justly and in service is not a state secret. We know the way. What we do not now all that well are our own hearts. They are more sensitive than we would like to admit, they have more scars and more resentment than we would care to acknowledge.

 

When I, as a novice, complained loud and long about the imperfection of the community, my spiritual director said to me: »This is the community, not heaven.« In the community, wheat and weeds grow side by side.

 

It certainly could not hurt to look at such a strong agricultural picture from a farmer's perspective. The farmer does not see weeds as a mistake, but as an annoying necessity. Weeds do not grow because you are a bad farmer, but because farming without weeds is simply impossible. They are a part of the experience, a part of the process.

 

There are no clean solutions, neither in agriculture nor in the landscape of the soul. Radical courses of action, political or social, human or systemic, long for something that does not exist. The victims of racism do not have more decent living conditions and equality if we set fire to the inner cities, ransack shops, and tear down statues and damage houses. And we will not become better people if we scourge ourselves and make ourselves small or try to clean up the landscape of the heart with hardness or brutality.

 

What really matters is that we can distinguish wheat from weeds so that on the day of the harvest we gather in what is life-giving and throw away what is harmful. At the moment they often grow side by side in my heart. It is crucial that we know what we want to harvest. I know exactly what I want to keep and protect and what I don't. And with that in mind, I can calmly say to the weeds of my life: You have currently taken up some space in my heart, but in the long run you have no chance.

 

I am not the first. I am not the last. I am not the only one.

 

ERIK RIECHERS SAC

Vallendar, July 19th, 2020

 

 

An Exercise of the Sea

 

We want to have our life under control

to determine our small world ourselves.

We talk ourselves deeper into our notions,

childlike desires, demands, reproaches.

Sometimes we then grow short of breath,

we gasp for air.

 

And it is time to draw close to the sea and step into the surf:

 

Sea

When one comes to the sea

one should start to remain silent

at the last blades of grass

one should lose the thread

 

and breathe in the saltyfoam

and the sharp hiss of the wind

and exhale

and inhale again

 

When you hear the sand sawing

and the shuffling of the little stones

in long waves

you should stop what should be

and desire nothing more just the sea

Only the sea

Erich Fried

It's like an exercise

of letting go,

of surrender,

of becoming silent,

of devotion,

of self-forgetfulness

of drawing breath.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 17th, 2020

 

 

»The Struggle for Tenderness« II

 

When May began, the media talked weekly abut loosening the restrictions – including gradually doing so in old age homes. But nothing changed for Hans and Mercedes. Adding to his pain came a desperation that he also felt physically: his old asthma broke out again and began to torment him. He did not feel understood by anyone among his circle of friends. »Very few could understand how badly he needs his wife and how she needs him. And: How a man misses his wife and a woman misses her husband cannot be compared to how you miss a grandmother or your parents. «* This he confided to ZEIT- Magazine.

By the end of May, there was an increasingly large easing of restrictions in old age homes nationwide. However, the need for security in the retirement home, in which the Hans and Mercedes live, is very high and so everything here was still handled very strictly – successfully, in regard to protecting the elderly from the virus.

However, the misery of the loving old couple became oppressively stronger. They could now meet about every 10 days. Of course, a telephone registration was required and this was becoming more and more difficult, since the phone was mostly busy and often their son made the appointment. They were then together in the chapel of the house for less than half an hour. They sat opposite each other at a table with a Plexiglas pane between them and under constant control. At one such meeting, his wife exclaimed in Spanish: »What crime have we committed to be treated like this?«*

When Hans heard such statements from Mercedes during these difficult weeks, it always warmed his sad heart, because her erudition and her intelligence sounded through - she quoted Spanish poets or incorporated old experiences into her words. Even if she seemed to be deteriorating- his Mercedes was still there! He even managed to smuggle cakes and strawberries past the Plexiglas pane - and she ate with pleasure!

In June - it was already in the advanced third month of this disruptive situation - an email finally came with the message: » Visits are again possible in the respective living quarters every day.«* - at a distance, of course!

But now it became clear how this time of distancing had affected Mercedes. She raged and shouted something about the Leftists and the war. Old traumas from her childhood in Franco’s Spain, in which her hometown had been under siege for three months, had re-emerged: once again she had been forced to live three months apart from the world. Her husband could not calm her down and his fear grew that » something had irreparably broke down « during this time.* His heart was not filled with joy, but with great despondency and sadness. He felt at an end and asked their son to take on the next visit. How happy he was when he called him, lured him to the balcony and waved to him from the window with Mercedes at his side. He gave his mother the phone - and Hans beamed when she professed her love for him.

The struggle for tenderness is not yet at an end. But there has been an evening in which he was able to remain with her until she fell asleep – and during which she was finally able to say »their « sentence again: » I am happy that I have you.«

He feels gratitude, but also anger:  »Because I realised how many days had been taken from us. «*

 

» Love is patient and kind; … Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.«

 

*ZEIT-Magazine of July 2nd, 2020

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 15th, 2020

 

 

»The Struggle for Tenderness« I

 

Of all the stories we heard and told during the Corona crisis, I bet that the fewest of them were love stories.

» Love is patient and kind; … Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.«  Thus writes Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians and many couples chose this reading for their wedding and tend to believe that their love is precisely described here. Yet, such a love matures and is forged in life and whether it becomes masterpiece will be seen long, long after the weeding.

In the spring of this year a 65-year-old love story was continued in Berlin and I am grateful to ZEIT-magazine that I was allowed to read this story.

Mercedes and Hans look back on fulfilled and lively decades, both professionally and privately. They were able to fashion their lives together in Germany for over 6 decades and then in Spain after retirement. Hans had held a university chair in Saarbrücken for over 30 years; Mercedes, whose intelligence and love for surprises he still loves to this day, built small schools for the children of Spanish guest labourers.

For some time now they have been living in a retirement facility in Steglitz. Two years ago Mercedes began to suffer from dementia as a result of a luckily rather mild fall, but she had to move from their joint apartment to a room in the nursing section.

In their great love, which had lost none of their fascination for one another since they met as students in Madrid 65 years earlier, they were able to fill this situation with life. Every morning and evening, Hans came to his beloved wife for two hour. He spoke of the fact that a kind of marital community was formed that he had never known before. »'He read her books, including her own, they listened to music, he caressed and washed her. . . . He drew strength from her evening ritual: when she was given an anxiety reliever, he sat at her bed, holding her hands as she relaxed and became more and more tired and, just before she fell asleep, she always said the same sentence: ` I am happy that I have you. 'She meant her husband and son..« *

But then in March this ended abruptly. Due to Corona, the 86-year-old was no longer allowed visit his wife, who lives only 30 meters away from him, as the crow flies. He soon turned to the press because he was very worried and received no help at the home. In their phone calls, he increasingly noticed that Mercedes was growing worse. How could she live without his closeness? Nobody could give her what Hans gives her.

By mid-April, he had been allowed to see his wife three times. »See but not touch. That means a world of difference to him - and probably for her too. In the next weeks a battle would ensue around this world of difference.«* Little wonder, since the meetings took place in a large, prepared room, with a face mask and a distance of 2 meters, initially with a nurse in attendance as well - like a visit to a prison. At the first meeting, Mercedes called out, : » What kind of shitty meeting is this?« Weak as she was - she got to the point. Yes, they could finally see each other again, but what was that compared to what they needed!

Hans now dreamed of recapturing their evening ritual and had been hopeful since mid-April, when the number of cases was slowly declining, that this was not far off. On April 20, he confidently wrote an e-mail to the managing director: » Today I will simply write down a dream for you. … I am allowed to return to my wife's room. ... When my wife is in bed, I will stay with her until she falls asleep, as I have done for a year and a half. Then she says once again: 'I'm happy. ‘«

*ZEIT-Magazine of July 2nd, 2020

(To be continued on July 15th)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 13th, 2020

 

 

15. Sunday A 2020

 

The Word shall not return to me empty

 

When my old teacher began a new series of lectures he would place a biblical word in the room. This is the word we heard in the first reading.

»So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it..« Is 55, 11.

 

Thereafter he asked the first big question of our training as narrative theologians. »Ladies and gentlemen. If the Word of God never returns to him until it does what he sent it to do, then the question arises: what, exactly, should this word do?« Then it was our turn.

To help us, he was happy to tell us a little anecdote from the life of Martha Graham (world-famous American dancer and choreographer). After a performance she received the press. The reporters showered her with praise and could not find enough superlatives to describe her dance. Then a reporter asked her, »Can you explain the dance to us?« Her answer came immediately. »Don't be foolish, darling. If I could explain it, I wouldn't have danced it.«

This tip did not help us much either. The problem was simple. We assumed, as most people do, that the word has only one real purpose, namely to lead us to understanding. It should educate us, make us wise and give us insight. Sometimes it is true. Sometimes a light goes on, something becomes clear to us and we understand ourselves, the others, life and even the world a little better.

 

Sometimes. But not always. Sometimes we hear the word and nothing is clear to us. On the contrary; we are frustrated and annoyed because the narrative is difficult to understand, because the parables give us no revelation, and the whole Bible appears to us like a book with seven seals. If it was God's purpose to send His Word just to enlighten us, then he took on too big a project. Because each of us knows that the word often returns to him very without having brought about enlightenment in us.

Again and again we experience the confusing complexity of the biblical stories and cannot tame them. We tell about a God who negotiates with Abraham and Moses, then we tell a story about a God who yields no inch with Job. The God who is a quiet voice for Elijah is a whirlwind for Job. The loving father does not intervene in the death of his son. And inside we scream: illogical! And we stumble over ourselves to create logic as quickly as possible.

But logic is the very last and least passion of God.

The word that comes from his mouth is not primarily a word of understanding, but a word against forgetting. He sends out his word and it does not return until we are reminded of what God does not want to be forgotten. The word given reminds us of many things that we would easily forget.

When we use analytical language, the situation is often clear. We can understand explanations and precise instructions more or less easily. But such words, as popular and sought-after as they are, have another characteristic, a characteristic that we almost always conceal. They are all extremely easy to forget.

The vast majority of God's words, however, are narratives. They are rarely unambiguous, are usually complex, and often require a lot of time and space to interpret them.

But whether we understand them or not, we don't forget them. In this first lecture, John often said to us, »If Jesus had written a book about the spiritual life, we would have long since forgotten everything in it. That is why he told us stories so we don’t forget them.«

The words (narratives) of God ensure that we do not forget the poor, the oppressed and the broken. Without the Word of God, they would have little chance. We often talk about poverty, but God's Word reminds us of the poor and gives them a name and face. We speak of systemic oppression, but God's Word reminds us of the oppressed.

 

The words about Lazarus and the rich man remind us that beggars are at our doors and we should do something about it. Jesus' healing of the ten lepers reminds us that outcast people have no home unless we offer them one. The feeding of the multitudes, such a multi-layered narrative, simply reminds us that people are hungry.

For people who suffer from relationships in their families, this word helps us not to forget that love, security and acceptance can also be given to us in other, unconventional ways.

When we are childless, when we are sterile, when we feel empty and feel no life in us, this word reminds us of unexpected pregnancies and of life that grows in people, where it should not be and often where it is normally forbidden.

This word tells of a woman touching the hem of his robe so that we do not forget that in the crowds around us there are people who are bleeding to death.

That reconciliation is a possibility;

that justice is troublesome;

that self-knowledge will not harm us;

that mistakes do not have the last word about us;

and that life can be shaped, protected and increased, especially in places where we will prematurely write it off:

the word of God reminds us of all that.

And it will not return to him until we remember. God is far more concerned about what we forget than what we do not understand. Because what we don't understand cannot really harm us. But what we forget can cost us our zest for life. We all know it. Each of us knows love. But we do not know how it works. And sometimes we are even surprised that it works, that we are really loved after all. But woe to people who forget that somewhere in the world a heart beats for them.

 

So I want to tell you a story from John Shea.

In the nineties John Shea went to Ireland to hold storytelling Workshops. A 75 year old told a story from her childhood in a small group setting.

»I was one of fourteen children and my mother tried to put order in everything that had to do with our brood. Every Sunday we would walk to the church about three miles away. But before we set out, there was a home ritual every bit as set in its ways as what the priest did at Mass.

There was only one mirror in the house, and my mother would stand in front of it. Then each of us would queue up and pass between my mother and the mirror. As we did, she would straighten us up and comb our hair. After this combing we could go out and play. When everyone was done we would gather and walk to church.

One Sunday, I was about third in the queue. My mother looked down the line and saw that my little sister did not have a shoelace in her shoe.my mother looked at me and said, ‘Go back and get your sister a shoelace.’

But I did not want to lose my place, so I didn’t budge. When my turn came, I stepped between my mother and the mirror. My mother said nothing. She simply combed my hair and off I went to play.

I came in a little while later. My little sister – the one without the shoelace - was between my mother and the mirror. My mother bent down and took a shoelace out of her own shoe and put it in the shoe of my little sister. When I saw this I went into the back of the house and got a shoelace. I came out and knelt at my mother’s feet and put the shoelace in her shoe. As I did this and while she was combing the hair of my little sister, she reached down with her free hand and stroked my hair.«

Her story ended there. John Shea met her outside after the break and thanked her for the story. »It was rich and moving. I don‘t know what it means, but I was moved by it.«

Note John Shea’s words: »I don‘t know what it means, but I was moved by it.«

The woman was not convinced. She thought her story was stupid and that she should not have told it. But John Shea told her, »We are all the better for having heard it.«

Every afternoon, after lunch, John would sit under a tree smoking his cigar. On Thursday, the fourth day of the conference, he sat under the tree without a cigar. The old woman approached and asked him where his cigar was.

»It’s in my room, but I am too tired to go get it.«

»I noticed you did not have one, so I brought you a cigar«, she said. She handed me a cigar.

While preparing to smoke the cigar, it suddenly dawns on him. The cigar is the shoelace.

After the next session he approached the woman and said to her, »The cigar is the shoelace. The cigar is the shoelace.«

»She looked up at me and stuck out her chin. ‘I know that’ she said. She looked down and then looked back up at me. ‘It was a pact with my mother’, she said with emotion. ‘It was a pact with my mother’. As she said this, she hit her heart twice.«

 

»So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it..« Is 55, 11.

 

Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers,

I do not know whether you understand this story. But I am certain of one thing. You will never forget it.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 12th, 2020

 

 

Our hearts measure up to all of this

 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak.

2 Corinthians 4, 8-13

 

Paul makes 4 statements against resignation.

  1. We are afflicted in every way,

but not crushed;

 

  1. perplexed,

but not driven to despair;

 

  1. persecuted,

but not forsaken;

 

  1. struck down,

but not destroyed.

 

Our danger is that we often only tell the first half of the story. Then the narrative reads: We are afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. What comes after the »but« is usually not told.

 

  1. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.

We are able to find and design the spaces of life, even where people would deny them to us.

 

  1. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.

We are able to endure tensions, even when we do not have or receive black-and-white answers.

 

  1. We are persecuted, but not forsaken.

Pressure, agitation and disregard are realities that we know: but they do not have the power to make us people of hopelessness. We believe, come what may, that we are his people, that we have value, dignity and meaning, that we are loved and wanted, and that our God goes with us.

 

  1. We are struck down, but not destroyed.

We are still here! We are still breathing, we are still alive, we are still moving. The world still has to reckon with us.

 

And because that is the case, Paul continues:

»Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written,

‘I believed, and so I spoke,` we also believe, and so we also speak.«

 

This means, we too have something to say about all that is happening in the world

 

We also believe, and so we also speak: The world will not be fashioned without us, even if the darkest powers of greed, possessiveness, terror and injustice try to prevent us from doing so.

 

We also believe, and so we also speak: The spaces of life for the People of God will not be determined without us, regardless how wickedly we are dealt with.

 

We also believe, and so we also speak: The priorities of life cannot be set without us.

 

This crisis is long, painful and persistent. The proposed solutions and the craze of lifting restrictions are short-sighted, reckless and unbearable in the long term. But as long as we believe and speak, the last word has not be spoken. Our hearts measure up to this crisis.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 10th, 2020

 

 

Tatort and the Holy Spirit

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Gal 5, 22-23

 

I have made a discovery over the years regarding German culture. When I unsuspectingly gave the comment that all of the programs of the crime series »Tatort« were more or less the same, I was swiftly informed otherwise.  The passion with which I was informed about the locations, commissioners and actors of the various »Tatort« programs was breathtaking. At the end of this clarification, the sentence fell, »Erik, all Germans love Tatort.«

 

I am very pleased to hear it, because this text is made for crime scene fans. Here Paul invites the listener to track down the Spirit like a commissioner.

 

Like every commissioner, he starts by searching for clues and the first thing he finds are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

 

These fruits are already at hand. We do not have to acquire them. In inherited interpretations, believers are typically called upon to acquire these fruits. But there is no question of this in Paul. He wants us to notice them.

 

These fruits are proof that the perpetrator, the Spirit, was already among us. When we find evidence, we deduce backwards to the source. (Just ask Sherlock Holmes). For example, if we find a 38 round, we know which weapon it has to come from. When we see apples in a box in the market, we know that apples can only come from an apple tree, because apples have no other place of origin. If I then find : love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,  or self-control, then I know that they also have only one origin, namely the Holy Spirit. And we are already on the track of the divine perpetrator.

 

When I see these apples in the store, I do not have to see the tree to know where they come from. Where we find the fruits of the Spirit in our life, we do not see the perpetrator Spirit, but his fingerprints. We know he must have been here.

 

Now, in our search for clues, we come to discover that the fingerprints of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control can be found everywhere. This perpetrator has been everywhere. We find these fingerprints criss-crossed throughout our life. Not just in church, in the liturgy, or in prayer. We experience these fruits in everyday conversations, where we show patience that even surprises us. In the office, at work, we have experiences of goodness. In the bedroom where parents put their children to bed and where people love each other again, we experience love and joy. We encounter friendliness when barbecuing, and we experience loyalty and self-control on the playgrounds of both children and adults. Sometimes we experience these fruits as gifts that others give us. Sometimes we experience these fruits as gifts that we give to others.

 

These fingerprints are to be found everywhere. That means, that the perpetrator is everywhere, the Spirit is present and active everywhere in our lives. This is not insignificant, because here we are told something essential about the perpetrator. He is reliable.

 

Nothing heals without reliability. An elderly woman recounted to me the visit of a young man who entertained her for an afternoon. He played games with her, sang her favorite songs, and even did some magic tricks for her. Finally, the old lady said to me, »And since he was here, I've been so depressed and sad.« Her daughter, who was sitting there, jumped out of the chair and then out of her skin. »Mom, how can you say that? He came and sang for you. He came and visited you. He came and entertained you.« Then the old mother shouted back,» But he never came back! «

 

But he never came back. As beautiful as it might have been, it was not reliable. Nothing heals without reliability. Who of us can live from a single act of love? Who among us of us will be healed by one experience of kindness, one experience of loyalty?

 

Thus, at the end of our investigation, we can conclude: In order to track down this perpetrator, we have to research all of life. This perpetrator is unlikely to be apprehended

 

But, brothers and sisters, sometimes there are cases that we do not have to solve. Because nobody loses anything here, nobody is robbed, killed, humiliated or betrayed. The perpetrator leaves more behind than when he arrived. So a good strategy would be the following:

1. Notice the clues of the perpetrator (fruits of the Spirit).

2. Become more grateful.

3. Live more consciously (like a commissioner looking for the perpetrator).

4. And enjoy your richly gifted life.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 8th, 2020

 

 

Crisis and Meaning

 

How can we traverse the paths of our lives when they become difficult, when crises shake us, when we feel powerless? We all know such times and this year there is the additional experience of the pandemic that connects us worldwide. Such a global crisis experience was last seen in and through World War II. There are diverse testimonies of how people endured, bore and survived misery and danger at that time, both externally and internally. Their stories nurture us to this day. We need only think of  Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi or Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Eva Erben or Marceline Loridan.

As a Jew, the Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) knew, like millions of others, existential threats and brutalization. He survived four concentration camps from September 1942 to the end of April 1945. His father died in one camp, as did his wife; his mother and brother were murdered.

He had already found his focus in his medical studies: depression and suicide. This led him to the center of his work, the question of the meaning of life. He had to go through hell and lost his most beloved ones, but he did not break. His thinking and work became deeper, richer and more fruitful, to this day.

How can we traverse the paths of our lives when they become difficult?

» If you know the meaning of your life, this awareness helps you more than anything else to overcome external difficulties and internal complaints.«, said Viktor Frankl.

Today we come across phrases like, » The main thing is that we have our good health « or »it’s all good! « And currently we hear, »Finally everything is back to normal again! » - Nothing seems more important than to return to superficiality and supposed lightness of being as quickly as possible. But life is not only pleasant and if I try to somehow bend and reduce it to this, it becomes flat and attains no real depth. Viktor Frankl always said that suffering, gravity, need and death are part of our lives. All of this has a purpose that we destroy when we try to separate the dark from our lives. We would take the true shape from our lives. "Only under the hammer blows of fate, in the white heat of suffering from it, does life take shape and form." A man who had to go through the hell of concentration camps could say that. In the pain of suffering he could see the formative power through which his true self was shaped more and more, and so he could fulfill the meaning, the task, the calling of his life even deeper and more fully.

We Christians go to Master's workshop and Jesus never set an example or promised us an easy, simple life. His concern was and is the abundance, the real wealth of an authentically lived life, in which nothing is ignored or excluded. He lived as the true son of the Torah and in it is said: »Today I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you. I present life and death to you, blessing and curse. So choose life so that you live, you and your descendants. «(Dt 30,19)

I can truly live my life in all its breadth, in all its facets from light sky blue to somber black-gray, if I know the meaning of my life and always choose it anew, namely, to fashion what is given to me, even if it is sometimes very little.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 6th, 2020

 

 

14. Sunday A 2020

 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you,

and learn from me,

for I am gentle and lowly in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Mt 11, 28-30

 

Who of us does not feel troubled and weighed down by heavy loads? And who of us does not want peace of mind? As soon as these words of Jesus are spoken, we already feel the great desire to register for this recovery package.

 

However, this longing lures us into a trap. Because as human beings we mostly want someone to take the burden off us, and that I why we do not listen to the text until the end. Because Jesus' offer is not to take the burden off us once and for all. Here he actually suggests an exchange. Jesus' proposal is to put down an unbearable burden and take on a bearable one.

 

It is always the same with Jesus. He is always interested in taking what is unbearable from people, and at the same time he is always clear and consistent in his demand that they should take on something (my yoke) that is bearable and serves life.

 

There are several things that are unbearable for us: guilt, sin, death, blindness, paralysis. If we carry loads of this kind for too long, we will perish. But in order to live freely, redeemed, seeing, alive and flexible, we also have to take on something bearable. The yoke has many names in Jesus’ preaching: go; sell, search, give away, act on it, etc. They are also a burden, but a light, bearable burden.

 

Let us take forgiveness as an example. Forgiveness is a bearable burden. The unbearable burden is the fact and feeling of guilt. We always think that our past and our mistakes are troubling us, but it is actually our guilt about them. Because if we deal well with our past and our mistakes, then we don't bear our guilt forever. It is unbearable when we say: »I feel guilty, because I failed at the time. I feel guilty for not being good enough. I feel guilty for making wrong decisions. I feel guilty… «. And so on, and so forth.

 

In the long run, guilt is the unbearable burden. But even though we are sure of God's forgiveness (I am kind and humble from the heart), and we are relieved of the burden of guilt, we have to take on something else, namely, the yoke of forgiveness that we have to find in ourselves and which we need to accept.

 

It is not enough to say that God's passion is forgiveness and not the punishment of his people (My yoke is easy). How many times do we actually have to hear »Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden«? It won't be enough to say that we want redemption, freedom, or new life chances.

 

At some point, we have to lay down the burden and rest a little. At some point, we would have to stop constantly nagging at ourselves, churning up the old, digging around in old wounds. Eternal, uninterrupted self-analysis eventually becomes a substitute for life.

 

We have to find enough compassion, vitality and courage in ourselves to forgive ourselves. There is always a yoke, something we have to carry, if we want to live beyond the unbearable burden.

 

Time and again, there are forms of self-observation that will occur in people. These forms are disfigured, damaged and toxic. If we observe ourselves too habitually, we can put off life experiences before they can take place. In almost addictive speculations about how to proceed or what the future holds for us, we come up with all sorts of scenarios and are so disheartened and frightened that we dare not risk, attempt or try anything.

 

Lay down the unbearable burden of eternal, relentless self-reproach and rest a little. Take up a lighter load:

Go through life for a while and live without analysis.

Sell something to which you cling, but that is not good for you.

Search for new opportunities in life.

Give away the old excuses as to why you're not good enough.

Act and set something unknown in motion.

 

These are things that Jesus lay on our shoulders and when we put them into practice, they are truly a burden. I know, because every time I recommend them to people, they complain about how difficult it is to take them up. Of course they are a burden, but a lighter one, a bearable one. We dream too much of an unencumbered life and do too little to create a resilient life.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 5th, 2020

 

 

The Crisis and Shalom

 

Will the great worldwide crisis of this extraordinary year change us humans?  It does do one thing: It helps to uncover how we really are - as individuals or as a society. The way in which we deal with responsibility, risks and restrictions has to do with our inner self. Like every crisis, the insecurities of the pandemic reveal how strongly we are determined by external circumstances, or how rooted and stable we live in and out of our depths.

Recently, an experienced therapist talked about how unbalanced and unstable we often are in life. Our emotions surge up, the inner sea is so restless that it is impossible to look into the depths. Only when the surface became calm again could we see what is available to us in the depths and draw from it.

A word of Jesus’ comes to mind: »See, the kingdom of God is within you.« (Lk 17, 21) If we went to this source over and over again, peace could spread within us, shalom in the deepest sense of peace and well-being. For we already carry this abundance within us. Instead, we experience aggression and violence on the night streets, protests and conspiracy theories, ignorance and recklessness, far and wide. All of this speaks of discontent in the souls, of how much people are dependent on external circumstances and are susceptible to seething emotional turbulence. Of course, this has consequences and is also reflected in our outward behavior.

The ways of the indigenous peoples can wonderfully express the interweaving of the inner and outer worlds:

 

The first peace, which is the most important,

 is that which comes within the souls of people

when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers,

and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit,

and that its center is really everywhere,

 it is within each of us. That is the true peace.

(»Black Elk«, Oglala Lakota people)

 

In order to stay on the track of this peace, I have to become silent and expose myself contemplatively to myself and the world. And gradually the sea becomes calm. I recognize the wealth in me, in my depths. Then I can practice walking in the center.

 

»See, the kingdom of God is within you.« Times of crisis come and so do fluctuations. That is why we practice living in and out of this center within us.

 

And we genuinely wish one another »shalom«.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 3rd, 2020

 

 

So that the circumstances do not change me

 

In his poem »Counsel«, Wilhelm Bruners suggest how we should enter into the day. It is his counsel that we should »take the first information from the Songs of David« before we listen to the news and read the papers. Then comes my favourite passage: »Note the order if you want to maintain the strength to change the circumstances«.

His advice is dear to me and I follow it every morning. Truly, we should do everything to maintain our strength so that we can use it to change the circumstances of daily life and the dominant culture around us.

But what happens when our strength does not suffice to change the circumstances? Often people think that there is nothing left to do. But that is not true. If my strength does not suffice to change the circumstances, then I have to be careful that I employ my strength so that the circumstances do not change me.

Elie Wiesel tells the following story:

»Listen to a story: One day a just man came to the city of Sodom. He began to preach to its inhabitants, telling them to change their evil ways. He wanted to save them from destruction, a destruction he knew would come as a result of their sins against one another. ‘Please,’ he said, ‘stop your cruelty, stop your inhumanity! You must be kinder to the stranger, to the children of the stranger!’ He went on like that for many days, but no one listened. He did not give up. He continued preaching and protesting for many years. Finally, a passerby asked him, ‘Rabbi, really, why do you do that? Don’t you see no one is listening?‘ He answered, ‚I know. No one will listen, but I cannot stop. You see, at first I thought I had to preach and protest in order to change them. But now, although I continue to speak, it is not to change the world. It is so that they do not change me.’« *

If my strength does not suffice to change the circumstances, then I have to be careful that I employ my strength so that the circumstances do not change me.

To those who will not listen, the Rabbi appears to be a madman. But, here too, Elie Wiesel remains true to his deepest faith intuition. We should study the »madmen« »in order to learn how to resist. Madness holds the key to protest, to rebellion. Without it, if we are too ‘sane’ by the standards of our surroundings, we can be carried along with the world’s madness.« *

If my strength does not suffice to change the circumstances, then I have to be careful that I employ my strength so that the circumstances do not change me.

*From: Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom, by  Ariel Burger

 

Erik Riechers SAC,  July 1st, 2020

 

 

Traces from days long past

 

We all remember people who left deep marks on our lives. We are essentially created for relationship and encounter. Martin Buber put it this way in his thoughts on education: »The human being becomes an I through the thou.«  We are not even aware of many of these traces.

Today we commemorate two men, whose traces have been visible in the greater Christian family for 2000 years and are repeatedly considered and celebrated: the Jewish fisherman Simon Petrus from Galilee and the Roman citizen and Greek-educated Jew, Paul of Tarsus.

Why could they - coming from the margins of the Roman Empire of that time - leave such indelible marks on our soil? The answer sounds simple: Because they chose the narrow path in life. But what did that require of them?

They had to make decisions and act accordingly

Their way repeatedly demanded of them that they be focused and decisive.They could not avoid encounters and situations, but face them and dealt with the challenges.

Let us take a look at a few stations of their respective ways.

In the Gospel of Matthew we hear of Peter for the first time in chapter 4. » While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.«  Whatever constituted the fascination of this call, Peter decides to follow Jesus. Thus, his path with him begins and much later, in a difficult hour, he can say to Jesus: »You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!« (Mt 16, 16)

How narrow this path is and how difficult we find it at times to focus on it and not veer from it, is something he discovers shortly afterwards. When Jesus makes it clear to where his path is leading, namely to death, Peter says to him: » “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you. « Jesus, however, helps him to remain on the narrow path: » Get behind me…« That means: Stay on my track, even when it gets narrow.

Peter learns his »handcraft« and later shows repeatedly that he does not avoid the challenges on his narrow path. The Acts of the Apostles repeatedly tells us about it. Thus, he can confess Jesus as the Risen Lord and heal a paralytic in the temple and later stand up for it before the High Council, despite all hostility, prohibitions and threats: »Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.« (Acts 4, 19-20)

Thus the traces of Peter mark the ground on which we stand.

In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul tells of his way. He recounts his earlier life:

»For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.« (Gal 1, 13-14) But he was called by God himself to a new way on which he first needed help and had to practice: »… nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.« His path always challenged him anew - the Acts of the Apostles and his letters are filled with this. It, too, was a narrow path, not a motorway.

People who walk the broad paths of the masses need not do any of this.  They can let themselves drift along, do not have to focus to stay on the path, can easily avoid difficult situations. But there are no traces of them left behind either. How could there be?

Our question should be: Which path leads to life? That is exactly the heartfelt desire of Jesus. . Towards the end of his great life-instructions on the mount, he says: » Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.« (Mt 7, 13-14)

Peter and Paul are witnesses to this. They left their mark on the world, because they made their way into life and are therefore a role model for all of us.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 29th, 2020

 

 

13. Sunday A 2020

 

One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him.  And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.

2 Kings 4, 8-17

 

Two years ago we held a Wellspring Day (a day of biblical recollection) in which we very intensively contemplated the stories about Elischa. When we arrived at this passage of today’s liturgy, we posed a question to the group. What awakens a gratitude in me that is deep enough (and not merely superficial) that I am not only touched, but moved to invest time and space in order to give life to others?

The woman from Shunem awakens a deep gratitude in Elischa. Let us take a look at what awakens this gratitude: food, a room, a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp

At first glance, the list seems rather meager. After all, for these little things Elisha is ready to put in a word with the head of the army or even with the king. And in the end, he gives the woman the fertility that enables her to carry a child. The price-performance ratio seems to have gotten a bit out of hand here.

Or perhaps not. Those who have eyes to see will note, that each of her gifts represents a deeper, richer world of life and love.

  1. She gives him something to eat. Food is always that which sustains life. But to give him food, she must first keep an eye on his hunger.

 

  1. She sets up a small, upper room for him. She grants him a room that belongs to him, a place where he can dwell. And she does this for a person who otherwise has no place for himself, no space that he can call his own. For this, she must keep an eye on the homelessness of this person.

 

  1. She gives him a bed. This is the gift of peace and quiet, where everything that belongs to us, that is under tension and has to carry loads, can rest. For this, she must keep an eye on the exhaustion of this person.

 

  1. She places a table at his disposal. This is the place where we can put down food, books and other valuable things so that we have our hands free and can relish them better and more deeply. The cheap things of life we can put on the floor, but the valuables of our lives require a table. If you place a meal on the floor, you reduce a human being to a dog. A table ensures dignity. But for that she had to keep an eye on the poverty of this person.

 

  1. She provides him with a chair. This is the place where we can take a seat, linger and stay. If someone offers us a chair, it is an invitation to linger and take some time. But if we have to remain standing, we know that the other person would like to get rid of us as soon as possible. But for that she had to keep an eye on the longing for belonging in this person.

 

  1. And in the end a lamp is provided for him. A lamp brings light where no otherwise light cannot go. A lamp can extend light into times when light normally cannot rule. But for that, she had to keep an eye on Elisha’s subjection to disorientation.

 

In the Lectionary, this story is abbreviated and the following part is left out:

 

One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him.  And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”

 

This part is not insignificant, because it clarifies what gratitude towards such a woman, such a giver of life, can look like. If this woman's reward comes from the king or the chief of the army, it will be power, status, wealth, or influence. That is the currency of the rulers and the powerful. That is what they have to offer.

But it is not her desire. This woman was touchingly worried about the life of a helpless man and does not begrudge him life. She knows that power, status, wealth, and influence are dangerous for people like her. We always argue that these things can also serve life, but the overwhelming experience with them is that they corrupt us. Power, status, wealth and influence divert our attention towards them and away from people. They are not known to sharpen our view of life. Most of the time, they become an end unto themselves.

The woman wants what all servants of life want, namely, more life. A rule as old as the biblical story says: Where life is offered, life will arise; whoever grants, enables and serves other lives will receive life and become a bearer of life. The woman will have a child.

At the moment we are very preoccupied with the world of rulers and the powerful. After long days of crisis, they should now give us back everything we had to do without: sports, restaurants, travel, consumption, cinema, theater and all forms of entertainment.

I pose the question at the start once more, but more pointedly: Will these be the things that awaken in us a gratitude that is deep enough (and not merely superficial) that we are not only touched, but moved? Will this merciless restoration of superficiality and mindless consumption move us to invest time and space in other to grant life to others?

What use is all of this to us without people who grant us life: food, a room, a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp?

What use is all of this to us if we build a society and a Church that know nothing but superficiality and consumption? Who keeps an eye on the hunger of our fellow human beings, if we only deal with our satiety? Who keeps an eye on the homelessness of the severely afflicted, if we only care that we are well accommodated? Will we keep an eye out for people's exhaustion during these days, if we only care about our relief? Where is an eye for the poverty of the many economically weakened people, if we only want to restore our prosperity? Do we even want to keep an eye out for the longing for belonging in other people, if we only care about the restoration of our social contacts? Do we have an eye for the disorientation of so many people for whom this crisis is far from over, when we only have our own future in view?

 

If anyone can understand and appreciate this woman, it is Jesus of Nazareth: “The foxes have caves and the birds of heaven have nests; but the Son of Man has no place where he can lay his head.” (Mt 8:20) His experiences will make him keenly appreciative of life's little gifts and services: food, a room, a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp. Those who stay close to the Son of Man stay close to the poor. Those who stay close to the poor appreciate everything that serves life and all who are life carriers for them.

So I return once more to our question: What awakens a gratitude in me that is deep enough (and not merely superficial) that I am not only touched, but moved to invest time and space in order to give life to others?

If we grant and prepare life for others, life will merge or us.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 28th, 2020

 

 

»My house shall will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.«

(Mark 11, 17)

 

After many years I had taken the long journey upon myself. I wanted to visit the temple in Jerusalem again, I wanted to enter it. Since my youth it was splendid in my memory, its beauty had something heavenly about it. Even though I did not believe in the God of the Jews, he had enchanted me at the time.

I left my daughter behind, who was now well back on her own feet, and went south in the course of many daily marches and then up into the Judean Mountains. Finally Jerusalem drew near, the city on the mountains - what a sight! There was nothing comparable in my Canaanite homeland. When I finally approached the Temple Mount, the alleys grew ever fuller. Many people were on the way to their sanctuary, because it was just before the great Passover festival of the Jews. And so I went with the crowds south around the Temple Mount and climbed the steps - slowly, with a pounding heart, step by step. Then I stood in front of the entrance gate to the portico. I knew it was the only gate that I was allowed to walk through as a pagan woman, so I walked through it more consciously and found myself again in the forecourt of the Gentiles. Yes, we were only allowed in this area, the actual temple was not permitted to us. There was so much longing for the holy inside of me. It had accompanied me up all the way up to this place, indeed, even driven me. That suddenly became clear to me as I stood in the hustle and bustle and looked up at the huge temple building.

It was different from back then, many years ago. I was no longer a youngster. Life had shaped me since then. But here, too, it was not the way I remembered it. So much business, so much hustle and bustle, so many merchants! Sacrificial animals passed over their tables, coins changed hands - this seemed to be all about business.

Just as I wanted to look for a quieter place, it happened: voices grew loud, tables were knocked over, pigeons fluttered and people jumped to the side. For a moment there was a swath cut through the masses and I saw the man who was about to tip over another merchant table. I carefully stepped closer. Then I heard his voice. It was clear and distinct: »Is it not written in the Scriptures:  My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made of it a den of robbers. « I had to squeeze through a few onlookers in order to be able to see him even better. My heart seemed to stop: I had met him once before. He was traveling with his friends in my homeland more than a year ago. He did not want to be disturbed and yet I took a chance. I was in great distress. I fought for my daughter like a lioness. I insisted she was to be freed from the evil spirit that had possessed her. When he suddenly was so close by, I put all my hope in him. But: how dismissive he was! I did not give up. I whimpered like a puppy. I know that I am not one of his chosen people. But may we not live as well? I will never forget his look when he realized that he was my hope and sent me back with the words: Go home, the demon has left your daughter! And so it was – thanks be to God!

That I should encounter him here, today – he, the one who saved my daughter!

And what had he said? »My house shall will be called a house of prayer for all the nations. « Then it would be so for me as well. Then I would truly be allowed to enter and my heart could touch the holy. We could all pray together. Tears run down my cheeks –this sentence touches all of my yearning that has driven me to this place.

 

Now I lose sight of him. I withdraw behind a pillar and look toward the sanctuary. What a precious moment! This rabbi, who healed my daughter, the child of a heathen, has the courage to say, at the very heart of his religion, that all can pray here.

His God is all the God of us all. . . What a pilgrimage! And for one moment I am filled with the feeling, that I have found my home.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 26th, 2020

 

 

I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining:

The Birth of John the Baptist

 

»I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. And I believe in love, even when there’s no one there.

And I believe in God, even when he is silent.« These words were written in the Warsaw Ghetto, a place of crisis and death. They were prayed in a place of atrocity against the brothers and sisters of the one praying these words.

 

We are currently coping with a crisis that is much milder and easier for most of us. Can we pray like that, talk like this about God and, more importantly, talk like this about our faith in times of distress? Maybe today's feast day of the birth of John the Baptist can help us.

 

The mystery of John’s birth lays in the fact that God does not just offer us life, but that he offers us life beyond our expectations. When the angel of the Lord announces the Baptist’s birth, he announces a gift of new life in a place and time neither Elisabeth nor Zechariah expect to find any such thing. There should be no budding life in a woman of Elisabeth’s age or medical history. This is the time for barrenness, not babies. This is a time for Geritol, not gestation.

 

However, God offers the two of them a life beyond their expectations. Barrenness suddenly blooms. Expectations are radically challenged, as life is offered at a juncture where the future looked as dry and withered as the womb of Elisabeth. The lesson is simple. God defines where life will be granted, and our expectations are no impediment whatsoever to God’s freedom to surprise. 

 

There are many places where God offers us life beyond our expectations. It happens when women discover that they are expecting a child they did not plan or expect. It happens when we care for our elderly and ailing parents. It happens when we nurture people with severe disabilities. It happens in the days beyond funerals. It happens in the throes of cancer and chemotherapy. In all these moments, and in many others like them, we are crushed and deflated because we are convinced that we have come to the threshold of an experience that will drain, defeat or, destroy our lives. We cannot even begin to contemplate that we are being offered a gift from God. So we need a little help.

 

This requires of us a second moment of reflection. When God’s enforced silence finally kneads the recognition of blessing from our stiffly resistant hearts, then we, like Zechariah, need to say, »His name is John«. 

 

The name Johannes means »God has shown us grace«. When Zechariah names his son, it is not merely a designation. It is a profession of faith. The man, who did not think that God could or would offer him life beyond his expectations, now clearly says that the birth of the Baptist is a moment in which God has shown his grace.

 

We, too, need to profess that God’s love is at work in the unexpected places. We need to name our unexpected and even resisted blessings and to admit that God has shown us grace. Silence is appropriate to give us the chance to deepen our understanding of what is offered to us in the unexpected hour. However, once we understand what God is offering us in the surprising hour, then silence must be broken.

 

In the end, our silence must be shattered. When the children we were afraid to bring into the world have filled us with laughter and brought light to our days, it is time to say, »His name is John« (God has shown us grace).

 

When we have accompanied the dying to the edge of life, feeling it hurt like hell, and still know we were privileged to be there, we must proclaim, »His name is John« (God has shown us grace).

 

Perhaps we have suffered the scourge of cancer and chemotherapy, only to discover it has formed us into disciples of greater love, service and sacrifice. Even more surprising is the realisation that our blessing was born of our bleeding, bruising and breaking. Now is the time to make it clear to the people around us, that »His name is John«, for God has shown us grace.

 

I had a friend who could do that. In a life marked by many losses and tragedies, he was a narrator of grace. Be it the early loss of his father, the death of his best friend, or his own suffering from the illnesses that took so much from him so early, he was a storyteller of blessing. He could work out the places where God had shown him grace. He was still a child when he could discover a lion's heart in his loneliness and homesickness.  I had a friend who could do that. His name was Johannes.

 

On this day when we commemorate the birth of John the Baptist, there should be a quiet, even melancholy, joy about us. Let sheepish grins play across our faces. Let tiny smiles tug at the corners of our mouths. Let a chuckle escape our lips at the memory of all the times when we stood with Zechariah, sure of tragedy while being drenched with grace. Then say a silent prayer of thanksgiving that God has given us all a chance to change our minds.

 

For Joachim on his feast day.

Zichrono livracha (May his memory be a blessing)

 

Erik Riechers SAC

June 24th, 2020

 

 

The Human Being and Art

 

Many children love to put color to paper. At first it may look like doodles to our eyes. Later they try to paint their view of their world. Sometimes they immerse themselves at the painting table in kindergarten or at home and later proudly show their works. It is the same with music: a few rhythm instruments, and already they try out what is possible with them. If they have plasticine in their hands or play on the sandy beach, they start to shape and model.

Even at this very early stage of artistic creation, we can recognize the essentials: unplanned times and stimulating spaces are needed to become creative and to express what is in us. New worlds can arise in creative dedication and that awakens joy - inside and outside, with the creator and in the beholder. Our observation of children or the memory of one's own childhood can thus show us that artistic activity essentially belongs to us human beings. In creative fashion our soul expresses itself, ideas are born in us and become reality. We want to create something beautiful, we enjoy working on it, it pleases others and they feel gifted. Has not an experience of the past few months been that we felt poor because we could not go to choir rehearsals, because theater and concert visits were not possible? Museums were closed and creative courses that might be part of our weekly program did not take place. Art is not merely an addition or a luxury in case time and money are left over.

» Art is a matter of the most profound, a test of the fineness of spirt and soul.«

We should nurture it and not dismiss it as irrelevant or even superfluous. Because if it is always only about the useful and pragmatic, if a great deal functions, indeed, if we function, but everything that stirs in our soul and what our spirit weaves finds no expression, our humanity will be lost.

The Bible tells us how we humans are created: as God's image and likeness, that is, with the ability to be creative like the Creator

What truly did our hearts good in the weeks of greatest isolation amidst all the worrying and caring? We sang for each other and with each other from balcony to balcony or we connected musically via the Internet. Children painted rainbows on windows, families painted stones and used them to lay footpaths. Musicians recorded house concerts and sent the films out into the world. How much art has been and still is shared - a blessing for donors and recipients.

Many of us love the biblical Psalms. They are themselves a poetic art form. They often mention in which way and by what creative means people can bring before God their thanks, their praise and their love:

 

I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God;

I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.

My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you;

my soul also, which you have redeemed.

(Ps 71, 22-23)

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

May my poetry be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

(Ps 104, 33-34)

Art unfolds within dedication and is an expression of the fullness and beauty of life. Whether I am active as an artist or contemplatively surrender myself to it, it touches me in the depths of the spirt and the soul.

 

Should we object that we have no time and leisure for creative activities and attentiveness on account of all of our tasks, then let us listen again to God's instruction for life. He commands us to keep a seventh of our lives free from pragmatic usefulness and toil:  » ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.« (Dt 5, 12-15)

God knows: Our soul, our innermost center, needs food and possibilities of expression. And he encourages us to keep times and spaces free so that we don't become slaves – to whomever.

I like the sentence of Ernst Barlach: » Art is a matter of the most profound, a test of the fineness of spirt and soul.« Because he does not refer art to the professionals, but to where it belongs: in the midst of each of us.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 22nd, 2020

 

 

12. Sunday A 2020

 

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?

And not one of them will fall to the ground

apart from your Father.

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

The talk of sparrows, pennies and counted hairs is characterised by a lightness of touch that can be very misleading. For through this language, Jesus tentatively moves toward a deep and creeping fear within human beings. Addressing and looking at such fears requires a gentle hand, for otherwise the fear of the fear grows ever worse.

 

So Jesus begins with a simple question. »Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?« In fact, you could buy two sparrows for a penny at the time. In other words, they were cheap goods, they were insignificant, because they were easy to replace.

 

And yet Jesus emphasizes that God does not forget one of them. Why? Because here lies the deeply hidden fear. We are afraid that we and our lives may be meaningless. We do so much and yet the question creeps up on us: are we easy to forget? Does anyone notice what I do, who I am, that I am? When I look at everything I do and endure, the question comes up at some point: Does any of this have a purpose? Or is my life meaningless?

 

That's why Jesus talks about sparrows. He suggests that everything that at first appears cheap and insignificant (sparrows) will not be forgotten by God. Here Jesus lifts us into the fullness of God. We, who often feel so insignificant and inferior, are not just on God’s radar screen. He knows us in intimate detail.

 

Here Jesus reveals one of the most valuable insights into the heart of God. In a poetic account of Psalm 139, Huub Oosterhuis writes: »Do you know me? Who am I? Do you know me better than I do?« Well, here Jesus answers the last question clearly. Yes, I know my people better than they know themselves.

 

»But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.« We can hardly imagine it, but it is so. But the message here is not that God cares about us, but that God cares more about us than we do. We humans worry a lot about our lives, invest a lot in our health and appearance. But who of us knows how many hairs we have on our heads? Do we know how many hairs we've lost? Some of us no longer know the original colour of the hairs upon our head.

 

Here we have to make a clear distinction between our type of care and God's art of caring. Because our way of caring is (1) abstract and (2) selective.

 

Every day we make decisions about what deserves our care and receives and what does not. We have internal criteria for these decisions. We will not wash the car today, because there are no arguments or accusations coming from the car. We choose: I will do one thing, I will leave the other. I will take care of this plant, but I will dispose of the other one. Our way of caring is selective, very abstract, and sometimes very arbitrary. I throw this shirt away because I'm tired of it. It's still okay, but I just can't stand it anymore. That's how we humans do it.

 

We are abstract and selective in our caring process. That's why we do not know how many hairs we have, because we don't take care of everything equally, we do not treat everything equally. And then we project our abstract and selective way of caring onto God.

 

But it is not like that with God. Kierkegaard once said; »There is an infinite qualitative difference between the divine and the human«. We should take that seriously.

 

The divine is a source and a process of support for everything, equally. God holds everything in being, supports everything in being. God's art of caring is in no way similar to the way of human caring. God supports the earth and humankind at the same time, the seemingly insignificant birds and the exceedingly important people.

 

God's care is not selective. He refuses to choose between us. God's care is universal, unconditional, enormous, and ever present. The art of divine care is not selective. And it is not abstract.

 

After the sentence: »But even your hair on your head is all counted« comes the key phrase: »Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.«

 

Here we have the remarkable dynamic of how to deal with fear. We should put an end to our isolation and bind ourselves back to all of creation. We are part of this creation, just like the sparrows. In this creation, God receives and supports everything equally. We are part of a larger work and still we do not go under. God cares for our deepest selves, even if we feel it as small and unassuming as a sparrow. Who we really are is worth more than many sparrows. Our real self is safe, protected, and secure.

 

The fear of being meaningless cannot be reassured with competitiveness and comparisons. We do not live in competition with creation or with each other. We have to go to the deeper space where we are part of the divine care, a care that is omnipresent. In this space of the soul, of the heart, we are safe.

But the fact that God has this trust in us is not enough. Because God is not afraid. It is not God who fears that his people's lives are meaningless. Any confirmation of His care for us will ultimately have no effect until we ourselves confirm what God sees and loves in us. »As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live,« wrote Goethe. »You are of more value than many sparrows,« says Jesus. Well, then we should not speak of ourselves in any manner beneath our dignity, and certainly not sell our lives short.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 21st, 2020

 

 

 

The Power of Words

 

»Words are things, I’m convinced.

You must be careful of the words you use or the words that you allow to be used in your house.

Words are things, you must be careful. Careful about calling people out of their names. Using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that.

Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls, they get in your wallpaper, they get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes and finally into you.«

– Maya Angelou

 

Since I was a child, I was told to watch my words. They forgot to tell me why.

 

When I was young, my teachers taught me not to curse.

               But they did not teach me the power of words,

                              so I did not know what cancers they carry into the world.

 

I was raised not to use the Lord’s name in vain.

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not know what happens when you mistreat the holiness of a name.

 

I was reminded not to use vulgarity.

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not know how vulgarity demeans the speaker’s soul.

 

Do not to speak ill of others, they said.

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not know how words can sicken the heart of people.

 

They told me never to use racial pejoratives,

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not understand how words colour sight.

 

I was taught not to ridicule the weak, taunt the disabled, and demean the poor.

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not grasp how they add scars to those already wounded.

 

»Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me« taught me to ignore the jibes of others.  But it utterly failed to teach me the power of words.

 

And power they have. They can do to your soul what sticks and stones can do to your bones.

They have power when they are spoken.

They have real power: to create and build, to tear down and annihilate.

They can plant a seed and carry hope.

They can smother dreams and cut the heart out of us.

They can infuse courage and stiffen the backbone.

They can wither resolve and make our guts turn to water.

 

They have power when they are withheld:

The »I love you« no longer uttered.

The compliment not given.

The acknowledgement not offered.

The gratitude unexpressed.

The greeting not given.

 

I am no child and still I watch my words. Great teachers taught me why.

Since knowing them, I heed no man or woman who do not watch their words.

I will give no quarter to those whose words drip venom into the heart through the ear.

I will not keep company with the vicious critics who demean the efforts of others while offering nothing of themselves.

 

But to all who take care of their words, who weave them thoughtfully and considerately, who infuse them with warmth, I say: Friend.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 19h, 2020

 

 

You are not the God …

 

Lord of all life,

If the days and weeks of this lingering crisis have taught me anything, then it is this:

You are not the God…

of my dreams,

of my expectations,

or even the God I wanted.

I ask you to treat me like an adult, let me make decisions, forge a path and discover what awaits me. But when I am tired of crisis, weary of perseverance, exhausted by the labours that life and love demand of the adults in the room, then I want you to take care of business for me. Don’t explain to me the meaning of this moment, just make it pass by.  Do not teach me how to navigate storms, just still them for me.

I want to be free to make choices, set directions, and determine my own actions. As soon as the crisis crowned us, I complained bitterly about the price of responsibility and accountability, of having to make so many choices, constantly orient myself through battering storms and determine what comes next. I writhe in the chains of my freedom and beg for scapegoats to unload them on.

I ache for community and companionship in hours of my isolation and loneliness. You do not look away, which suits me when I want to be seen and drives me crazy when I want to be left to my own devices. I love the camaraderie that shortens the road, but hate the longer roads that camaraderie demands of me when others need to pour out their hearts.

I crave the sharing of life and love with you and your people, but would dictate to you the hours when they suit me best. The moments you choose are madness, the truth you speak is inconvenient.

I want you to speak to me the Word of life, but I wish to edit it in advance. I hate it when you tell me things I do not wish to know, even though I badly need to know them. I hate it when you point out to me where the men and women are lying beaten and blooded beside the road. I would keep company with priest and Levite, masters of averted eyes, of forgetting what has already been seen. You set me up with Samaritans, road crossers, oil pourers, bandage binders, shelter seekers, purse openers and coin givers.

I treat maturity, freedom, community and love as hobbies: I pursue them

when I feel like it,

when I am in the mood and

when it suits my purpose.

 

You treat maturity, freedom, community and love as a calling:

for every season under the heavens,

for every hour on the clock,

for every grain of sand tumbling through the narrow neck of the hour glass.

 

It is an inconvenient truth that there is a life beyond my mood swings, a horizon broader than my perspectives and matters more pressing than my self-interest.

You are not the God of my dreams, my expectations or even the God I wanted. It takes a long time for me to grudgingly mutter: Thank you.

For I am a dishonest dreamer:

I dream of advantage, not service

I dream of privilege, not community.

I dream of being carried, not of helping to carry.

 

You are not the God I wanted, but the God I needed.

You are not the God I expected, but the God who came anyway.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 17h, 2020

 

 

Buzz words

 

For years it is apparent to attentive readers and listeners, how quickly terms quickly terms become presentable and advance to buzzwords that then often appear in all areas.

As of late, it is the word »systemic importance«. As the first relaxations were being considered, the first task was to look precisely at which areas are of the utmost importance to the maintenance of our common welfare. The highest priority was always given to what was necessary for our basic supply. That is why supermarkets, gas stations, banks and post offices were always open. Beyond this, everything of »systemic importance« were gradually opened more swiftly than areas that seemed to be less essential for the functioning of our social system. Here, at the latest, important questions arise: Who decides this? Of which system are we speaking? What measure of values are applied?  Are we even speaking of human beings at all?

Buzzwords seem to be unbeatable. Our media spread them in no time at all. They arise from very simplistic black and white thinking and foster it. We, however, should be resistant.

One example made me reflective:

Hospital chaplains recently commented on a letter to the editor on the systemic importance of their work within the »Church system«. At the end they posed the question: »How fundamentally relevant are sick and dying people for us as Church?« and came to the conclusion: »Without the sick, the Church is not whole!« (CiG 22-2020, p. 236)

What a statement! Does that mean that a Church of the healthy is not whole? Is it only whole with the sick? How can we understand this? Let us take a look at the book of life, our Bible.

Over 8 chapters the oldest Gospel tells of Jesus activity in Galilee. Here the Evangelist Mark demonstrates how the coming Reign of God is unfolding.  The proclamation of Jesu: »The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel!« becomes visible through his attention to the people. It is a matter of his people becoming whole, becoming well and blossoming. It is time that they – and we – become what we are from God: seeing, hearing, upright, upstanding, free from illness-inducing spirits, flexible and alive. To this end, he sends out the disciples to proclaim precisely this and to act like he does – toward all. All of us are in need of salvation.

Thereby, the sick challenge us as Christians to encounter them as people, not as parts of a system, and to stand by them. They make us aware that God is concerned about the people, about every person. From the beginning of creation we people are his chief concern. For this matter of the heart Jesus lived (and died). Since the sick always require special attention, they are also always the chance and reminder of the core message of our faith and of the foundation of our Church. Every human being is worth looking at and being accepted. Every human being is in need, none are perfect. Our social interaction with the sick thus reveals how seriously we take the message and mission of Jesus.

For Jesus it was never a matter of a system. He lived the love of God to humanity. That is our way in order to become whole as a community of believers - »ever more disabled, ever more whole/ always anew/ released / unto ourselves«. (from Hilde Domin, Bitte)

Words can be used like buzz saws. We can, however, also quietly, questioningly and reflectively pause and then step anew onto the track of life.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 15th, 2020

 

 

11. Sunday A 2020

 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 

Recently a woman told me a story that unfortunately does not occur all that seldom. In the office in which she world, her colleagues often have long talks about superficial topics, they chatter. She, however, has very different issues, seeks depth and meaning for her daily life and thus keeps her distance from such conversations. She is more than willing to talk, even yearns to enter into a meaningful conversation, but not at any price and certainly not about anything. As a consequence, her colleagues do not see her. They do not notice her.

This is a story as old as humanity. When men and women are dare to be different, when they do not share the dominant concerns of the world around them and do not join the chorus the crowd, then they are not seen. Since the Corona Crisis has gradually begun to ease there are any number of people who are no longer seen: who speaks of the victims of this illness anymore? What of the grieving who lost loved ones and were unable to bury them with dignity and honour? Who even mentions the people who offered themselves up in the hospitals for weeks on end? What about all those people for whom the crisis is far from over? What filled every column of every newspaper just four weeks ago is not even mentioned any more. They are no longer seen.

One part of today’s Gospel is also not seen. »When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.« This talent and lifestyle of Jesus that enables him to see the people is something we urgently need to regain for ourselves.

The way in which Jesus sees is remarkable.

  1. He sees the people; not just his friends, relations and colleagues; not only the people who share his interests, are of his opinion and follow his teaching. He sees the people. For Jesus being a human being is reason enough to be seen. Publius Terentius Afer captures this well when he writes: »I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.« Nothing that Jesus sees is alien to him. He does not look away, because it is all familiar, all part of his own story as well as or own.

 

  1. He sees their exhaustion and weariness. He sees what they are suffering from, what presses down on them, what burdens them. This is neither a superficial nor a cowardly way of looking out into the world. Precisely when we recognise suffering and burden we are tempted to look away, to avert our eyes. That which exhausts and wearies people is not easy on the eyes. Now that many of us are doing better after the long days of the pandemic, we do not gladly look at all those who remind us that the pandemic is not over, and neither is the suffering.

 

  1. Jesus sees that they are exhausted and weary, because they have no direction and no accompaniment. He knows the causes behind their suffering. He does not just see that they are suffering, but why they are suffering. If no one accompanies them, they are not seen. Their concerns are not taken seriously, their hunger not honoured, their issues downgraded. We manage to look past their need. We manage to cut out and segregate what we do not wish to see.

 

 

And the reaction of Jesus? He has compassion on them. And what about us? We too encounter people who are exhausted and weary. But do we see them? Do we even want to see them?

We change the topic as easily as we change the channel. We speak more of our desires than their need. It is astonishing how quickly we have resumed talking about our desires in the face of deepest need. We are afraid of not being able to crank up our consumption fast enough, of being unable to realise our holiday plans or of carrying out our leisure projects as we would like. Unemployment, rising rates of depression, loneliness, migrants who cannot find a welcome in the world, let alone a holiday resort, impoverished countries who face a health catastrophe, the increase in domestic violence and many other things are simply brushed under the carpet.

We fear what compassion will cost. For compassion means being willing to enter into the chaos of the other. But how much will that cost us? How much time and space will we have to make available? Which expectations and cherished habits will we have to change in order that others might live?

 

We are afraid, but fear is not the problem. The way we deal with fear is the topic. Classically, the Bible names three false ways of dealing with fear: denial, repression and avoidance. All three have one thing in common. They are three different ways of looking away.

 

Maya Angelou once wrote: »The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.« How will we ever reach hearts when we have not even seen them?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 14th, 2020

 

The Veiled Holy

 

The old woman imperceptibly shook her head and you could see that she did not feel comfortable- not physically, but deep in her soul; she was not understood.

In the extended family circle they had spoken of former days, of special hours and days in the Church’s year that she had so loved.

The last great feast before the summer was especially dear to her heart: Corpus Christi. In her youth the entire village was preoccupied for days with developing tapestries made of petals and collecting the appropriate flowers, with setting up altars and to decorate everything for the great procession. There her beloved Jesus, veiled in bread, was carried through the streets. And she had begun to softly hum:  »I adore You devoutly, Godhead yet unseen…«.

Her children, who had still experienced this custom, interjected, that so much of it has been external, just show! That was not what really mattered.

She wanted to retort: »And – what does it look like these days? The externals are everything – baptisms, First Communion, weddings; do you think I don’t notice how the external feast is the only thing for so many? «

Yet, the conversation had already moved on to other topics and she disconnected from the conversation and stepped into her sanctuary.

All at once some lightly tapped her and tore her away from her thoughts. It was her 13 year old grandson.  »Oma, I believe I know what you mean«, he said, »in my class there is a boy who lives in a really simple family. No one really notices him, he simple tags along with them. But I like him. I met with him a few times in the afternoon. There is something fantastic about him! He can tells stories, you would not believe it! We dive into adventures – he has glorious ideas. But we can also just simply talk to each other, about what we experience and how things are going.«

The grandmother smiled. Yet, her grandson was not yet finished. »Papa always says, I should keep company with Philipp more; he comes from a respectable family, they have name and status. But «, he paused briefly, »he always puts on such airs and I do not know, who he really is.«

Again his grandmother smiled. »Yes, yes, the Holy, the Authentic, is veiled«, she almost whispered. »Yet, we can draw near to it. That is how it always is. We share simple bread and encounter the dearest of the children of humanity. You know, when your grandfather and I married, we wanted to do all things beautifully, and we managed to do so. Why? Because our love for one another was holy to us, because it was so beautiful and we tried to show something of it. But what was truly inside«, she softly tapped on her heart, »no one could see that. The two of us had to veritable unpack it bit by bit and never came to an end.«

She closed her eyes and sang softly to herself: »I adore You devoutly, Godhead yet unseen…«.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 12th, 2020

 

 

The Day the Olive Tree spoke to me of God

 

On a free afternoon during a pilgrimage through Israel, I took a book and sat down beneath an olive tree to read it. It was pure and blessed relief after days of non-stop walking, praying and talking.

 

While reading Nikos Kazantzakis Report to Greco I was struck by particularly beautiful passage: »I said to the almond tree, 'Sister, speak to me of God.' And the almond tree blossomed.«

 

Playfully I looked up and said: »Sister, how about it? Will you speak to me of God?« It was then that I discovered that olive trees do not deal so lightly with inquiries of the soul as almond trees. They take their conversations about God extremely seriously.

 

»Son of Adam, to speak of the Creator is a task for great hearts. You cannot hold onto a blossom, but you can hold onto the words of the deep heart.

 

May I take you seriously, Son of Adam? You have asked me a question, but a question is only a question if you are interested in the answer. To speak of God is to grow in places where life will not flourish without your dedication. Would you hear true Words about God, or have you only come for comfort, to rest in my shade, to have me shelter you, to have me soothe you? I do not bandy words about God, young friend.

 

My kind are among the oldest denizens of the Land. Some have seen the annual festal moons rise more than 2000 times. We have seen a shepherd-made-king weep and flee to prevent evil under our branches in the Kidron Valley. In that same place we have held vigil over a carpenter become a shepherd as he wept and remained to face evil. Our skin is story.

 

You would have me speak to you of God? Then I tell you this. Our Creator made us resilient. Resistance is never futile. When drought denies us water, we resist. When diseases attack our lives, we resist. When fire burns our bodies, we resist. Even when we have been reduced to ashes and all the earth about is charred, our roots regenerate us and let us rise as new fruits from the fire. We resist.

 

What of you, Son of Adam? We have marvelled at the resilience our mutual Creator has woven into our human brothers and sisters. Do you make use of it? Do you resist when lives are threatened, start again from ashes if need be? Or is life not held as precious among the sons and daughters of Eve as among the olive trees?

 

My kind does not strive to shimmer with beauty or tower above the world, yet we grow lovelier with age and our every curling wrinkle fills us with delighted pride. The Creator molds us still.

 

What of you, Son of Adam?  Can you walk a simple path with pleasure, or does your heart only sing when you out shine the others? Does your aging become you? Are you becoming more interesting with every passing year? Are lines of character being etched in your face and your soul?  Does the Creator mold you still?

 

We esteem the life and growth with which our Creator suffused the soil and we hold fast to it, even when it is not rich and flushed with nutrients. We have touched water in the deep places where others do not sense life. We do not wait until it flows lavishly across the surface of the world, but dig deep to claim its power for our lives.

 

What of you, Son of Adam? Do you cherish and hold fast to every bit of life and growth, be they ever so thin and plain? Will you work with any gift given to you by God? Will you go deep to find what keeps you alive, or are you a perennial spectator of life, waiting to be served?

 

A lineage of honour and courage runs through my kind. Our kind was there when God chose a branch from the boughs of my ancestors to carry to Noah. Since then we have been heralds of the hope for peace, the hope that evil and destruction will be rid from the world, and that we can all live in safety.

 

What of you, Son of Adam? Will you let yourself be chosen, even if you must give something of yourself? What would you be willing to part with in order to kindle hope? What would you give of yourself that will speak of peace to your people? What kind of herald are you?

 

So I would speak to you of God once more, little brother. That branch was to us what flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone is to your kind. When your people were beset with destruction and fearful of the future, we sent you a sign. Now that our time has come, and we are beset with destruction and fearful of the future, will your kind set a sign for us?«

 

Then the olive tree fell silent.

 

And I awoke, startled, troubled.

I pulled myself up, leaned against the gnarled trunk of my sister and let my breath whistle out. »It was only a wild dream.«

She whispered to me: »Wild dreams were ever his favourite way of talking to us!«

As I said, olive trees take their conversations about God extremely seriously. Since then, so do I.

 

Toda raba, achot g’dolah.*

*Thank you very much, older sister.

 

For Carmen, a daughter of Eve.

Erik Riechers SAC, June 10th, 2020

 

 

We ask for nothing else...

 

A soul so wounded by love

Tomorrow is the feast of Columba the Elder, an extraordinary Irish saint of the 6th century. He was highly educated, composed poetry and sang; he was politically active and also combative; as monk and missionary he established many churches and monasteries, the most important being Iona in Scotland, that is still vibrant today. He founded it with 12 companions who had come with him from Ireland and continued to do missionary work there. He returned to the west of Ireland several times, which was in and of itself an adventure each time. It is an example of a truly actively lived life.

His companions often asked him to write down a rule, but he constantly staved this off. »As it had to come, one day Columba lay on his deathbed and his brothers were saddened, for not it was definitely too late to write a rule. They gathered around the bed of their founder and asked him for at least one last teaching for the time after his death.

Columba raised his hand and said:

´Like the five fingers of my hand, everything essential to the spiritual life can be summed up in five thoughts.

First: The heart is never definitely born.

Because the heart of a human being is never definitely born, we must always keep before our eyes:

Second: Being human requires practice.

Third: Being human takes time.

We must heed and honour this practice and time in the hearts that are growing. For

Fourth: They ensure that rhythm is given for the body, for the body needs rhythm.

Fifth: They ensure, that home is given for the soul, for the soul needs a home.’

Then Columba died.

The brothers wrote the five words on their fingers. But one day the heart absorbed the inked words through the skin into itself. As the writing faded, the words were already long embedded in the hearts of the people of Iona.«

Why are we telling all this to you today?

We are starting a new rhythm for our accompaniment in this unusual year. It can and may become a year of renewal and internalisation and the wisdom of Columba can teach us to gently, patiently and lovingly deal without ourselves and others. His prayer was fervent and holistic. He never separated it from the here and now. It was like an acting of devoting oneself, attuning oneself and letting things happen.

 »… We ask nothing other than that you give us yourself. For you are our all: our life, our light, our salvation, our food and our drink, our God. Inspire our hearts, I ask you, Jesus, with that breath of your Spirit: wound our souls with your love…Blessed is the soul so wounded by love.« *

* from: Steve Rabey, Im Haus der Erinnerung – Keltische Weisheit für den Alltag

As we continue our path together this week in a somewhat other rhythm, then we may pray thankfully and clearly, courageously and confidently as the companions of Columba:

I thank you for this, my God:
I am a traveller
and stranger in the world,
like so many of your people before me.
(Columba)

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 8th, 2020

 

 

 

Trinitiy Sunday 2020

 

A religion teacher tried to tell her class something abut the Trinity. She did not get far. The language about the Trinity is confusing, dry and impenetrable for most Christians, let alone children. This language was born out of the philosophical attempt to speak about God. It is not the language of the biblical stories. That is what it is also not the language of the people in search of a relation and encounter with God in daily life.

 

But what caused to religion teacher to stumble was yet to come. She has brought several images of the Trinity to the school and allowed the children to contemplate and comment on them. One 11 year old boy said: »They do not seem particularly pleased to see each other.« From the mouth of babes. I have thought that, but never spoken it aloud.

 

I ask myself, what kind of images have we painted, with words as well, that such an impression is created? In the Trinity lays a revelation of love, but not an abstract philosophical treatise about it. The biblical story speaks of the Three as a community of life and love. At the same time, their community is a school of life and love for us. It wants to endear our hearts to the steps of life, the processes of loving. The Three offer us no definition of love, but a path to it.

 

In this school of love there is a constant flow of love between the three persons. It reveals to us the true dynamic of love. Who better to teach us this dynamic than the three architects of love? Therefore, we need three life lessons from them.

 

  1. Love moves from unity to uniqueness and back again.

 

  1. Like every person in the school of the Trinity, we, too, are called to live so that each person is a recipient and giver of life at the same time.

 

  1. Like every person in the Trinity, in the school of love, we must love in such a manner, that every person spontaneously and freely takes the initiative in loving and does not wait for the other begin.

 

If this is our story about God, what kind of reaction and impression will we then awaken? If we live and do this, what kind of faith will grow from it? I am fairly certain it will be significantly other than »they do not seem particularly pleased to see each other.« And I am equally certain that it will then not be spoken about us as Christians.

 

Several years ago John Shea dared this question: If we immerse ourselves into the love story of the Three, what would be recognise and profess? Thus, I entrust his liturgical creed to your hearts on this Sunday. It is not in the customary language of our liturgy. But it is the language of the love experiences of a people that learned a lot in the school of the Trinity.

 

A Prayer of Belief: A Liturgical Creed

 

We believe that where people are gathered together in love

God is present

and good things happen

and life is full.

 

We believe that we are immersed in mystery,

that our lives are more than they seem,

that we belong to each other

and to a universe of great creative energies

whose source and destiny is God.

We believe that God is after us,

that God is calling to us

from the depth of human life.

 

We believe that God has risked God’s self

and become a human being in Jesus.

 

In and with Jesus, we believe that each of us

is situated in the love of God

and the pattern of our life

will be the pattern of Jesus –

through death and resurrection.

 

We believe that the Spirit of Peace

is present to us, the Church,

as we gather to celebrate

our common existence,

the resurrection of Jesus,

and the fidelity of God.

 

And most deeply we believe that in our struggle to love,

we incarnate God in the world.

And so, aware of mystery and wonder,

caught in friendship and laughter,

we become speechless before the joy in our hearts

and celebrate the sacredness of life

in the Eucharist.

(John Shea)

 

Now, isn’t that a story we would love to be a part of? If it is, then it is a story we would love to tell.

Whenever that 11 year old boy is today, I hope he found the teller of this tale.

 

Erik Riechers SAC

Trinity Sunday, June 7th, 2020

 

Talk and Action

 

Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, » And in general - even the slightest work is higher than talking about what has been done.«

Many bemoan it, but the crisis of the pandemic demonstrates, among many other things, how addicted we are to words. Yet, the more we talked and talk, the more premature and swiftly all kinds of publications were issued, the less they stood the test of time, sometimes only for one day. What did stand the test of time and fostered life was and remains the action of all the people who did not talk a great deal, but acted. They were the ones who accompanied others through the dark valley, sometimes carrying them. And let’s be honest: that is how it always is.

I John’s Gospel Jesus says: » But whoever does what is true comes to the light «.  (John 3, 21) He says it to Nicodemus at the end of his nighttime conversation. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and »leading man among the Jews«, had sought out Jesus by night to talk with him, to philosophise and have an exchange of views. Yet, as John describes in detail, he does not really understand Jesus; and Jesus’ last sentence to Nicodemus is: » But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.«

Words are important, but only the action that flows from inner truth leads to the increase of life.

In our days, a young politician proves herself to be convincing, of whom it is said she belongs to a » new generation of leaders for whom empathy is as important as decisiveness and assertiveness«. * It is Jacinda Arden, young Prime Minister of New Zealand. She repeatedly shows that she does not just preach to the people, bit that she is with them and acts. Thus, she unrelentingly pushed through the anti-Corona-measures in her country and achieved great success thereby. Her budget for 2019 did not set economic growth as the highest priority, but the well-being of the people.

» But whoever does what is true comes to the light « - and light is the world of God, his Kingdom in which life is possible for all, not by talk, but by action.

Thus, we could nurture contemplation and weigh words, live interiority and out of it come to true action.

* taz online, 30.05.2020

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 6th, 2020

 

 

Not without Companions

 

For weeks people have been talking and speculating about the end of the Corona crisis. Regardless of what they wish or imagine, this exercises bears within it a dangerous illusion. Crises do not simply end. They slowly ease off and we slowly emerge from them.

After 40 years in the desert, Moses holds his grand farewell speech at the border to the Promised Land. A part of his speech emphasises, that the crisis is not yet over. Nee tasks grow out of old crises. Conquering a desert does not yet signify that a new territory has been conquered and fashioned.

In the desert Israel had to learn to strip off attitudes and behaviours that they had learned and internalised as slaves in Egypt. After such a long period of time, they first had to practice how to live as free people. People cannot continually live in fear and terror and then expect that it leaves no mark on them when they are rid of them. For weeks we have nurtured and fostered timidity toward contact and closeness. Distance and restraint were inculcated into us. Now new possibilities are being opened again, bit do we have the courage to use them? Contact is again permitted. But will we seek contact, risk encounter?

After this crisis comes a time of reconstruction. A thought of Wilhelm Bruners has occupied Rosemarie and me for weeks. He sees the same themes emerging after this crisis as 70 years ago after World War II: The questions of life and death, youth and the elderly, community and loneliness, public service and withdrawal.  Yet, in comparison to World War II, this reconstruction will be, for he most part, interior. It is not rubble that needs to be cleaned away, but mistrust. Everyone is speaking of economic stimulus packages. But what will they stimulate aside from consumerism? No economic package in the world will help us answer the questions the crisis raised in us.  An economic miracle will not help us to regain trust in one another, restore the courage that enables us to gradually wager more life and to cautiously attempt touch, encounter and relationship.

There needs to be a restoration of interiority, healthy spirituality and of the heart. But not without companions.

For this reason, Rosemarie and I will carry on with »May you be Sheltered!«. We have noticed, that people do not need as much as they did in the past 11 weeks, but on the other hand we are far from reaching our destination.

Every Sunday I will write a homily for you until the resumption of normal Masses is possible. As of June 8th, reflections will be published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday so that in a regular rhythm we have access to the empowering, orientation, encouragement and comfort of the stories of God.

One day before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged his people.

»Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!

And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!«

Thus, Moses spoke to the people. Thus, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the people. Yet, the message was never, »It is over«, but rather that things are coming that they should not fear but fashion.

We will manage this as well, but not without companions. For if we now need to undertake an interior reconstruction, we should do it as companions on the journey.

 

In my name, and in Rosemarie Monnerjahn’s name, we continue to bless all our companions with the wish: May you be sheltered.

Erik Riechers SAC. June 5th, 2020

 

 

»he could do that «

 

The poems and stories of the pastor Wilhelm Bruners have long accompanied and enriched us. Many people who traveled with him through the Holy Land during his 18 years in Jerusalem cherish this memory like a treasure upon which they can draw again and again. He opened the Scriptures and rooted biblical words in the earth as he told stories and moved across ancient land. In his poetry be combines with sensitivity the wisdom of the Stories of God with the heart of the reader and the listener.

Toda, on his 80th birthday we wish him rich blessing and greet him with a »L’Chaim!« - »to life!«

And let his words to speak – what could be better?

 

he could do that

 

with every piece of bread

that he shared

he gave himself

because he believed and loved

because he sought community

because he rediscovered his life

in them

because he could say

I-AM

because he

wept and celebrated with us

with tears in his eyes

 

because he became one of us

because he did not

shield himself from us

because he became a brother

and it  was no lie

 

he can still do that:

guiding the tracks of our tears to the light

and rise with us unto life

 

unto the indestructible

                              Wilhelm Bruners, Am Rande des Tages, 2020

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 4th, 2020

 

 

The Masks we are not Forced to Wear

 

Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling. A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

(Proverbs 26:24-28)

Wearing a mask is an act of hiding – from others, and perhaps from oneself. From God, however, we cannot, nor do we need to, hide. He hears our cry. He answers our unspoken prayer. He heeds the unheeded and brings them comfort.

In the aftermath of long term crisis a mending of identity is often required. We have often worn masks that no one forced us to wear. Afraid to show our true selves, we wore a mask of certainty where we felt nothing of the sort. Fearful to let God or others see what is raging, roiling or bubbling within us, we don masks of disdain, anger, outrage, indifference, and exhaustingly painful coolness. 

The biblical stories of disguise (such as Jacob disguising himself in order to inveigle a birthright or Tamar disguising herself to trick justice for herself where it is not freely given) are deeply religious chronicles of psychological growth and maturation. What they tell us is simple and profound: those who stand before God need no disguises to achieve self-worth when standing before humankind. The stories of God tell us to drop the masks.

During these days when we are forced to wear a mask to cover our mouths and noses, we grudgingly accept the necessity of doing so as a safety precaution. They are uncomfortable, annoying and make it harder to breath easily. And we complain vociferously about them. Then why wear masks no one forces us to wear? We willingly choose masks that are supposed to protect us from one another, from sorrow, ridicule or misunderstanding. And like the ones we are presently forced to wear, they are uncomfortable. They make us more fearful, more suspicious and less trusting, and that makes it harder to breathe easily in each other’s company.

In his song »When the Masks Fall«, my confrere Alexander Diensberg shows us the kind of honest, healthy questions that are raised when people drop the masks.

 

Whereto with all the many questions?

Whereto with all the puzzlement?

Whereto with all the many pictures,

which really are only shards?

 

Whereto with all the darknesses?

Whereto with all the vanities?

Whereto with all the many fears,

which really are only shards?...

 

Whereto with all the many sufferings?

Whereto with all the sadnesses?

Whereto with all the many crosses,

Which really are only shards?

 

Whereto with all the many plans?

Whereto with all the many tears?

Whereto with my childhood dreams,

Which really are only shards?...

 

When the masks fall, they set faces free,

the faces of us all, wounded and shy.

Scars of old times will be buried deeply in them,

Wounded and shy – but free!“»

 

Life is already difficult and suffocating enough as it is. Why should we then wear masks that no one forces us to wear?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 3rd, 2020

 

Back to daily life

 

In the liturgy of the Church year we have return to ordinary time. For 50 days we remembered and celebrated the resurrection – from the fright of the first hours on Easter Sunday through the fearfulness and the repeatedly astonishing experiences of the disciples of Jesus to the mighty sending of the Spirit.

The crisis-related enforced deceleration and quiet of these weeks offered us the chance to take more time for the biblical texts and to thereby ask ourselves the question: do I know this?

A new, at times hesitant perspective of life is offered to me, but I am frightened by it and pull back – do I know this?

I am going in circles in my backwards glances and in my brooding I make no progress - do I know this?

I am called by name, I am addressed and feel new life grow in me - do I know this?

Sometimes my confidence is suppressed by fearful worry - do I know this?

I share my hopes with others and experience a strong community - do I know this?

There are times when strengths come to me that I did not suspect in myself -do I know this?

 

May we, truly strengthened, move into and through our daily lives.

May we develop an eye for the moments of new life, so that we will always be able to pray in thanksgiving:

You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth

and clothed me with gladness. So that my glory may praise you and not be silent.

 O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks.

 (Ps 30, 12-13)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 2nd, 2020

 

 

A Prayer to the God of Surprises

 

Attack

when the sun has turned the lake to flame

and the waves are music on the beach.

 

Ambush me

in the quiet beyond words

I have with her.

 

Spring at me

from the running boy.

 

Vanquish me

in the courage of the weak.

 

Take me by surprise

in the wrinkled smile

of the lady with the floppy hat.

 

But be warned.

I will be on my guard

welcoming defeat.

 

                 John Shea

  

Erik Riechers SAC, June 1st, 2020

 

 

 

Pentecost 2020

 

Vincent Pallotti took the Pentecost experience very seriously. He saw in it the fast of mission in which all people, men and women, are filled with the Spirit. On each one this tongue of flame rest and that is why Pallotti detects here the primordial image of a church of co-responsibility for all.

As a Pallottine I grew up with these images and share Vincent Pallotti’s conviction, today more than back then, that in a church of co-responsibility for all, the mission must also be the task of all.

What I find gets short shrift in all this is not the result, but rather the process that leads to this Pentecost event. I believe, that we cannot truly take Pentecost seriously until we recognise it as the fulfillment of the trust God places in us.

I am the trusted one of God. This is the key phrase in our relationship with God on the way to co-responsibility. There can be no partnership without trust. But this trust is fulfilled at Pentecost, not begun.

The beginning of this process of unfolding trust lays a long ways back, in the garden of creation. There God sets his trust in us for the first time and in a foundational fashion. First, he places all of creation into our hands, entrusts it to us. He trusts us, trusts that we can not only manage it, but that we will do it in his intention, as his image and likeness, as his representatives. Secondly, in the creation of Eve, he leads man and woman together and sets his trust in us yet again. He entrusts us to one another for safe-keeping.

The process of God’s trust in us is continued n Jesus. Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus entrusts the mission to the world to us, unto the ends of the earth, for all peoples. We are to immerse them into the dynamic of love and relationship that constantly flows between him, his Father and the Spirit. He entrusts all this to us.

Then comes Pentecost. The Spirit comes and does not hold back. The sight for the fullness of life is restored for people who have hidden behind wall too often and for too long. Gifts are poured out and mighty visions and passionate visions are enkindled. Men and women are filled with clarity and strength, intoxicated with the yearning to proclaim his inexhaustible and untameable word in all languages and for all people.

The Spirit comes at Pentecost and gives us the inner motivation to translate God’s trust in us into life. Therefore, Pentecost cannot be the feast of the mission for all in a Church of co-responsibility if it is not first the fulfillment of the trust God places in us.

When the fulfillment of trust comes, then we will have to fulfil three inner tasks.

The Spirit drives us to liberate, develop and wager what it has woven within us:

  1. Liberate :

 The Spirit sprouts in seed of hope and humor. Thus, we must foster this sprouting in us so that we approach life more hopefully and humorously. The Spirit dances in the pulse of life, thus we must let out the liveliness within us and set ourselves in motion with zest. The Spirit burns in the fire of our passion, but then we must reveal this passion. Everything is there, everything is entrusted to us. Yet, no one lives until it is liberated for the life of the world.

 

  1. Develop:

The gifts of the Spirit must also be developed. They are given to us as potential, not as finished products. The fullness that resides in us must expand and stretch to that despite so much banality we might enthuse many people.  We should unfold our gifts of the Spirit so that love can overcome violence without employing violence and the ill-treated creation can find ever more friends and advocates.

 

  1. Wager:

»Send forth your Spirit« is the request we address to God. When the Spirit comes, we are the ones being sent forth. Since he famously is known to blow where he wills, we must be ready for every surprise that blows into our lives with him. The mission of the Spirit is a wager. He will shake our familiar excuses, shake us awake from our lethargy, and whirl about our false securities.

 

Then come three tasks for the outer world. They lead us to a Church of co-responsibility for all.

God’s trust in his people means:

1. Live free!

The Spirit does not speak of the freedom of the children of God, but challenges us to live out the freedom of God’s children in all its dimensions, in full strength and in its entire breadth.

The Celtic Christians say, that the Spirit is not a domesticated pet, like a dove, but a wild goose. We are called to live out the wildness of God in us.

 

 2. Take on responsibility!

 The Spirit lets us anticipate what a world according to his heart would look like. In the world that he would fashion, even the small and the discouraged would stand up and do today what seems only possible for tomorrow. We are not the spectators of this process, but the collaborators of this work.

 The stormy Spirit, who blows into our closed-heartedness, challenges us to take on responsibility, to blow into situations of life in order to make hard people soft again, to show the timid a horizon beyond their walls, and to transform intimidated whisperers into the powerfully eloquent. »Act accordingly and you shall live!« is the basic formula here.

 

 3. Act creatively!

The Spirit gives no guidelines, marching order or organisational charts. We are sent out with the full trust of God. The Spirit comes wordlessly. He comes stormily, violently, tumultuously and shakes us thoroughly, but without words. We are now responsible for the words and that requires that we act creatively.

 We cannot wait until the conditions improve. We may not wait until something or someone opens the locked doors and shuttered windows of our society and church. We need to get creative, seek paths, take initiative, and find solutions. The Spirit has sent us forth because the face of the earth badly needs our attention.

 

Pentecost wants to renew the people of God. The Spirit does not want to inform us, but to animate us. As a Church of co-responsibility for all it cannot be that all our conversations revolve around us as a Church. We are sent in order to harvest something of life, to feed the poor and to live as redeemed people so that other people might live redeemed.

Therefore, Pentecost cannot be the feast of the mission for all in a Church of co-responsibility if it is not first the fulfillment of the trust God places in us. God is truly counting on us.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, Pentecost, May 31st, 2020

 

Pentecost-Spirit

 

Narrative Theologians learn and teach it: Take the stories seriously!

Take your own stories seriously! Take all the stories of God and his people seriously!

The Bible is for the most part laconic, therefore, it is all the more important to plumb the weight of every word, to relish and interpret the metaphors.

Today we give you a poem, which is full of biblical metaphors and creates a link from the origins of our faith into the future that we are to fashion.

Wilhelm Bruners, a master of the word, wrote three years ago:

 

Pentecost-Spirit . Future-Spirit

Woe to us, if heaven gets serious

an allows fire and glowing coals

to rain upon us. When it takes our breath away

because the fire breath of God comes  over us.

When, tossed from our nests,

We become full-fledged, whether we want to or not.

When our nosedive begins into a world

that urgently needs us.

 

Blessed are we, when all that is dead

is incinerated in God’s Fire- Spirit

so that our future

               has a living chance.

                                                  wilhelm bruners, June 2017

 

Let us read it word by word and hearken within us what this word unleashes in us and where we have encountered it in the Bible before.

Take your time, read it again and again, and you will experience the depth and explosive power.

50 days after Pessach, the Jewish people celebrate Shavuot , the heart of their faith, namely the giving of the Torah. On precisely this day the Holy Spirit descended upon the assembled disciples and set free the power for the future. Here the resurrection finally becomes liveable and we can be called blessed

  »when all that is dead

is incinerated in God’s Fire- Spirit, 

so that our future

                               has a living chance..«

 

Thusly, let us celebrate Pentecost!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 30th, 2020

 

 

»Toss your fear into the air«

 

One of the last words which Jesus speaks to this beloved disciples in the Acts of the Apostles is:

» While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. « (Acts 1,4-5)

In these days we bring to life the remembrance of this. This Spirit, the Holy one, the Giver of Strength, is also promised to us.

Yet, like the disciples, we know fear. Sometimes out hope fades away. Sometimes we believe, that we have no more strength for the next day.

We also know the finiteness of our life, which we repress or which weighs on us, because it puts us under pressure.

Thus, for months our world is especially filled with the fear of life, because we are afraid of dying.

Yet, all that is part of our being human and we could look at it gently and honestly.

Rose Ausländer (1901-1988), truly rich with life experience, found the following words:

You’re here, still

Toss your fear
into the air

Soon
your time is over
soon
heaven grows
under the grass
your dreams fall
into nowhere

Still
the carnation smells sweetly
the thrush sings
still you may love
give words away
you are here, still

Be what you are
Give what you have

Rose Ausländer

 

In order to be what we are and to give what we have, we need God’s Holy Spirit.

May he strengthen us so that we might » no longer be children « and » tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind «. (Eph 4,14)

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says in farewell: » I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!« (Joh 16, 33)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 29th, 2020

 

 

The Heart of the Adventurer V

 

There is nothing like a crisis to unveil the true nature of the heart. When the going gets rough, then we see whether a heart of the adventurer beats in us, or whether we harbour the heart of a tourist.

The heart of the adventurer is marked by the readiness to pay a price in order to live freely. This heart refuses to raise the claim that it be dispensed from the crisis or the toll it demands. The heart of the tourist holds fast to the belief, that it has the right to a comfortable life that demands no price while insisting on every advantag         

 

Proverbs 30, 18-19 offers us a stunning glimpse into the heart of the adventurer.

The writer of Proverbs modestly admits that four things baffle him.

…the way of an eagle in the sky,

            the way of a serpent on the rock,

                        the way of a ship in the heart of the sea,

                                   and the way of a man with a maiden.

 

It is the puzzle posed by the third line that concerns a people who, like all adventurers, are entering into undiscovered country.

In ancient times ships stayed close to the coast, using the sight of land to direct their journey. In other words, they used the tried, tested and true to navigate. This gave them a great sense of security, but it also severely limited the routes they could take. You simply had to follow the curve of the land. There were faster ways, smoother ways, better ways to sail, but none of them were pursued for the sake of keeping the shore in sight.

Whenever human beings make security their personal overriding concern and issue (the tried, tested and true), then they severely limit their ability to move, explore and discover. Because they always use the same securities in order to navigate, they never manage to discover that there are other ways to live, faster and better ways to fashion life and community, and even much simpler ways of living and acting.

This is the perennial problem of the Tradition. For the most part in today’s Church, the Tradition has been reduced to the equivalent of the shoreline. We give people the lay of the land, and then tell them to slavishly follow it. At the moment we see it at work in the often slavish willingness to do whatever it takes to resume public liturgies.

But the biblical understanding of tradition is deeper and healthier. Tradition is not the shoreline, but the enduring ability to sail any sea and keep the ship afloat, no matter what is tossed against that ship.

The heart of the sea was its unknown and unknowable centre, far from the shore, terrifying to think of and impossible to navigate.

Considering that the biblical image of the heart often stands for the unknown and the hidden, the way of the ship at the heart of the sea (the unknown and the hidden), then the challenge is to risk precisely that, entering into the unknown and the hidden.

 

In Luke 5, 4 Jesus will tell his disciples to launch out into the deep. This was hardly welcome advice for the fishers of that day.

It meant risk, since hardly one of them could swim and to fall out of the boat in the depths meant you could not simply stand up and wade back to shore.

It meant uncertainty, because the deeper the water got, the murkier it got, the less you could see in the water.

It meant you had to trust, that the tremendous amount of water under you would carry you, and that the murkiness contained the life you were looking for.

But it was basic wisdom on the part of Jesus. Because although hugging the shore is easy, comforting and very enticing, there is one tiny drawback: there are no fish near the shore.

Fish mean life, and there is no life to be found near the shore.

There is no life to be found where certainty determines where you can or cannot go.

There is no life to be found where you are wrapped in a certainty and security that enslaves you, because you are so addicted to it, that you cannot go any place that would endanger it.

Then you spend all your time and energy preserving not your life, but your security. And therein lies the fatal error. All too many people confuse having this security with having a life.

 

The Celtic Christians did not share the conviction of the Roman Church that there were seven deadly sins. In fact, they were utterly certain that there was only one mortal sin, one deadly sin: the unlived life. The seven we love to name are merely the examples of how life remains unlived.

The writer of Proverbs is baffled by the way of a ship at the heart of the sea. How do you keep life and spirit afloat in the midst of the hidden and unknown, far from the certainties and securities that once sustained and calmed us? The only way you will ever find out, is if you sail to the heart of the sea. And for that you will most assuredly need the heart of an adventurer.

Erik Riechers SAC, May 28th, 2020

 

 

God, you are close to us

 

In my youth I saw Pier Pasolini’s Film » The First Gospel – Matthew « on television while I was at home.  This black and white film impressed me a great deal at the time. Finally a biblical film that was not a Hollywood epic! Here the images spoke of the barrenness of the land and the poverty of the people. The spoken words were all selected out of the Gospel of Matthew and nothing was added to them. The faces of the people in action got under my skin –they were so honest, simple and strongly expressive and carried me along into the growing tension of the plot. However, in the end it was one sentence that fell into my heart and lives there until this day. It is the last sentence of the Gospel and it was the last sentence in the film:

» . . . I am with you all days unto the end of the world.«

Never before had I heard it in this way and every time when I hear it since, I feel again the warmth of this never-ending promise that encourages and comforts and in which I can believe.

It is as if I come into contact with the name of God, as Moses heard it at the thorn bush: »I am the ‚I-am- here‘«.

Jesus promise means: He is with us and journeys with us on every day, whether they be relaxed or full of tension, healthy or sick, sad or joyful. Just as he sends his disciples to all peoples, so he promises them and us, to be with us to the end of the world. I understand this »end of the world« not just spatially, but also temporally – HIS presence does not end.

As a companion of the journey of this trust and in this week moving toward Pentecost, may a small prayer be of service to us:

God, you are close to us, now, here, in this moment and at all times.

God, with you we would like to walk, give us the impetus.

With you we would rest; give us the breath.

With you are provisions, accompany us.

Remain familiar to us and become new to us.

                              (Manfred Büsing, Lectio divina, Vol. 22, 2020)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 27th, 2020

 

 

»At the same time«

 

Sometimes we hear a story of a song in a totally new way. We are not the same as we were the last time. Other aspects step to the fore, deeper levels are reached.

Thus, a few days ago I again encountered Barbra Streisand with her song »At the same time« - a song about the connectedness between all people. For decades we have been speaking of globalisation – of the economy, travel, climate change and environmentalism, of aid activities during great catastrophes and of the present threat through illnesses and epidemics. Yet the term is mechanistic and cold.

By contrast, Barbra Streisand loves the lyric poetry of Ann Hampton Callaway, because she knows «how fragile the planet is, how fragile souls are, and how desperately we need unity« *

I invite you to encounter this song with your ears and your hearts, to take it into yourselves and to explore what it sets in motion within you:

 

At the same time

Think of all the hearts beating in the world

At the same time

Think of all the faces and the stories they could tell

At the same time

Think of all the eyes looking out into this world

Trying to make some sense of what we see

Think of all the ways we have of seeing

Think of all the ways there are of being

 

Think of all the children being born into this world

At the same time

Feel your love surround them, through the years they'll need to grow

At the same time

Just think of all the hands that will be reaching for a dream

Think of all the dreams that could come true

If the hands we're reaching with could come together joining me and you

 

When it comes to thinking of tomorrow

We must protect our fragile destiny

In this precious life there's no time to borrow

The time has come to be a family

 

Just think of all the love pouring from our hearts

At the same time

Think of all the light our love can shine around this world

At the same time

Just think what we've been given

And then think what we can lose

All of life is in our trembling hands

It's time to overcome our fears and join to build a world that loves and understands

 

It helps to think of all the hearts beating in the world

And hope for all the hearts beating in the world

There's a healing music in our hearts beating in this world

At the same time...

At the same time

                                               * Barbra Streisand, Higher Ground CD 1997, Accompanying Booklet

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 26th, 2020

 

 

A Prayer to the Master of Shock

 

Too many people come to the conviction, that if they believe in God, they have taken out something akin to a divine life insurance policy. Naturally, when a time of crisis arises and they are not immune or exempt, they become either angry or depressed.

There is only one cure for that and that is the restoral of a healthy image of God. I know just the man who can help us with that.

 

A Prayer to the Master of Shock

 

When you told the seventy-two

to travel without bread and coin,

was it to boggle the mind of the rich

and buckle the heart of the fat?

For you were the master of shock,

Dancing out of the desert of fast

with the message in your mouth

that the earth had not yet cooled.

 

Then you said

the far flung God was as close

as the widow without justice

and the stranger without a roof.

And you rose up,

like an open hand in a time of war,

and stood by every fire and sea

wherever ear would hear and eye see,

hanging stories like axes in the air

about a son of shame who returns to fanfare

while a son of duty stays without a party,

 

about a worker who bears the heat of day

while an afternoon stroller is the first played,

 

about a son who says yes and means no

while another says no and means yes,

 

about a priest who passes by the other side

while a terrorist wraps wounds,

 

about a poor man who dines with Abraham

while a rich man cannot find a finger of water,

 

about a good man whose prayer is swallowed in air

while a sinner has the ear of God.

 

And when the cripple

at the Sheep Pool of the Five Porticos

told you

the water only heals

when the angel troubles it,

you turned on him like a knife,

 

»I am the water that troubles«.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 25th, 2020

 

 

7th Sunday of Easter 2020

 

The art of great conversation

 

In John’s Gospel, the Farewell Discourse goes on for 4 chapters. But I have always felt that it was more of conversation than a discourse. In the course of the long talk he speaks with his disciples, answers their questions, turns to his father and speaks of what is stirring and happening within himself. This is a matter of a last great conversation in which Jesus pours out his soul and places everything that is valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile to him into appreciative hands.

If we wish to manage such a conversation as Jesus die, then we should pose two significant questions:

 1. What is so dear to my heart that I simply have to pass it on?

 2. To whom shall I entrust it?

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus pours out his heart and soul. He places what is valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile to him in sure and appreciative hands, namely, in the hands of his trusted ones, the disciples. To be invited to hear and share such a conversation is to know you are trusted.

If we wish to pull that off, we need to hold fast to something:

Listening is the first reverence.

In such conversations, I must be present, listening and attentive. I have to take notice, take it in and take it along. That is how it was with the disciples around Jesus.

If I do not do this, then neither my hands nor my heart are secure enough and appreciative enough for something precious to be placed in them.

Without the first reverence of listening nothing truly valuable can be passed on and then the valuable has no future.

Yet, such a conversation in which I pour out my soul and place everything that is valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile to me in sure and appreciative  hands, has a price and it always demands its payment.

The price is belonging. The Farewell Discourse is not the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus selects his own listeners, and belonging is his measuring standard. There is a good reason why Jesus warns us not to cast our pearls before swine. This is not an insult but a deep wisdom of the soul. Swine do not know what to do with pearls. In other words, never, ever, entrust what is most valuable to you to those who have no idea what to do with it and therefore can neither appreciate nor protect it. Belonging creates trust, but belonging takes time, and raw quantities of it.

This brings us back to the two questions.

1.What is so dear to my heart that I simply have to pass it on?

This presupposes a sense of my life. It presupposes that I have not lost contact to my inner life. The valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile matters of a life do not lay on the surface, but can only be found when we plumb our depths.

 2. To whom shall I entrust it?

This presupposes the kind of relationship to others that generates trust. Belonging becomes critical here. I have to know whom I would like to whom I entrust what is precious. Whom will I show the most beautiful things, the most moving things, the most precious and worthwhile treasures of my life? The answers can only lay in relationships of belonging. I will not be able to entrust it to the unknown and the stranger. In order to protect myself and my heart’s desire, I will also not entrust it to someone familiar to me, if I know in advance, that they will not know how to appreciate it.

 

If I had asked, »When was the last time you enjoyed a really great meal?«, we would pause for moment of reflection and soon have an answer ready. Yet, if I pose the question, »When was the last time you really great conversation, which sang and echoed in your heart afterwards for weeks and months? «, then you will have to think hard for a long time.

Still, we can learn and practice the art of great conversation. The lovely part is, it does not have to be a Farewell Discourse. At any point in life, we can converse about what is valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile in our lives and entrust it to others. A time like this, a time of crisis, would be a very good place to start.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 24th, 2020

 

 

When everything becomes so different

 

As I recently waited for my grandchildren outside of the kindergarten, I entered into a conversation with the mother of a preschool child. She told me that her daughter was crying repeatedly because all the nice things she had anticipated with joy were canceled. »How much she wanted to have a sleep-over in the Kindergarten at the end of the year! And now everything is canceled«, she lamented.

It is a fact. We are experiencing a loosening of the severe regulations. Thus, children can again be brought to the institutions, but that is by far not as it was or what was planned, what a six-year-old had prepared for or was hoping for. That is a pity and I saw the sadness in the eyes of the young mother.

Fortunately, it is not existential. Then other images come to mind. They are images of lost children, of abandoned  children, of children whose lives are determined by illness. They are images of flight and deportation, of ghettos and favelas - a millionfold.

 

During these days a gripping graphic novel by the Israeli artist Esther Shakine will appear in German. In »Exodus« she tells and illustrates how she survived the Shoa and finally found a new home in Israel. Her childhood in Hungary is happy and carefree, with cats and friends. But at some point the stars of David appear and later the police storm her home during the night. Her mother hides her in a closet, but her whimpering is heard and the closet is torn open. »His boots were directly before my eyes. Pitsy hissed with fear and ran away. The policeman wanted to give her a kick and nearly fell down. . ‚Damned cat!`, he cursed. I stayed back alone in the closet. I no longer cried. Thereafter , I did not cry for a long time.«

Everything is falling away.

While going on the wrong track through the city, she finds a priest who takes her into the orphanage of the monastery, where she finds a home until it’s bombardment at the end of the war. After that, she wandered aimlessly with other Jewish children, often to the train station, in the hope of finding her parents. But they never come.

Via a Zionist children’s home and after many adversities, she arrives in southern France in 1947 and embarks with 4500 Jews onto to a ship to Palestine. It  is the »Exodus«. The British do not allow them to set foot on land. The refugees return to Germany. Only the next year does her passage finally succeed. Thus does the story end, with the sunset of her first evening in the kibbutz: »I had the feeling that I had finally arrived.«

How can people bear so much suffering and brokenness in life, repeatedly, sometimes for many long years?

In Psalm 77 the person praying laments his great need. He finds no comfort, indeed, he feels himself rejected and forgotten by God and poses question after question to God:

Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable?

Has his steadfast I love forever ceased?

Are his promises at an end for all time?

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

Yet then he pauses: 

And I said, ‘ This is my anguish; does the right hand of the Most High act so differently? ‘

This, too, is still a question. Does God still have something to do with me, even when everything comes so differently than I imagined, so difficult and hardly bearable?

The person praying here remains on this track and enlivens the memory:

I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember your wonders of old.

I will also meditate on all your work, and talk of your deeds.

Your way, oh God, is holy indeed.

 

During such times, can we find this track? Can we look past our personal actual need? Can we have a sense of trust in the totally other God who goes with us?

 

Come, Spirit of God and strengthen us that we might pose our questions with courage.

Come, Spirit of God and widen our view and our heart.

Come, Spirit of God and enliven our trust and our hope.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 23rd, 2020

 

 

Twisting ourselves out of shape

 

These days, we are officially allowed to celebrate public Masses again. Some hail it as a victory. I am not among them.

The guidelines and restrictions are so ludicrous that they disfigure the Eucharist into something unrecognizable. Only a tiny select group of people are allowed to participate, everyone else is excluded. All must wear face masks, stay six feet apart, and no singing is allowed. Communion is distributed with plastic gloves and tongs or from behind Plexiglas barriers.

In order to accommodate these restrictions, we have turned the Eucharist into a hollow shelf. How is this a Eucharist when every gesture screams, Stay away from me? How are we celebrating the hope of the resurrection when every gesture shows that we are deadly afraid of each other? How do we celebrate communion while rejecting its building blocks, namely, contact, closeness, sharing and encounter?

It calls a story to mind. Clarissa Pinkola Estés recounts it in her Book »Women who run with the Wolves«.

 

A man came to a SZABÓ, a tailor, and tried on a suit. As he stood before the mirror, he noticed the vest was a little uneven at the bottom.

“Oh,”said the tailor, “don’t worry about that. Just hold the shorter end down with your left hand and no one will ever notice.”

While the customer proceeded to do this, he noticed that the lapel of the jacket curled up instead of lying flat. “Oh that?” said the tailor. “That’s nothing. Just turn your head a little and hold it down with your chin.”

The customer complied, and as he did, he noticed that the inseam of the pants was a little short and he felt that the rise was a bit too tight. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” said the tailor. “Just pull the inseam down with your right hand, and everything will be perfect.”

The customer agreed and purchased the suit. The next day he wore his new suit with all the accompanying hand and chin “alterations.” As he limped through the par with his chin holding down his lapel, one hand tugging at the vest, the other hand grasping his crotch, two old men stopped playing checkers to watch him stagger by. “Oh, my God!”, said the first man. “Look at that poor crippled man!” The second man reflected for a moment, then murmured, “Indeed, the crippling is too bad, but you know I wonder... where did he get such a nice suit?”

 

Do we really want to twist ourselves so out of shape simply to create the appearance that what we are doing is fitting?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 22nd, 2020

 

Ascension 2020

 

Sometimes what we celebrate in the liturgy is not attuned to what we hear in the story of God. In today’s liturgy we have a strong focus on his ascension. Yet, in the story of the Acts of the Apostles Jesus places the emphasis elsewhere. He prepared the disciples for their mission after his departure.

 

»It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.«

 

He makes it clear that we have a task as wide as his earth. He has entrusted to us a responsibility for his people that is boundless.

 

But the disciples do what we often do: They stare at what was given earlier. Jesus makes it clear, that his presence among us, in the form and figure of the Holy Spirit, will live on, but that is not what they want. Jesus gives us the strength of the Spirit in order to fashion and wide and wild world. We, however, would prefer to keep things as they were. Disciples of every age require messengers of God to shake them out of this paralysis.

 

»Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?

This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,

will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.«

 

The translation is weak. This is not a matter of looking, but of staring. It is the fixation that paralyses us.

 

Ascension reminds us that we are at the fourth of 5 stages of the Paschal Mystery. The core statement of the Easter Season is, that Easter is so great and deep a mystery that no day can contain it.

 

Easter is one event, but with five important phases that combine to form this event. Paschal life consists of five clear stages; death, resurrection, the 40 days, Ascension and Pentecost. Each of these stages also has a deep meaning for the people who would like to live out of the Paschal Mystery.

 

Death means the loss of life. In this stage we must mourn and honor our losses.

 

Resurrection means the reception of a new life. That is an offer from God, but people are neither obligated nor are they forced to accept God’s offer. We can also reject this offer of new life.

 

The forty days are the time of maturation, of reflection and of practice, so that we might gradually decide in favour of the new life.

 

And then we come to the Ascension. Here we practice the refusal to cling to the old life. »Men (and women) of Galilee, why do you stand staring at heaven?« Ascension is the moment where we must decide whether we accept new life or are only interested in the mummification of our former lives.

 

This is the only way in which we come to Pentecost, to the point where can receive a new spirit and actually experience something of this new life. Pentecost, the fifth stage, is the reception of a new spirit.

 

Ascension is the encounter with the God who requires us to let go of the old, so that the engaging with the new can succeed. In religious circles we speak often of letting go, which is very weak from a biblical point of view. The stories of God always speak of letting go in conjunction with the ability to let yourself enter into something new. We should let go of some things so that we can enter other thinks better. Yet, only when the adventure of God knocks do we notice what it means to let something go in order to enter into the divine adventure. No one will receive a new spirit while clinging to their old life. But we can reject the offer of a new life by always wanting the old one back.

 

We have a name for that: nostalgia. We know it only all too well, this yearning for the »good old days«.  But this romanticizing of the past is only a way in which we avoid the challenges of the present. Nostalgia is dishonest. The old days were never as good as we portray them. They had their share of pain, suffering and strain. If we all entered a time machine and returned to 1955, I guarantee you that we would encounter people there who would be yearning for the »good old days«.

 

Ascension does not only speak of the glorification and fulfilment of Crist, but also of the task he left behind for us.  Before his ascending, Jesus emphasises that we have a task as wide as his earth and that he has entrusted to us a responsibility for his people that is boundless.

 

We, however, can cling to old conceptions that hinder us in forming our days. We hold fast to old dreams that hinder us at working at the vision of today. We mummify old structures instead of seeking ways how we can live here and now

 

Death, resurrection, the 40 days, Ascension and Pentecost; this is the true rhythm of life and the terrible and pathetic practice of mummification.

 

At the disciples at the Ascension Jesu stood then where stand now: between heaven and earth, paralysed, unable to move and to fashion our lives. This standing between heaven and earth reminds me of the Word of God in the Book of Deuteronomy. »I call upon heaven and earth as witnesses’ against you. I place before you, life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life that you might live.«

 

A true word for the people of Ascension, who consciously choose life and not mummification.

 

The message of the angel is gentle, but I will translate it clearer language. People, the homework assignments are down here.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 21rst, 2020

 

 

Wiil this crisis change anything?

 

This question arises repeatedly in myself, my surroundings, but also in public conversation. It speaks of the yearning that we always feel when we ourselves or our beloved people have to go through difficult times in which those things break away which we consider to be self evident, which we consider to be safe and lovingly familiar. We yearn that there might be a meaning in the crisis and that we or others will allow ourselves to be positively changed. Then, matured and enriched after the crisis, we would fashion our lives differently.

The rather melancholic and introverted Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard once wrote: “ Transformation can only go forth from those who have been transformed .« This means that it does me no good to desire any form of transformation whatsoever, if I am not willing to first to face the invitation or the provocation that has transformation as a consequence. If, for example I am a very spontaneous, even flighty person and I wish that I would act with more consideration and that I would be more consequent in staying with things, I will not attain this if I follow every disturbance and every intervention from outside. If something approaches me, I must accept it as a task and as an exercise. I look at what this means, I place it so to say “on the table” in order to work at it and on myself. Or,  if I never face what the hour demands of me, but rather allow the difficulties to pass by my heart superficially, the wish for more depth will not be fulfilled, indeed the yearning for it will atrophy.  Instead, I would have to look at the difficulty or the need, be at my own or that of another, I need  to “put it on the table”. Only what is placed on the table will be transformed. That is how Nico Derksen once said it long ago. We cannot hope for transformation if we withdraw from every church that would lead us to transformation.

We should not expect transformation from those who did not practice allowing themselves to be transformed, but a repeat of the claims on life all remain self-righteous in the attitudes and ways of thinking, which they have always fostered.

Let us be honest: the people who truly went through the times of affliction - often with great suffering of body and soul - discovered the Essential, lived transformed, and found the path of life of which Paul speaks:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror  the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the spirit.

(2 Corinthians 3, 18)

To come to the path of transformation, we may not kill the yearning through distractions or superficial self gratification. Thereby, we only cover up and disguise thIngs. Those who are accustomed to living in this way will also not be changed by a crisis.

Those who allow themselves to enter into that which the other demands of them no transformation in the lives and they will be further transformed by the present crisis. They know that transformation requires a letting go in the sense of releasing one thing in order to be open for another.

Can I allow things to happen, trusting in the Spirit of the Lord, like a caterpillar that does nothing but allow itself to be transformed? That would be truly glorious.

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 20th, 2020

 

 

For all who would give up hope

 

When she entered the room, he looked up and love pooled in his eyes. Like the poet of the Song of Songs, his heart spoke of her »she whom I so love«.

Yet, his heart was troubled. He saw the strain in her, the suffocating burden of the traumas of yesterday and the burdens of today.

»How was the day, my dearest one?«, he asked with worry interlaced with tenderness.

»I have given up hope«, she replied.

»That will not do«, he said as he leaned with his left shoulder against the wall.

»I cannot manage it. I have given up hope«, she repeated. Her eyes were so full of tears, but her voice was so void of courage.

He felt so helpless. So he told her a story.

 

»My grandfather was a terrible drinker. His favourite drink was Turkish anisette. But he grew troubled by his constant drunkenness and all the pain it caused his beloved wife and children. So one day he sat down to drink his anisette, but this time he added a little water to dilute it. But it way of no use and he got drunk anyway.

So he decided it was time to make a change. He gave up the Turkish anisette and started drinking Scottish Single Malt whiskey. Here, too, he always added some water to dilute it, but it was to no avail. He still got drunk.

Not one to give up without a fight, he made another change. Now we would drink only a fine red wine from France. Again he was careful to thin the wine with water, but it did him no good, In the end, he still got drunk.

One day he called his wife and children to him. “You are my most beloved people in the world”, he said. “I have an announcement to make. I have given up anisette, then whiskey and now red wine, having always diluted them with water. No matter what I did, I still got drunk. I have resolved to give it up. As of this moment, I am giving up the water.“«

 

His pearl of great price looked at his somewhat bewildered. »My dear, what does that story have to do with me?«

»It is quite simple, my dearest one. When you told me that you were giving up hope, you were like my grandfather who wanted to give up the water. If you want to heal what ails you, then you are both giving up the wrong thing.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 19th, 2020

 

 

The sum of the day

 

Years ago, an acquaintance lamented at the end of a year, that this year had been so terrible and horrible and that he was glad that it was now coming to an end. On the one hand, I understood him, since I knew that he had lost his last grandparents, in brief succession, during the second half of the year. Yet, I pointed out: »This was not the whole year. Look at the wonderful feasts and experiences you had during the first half!«  He grew quiet, paused and  then he agreed with me. The first half of the year had even been exceptionally joyous and radiant with the elderly ones for him and his family.

 

In this time of the pandemic, it often appears to me that the life which we are all leading is reduced only to this pandemic, or that it is perceived as if the pandemic was only determining topic - regardless from which side of the reflection people find themselves.

 

In what we offer at Siebenquell we repeatedly make the effort to widen our view to the whole of life. The Bible speaks often of the fullness of life and here we can practice the broad point of view. All of it is life: the light and the heavy, suffering and joy, the light and the dark, the broken and the healed.  When we modern people wish for fullness or hear that fullness is promised to us, then we expect only the beautiful that we may relish. But that is not how life is. A wise old man on his deathbed said to his wife: »Let me also relish this here!« All his life he had practiced to accept the whole the fullness, the entire spectrum of life.

 

Friedrich Hölderlin, whose 250th birthday was marked in March, expressed it this way in a small poem:

As with lifetimes,

so, too, with the days.

None are enough for us,

None are totally beautiful,

and all have, if not their anguish,

then certainly their imperfection,

but add them together,

then a sum of

joy and life results!

 

 When the Bible speaks of the glory of the Lord or of the glory he has prepared for his people, the word »kabod« is often used. It expresses heaviness, weight in the sense of weighty importance. Some translate it as »pretty heavy «.

 

We are invited to see in the sum of a day, a year or a life, the glory: everything is there and has its weight. This preserves us from superficial white washing as well as one-sided doom and gloom.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 18th, 2020

 

 

6th Sunday of Easter 2020

 

To the Last Generation Recounting

 

I have sat at the deathbeds of people who regretted that they could not leave more behind for their children. They understood their contribution to their future primarily in the sense of the financial emoluments they would leave behind.

On the other hand, I have eaten at tables with richly rewarded heirs who quarrelled over the last will they deem to be unjust. At times they were willing to destroy all their familial relations in order to acquire more money. They were apparently of the opinion that one could fashion the future with money, but without family.

What we leave to the next generation can be truly dangerous.

What would I like to leave to the next generation? This is the question facing Jesus. Today’s text from John’s Gospel originates from the so-called »Farewell Discourse«. John gives it the form of the last will and testament of Jesus. And in it Jesus takes up a sentiment from the deep heart of the Psalmist:

»Let me open my mouth in a rhapsody,

let me voice the verses of old, ;

that we have heard and we have known,

    and that our fathers recounted to us.

We shall not conceal from their children,

to the last generation recounting

the praise of the Lord and his might,

    and his wonders that he did.«

 (Ps 78,2-4)

 

In Jesus last will and testament he places the greatest value on relationships. Therefore, his bequest to the disciples is something that will not tear them part like money, land and possessions, but something that will hold them together.

»Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.«

 

Jesus leaves love as his bequest to us. It should bind us to one another and lead us together. He sees a future in this for us. Now we are again at the question: What would we like to leave to the next generation?

 

Several weeks ago, Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, complained about the economic damage cause by the Corona Virus. Then he stated, that many grandparents would rather risk their lives than leave behind an unstable economy to their grandchildren. This, too, is an answer to the question: What would I like to leave to the next generation?

But what kind of a future do I wish upon the people who come after me? Is it enough to leave behind a healthy, stable economy to people, but no love? They will be haunted all their lives by the thought, that as soon as they endanger the stable economy they will be as cold-bloodedly sacrificed as their grandparents were. Would the economy for which I am supposed to sacrifice myself, ever make a sacrifice for me when I am ill, old, disabled or unemployed?

What will we do with a generation that thirsts for inspiration? Is the economy supposed to be their muse? And what of those who experience too little life because they have no share in our economy? Love can give an answer. Are the artists, who give us words and images so that we do not leave behind the true bequest in the death of forgetfulness, simply to be written off? They will certainly not be categorized as relevant to the system by the economic forces at play.

I do not deny that people make the choice of Dan Patrick. In these days I am often horrified how often human lives are wagered in order to save the economy. Human sacrifice seems to be socially acceptable again.

Nevertheless, we all have to answer this question and there is an alternative. We could choose to relationships of love. To all those who will inherit from us we could bequeath our passion for life, relationship and love. We could so treasure and protect our love for each other, for God and his creation, and then pass it on to the next generation.

 

Thus, I end my homily with a favourite story. It is called: »The Most Precious« and tells in enchanting fashion of a woman who knew what she would like to inherit.

 

There was a man in Sidon who lived together with his wife for ten years, but she bore him no child. So they went together to Rabbi Simon ben Jochai and requested him to dissolve their marriage.

The Rabbi spoke: “As you were brought together with food and drink, thus shall you be parted through food and drink”.

The man, however, had previously said to his wife; “You may take what is most precious to you with you to your father’s house”.

What did his wife do?

She prepared a rich meal and arranged that her husband would drink to excess. When he fell asleep, she waved her servants and maids over and commanded them: “Lift him from his bed and carry him into the house of my father.”

At midnight the man awoke from his sleep, for the wine had given way. He spoke to her: “Daughter, where have I been brought?”

She replied: “You are in the house of my father.”

He asked her: “What am I to do here?”

His wife responded: “Did you not say to me that I could take what is most precious to me with me? Well, I have nothing more precious to me than you.”

 When Simon ben Jochai heard of this incident, he prayed for the two of them and they were blessed with a child.

 

Well, to that I can only say: Amen.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 17th, 2020

 

 

» The Bones of the King«

 

Just as every day represents a new challenge and each evening offers the opportunity to pause, look back and reflect on what we have experienced and how we interpret our experiences, it also happens in times that are especially challenging and unusual, like the ones we are living through at the moment.

Since January we are witnessing how the new Corona Virus is gradually spreading over national borders and in the meantime is already dispersed around the entire globe. We had to recognise that the globalisation of the economy, from trade to tourism, also brings with it the globalisation of illnesses. Who could have seriously believed that this is improbable or even impossible?

We have had a further experience during these months. Let yourself take the plunge into a small

story and see for yourself:

 

The Bones of the King

There was a Spanish king who was very proud of his lineage. He was also known to be cruel to those who were weak. He was walking one day with his senior people through a field in Aragon, where, years before, his father had fallen in battle. They came upon a holy man there, picking through an enormous pile of bones.

» What are you doing there?« , asked the king.

» All honor to Your Majesty «, said the holy man. » When I learned that the king of Spain was coming here, I decided to recover the bones of your father to give them to you. But no matter how hard I look, I cannot find them. They are the same as the bones of the farmers, the poor, the beggars and the slaves. «

                                    (From: Paolo Coelho, Maktub)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 16th 2020

 

 

See your possibilites and act!

 

On Instagram a thought from Claudine Beckley, Her who runs a yoga studio in Belin, touched my heart. There she writes:  

»Memory from two years ago, when I injured my knee playing soccer, and was told all the stuff I couldn’t do. But everyday I sought out to find the things I could do. Maybe they looked different, and were different, but they fed joy and strength to my spirit.
I find myself in a very similar place right now mentally, and emotionally. When the limitations are set, what CAN you do. How can you continue to feed and nourish your spirit in these challenging times.«

 (»yogasportberlin«, March 24th, 2020, Instagram)

 

Her reflections have moved for days, because i know one thing very well: to let myself be driven by thoughts of things that are not possible – no more, not yet, not at all – one way or the other. Let’s be honest: everyone knows where leads when we give ourselves over to this way of looking at things and set nothing against it. Then we become passive, look for those to blame for our horrible situation, our speech becomes whining and accusatory, resignation and even depression settle in. In such phases, we feel nothing of the power to fashion or of joy, but rather paralysis and sadness.

Claudine Beckley did not linger there. She changed her way of looking at things and set out on a search two years ago after her knee injury. She looked for opportunity to act and thus for opportunities for life. She discovered, that much was different in comparison to the time and the possibilities of a healthy knee, but she could do many things, and to experience this nurtured her joy and gave strength to her life.

In her remembrance of this she can transfer this experience to herself and her life during the first weeks of the virus induced restrictions. This is the question at hand: Will I choose life?

The answer to this question is existential for each individual as well as for us as a community.

At the end of his life, Moses places a grand perspective and task before the people, a people who had been entrusted to him for decades and whom he will no longer accompany into the Promised Land:

»See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.« (Dtn 30, 15-16. 19)

The task is to choose life – the future is only possible in this way.

Sometimes the possibilities of life lay open before me and I choose and move lightly.

At other times, I have to search out these possibilities and it might be difficult for me to find them. Yet the search itself is the first step and a choice FOR life!

Many of us know and love the song »Fluch und Segen hab ich gegeben in die Wahl deines Herzens«.*

Let us sing it during these months and, above all, take it to heart!

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 15th, 2020

* » Curse and blessing I have placed into the choice of your heart«. German Hymn. Musik: Jörg Gattwinkel SAC. Text: Rüdiger Kiefer SAC.

 

 

»We have a story for that« V

 

The Teacher gives Answer

I begin every Narrative Theology course with the attempt to convince my students that every person has insights into biblical stories. A story of faith pierces the heart, a word strikes us. The stories of God awaken life in us. Not in chosen hearts, not in highly educated hearts or privileged heart, but in all hearts. Having a human heart is the only access code required. John Shea calls this the work of the inspired imagination of the Scripture.

»When our eyes are opened and our ears unstopped, our mouth is also loosed. We speak back to what first spoke to us. This is the answering imagination.«  (John Shea, The Spirit Master).

Then he goes on to write these words: »We should not be surprised at all to see that friendship flourishes in conversation.« There is a friendship that blossoms in the conversation between the inspired imagination and the answering imagination.

As four of my students saw the need of these days, the inspired imagination awakened in them the word that is also desire: »We have a story for that!«

Their answering imagination touched and moved many readers. Now it is time for the teacher to respond to their inspiration with his answering imagination.

 

The Inspired Imagination

Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them. (Mt 18, 19-20)

 

The Answering Imagination

In Dublin’s fair city, in the square of Trinity college vis a vis the great library in which is housed the Book of Kells, there sat a man in a large black hat. He is my friend. I keep a watchful eye on him, as with all my friends.

He looks old, I thought. Cares and burdens have left lines on his face. His eyes are tired and smiles do not come as easily to him as they once did. However, since I am a ceaseless reader of hearts, that I know that is but the surface. I also know of the responsibilities and sorrows have drawn furrows through his heart.

And so I waited and watched and listened.

He held a cigar in his right hand. Memories of the last time he had sat on that bench rippled back to him, as the tide returns to the shore. He had sat between two great storytellers, who had been his teachers and had become his friends. Their trinity of friendship, kinship and love reminded me of mine. They had smoked cigars and laughed uproariously. They were celebrating his induction into their guild of storytellers. How they rejoiced in each other. I remember, because I was there as well. It really is true: Where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them. I can’t help myself. Friendship is simply irresistible to me.

Many appointment calendars had been filled since that day and now he sat alone. The friend to his right had passed into the house of my Father and now gladdens the Kingdom with poetry and stories. Even my Father stops to listen when he starts to spin a tale. It is simply irresistible to him. Abba does so love stories.

The man in the big black hat was separated from the friend who had sat to his left by many thousands of kilometers. This friend had grown frail with age and mounting infirmities. One friend lost, one friend far away. It had become a terribly lonely place

He rolled the cigar between his fingers, a token, a sign, a sacrament that spoke of bonds that life forged and death could not break.

And he sighed.

Then he tucked the cigar back into the inside pocket of his jacket. And I heard his heart murmur: »How the guild has shrunk. I need to find a smaller bench.«

He turned to the sheaf of papers laying to his left on the bench. These were the stories of four of his students. He needed to read them and mark them. He picked them up and started to read.

And so I waited and watched and listened.

And then it happened.

Their stories made his eyes shine with pleasure, his heart swell with pride, his lips twitch with amusement. Admiration blossomed and excitement grew at lessons learned and phrases well turned. »Jesus, that is beautiful«. It was not a prayer when it slipped from him, but it felt like one to me. Twice I saw him clandestinely wipe a tear. When he had read the four stories he leaned back and closed his eyes.

I had seen it all before, in the eyes and hearts and on the lips of his two friends as they watched his soul unfurl and his gift unfold.

And I sighed.

Then he reached within his jacket and retrieved his cigar. He lit it, drew on it and let the tip glow red. He glanced down at the pile of four stories. I heard the thoughts of his heart. »Thank you, Lord, for new company on the bench. How the guild has grown. I need to find a bigger bench!«

It really is true, you know. Where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them. You should see the size of the benches in my Father’s house.

And then it happened.

I saw him smile.

And so did I.

Erik Riechers SAC, May 14th, 2020

 

 

»We have a story for that« IV

 

When the Fog lifts

 

So Peter went out

with the other disciple,

and they were going toward the tomb.

Both of them were running together,

but the other disciple outran Peter

and reached the tomb first.

And stooping to look in,

he saw the linen cloths lying there,

but he did not go in.

 

Today I would like to make this small excerpt from a great story the focus. It offers us a help in this difficult time to find orientation for our life.

 

Under the protective masks we unsettled human beings can occasionally lose our orientation. Thereby it is less a matter of finding a street of city, but far more a matter of navigating our own lives. We sit behind closed doors for fear of the threat of Corona and wait. Sometimes it seems to me that we wait resignedly. Yet, there is another option: To switch from waiting to anticipation. We could take a step into the Easter morning. Peter can assist us thereby. He allowed himself to be called out by Mary Magdalene, out of the enclosed house, and ran to the garden to look at the tomb.

 

I know such an experience in my life, when I receive important news or have a brilliant idea. Then I want to act immediately, I want to start running right away and to see what I can do with it. Then I stand before it, see, hear and suddenly courage deserts me. Then I do not know how it could work. I have the feeling that I am standing before a mountain and cannot climb it. I suddenly no longer know why I wanted this. Peter probably had a similar experience. There he stood, in the empty tomb. This simply cannot be. Just two days earlier he heard with his own ears and saw from a distance that Jesus had died. And now the corpse is gone.

 

Peter sees it. The stone before the tomb has been rolled away. He stands in this empty tomb and sees everything, but he could not yet understand it. He was in the fog, confused, uncertain and without orientation.

 

We have experienced that in the past weeks. A crisis comes and people start to run. People start panic buying and hoarding things they believe they absolutely need. We see the need to leave contacts be and feel closed in, limited and then forget why it is necessary. Then we want to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. We want to know the limitations lifted as quickly as possible and even liturgies should place as they did before Corona. We stare into the tomb, empty indeed… and now? We feel like we are in the fog, uncertain, confused. We have never experienced anything like this. How will we get through it as quickly as possible?

 

In “The Neverending Story”, Michael Ende lets the hero, Bastian, sail through the sea of mist in a ship. The fog mariners impress him. They are a tight community who ceaselessly perform a communal dance and a wordless song. The fog mariners do not argue, because none of them feel like an individual. Harmony exists between them with total effortlessness. Bastian only notices how problematic this harmony is when a fog crow grabs one of the fog mariners and carries him off. The fog mariners are shocked for a brief moment, but as soon as the bird has disappeared with his prey, they start their dance again. Because they are all the same, they do not miss the abducted one. There is no individuality among the fog mariners. There is no lamentation and there is no place of grieving. No one remembers. The individual does not count. They simply want to return to normalcy as swiftly as possible. One is gone (the tomb is empty). Let’s carry on as usual.

 

Yet, will that work? Simply returning to normalcy?  Will we navigate our lives in such a way that we quickly return to pre-Corona life, or will we learn something from this crisis?

 

We know this. Sometimes we stray through life as in a fog, especially now, in this time, when we do not know what will happen, when we are annoyed, irritated and uncertain and must navigate our lives through the fog. Fog crows will try to convince us that we slowly return to normalcy and take the risk of losing a person, even in the Church, because we absolutely need to celebrate a liturgy.

 

The experience of the empty tomb did not lift the fog in which Peter found himself. Only gradually and through other encounters with the Risen Lord did the fog lift. This requires patience. The Easter season lasts for all of 50 days and makes it clear to us that Easter, resurrection and life are a process that require patience and do not work instantaneously.

 

Through the encounters with the Risen Lord, Peter experiences all that changes within himself. He experienced the Risen One and has risen himself. He began to navigate in the fog. We recall: Peter was the one who denied Jesus three times: I do not know him – and bitterly regrets this betrayal. For him it was not just the death of Jesus, but also his betrayal of his friend and teacher that represents a deep rupture. Peter knows what it means to experience deepest desperation, to be disappoint in oneself, not to be able to bear one’s own company, to torment oneself with self-accusations. For him, everything had come to an end…

 

Jesus pulls him out and helps him navigate. Later, at the sea, Jesus poses the question three times, “Do you love me?” And three times Jesus draws more life and love than betrayal out of the depths of this man.

 

Gradualness is the order of the day, not just for Peter, but also for us. Navigating in the fog is not that easy.  It is gratifying when people can celebrate liturgy together once again. On the other hand, it speaks of impatience when it should take place at any price. The relationship to God and my faith do not end where Eucharistic Celebrations no longer can take place. This crisis is a challenge where we need to navigate what serves life.

Peter experienced what changed within him through the crisis. Perhaps we will sense what is changing within us. May we weigh in our hearts and preserve that which serves life.


Sr. Andrea OP, Datteln April 2020                              published on May 13th, 2020

 

 

Sheltered in the Psalms

 

Since the Ides of March 2020 the psalms have grown even dearer to my heart than before.

Temporary quarantine, increasing limitations – in the meantime we are all more than aware of them!

Yet, even though there has been a recent gradual easing, in some places anger is breaking out, protests are vociferously expressed and I ask myself, what people are raging against. Against a virus? Against »the powers that be«, who placed such rigid restrictions on us? Against their own feeling of powerlessness? Against some perceived enemy?

And I return to the psalms, those ancient songs and prayers, addressed the divine counterpart in all situations of life, known by people 3000 years ago and known by us today. Words of praise and jubilation, words of lamentation in difficult times, words of yearning, words of fear and desperation, and, repeatedly, words of thanksgiving. The one who prays knows himself vis-à-vis the mysterious, eternal creator, who sees the person, trust him, think highly of him and loves him. Nothing is too insignificant or too dark that the human being cannot speak of it to God. Thus, the biblical person of prayer entrusts himself to HIM: For he is filled by this faith:

Lord You searched me and You know, It is You Who know when I sit and I rise, You fathom my thoughts from afar. My path and my lair You winnow, and with all my ways are familiar. For there is no word on my tongue but that you, O Lord, wholly know it. From behind and in front You shaped me, and You set your palm upon me. Knowledge is too wondrous for me, high above – I cannot attain it.

 (Ps 139, 1-5)

When I repeat and pray these swords today, I feel a tremendous relief and sense something of the liberating trust of the one who prays in this God, who knows him completely. How often do I suffer as a result of being unable to explain my thoughts in their depths to the people that I love; always there remains a touch of foreignness? So, too, are my ways: I often have to take paths that are mine alone, that familiar to no one else. I want to practice the attitude: » and with all my ways you are familiar «and walk without worry.

Our God is extraordinary. Thus, in another place the Psalmist can almost challengingly ask: Where is a God as great as our God? (Ps 77,14)  And he ponders God’s deed, his earlier wonders; he weighs all this and contemplates the history of God with his people.

I can entrust myself to the psalms, because they all speak of abandonment, because they leave nothing out, because in them everything is said to this near and distant God. Here it is brought to expression how the human being walks his path through the ups and downs of life in a living relationship to the Lord of his life.

At the end of Psalm 139 he can also ask God:

Search me, God, and know my heart, probe me and know my mind. And see if a vexing way be in me,

and lead me on the eternal way

 

What a petition! May I not pray tot eh idols of my own omnipotence, the arrogance that must have everything under control. May I also not turn other people into idols and transfer all responsibility to them. This inevitably leads to what we presently experience on the streets.

No, on the eternal way I would walk and recognise and love ever more clearly what is essential.

Do you have an inkling, why I love the psalms?

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 12th, 2020 

 

 

»We have a story for that« III

 

Warm Hearts and Eyes that See

 

Several weeks ago, in the midst of prespring the Easter feast, we went into crisis, all if us, the Disciples of Christ and the entire people.

 

It was triggered by a virus that can affect any of us. Since then, we have made a great number if experiences in a very short time.

 

I have the impression that for some people the positive experiences were surprising. In these days I hear statements such as: “I never knew what wonderful neighbours I have”, as one elderly man living alone said. “You bring meals and care for me”. “I am not forgotten and that does me so good”, someone told me. “I cannot believe what you are doing for me, and how can I ever repay you?”, said an elderly lady. “It is comforting to be seen, that is so good in these times”. And this message reached me as well: “Because of the Corona-Virus I had very special Good Friday experiences and experienced a unique and very moving Easter Vigil”. I had a very fulling Easter and I am very grateful for it”. I hear these and similar joyous and encouraging words repeatedly in this Easter season. They go hand in hand with the painful experiences of loneliness, the fear of the future, the overwhelming demands, the isolation…

 

We have a biblical story (Lk 24, 13-35), that speaks of this crisis situation and these new experiences: Two friends are on the way to the village of Emmaus. They see no future in Jerusalem any longer after their teacher and friend Jesus das died. Although he said to them that he would die and rise again, although women excitedly reported on the empty tomb, they do not understand; their hearts are full of suffering and pain. And they give up, distance themselves from the place of new life. This, too, we experience during our days.

 

On the road, they encounter the one whom they so painfully miss, who was torn from their midst. Their hearts overflow with what is within them: disappointment, frustration and grief. They remain blind and cannot recognise him.

 

However, apparently the closeness of the stranger does them good. They gladly listen to him and feel something they cannot name. It is so powerful in them that they invite him to stay the night.

 

And then the eyes of their hearts open as he is sitting at table with them and breaks the bread. Now they recognise who it is that journeys with them. And in the very next moment their physical eyes can no longer see him.

 

Do you know this? This one moment in which the “eyes of your heart” open and recognition falls deep within you?

 

And then you notice this warm feeling, that has accompanied you over a period of time, and that you always feel with someone else shares a piece of life, a piece of bread, with you?

 

For us Christians Easter came this year without our being able to communally attend a service and many of us missed it painfully. This, too is part of our new experiences.

 

At the same time, I feel and experience how many Eucharistic experiences people had in this time: Blessings through shared life, through weekly Sunday letters, through conversations on the telephone, Easter greetings in the form of blessed Palm branches, Easter candles and warm words on the day of the feast…

 

What touches the heart is the message: “I belong. I am not forgotten, I am seen and treasured. I am of importance to others”.

 

Afterwards the two disciples perceive that their hearts gradually warmed as Jesus opened to them the meaning of the Scriptures. Jesus opens it up and lets them take part, lets them look deep into the meaning of the Word of God. They have an experience that they will never forget, of which they will always be able to tell when, where and how they encountered Jesus. We know this as well. This Easter will remain in the people’s memory.

 

Jesus’ words warm the hearts of both disciples. In his action he shares life with them and they recognise the one, whom God has raised back to life.

 

It is not the ceremoniously sung Alleluia in which we recognise Jesus. In no Easter story does an Alleluia appear; the stories tell of fear and closed doors. It is the breaking of the bread, the sharing of life, wherever it may occur, in which we recognise who and what comes from God.

 

The two disciples do not recognise Jesus in a synagogue and also not in the Temple of Jerusalem. En route, so to say while fleeing, their hearts begin to warm as Jesus speaks with them. And when they are home, sitting together at table and eating together, there their eyes are opened.

 

And another thing is of significance in this story: There are only two of the many friends of Jesus journeying here. Not all are present when they have this experience with the Risen One. We would have gladly celebrated the Easter liturgies together with all those from our parish, but it was not possible in this year. Nonetheless, we could experience Jesus, in twos, in threes, in the family, together with the children, as couples, in partnerships and as singles.

 

Warm hearts and eyes that see give witness to LIFE – give witness to God! In these days of crisis, let us preserve our warm hearts and eyes that see, so that they are not lost to us for the times that are awaiting us after this passes.

Sr. M. Josefa, Datteln, April 25th, 2020                                                  published on May 11th, 2020

 

 

5. Sunday of Easter 2020

 

After all this talk about the house of the father, a place for life and of rooms being prepared, it is easy to overlook what Jesus actual concern is. »Let not your hearts be troubled«. To avoid precisely this troubling, Jesus peaks of the house of his Father.

 

Ironically, however, it is this house with its many rooms that is often the occasion for the troubled heart. For although Jesus speaks of the house, he does so that we might keep an eye open for the way.

 

John works here with two great images, namely, the house and the way. The house is the image of our future, for the goal of our lives, the place at the end of days where we will find consolation and home. The way, by contrast, is the image of our lives, here and now.

 

Jesus wants to talk about this life, our life, for he fears that through an overemphasis on the image of the house of the Father (future and goal), we will be distracted from life here and now. That, in turn will lead to our hearts being troubled.

 

His language about the house of his Father is supposed to create a two-fold liberation.

 

  1. Freedom from the fixation on the goal. This leads either to
    1. fear or
    2. paralysing fascination.
  2. Freedom for the concentration on the path (life). This means, to be free for
    1. the tasks of life as well as
    2. the joys of living.

 

What happens when we are fixated on the goal (the house)? We become so fixated on heaven we have not yet entered that we ignore the earth on which we walk. It is like taking a sudden journey. We set out, have a goal in mind, but have not prepared a reservation for an overnight stay. Because we are uncertain what will happen when we arrive, we are distracted from the journey and the way. For the entire time we are occupied with the concerns about the future. »What happens when we arrive? Will we have to stay outside? Will we be left out in the cold? Will we be left outside in the dark? Will we remain, uncared for, exposed, or without a roof over our heads?«

 

The message of Jesus is simple. We should not be worrying our heads about this. We will have a home, there is room and space for us in the house of our God. This promise should preserve us from an exaggerated concern about our future, which distracts us from the path (life). Our future life has been prepared.

 

The task of life is the way. The concerned questions about what we will find at the end of days should not be projected into the future. The questions apply to the way of life. We should be asking these questions and giving answer to them here and now.

 

»What happens on the path when people want to arrive? Who will have to stay outside? How many will be left out in the cold? How many must remain in the dark? How many will remain uncared for, exposed, or without a roof over their heads?«

 

That is why Jesus says about the house: »And you know the way to where I am going.« He would have us concentrate on life, on the way. If we do that, we will assuredly come to the house of the Father, because that is where this way leads.

 

The fixation on the house also leads to a fascination that paralyses. Then we only speak and thing of a future that will surely be better than our present. How lovely, comforting, spacious, liberating, unburdening and quiet it will be when we finally arrive.

 

Hat distracts us from the way, in this case, from the joy of living and taking pleasure in life. That troubles the heart. That is what Jesus is trying to prevent.

 

All newspapers, news reports and talk shows are preoccupied with the new future after Corona. It is a preoccupation with rebuilding our house, our wealth and our economy. We are so worried about where we are heading, that we lose sight of where many are right now: in camps, fleeing warzones, in places of starvation, abandoned without protection to pestilence and disease.

 

On the way, we should be learning. We should be learning to love justice and let it roll like a river. In life we should learn to relish and appreciate everything that has to do with love, to value our relationships higher than the economy, and to discover the comforting joy of mercy. On the way, we should be gathering good and restorative experiences of service and feel the deep satisfaction of consoling others. On the way, we should taste the fullness of the hoy of sharing.

 

Should none of this be our thing on the way of life, then the arrival in the house of the Father will trouble our hearts. Then the house of the Father will a hell for us. It will be a hell with many rooms, but it will be a hell nonetheless. For these rooms were created spacious and wide in the first place, because they make room for justice, love, relationship, mercy, service, consolation and sharing. If we did not learn to love them all on the path, the house will be our hell.

 

God is taking care that all this will have plenty of room when we reach our goal. We need only be concerned that they have plenty of room on the way, in our lives. The house was always the responsibility of God. The path is our homework.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 10th, 2020

 

 

Biblical vaccination against resignation

 

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  But Peter began and explained it to them in order: I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 1And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11, 1-18)

 

Peter returns from a trip but has no chance to enjoy the new experience he just had, to celebrate it and to relish it. Right way, the next confrontation takes place, the next task. Then come the accusations.

 

I experience that at the moment. We are just undergoing the first lightening of the lock down, but the tone is not getting lighter, but harder and more accusatory. Hardly have we begun to feel the first relief that we so longed for, and already people are complaining that it is not enough, not sufficient, that it does not go far enough. We do not take pleasure in what we have attained, but throw ourselves into the next phase of confrontation.

 

Then as now we should pose the question: Why start with accusations? Why not start by asking questions, by inquiring about what happened and how it went? Why not start with the question as to what this means instead of encountering it right away with the presumption that is was something bad?

 

Peter’s attitude can be a great help to us. He receives no advance of trust. He stands ready to give an account. He addresses everything, step by step, in order, without skipping anything.

 

He does not hide the fact of where he was (Joppe), of whom he was with (Cornelius), or what he did (baptise). He speaks openly of his own personal vision, which greatly challenged him, which made him question his own convictions and with which he had to wrestle.

 

He does this in an atmosphere of aggressive confrontation and accusation. Nevertheless, he does not allow this atmosphere to determine whereof he speaks. He does not allow it to distract him from the concerns of his heart. He speaks of what is his.

 

That will be a great task for us. At the moment I am dealing with many accusations and complaints about the manner in which I have accompanied the crisis with the Word, stories and reflections. Some complain that it was not enough, other think it was too much and yet others think that it should have been distributed in way other than our website. That is not just happening to me. The question is: Will people like this determine what we speak of? Will the accusations and dissatisfaction of such people distract us from our heart’s purpose and desire? Or will we speak of what is ours, of the renewal, the joy, the wisdom which we have experienced, even in this time of crisis? Like Peter, we could tell the stories of where we were in these days, of the people with whom we went through them, of what we did, of the deepest things we experienced, which challenged us and made us question our previous convictions. We could also tell the tale of what we are wrestling with long beyond the days of the crisis.

 

I can neither control nor determine the atmosphere of accusation, but I refuse to serve it. The accusers will not determine the stories I tell, how I live or whom and how I will serve. At the end of my reflection offer you one last consideration. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the accusations of those who did not take part in any of it. They stayed at home. No journey, hardship, work, adventure or risk for them. How would Cornelius and his whole household tell us their story? To be honest, these stories interest me far more than the eternal accusations of the fence sitters of life.

Erik Riechers SAC, May 9th, 2020

 

 

Experiences and Thoughts of a Teacher

 

May 4th – First Day of School during the Corona Crisis - Back to School

 

I wake up. The moon is to blame. It catches my face directly. I lay awake. How is this supposed to work? I still do not know. Perhaps the moon is only partially to blame. There they are again, these thoughts not thought through to the end, which wash up during the day, remain unnoted and then become intrusive by night. How is this supposed to work?

 

In two days there will be instruction for the first time after seven weeks. Obligatory masks and hygiene plans. My English class, numerically too large, is divided in two because of the times of Corona, in neighboring classrooms. How is this supposed to work? To teach the same thing in two rooms simultaneously. “Make sure that they are well aired. You decide whether the students also keep their masks on during the instruction. If you give them permission to eat during class and if someone need to use the bathroom, remember that we now have introduced a washroom supervision.” Alright. But where do I start? How is this supposed to work, the instruction, the resumption of classes?

 

In March we covered the American dream. At the start of May we trusted our eyes less and less when we hear or see the news from the other side of the Atlantic: there is talk of mass graves in the vicinity of New York, of black people who do not dare to wear protection over mouth and nose, because many white people would then be even more afraid of them. Images flash across the screen of an enraged crowd without masks who demand the lifting of contact prohibitions, the opening of restaurants and the return to their jobs.  Long lines of cars develop in front of food banks, the complementary food distribution. Demonstrators are armed, because their president encouraged them to make use of their constitutional right to bear arms. The USA. What was the American dream again?

 

March was lightyears ago. Utterly indifferent and uninvolved, I recorded in the class register that we apparently discussed at the time that all people are ‘created equal’. - A platitude. – Everyone assiduously records it, just like the accomplishments of the freedom of the press, speech and religion. Anchored in the constitution. – Hardly worth mentioning. Self-evident fact that surround us. –

 

Thus, how, dear moon, is this supposed to work? Restlessly I roll forth and back with my circling pesky nuisances. Let me sleep. How should I know how things are supposed to work?

 

Today the moment has arrived. First of all, I pick the students up, as directed, in the schoolyard. All are sitting or standing together there, scattered in small groups. I beckon them and recognise their eyes. Then they follow me in single file, 1.5 meters apart, into the classrooms.  The newly plastered one way system of the corridors is still unfamiliar. Two of the youths walk next to each other. I remind them of the commandment of the hour: distance and walking in a row. They obey precisely.

 

“Masks off or not?”, one of them asks me, having arrived in the classroom. I look around. Each one sits alone at a table. The distance to the desk is great. I barely can breathe under the cloth mask: “Take it off”. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. “Open the windows” – already cool air flows in. Circulation arises, which should diminish the danger of infection.

 

They also remove the masks in the neighbouring room. And now? How is this supposed to work????

 

I begin quietly and greet them. It is 3.30 pm. The ninth class period. Who has already been in school since 8 am?  - I do not know.

 

I ask all of them to fill out the questionnaire that I distribute. “How did you experience the crisis? What emotions did you feel for the first time? What helped you during the last weeks? From where did you get support? Were there also positive moments? Some claim that crises can also be educational – did you learn something new?”

 

They take their pens out. “Take your time and answer the questions in peace and quiet. If you need more space, continue writing on an extra sheet of paper. I will go next door shortly, to the others. They will receive the same questions.”

 

Then it is very quiet. Concentration lingers. We have all the time in the world. I go through the attendance list in my mind. Remind myself of their names and habits. Rejoice to finally see them again. Think of Hertha, who remains at home because she belongs to a high risk group – with pre-existing illness. My nervousness subsides. It will be alright – even today.

 

“Are you finished?”. The first pipe up. Tell of their adventures and experiences: - ‘My family helped me to get through it’, one recounts. ‘And because I see my older sister so seldom and she suddenly moved back into house, I was so happy. I bet along well with my family and I know, that it is not so for everyone.’

-‘If I had not been able to be outside for at one hour a day, I do not know what would have happened’, says another.

-‘I was also outside every day with our dogs. We have three. But for homework, to be honest, for homework for school I could not motivate myself. But I helped out at home. Everywhere.’

- ‘I learned, that everyone basically thinks of themselves. When there was the shortage of toilet paper, everyone simply thought of themselves. Before this, I would not have thought it possible.’

- ‘We have relatives in France. In Germany we did not have a crisis. We just need to think about the people in other countries’.

 

“It was difficult for me. I was so unproductive. I don’t know myself that way”, Sabine remarks quietly. ‘I thought, now you can learn a language or do a lot of sports, learn vocabulary, read – but I did not feel like doing anything. I had no energy. I was a stranger to myself and started to hate myself for it… later it gradually got better. I forced myself. My parents watched me. So much time at home. Normally, being at home is linked to leisure. But suddenly I had school at home. It was horrible. And then I started to write everything down. When I read it afterwards, I was astonished that I had written the text myself…But I thought to myself, keep writing, write everything down, before you forget it.“

 

Everyone listens. They know, every word is voluntary. We know each other – trust.

 

When it grows quiet, I inquire further, for whom it was a learning experience. All of them respond. They look around and at each other. The silence does us good. We are together again.

 

„And why do you think, we begin our instruction today with these questions?”

- “Because of the vocabulary? “

- “So that we think about it?”

 

I look into the round.

Feli speaks up. „I do not know why we start with this. You are the first to ask me such questions and it was the first time I had the chance to think about it. In the other classes we started directly with the material. Because of the exams that are now coming up. But the questions…somehow that was good right now…”

 

“We started with the questions, because I would like that we all get something of this time. The Corona Crisis will not be the last crisis that you undergo. That is how life is. And I know that for some of you it was not the first crisis. We are in a maelstrom that is tossing our daily life about.. And we let ourselves be tossed about. We are carried along, whether we want to or not. But we can also take a step aside, look at it from above, so to speak, and pause for a moment. We can try to understand what is happening with us and in us.”

 

“Do you believe, that we are then better equipped for the next crisis?”, Leon reflectively asks.

 

“Yes, I hope so.- … - And now out with you. Time to go home. Put the masks back on and please close the windows. See you tomorrow. “

 

That is how it was.

Tonight I will surely sleep well.

And the moon can quietly watch.

 

Heartful thanks to Christiane Bals, May 8th, 2020

 

 

 

»We have a story for that« II

 

»Relational Ways«

 “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.

And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.

And she had a sister called Mary,

who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.

But Martha was distracted with much serving.

And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha,

you are anxious and troubled about many things,

but one thing is necessary.

Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

Do I dare address the Lord in my fragility?

 

“Lord, do you not care

that my sister has left me to serve alone?

Tell her then to help me.”

 

This sentence of Martha, who is entirely preoccupied with the care of Jesus while her sister sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to his words,

touches me deeply within my heart.

For she dares to name her crisis.

She does not swallow it, keep it under wraps and she wants help.

She turns to Jesus, whom she has taken into her home, and wants him to help.

In this moment, that which connects her sister to Jesus shows her very clearly,

what she is painfully missing and her heart is nourished by envy and comparison.

I often ask myself, what would have happened if Martha had kept silent.

I believe, that she would have squandered an opportunity, necessary for her, to make a connection again;

squandered the opportunity to merge from her crisis.

Do we not know this when we are fully preoccupied with our own concerns, expectations and ambitious goals. The danger then exists that we lose the connection to reality and project our own weaknesses, worries and our helplessness onto our fellow human beings.

Cross your heart! Who finds loving and suitable words in such moments?

The great chance lays in this moment when Martha seeks out a wise conversational partner,

a friend who she has taken into her home.

One who present always and at every moment and takes a stand for life, come what may.

Jesus is the unifying factor in this story and Martha has recognised this.

Even though she certainly was hoping for another answer, she trusts Jesus.

Thus, Martha can experience healing, for she has dared to hold out her fragility, her crisis, to Jesus, the Son of God, who, like his Father, desires nothing more than salvation and life for his people.

How difficult it is us for us human beings to hold out our fragility to God so that healing might be possible. For God, like Jesus, wants to share the center of life with us, be we often forget it.

Much like Martha, who takes Jesus into her home in a friendly manner, but then remains in her thought-construct about Jesus and, figuratively speaking, leaves him standing in the hall.

But let us not underestimate that he is in the house. Jesus is there.

He is also there in the Corona crisis!

The question for us: How do we dare to bring our fragility to God so that he can commend the truly unifying to us and we can live out of his promise, especially in our crisis?

I believe that it is not enough to know that there is a promise, even though this is already a great deal in our world. Rather, my question is whether we trust ourselves to wager close contact, with and through the stories of God, to really feel how serious God is about us. To this end, we should not leave Jesus standing outside in the halls of our houses.

 

Thus, I hear Jesus speaking to us in the text of Paul Weismantel,

to Martha, Mary and to us all in the crisis:

 

I am there

 

In the darkness of your past and

in the uncertainty of your future,

in the blessing of your helping and

in the misery of your helplessness

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

In the play of your emotions and

in the seriousness of your thoughts,

in the richness of your silence and

in the poverty of your speech

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

In the fullness of your tasks and

in the emptiness of your bustle,

in the variety if your abilities and

in the limitations of your gifts

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

In the success of your conversations and

in the boredom of your praying,

in the joy of your success and

in the pain of your failure,

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

In the straits of your daily life and

in the breadth of your dreams,

in the weakness of your mind and

in the strengths of your heart

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

Sylvia Ditt, Koblenz, May 7th, 2020

 

 

The Long Path and Wisdom

 

In the middle of March, as the state of emergency created by the virus was still in its beginnings, we tried to get a picture of the impact, to learn new rules and follow them. Many of us could adapt to the many changes to our daily lives for a manageable period of time. This reminds me of Bilbo Baggins, the »Hobbit«, who gets involved in the adventure with Gandalf and the dwarves, but never gave a thought to how long this would take.

Now we already must, on top of everything else, wear our protective masks for a second week whenever we go shopping. I observe daily how difficult it is for us to deal with this in a wise and relaxed fashion. We do not to drive or  take a walk with the mask, we can continue to reduce our  shopping to a minimum; even if there are regulations for our conduct that are unpleasant, there is much we can arrange ourselves many free spaces and  times are left open to us.

On the adventurous path through life, paths will constantly become small and dangerous and sometimes these stretches are long. Bilbo Baggins shows us step by step how this works: , sometimes, when it grew very difficult, he went along reluctantly and felt like a victim who had been dragged along; yet, increasingly, he fashioned the path within the framework of his possibilities and was even to relish many moments. Only decades later does he see the great connections and the sense in much of it.

No one on earth knows what will grow out of this, our long and difficult time. Whether virologists or economic experts, doctors or politicians – each is working, planning and counseling in their field with that which is available to them. So, we too, in inner freedom, do what is asked, necessary and possible.

Let us take Solomon’s prayer for wisdom to heart. There we read:

»For who can learn the counsel of God?

Or who can discern what the Lord wills?

For the reasoning of mortals is worthless,

and our designs are likely to fail;

for a perishable body weighs down the soul,

and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful[a] mind.

We can hardly guess at what is on earth,

and what is at hand we find with labor;

but who has traced out what is in the heavens?

Who has learned your counsel,

unless you have given wisdom

and sent your holy spirit from on high?

And thus the paths of those on earth were set right,

and people were taught what pleases you,

and were saved by wisdom.« (Wisdom 9, 13-18)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 6th, 2020

 

»We have a story for that« I

 

The Search for God’s Word within me

It is God who sees us and wishes to be there for us, even when we may find ourselves in the greatest seclusion and isolation. So that this Good News of the eternal God who loves his people is not lost precisely in this time of the pronation of religious services and of withdrawal from contact, religious services and reflections being supplied through the media. Here and there home services are being encouraged in the family. Yet all that is unfamiliar is difficult. How many trust themselves, and be it only within their own four walls, to read God’s Word aloud, to take it on

During these days, a word of the Old Testament, the Book of Deuteronomy, encouraged me. To this end. The basic storyline is, that Moses is holding his great farewell discourse to the people before he dies, and they, after forty years of wandering the desert, will take the Promised Land without him. He was their leader and the mediator of God’s word. Now he asks them to take to heart, that even if he goes, God himself, his Word and his presence remains.  (Dt 30,11-14):

For this commandment that I command you today

is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.

 It is not in heaven, that you should say,

‘Who will ascend to heaven for us

 and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’

Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say,

‘Who will go over the sea for us

 and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’

But the word is very near you.

 It is in your mouth and in your heart,

so that you can do it.

 

On the way to a personal conversation with God, this is an equally comforting and challenging word. It is not unavoidably necessary to have a mediator, an expert who knows more about God and the Bible, and one does not have to set out on long paths. Yet, how much is concealed within this reality, that God’s word is very near when I would like to approach it:

For one thing, I am accustomed that others, with much better existing knowledge, “bring” God’s word. How much instruction and practice do I have, for example, in reading the Sunday Gospels and track down what they have to say to my life today? Before Corona, it was never expected of me to celebrate a religious service at home.

- However: When, if not now, do I have the chance to practice this?

Yet, even if I have the good fortune to meet priests who encourage and animate our own reading of the Scriptures and our own domestic church: Why is it still difficult for me to get up and try? They and God himself obviously trust me to do so! The thought quickly arises: “Others bubble over. In me, the reading of the Bible brings forth – nothing”. Equally swift comes the conclusion: „I suppose there is nothing within me“.  Add convenience or lack of time or priority to this and – presto- this attitude is left to stand unchallenged and we prefer to remain with the reflections of others.

- However: Who actually says that this all happens to quickly and simply for “the others”. Do I sit with them at home and see how the “produce” one homily after the other? And even if I did: God is much greater than habits and self-doubt. When he says: “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart”, then I want to trust it and try to also find it unmediated in myself.

Thus, I read God’s word. But if I take it serious for my life, I am confronted with the places where I have not lived by it so far. And I am confronted with where I must change, let something go or face a conflict, because it stands in the way of faith in him or of following his commands. In regard to being in a personal conversation with God, these are, for example, the aforementioned self-doubts and feelings of inferiority. They can be so familiar and often so “nurtured” that stripping them away can feel like dying. In addition, there is the fear that God might want to punish me and I develop mistrust toward him: ‘Is God perhaps not good after all? Does he not want to save, or even want to kill?!’

That is how it was for the People of Israel and Moses reminds the