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
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
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.
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 III
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
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
“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 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
the meat around the bone is best:
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 –
I rehearsed a speech,
a mumble masterpiece.
With a mouth turned down,
an eyeful of mist,
repentant as a whore with clap:
“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,
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
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
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
»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:
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 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
It's like an exercise
of letting go,
of becoming silent,
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.
- We are afflicted in every way,
but not crushed;
but not driven to despair;
but not forsaken;
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Love moves from unity to uniqueness and back again.
- 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.
- 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.
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
because he could say
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.
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
when the sun has turned the lake to flame
and the waves are music on the beach.
in the quiet beyond words
I have with her.
Spring at me
from the running boy.
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
Erik Riechers SAC, June 1st, 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:
- 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.
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.
»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
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
your time is over
under the grass
your dreams fall
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
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
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
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.«
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.
- Freedom from the fixation on the goal. This leads either to
- fear or
- paralysing fascination.
- Freedom for the concentration on the path (life). This means, to be free for
- the tasks of life as well as
- 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
“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 them of it (Dt 1): When God led them to the border to the Promised Land after two years of wandering the desert and said, „Go up, take hold of the land“, they sent men ahead to probe the land. They saw and told the people of the native peoples who were far greater and stronger than they were. The people became desperately afraid. God had liberated them from Egypt, personally spoken the Ten Commandments to them, given them eat and to drink in the desert, that they might live. They, however, slandered him: “In the Lord’s hatred of us He took out of the land of Egypt to give us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us”.
- However: God is good through and through. He not only revealed this through the liberation from Egypt, but also by the fact that he accompanied the people for so long through the desert until they were ready, after 40 years, to risk the battel for a land in which they could live. He wants that I too, here and now, am freed from all that suppressed or kills life. Regardless how many experiences may have instilled or seemingly confirmed in me self-doubt or fear of a punishing God: I am seen by him, wanted and loved. I am seen, wanted and loved by him as well as freed to take on responsibility for my life. I am no one’s marionette, not even His. That is simultaneous encouragement and challenge. Do I dare to believe that I am loved by God? Do I wish to draw strength and courage from it in order to face paralysing attitudes like self-doubt and fear? Do I trust that his word is very near to me, in my mouth and in my heart, so that it can be done?
As soon as I would like to believe this unconditional love of God more than what others say and I often think, I open myself unto the closeness of God within me. Only then do I experience his reality – nit immediately, but gradually and as certainly as the dawning of the day: “When you first notice them, they have been already going on for some time.” (C.S. Lewis).
If we are temporarily cut off from communal religious services, priests or even from the Wifi connections necessary for on-line reflections: Nothing can separate us from the love of God. He renders his service unto us regardless of such external circumstances. He is greater than our knowledge, our habits, thoughts and fears. Above all, he means us well. Only my attitude, when I do not trust him because of self-doubt or fear, can block or distort my gaze of his goodness.
If you seek the meaning of God’s word in your life: Have courage! Dare more trust – in yourself as well as in God. For “the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”
Anne Szczodrowski, Neuwirtheim, May 5th, 2020
»We have a story for that«
Several weeks ago I gave an assignment to my students. Since we cannot meet under the given circumstances, I asked each of them to write a reflection with a view to the need of these days. That which we are experiencing and living through together in these days is the true test of the storyteller. A crisis is the time in which good stories are needed more than ever before.
We are experiencing the exact opposite almost daily. When we hand the word over to the bad storytellers, it creates a panic that is nurtured and fed daily. The superficiality grows steadily worse and orientation is utterly neglected.
However, since I am not in the business of forming poor storytellers, I gave my students the following assignment.
- Select a reaction, question or need that you are presently experience in the people around you.
- Choose a biblical story that you would like to give as a response to his under the motto: »We have a story for that«.
- Then work on the text applying the narrative Method.
- Take a part of your interpretation and transform it into a reflection for people in crisis. Show them how the biblical stories open undiscovered horizons, untrodden paths and untried possibilities to them.
In the coming two weeks you will have the pleasure of readiing their reflections, two this week and two in the following week. They will be published under the title: »We have a story for that«.
Although this assignment is an exercise of narrative theology, we can all basically do it. Each of us experiences a broad spectrum of reactions, questions and needs in the people around us. If we take these reactions, questions and needs seriously and face them, then we can surely give a response from to them from the biblical stories that speak to us, that led us to undiscovered horizons, showed us untrodden paths and opened us up to untried possibilities. That is not a technical narrative interpretation of the text, but a valuable existential interpretation of my personal faith experience with the story. Each of us can say: »I know your story, because I have a similar, if not identical, one of my own. And I have experienced a biblical story that helped and strengthened me. If it touched and moved me, why not you?« It is simply another way of saying, »We have a story for that«.
To do that, however, we need to learn to love the biblical stories as my students have. Gabriela Mistral shows us what such a love looks like. I wish all of us this love, for the love of the biblical stories is at the same time of the Teller of the First Tale, who spoke all creation into being and wove the worlds with his words.
Bible, my noble Bible, magnificent panorama,
where my eyes lingered for a long time,
you have in the Psalms the most burning of lavas
and in its river of fire I lit my heart!
You sustained my people with your strong wine
and you made them stand strong among men,
and just saying your name gives me strength;
because I come from you I have broken destiny
After you, only the scream of the great Florentine*
went through my bones.
Erik Riechers SAC, May 4th, 2020
*"el sumo florentino," refers to Dante.
4. Sunday of Easter 2020
Thirty-one years ago today I was ordained a priest. It was not the most defining day of my life. That was the day of my Profession as a Pallottine. Yet, it was certainly an important day in my life. On the final day of the retreat to prepare me for the ordination, the retreat director gave me a card. It was made by her own hand and written in lovely calligraphy. On it was one line by the poet Hafez: »Stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive.«
That is not so far from Vincent Pallotti’s famous adage
»Seek God and you will find God.
Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things.
Seek God always and you will always find God.«
It is a counsel I have kept religiously in my life. It is one of the things that has occupied me since that day. What are the sounds that makes me particularly glad to be alive? How do I stay close to the sounds that make me glad to be alive? If we take Vincent Pallotti seriously, that we can find God always and everywhere, then any story, song or voice could make us glad to be alive.
The sound that has made me glad to be alive, is the voice of the storyteller. Daily I pray, »Lord Jesus Christ, storyteller of God. Teach me to listen for the stories of God within all things; in myself, in the other, in the whole of creation and in the whole of Scripture, that I might hear and heed every story God wishes to tell.« It is my way of staying close to the sounds that make me glad to be alive.
The voice of Jesus in John’s Gospel is one of the sounds that makes me glad to be alive. Nearly everyone knows the line of his Gospel, »I came that they may have life, and have it super-abundantly«. But we often ignore the fact that this line flows from a previous claim: »I am the door.« Here is one who holds access to the fullness of life.
Doors are control instances. And what they control is a jealously guarded treasure: access. We assiduously guard access to our lives, because we know precisely what that means. Access to our lives means access to our time. We carefully watch our time, shield it, and safeguard it. It is far easier to give someone from my wealth than from my time.
The door is the great image of access. You can shut the door and thereby deny access. You can decide who comes in and out and thereby limited access. You can keep the door wide open, thereby granting unlimited access. You can lock the door, for fear of those who might gain access. You can keep a door unlocked, because you are willing to let anyone have access.
There are so many meanings to this picture, when Jesus says that he is the door in John’s Gospel. He not only says he can grant access to the fullness of life, but that he wants to grant access. What is ability without willingness? To say I can help you is not the same as to say I will or want to help you. There is life enough that is withheld by people who have more than enough capability of sharing it.
But the line, »I am the door« is a story that sounds everywhere, a sound that makes me glad to be alive every time I hear it. If we are like Christ, then we too can say: »I am the door.« If we are sisters and brothers to Jesus, then we can say: »I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.« Every person who is willing and able to grant access to their lives makes me glad to be alive. Every person who can say, »I am able and willing to open the door of my heart« makes me glad to be alive.
»Stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive.« That is why I have stayed close to the storytellers, be they Gospel writers, literary giants, peasant women in the markets of Belize, a leper in India, or the survivors of wars, violence or any of the forms which human cruelty can assume. As Oscar Wilde tells us in »The Happy Prince«. » ‘Dear little Swallow,’ said the Prince, ‘you tell me of marvelous things, but more marvelous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.’«
These men and women were the swallows who flew over the city of God and told me what they saw there. From them I learned how any and all of us can became a door unto the fullness of life. In the thousands of ways they have translated Jesus’ word »I am the door« into life and grace, there has been one defining element: you cannot simply spend a lifetime demanding access to life. You must be the access to life for others.
Jesus said »I am the door« and granted us access:
to his time: For even when he had no time to eat, he had pity on the crowd that needed him (Mk 6,31-32);
to his bread and his table: When in the last hours of his life he chose to spend it sharing a meal with his friends. (Last super);
to his person: He did not let pushy disciples push away children (Mt 19,14), who let himself be touched by a hemorrhaging women (Mk 5,31), who protected the woman who anointed him (Mt 14, 6-7);
to his wisdom: »What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him!« (Mk 1, 27);
to his relationship to God: »Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I speak to you, I do not speak from myself; but the Father dwelling in Me does His works.« (Jn 14, 10);
to his relationship to us: »Now this is the will of the One having sent Me, that all that He has given Me, I should lose none of it, but will raise it up in the last day.« (Jn 6, 39);
to his resources: When he helps Peter pay the temple (Mt 17,27);
to his yearning: When he openly admits how he eagerly desires to eat the Passover with his friends. (Lk 22, 15);
to his disappointment: When he does not deny his sadness at the unwillingness of Jerusalem to come into his embrace (Mt 23,37);
to his stories: in the myriads of parables he shared;
to his balms for the body: »Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and at once they received their sight and followed Him.« (Mt 20, 34);
to his salves for the soul: When he refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery but send her forth into the freedom to try life anew. (Jn 8, 11);
to his country: for a leprous Samaritan who had no business being on the wrong side of the border (Lk 17, 11-19);
to his restorative power: for a persistent mother who was no child of Israel, but most assuredly a child of God. (Mt 15:21-28);
to his body (this is my body which will be given up for you);
and to his blood (this my blood poured out for you).
We too possess all of that: our time, bread, tables, our person and wisdom, our relationships to God and to one another, our resources, our yearnings and disappointments, our stories, our balms for the body and salves for the soul, our home and native lands, and our power to restore. And we have our body and blood, our flesh and bone. Behind all of that lies a fullness of life for others. With Jesus we too are the door. That makes me glad to be alive.
Together let us stay close to any sounds that make us glad that we are alive. In the end, it is nothing other than the way in which we remain close to God.
Erik Riechers SAC, May 3rd, 2020
We have (another) poem for that, or: Regarding true fullness
It could be that we are much shaken today.
It could be that fear and uncertainty narrow our view to tunnel vision.
In point of fact, since things started looking up 70 years ago, we as a society have not experienced such a shock and so much uncertainty.
Yet, is this life, then and now, and for all times, not more than this?
What do we block out when irritation, fear and outsized anxiety cloud our vision? And are we honest: Were we not often blind in easy times for the other side, that which was difficult in the world, or for that which we never had under control?
100 years ago, in the post-war period of the First World War, which had left a mark on practically every family, a critical author set his gaze anew on the reality and was astonished: »already - there - still « he calls out, although he had only perceived blossoming lilacs for the first time:
Now I know it is spring again.
I saw it not against so much night
and long I had not thought it possible.
Only now I take note, the lilacs are already blossoming.
How did I find the mystery again?
They are had taken it from me.
What did the world make of us?
I turn about and there blossoms the lilacs.
And thank God, he created me anew
in creating the splendour anew.
To look at it awakened,
thus I stood still. Still the lilacs blossom.
Karl Kraus, 1874-1936
In our spring of 2020 the entire fullness of life is offered to us.
I want to take note, to turn about and to stand still on sunny days, amidst birdsong and before floral splendour, and I want to soak up children’s laughter and warmth of the heart into myself.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 2nd, 2020
»at home outside« III
Today give yourself over to the last part of the poem, to its images and to the tasks it names: do not judge – be song – comfort!
And feel how this could mean today – concretely – in the circumstances of your life.
where birds of sorrow
build their nests
in the mouths
of the weeping
from Wilhelm Bruners, »ZUHAUSE IN ZWEI ZELTEN«, S. 42
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 1st, 2020
Vive la résistance!
At the moment, we are telling many stories of fear: the fear of being infected, the fear of infecting another; fear of isolation and fear of merging from it; fear of the present situation and fear of the future. We suffer, because these deep fears do not let go of us, and therefore carry with us so much unlived life, because we cannot forgive ourselves for being afraid. The crisis of these days did not create this, but merely unveiled it. These fears were there before. In everyplace where we were unwilling to risk life, the unlived life was a topic before Corona came.
Here we need to renew an ancient practice of the faith. Practice inner resistance. If you do not have the power to change the circumstances of life, then make sure that the circumstance of life do not change you. This is the life attitude of Jesus vis-à-vis violence, hatred, intrigue and every attempt to limit him as a free child of God. He exercised inner resistance. External powers could not determine his inner life. He does not resort to their tactics, but he sets words and signs against them.
Practice inner resistance. We must set a clear sign against these fears that are the breeding ground of the unlived life. Be a resistance fighter. Tell the tales, sing the songs, recite the poems that show, that despite every freedom that is curtailed, fear will not determine who we are or how we live.
Dawna Markova us a testimony of testimony to strengthen inner resistance.
»I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.«
Vive la résistance!
Erik Riechers SAC, April 30th, 2020
»at home outside« II
In his poem, Wilhelm Bruners takes up the missionary mandate of Jesus 2000 years ago and places it into the present. Then as now, Jesus says to those who are sent with what they will be equipped and, furthermore, whereto they will be sent. Every generation enters into this conversation anew. Bruners found a language for himself and for us. When we encounter his words again in these weeks, they unleash a different story in us than at our first encounter.
Thus, let us allow the second part of the poem to have a new effect on us:
Where are the voiceless? What do I hear and what do they need?...
Who are the children of pain? What words are necessary? Can I find any?
. . . . . .
at home outside
build an ark
from the dirges
of the voiceless
until the pain
flushes his children
unto the knifes edge
into the critical
from Wilhelm Bruners, »ZUHAUSE IN ZWEI ZELTEN«, P. 42
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 29th, 2020
Life is not broken
Yesterday Rosemarie wrote about listen to old stories with new ears. That is the challenge and the chance of every crisis. T.S. Eliot describes the experience this way:
»We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.«
Can we take the stories we know and read them in manner that we rediscover them, perceive them differently, discover more richness or even know them for the very first time?
Meg Wheatley offers us a helpful example. She takes a prose passage from Rachel Naomi Remen’s »Blessings of my Grandfather« (p. 147) and presents it in poetic form. I share it with you for two reasons. First, the content itself speak to comfort to us as we try to remember that life is not broken. Secondly, the change of the form helps me to discover that translating this wisdom teaching into life is always a thing of lyrical beauty.
Everything Has a Deep Dream
by Rachel Naomi Remen
I’ve spent many years learning
how to fix life, only to discover at the end of the day
that life is not broken.
There is a hidden seed of greater wholeness
in everyone and everything.
We serve life best
when we water it
and befriend it.
When we listen before we act.
In befriending life,
we do not make things happen
according to our own design.
We uncover something that is already happening
in us and around us
and create conditions that enable it.
Everything is moving toward its place of wholeness
always struggling against odds.
Everything has a deep dream of itself and its fulfillment.
Erik Riechers SAC, April 28th, 2020
»at home outside«
More than two years ago, in February 2018, we published a poem by Wilhelm Bruners under »L’Chaim«. It reminds us how and that we are sent. Now I read it again and hear these serious, clear words in myself. They are the same words, but other things are now resound for me. Many experiences between then and now. The world is not the same, interiorly or exteriorly. That is how it always is when we approach a story or a poem anew after some time has passed.
We all experience this year together as something altogether different than what came before.
This week I invite you to enter into relationship with the three verses of this poem, one after the other, and to seize the chance to read it anew, with everything that is presently preoccupying and also harassing us.
at home outside
the community of Good News Heralds
dare to go
take nothing along
save for one
piece of bread
from Wilhelm Bruners, »ZUHAUSE IN ZWEI ZELTEN«, P. 42
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 27th, 2020
»Age-old Light in which we stand« - On the Way of the Via Lucis
During the14 days after Easter we took the path of light with each other. It traces its roots back to Giovanni Don Bosco and was given new life several decades ago by the San Egidio community. This path leads us to the Paschal stories and reveals, step by step, the »age-old light in which we stand«.
14. Station: The Sending of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2,1-6)
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
During this time of crisis, many people are seeing spiritual direction over the telephone. I often hear tales of soul-deep deeps about losing the things that are precious, valuable and important to these people. One woman asked me, if I also had a story for this. But, of course. That is the story of the people in the upper room of Pentecost.
The over-romanticised and often sanitised version of this story overlooks something essential. These people felt threatened. They lost a beloved person in Jesus. That means, they lost a sense of security which they felt in his presence. Gone is the vitality and joy of life that they enjoyed with him. The creativity and the possibility of employing it are paralysed, for even if they pray together, they do so secluded from a world that took all this from them. This paralysing experience has cost them the chance of fashioning the life of the world.
This danger exists to this day. Our questions testify to it. What should be do now? How can we go on? We could stand paralysed by fear. We could wait with resignation for the virus to strike us. Or, we could take on the Pentecost attitude on the path of light. We could allow ourselves to be set in motion by the Spirit of God, who loves and treasures everything that means home to us. For the first gift of the Spirit is motion: tongues are unfettered, courage unleashed, physical bodies leave the house and human heart and flesh risks encounter and conversation precisely with those whom if previously avoided. The Spirit of God moves us into the heart of a world filled with fear.
The world outside the upper room of Pentecost is not less threatening after the coming of the Spirit that it was before. With words taken from Psalm 104, 30 we pray »Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth«. The Pentecost story teaches us, that the Spirit of God will certainly renew the face of the earth, but not without us. God is not offering to send forth his spirit to renew the face of the earth in advance so that we can afterward crawl out of our hiding places. The Spirit of God renews the face of the earth by transforming the people who walk upon it. The world outside the upper room of Pentecost remains the same, before and after the coming of the Spirit. It is the people whom he changes.
The days of Corona will come to an end. We will still be together. And we will be afraid. We will be afraid of the world from which we were isolated. We will be afraid of contact, touch and encounter. Fears which we have fostered will not simply be stripped away. Just because we receive permission to emerge from the cocoons of isolation, does not mean we will want to do so.
The Spirit of God frees every generation of believers from paralysing fear. For the days beyond the crisis make a wonderful pledge according to the Pentecost recipe for life. We could courageously volunteer to renew the face of His earth. This will be my pledge. I offer it to you in the hope that there will be many companions on this adventurous journey.
Age-old Light in which we stand!
We go out to the place from where the threat comes,
where the danger is always greater than behind our walls,
and we defy the fears,
animated by a Spirit of love.
That beloved people may not be lost, because they cannot reach us
behind our walls of fear.
That security might not be confused with suffocating narrowness.
That our vitality and our joy of life may be set free
by unleashing in other people amazement and enthusiasm.
That our creativity and the possibility of employing it
does not pitifully drown in our timidity, because we fashion our lives
as if we were in a bunker and no longer risk or attempt anything.
That the opportunity to fashion life does not remain a dream for the day
on which no danger or risk threatens us.
Erik Riechers SAC, April 26th, 2020
13. Station:Together with one accord in prayer (Acts 1, 12-14)
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were residing, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. These all were persevering with one accord in prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Three verses between the Ascension and Pentecost – nothing spectacular, merely a listing of people,12 of them by name, little action… we often quickly skim over these verses an move onto greater events in the story.
It is worthwhile to take a closer look. It is the eleven apostles who, after the last words of Jesus and his Ascension – we read it yesterday - take the short path from the Mount of Olives into the city and gather in the upper room. It was a good 40 days ago that they took precisely the opposite route with Jesus – from the Last Supper in the upper room to the Mount of Olives, where the Passion of Jesus began and finally scattered them all.
Now, however, they do not scatter. They remain here and each of them is mentioned by name, just as once before when Jesus chose them (cf. Lk 6). Thus, here there is witness: All those whom Jesus had chosen are here together (except Judas Iscariot).
They »resided« here. How difficult perseverance is for us – we experience it at the moment to a great extent. Keeping the limitations, guidelines and behavioural regulations on and off or for a short period of time would not be a challenge: but we modern people can hard stand having to live like this for the long haul. Yet, not just that! The way in which they spend their time is even more foreign to modern men and women. They were persevering with one accord in prayer. Thereby, the circle is much larger than it at first seemed. The women are in the room, nominally Mary, the mother of Jesus, who were last mentioned in the hour of Jesus death, as well as the brothers. Here the disciples join with the family of Jesus. It is not recounted who was present first or who called whom- no, all who belonged to Jesus, starting with his mother, are united.
These all were persevering with one accord in prayer. They have sufficient breath, perseverance and patience. They place time and space at the disposal of that which is important to them. They are of one mind, they do it amicably, and consensus has been achieved – in prayer! Bound together as brothers and sisters, they pray to the Father of us all, deepen the relationship and the trust, open themselves ever more to him, and live in him – that is what it means to pray. The companions of Jesus learned it from him.
20 years ago, Wilhelm Bruners gave warning to us modern men and women:
Do not initially expect
that your prayers
will be heard
to what they
expect of you.
»These all were persevering with one accord in prayer «. At the moment we miss and lament, more than we suspected, that this is not possible for us. Yet, let us look honestly and constitutively what is possible for us now and what we perhaps have not practiced heretofore:
- Perseverance: persistently and patiently dedicated time and space to payer
- In accord with our sisters and brothers: we can assure each other in many ways and bring our prayer together. Then we know, while we are praying, that we are unite dot them.
- Practicing prayer: To bring everything that moves us to God and to listen in silence.
Then we, too, will listen to what our prayers expect of us.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 25th, 2020
12. Station: Ascension Opportunities (Acts 1:6-11)
So when they had come together, they asked him, »Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?« He said to them, »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.« And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, »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.«
In spiritual direction it occasionally happens, that a person asks me for help at the beginning of the conversation, but in the course of the conversation something altogether different takes place. Regardless of what I say, suggest or offer, it is rejected. The rejection is always announced with the phrase I have come to hate the most, »yes, but«. At the latest, that is the point when I am clear that if I do not say what the person wants to hear, there can be no »yes«. They ask for help in their crisis, but actually are only seeking the affirmation and confirmation of their perceptions and expectations.
That happens often when we are in crisis. People cling stubbornly to their perception, their expectation. Everything should remain as it was or as they would wish it to be. Even when all the facts and realties have changed radically, they resist, because for them it simply cannot be so. Then they refuse to open themselves to that which is to come, even when genuine opportunities are knocking at the door.
That is the experience of crisis of the disciples in this story. They cling to their old perceptions: Jesus is gone and we are helpless, abandoned and without leadership. They cling to their expectations: Only Jesus can do the works that bring salvation and life to the world. Our strength does not suffice for that.
We are accustomed to the idea, that things will run as we expect them to. Often, we cannot imagine any other possibility. Then we refuse to open ourselves to the opportunities of salvation. We close ourselves off to the real alternatives and chances being offered. But what if the things that come to us in these days of crisis would like to bring us some salvation? For there are also offers of grace in this hour: to have time, to forge community, to feel solidarity, to widen our hearts for people who have to experience every day what we must endure but for a time; an opening for the truly essential, the discovery that all which we painfully miss can be the chance to no longer take it for granted in the future; the rediscovery of the gift-contours of the world and of life itself.
The Talmud speaks wisdom: We do not see the world as it is, but as we are. However, if we are close, stuck and narrow, then we will see the world and its possibilities in that manner. The way we are seeing always tells us something about what we have become.
»And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?’«
Sometimes we cling to our perceptions and expectations so stubbornly, that we refuse to open ourselves, even when life and kindness are knocking at our door. Thus, I give you a story:
In ancient days, there lived a man in a village who had a son.
One day he left the village to pursue his business interests.
After he departed, pirates came to the village, for it lay close to the water. The pirates destroyed the village, burned it to the ground, and killed every resident, every man, every woman, every child. But the son of this man, they took with them.
The man returned home and entered his village. Everything was burned and charred. He search the entire village and found what he believed to be the corpse of his son.
He immediately began to mourn and to weep. He arranged the funeral, spoke all the prayers for his son and allowed what remained of him to be cremated.
Then the man took the ashes and placed them into a bag made of the finest cloth. This bag he carried around his neck. He always carried the ashes of his beloved son with him.
He withdrew, seldom left his house and mourned and mourned.
Many months later, his son was able to escape the pirates and returned with haste to his village. He knocked on the door of his father’s house and called out »Father, open the door for me. It is I, your son!«
The father replied, »Go away! Go away! What kind of a person are you to do such a thing to an old man? Are you some hooligan from the village, send to afflict me? I carry my son as ashes in a bag around my neck. Who are you, that you do such a thing to me?«
»No, father«, said the voice. »It is I, your son. Open up to me. Open the door for me!«
But the man in his house called out, »I carry my son as ashes in a bag around my neck. I cannot open the door to you. Go away! Go away!«
And so, the son went forth.
Erik Riechers SAC, April 24th, 2020
11. Station: Jesus sends his own into the world (Mt 28, 16-20)
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, »All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.«
A woman disciple of today in conversation with a male disciple from back then
Is it true, you were among the doubters back then on the mountain in Galilee?
Yes, that is correct. There was reason enough for the many questions that were within me. You may hardly be able to imagine it, but remember: alongside all the attempted safeguards on the part of the powerful and the rumours that were making the rounds, the women had told us of their encounter with Jesus and had sent us back to Galilee on his behalf. We went there, went up the mountain – the purported mountain that you so often quote until this day – and suddenly He stood there before us. Everything was confusing, nothing was clear!
If I am correctly informed, you posed no questions. What helped you in this extraordinary situation?
He, Jesus, simply accepted my uncertain eyes, my questioning look, and my doubting heart. No inquiries, no criticism, no explanations. He addressed us all, as we were. And as we were, he had a mission for us.
You mean, it would have been conceivable that he had only entrusted the mission to the certain and strong among you?
You and I – we would do it that way, or not? But not him. As I felt that, my heart started to warm. I felt the truth as he spoke of his authority - » in heaven and on earth «. I recalled the beginnings, as he spoke to so many people on this mountain, for hours, for days! Back then most of them were poor, sick and frail. At the time he proclaimed to all of us that blessedness was within us, regardless of how we are living. Back then he interpreted the treasure and the depth of the ancient 10 Words for us all.
Nevertheless: Was not his mission to all nations a great deal too much for you?
Yes and no. At that moment I could not really ponder it. Yet, he spoke of baptism and I recalled what we knew of his baptism. He spoke of the Father – had he not taught us up here how we should pray to the Father of us all? He spoke of the Son and I recalled how often he had spoken of himself as the Son of Man. And the Spirit who filled him has increasing attracted, challenged, indeed often overwhelmed us. That is how he taught us true life and he had followed him. We are to pass that on in his name now.
Like the others, you accepted the mission – I am a witness to that today.
Indeed, I grew into it with my friends and we drew from everything that was within us, what had grown through him. You know, when he left us and I weighed this hour on the mountain in my heart over and over, how he was there, how he had spoken to us: that was when I recognised deep within me: Nothing will ever be lost.
At the conclusion, I still have one request: What message can you give us today?
Keep an eye on what is essential, for that is always what serves life. And if many things make you fearful and uncertain, then go up to the »mountain«, to the place where you can encounter HIM. Recall your baptism, that you are beloved children of humanity. And accept the pledge that allowed us to set forth back then: » I am with you always, to the end of the age «.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 23rd, 2020
10. Station: The Risen Lord heals Peter’s heart (John 21:15-17)
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, »Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?« He said to him, »Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.« He said to him, »Feed my lambs.«. He said to him a second time, »Simon, son of John, do you love me?« He said to him, »Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.« He said to him, »Tend my sheep.« He said to him the third time, »Simon, son of John, do you love me?« Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, »Do you love me?« and he said to him, »Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.« Jesus said to him, »Feed my sheep.«
In the preceding story of John 21 there’s a scene in which Jesus shows people how to deal with their emptiness. The disciples return after an unsuccessful night of fishing with empty nets. Jesus has a straightforward, if not simple piece of advice for them. »Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some«. This counsel is in fact straightforward. But putting it into action is not simple, because it calls us to act beyond the familiar, accustomed places of life. The right side of the boat represents the unknown and the unfamiliar. Jesus knows how we human beings can overcome the emptiness we experience, namely, in that we go to the other side of our lives to attempt something. We will need a great deal of strength to go to the other side of the boat. And we will need even more strength to stay on that side of the boat. Habit is hard to break. A lifelong practice cannot simply be shake off. If this time of crisis painfully has shown us anything, then it is this truth.
Now Peter is sitting with Jesus around a charcoal fire. This moment reminds him of a charcoal fire of denial, of a charcoal fire over which he warmed his hands. Jesus pulls him out of this moment to a charcoal fire in which bread and fish (nourishment) await him, and not accusation, admonishment and suspicion. Only John tells this story of the two charcoal fires, precisely because he wants us to note that there is a second side to life, to our boat.
Peter does not feel comfortable here, because the charcoal fire was the place of his weakness, of his inability. He knows this side of life. He knows the side where he was too weak to be faithful. He knows the side where he was so filled with fear that he denied the deepest love. Jesus draws him out to charcoal fire where he can discover unsuspected depths of love in himself.
Three times Jesus casts of the net of his question out: Do you love me? And three times he draws from the depths of this man more life than the surface of his threefold denial would suggest.
Indeed, sisters and brothers, Jesus is following his own advice not only with Peter, but also with us. If the net cannot capture any life on the one side of the boat of our lives, then Jesus casts his net out on the other side of our boat. And lo and behold: an indescribable fullness which is within us and needs to be discovered. This time of isolation and social distancing leaves an emptiness behind. At the same time, here is a chance to strengthen the other side of our lives, which suffers from a bit of atrophy. And this fullness exists in us, often hidden in the depths, but still present.
During these days, some are discovering an interiority in themselves that they did not suspect, or a patience that surprises them. Others find a kindliness in themselves they would not have held to be possible. Many experience a breadth of heart that looks beyond the narrow confines of their own need and takes the hunger, suffering and misery of others seriously. Repeatedly people report, that the falling away of so much that they deemed to be a necessity of life has led to a change in their values.
In this story, Peter is not the fisher of mortals, but one of the fish which the love of God has caught. Perhaps it is also true of us, that we can only authentically lead, accompany and guide others after we ourselves have been drawn out of the Sea of Tiberius. The age-old light in which we stand awaits us there in the flames of a charcoal fire and the questions that lead us to the other side of the boat. If we do not avoid this station during the days of Corona, then we too will hear the voice that speaks to us: »Feed my sheep.«
Erik Riechers SAC, April 22nd, 2020
9. Station: The Disciples encounter the Lord at the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 21, 1-13)
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, »I am going fishing.« They said to him, »We will go with you.« They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, »Children, do you have any fish?« They answered him, »No.« He said to them, »Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.« So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, »It is the Lord!« When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, »Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.« So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, »Come and have breakfast.« Now none of the disciples dared ask him, »Who are you?« They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.
»again« - so discretely does it appear in the first sentence of the 21rst chapter of John’s Gospel. Yet in the life of the disciples, as in our own lives, it is tremendously significant and comforting to experience, that repetition is not our enemy, but our blessing.
Twice Jesus had appeared in the midst of his disciples behind closed doors – now they are back to their lake, at home, at their old place. Here the boats lay on the shore and what suggests itself more than to do that, which they always did before: to go fishing.
Do we know the experience? We experienced the extraordinary. Occasionally we bowed out for a certain length of time. Perhaps upheavals pulled the rug out from under our feet for a time. When it was all over, we returned to our »old« world to carry on as once before.
Thus, six disciples join Peter, but the efforts of an entire night remain without success. They »caught nothing«.
Do we know the experience? We act as if nothing happened and superficially work through it with the aid of old patterns and techniques. Is it really surprising that we find nothing nourishing there, no »fish«? These days the question is already massively being raised as to how we will live after Corona. Will we simply return to our accustomed ways of life as if nothing had happened?
After this futile night the disciples, at any rate, admit to the stranger on the shore that they have attained nothing, no fish, and no nourishment, nothing to eat or to share.
Yet, they (still) have the heart of an adventurer. At an unusual hour, in the bright morning, they take the plunge and let out their nets in a new manner, on the »right side of the boat«. During the day, the fish dive into the depths. Thus, that which can nourish is only to be found in the depths. And, indeed, there they find superabundance.
Do we know the experience? We disengage from that was always done and practiced in like manner and then discover a source within us, feel a wealth, which we did not suspect. For this we need to go deep. Will this virus-threatened time lead us there? Will we take its counsel to heart and cast our nets »on the right side of the boat«, in a new manner that leads us to our depths and the depths of life, to the essential, to that which truly nourishes us?
Then we might come to the experience that the disciples had, foremost the disciple whom Jesus loved: Here is the Risen One! »It is the Lord!« He has already prepared a meal and everything that we bring along from out of our depths, will be added unto it.
The revelation of the Risen One, given »again« applies to us today as it did to the friends back then.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 21rst, 2020
8. Station: The Lord Confirms the Faith of Thomas (John 20:24-29)
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, »We have seen the Lord.« But he said to them, »Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.«
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, »Peace be with you.« Then he said to Thomas, »Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.« Thomas answered him, »My Lord and my God!« Jesus said to him, »Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.«
My grandmother lay on her bed and was dying. It was peaceful. It was graceful. It was terrible.
I sat with her through those days and my diligence was rewarded with my grandmother’s greatest gift: she told me stories.
We are followers of the Way, and so we had called the elders and they had come. Grandmother let them pray over her, but when it came time to lay hands on her, she waved them away. »No need! No need!« She was gracious, but firm.
When they left, somewhat chagrinned, I asked her why she had dismissed the elders out of hand: »Child, brightness of my life, they don’t know how to lay on hands.«
»Don’t be absurd. They are the elders. They know better than any of us«, I replied, in words harsher in tone than in intention.
»Child, gladness of my old age, that is not true. Let me tell you the story, behind this story. It was in the days after the Great Rising, the spirit drenched Twelve took up the travels of the Master again. When they stopped in our village, our people came to greet them. During the course of their stay, we were able to go to one of them and pour out our need, our sorrow and our questions. There were long lines before all of them, but one. He was the one whom we still call the Doubter, even if we whisper it under our breaths.
I went to him, moved by impatience with the waiting and a touched by a small pity for him, sitting alone there by himself.
He was a surprisingly easy man to talk to, comfortable in his skin, at ease in the company of women. And those eyes, child, those eyes! They never left my face, not in the possessive way of staring, but in the gentle way of gazing. No matter what I told, regardless of the doubt I harboured or the fear I nurtured, those eyes, child, those eyes. His refusal to avert his gaze was the first way he laid hands on me.
Then he took my hands in his own, gently, so gently. His words breathed peace upon me. ‘My hands touched what they did not believe could be real. So will yours. Doubt is like fruit. Bite into it too early, and it is bitter. You need to let it ripen to the fullest embrace of life in Jesus.’ It was the second way he laid hands on me.
Then he placed my hands on his side. And he spoke words to me that tasted of freshly baked bread, of fish fired over a charcoal fire, of honey from the comb. ‘Little one, I once touched his side and found a wound that healed mine. Your hands will do the same. Doubt was never my enemy, my child. It need not be yours. Doubt is a question and if your questions lead you to search, your hands will touch what I have touched, and your eyes will see what I have seen. Those who doubt, question. Those who question, seek. Those who seek, find. Those who find, have mystery opened unto themselves.’ It was the third way he laid hands on me.
So you see, my child, precious jewel of my heart, I could not let the elders fumble their way through a ritual. The laying on of hands is the way the Master touches us all. It is not the possession given to a precious few, but it is an art form. It must always come from the deep heart! And only those who have been touched by the deep heart of the Master will find their own from which to touch others.«
I stroked my grandmother’s shrivelled hand. »That was the work of the Doubter? The Doubter did all that for you?«
My grandmother turned her eyes toward me and held me in her gaze. Those eyes, my friends, those eyes! Then she spoke to me in words harsher in tone than in intention. »Stop it. Don’t call him that.«
Then she closed her eyes and let out a long, delicious sigh, filled with the memories of contentment and healing.
»His name was Thomas.«
Erik Riechers SAC, April 20th, 2020
7. Station: Jesus bestows the power to forgive sins (John 20, 19-23)
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 and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
The gift of reconciliation, the gathering around a center-
how our world yearns for this!
We live isolated and separately, not just since Corona.
When we came to each other, we spoke about our accomplishments,
of that , which we could of which we could afford.
Showing weakness, even scars? Never!
Rather clichés upon the lips which
kept the others at bay
and our inner life hidden.
How much emptiness in so many circles
in which we met year in, year out!
Please? Inner peace? Shalom?
Yet, at one time people came together
in all their fear, locked into the terror of their failure
and their grief,
yet the center was open
for HIM, around who all their thinking and feeling circled.
He overcame all barriers and showed himself
as he was, completely, scarred and reconciled,
and brought peace.
Fear could change into joy
and peace was given fruitful ground.
Closeness was possible, and mission was expected,
Breathing in the Spirit as in the ancient times of creation,
in order to serve forgiveness and the new beginning with him –
unto this day, for us.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 19th, 2020
6. Station: The Risen Lord Appears to His Disciples (Luke 24:36-43)
»‘Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have,' And as He said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.« (Luke 24: 38-40).
When Jesus shows his hands and feet it is a way to prove that he is real. The disciples touch and see what is real, the flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Yet, the minute they touch and see what is real, they have no choice but to see and touch the scars left by wounds. This is the reality of the way of light. You cannot erase scars from authentic tales of Gospel living.
Here lies a lesson for us in this time of crisis. We must show the scars, which the wounds have left behind. We often hear the encouraging word: »We will get through this.« I believe it will be so for the vast majority of us, if certainly not for all of us. But one thing is certain. But no one, absolutely no one, is coming through this troubled time untouched, unmarked and unscathed. Scars are not wounds, but reminders of them. They remind us where we have fought and been hurt. They remind us that we are not invincible, that we can be cut and pierced and made to bleed. But they also remind us that we heal, that we carry on. They remind us that life is possible where wounds are touched and tended. With time and healing they do not bleed forever. Scars are not wounds, but reminders of them. A scar is the place where the bleeding out of life has been stopped and sealed.
In Henry V, Shakespeare spins a speech of the king before the Battle of Agincourt.
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'…
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
This is Shakespeare’s version of this Gospel lesson. He calls upon us to stand together freely, to fight with one another, to suffer wounds together. »That he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart.« Those who would not stand with their fellow human beings in the time of crisis will not be forced: »His passport shall be made, and crowns for convoy put into his purse.« The hours of crisis teach us who are true companions are and which company is worth keeping: »We would not die in that man's company that fears his fellowship to die with us.«
And he calls upon us to show the scars the wounds have left, like the soldiers who stood and fought with King Henry: »Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars and say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'…« And those who show one another the scars that the wounds of old battle have left behind and share the stories behind them, will be a few, a happy few, a band of brothers (and sisters) . Those who refuse to stand together, fight together, fall together, suffer wounds together shall remain unscarred. But they shall bear the burden of deepest regret: »And gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.«
On the way of light, we should often roll up our sleeves and show the scars our wounds have left behind. It is what Jesus did in that room with his friends. And if we do it, people will know why. It is because of the company that we keep, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters.
Erik Riechers SAC, April 18th, 2020
5. Station:As he broke the bread (Lk 24, 28-35)
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
When we have authentic Emmaus conversation with one another, then closeness and trust develop. Then, when evening draws nigh, the wish arises that we stay together.
Jesus leaves the disciples when they recognise him, and that happens at the meal, at the breaking of the bread.
He leaves when once they know: He is here, already along the whole path he had gradually warmed their hearts.
With this clarity they can set out anew –in the dark, through the darkness – they do not even notice, because for them it is bright and the path seems to rise up to meet them.
Telling stories, they had followed his path.
In the breaking of the bread their eyes opened. Setting out for Jerusalem, the place of the tomb turns into a place of life, of companions, of sharing life, of joy.
Willi Bruners puts it this way:
but he leaves behind
traces in the dust
that show the path
into the open
the broken bread
even when his appearance
remains in check
Are we willing to entrust the burdensome to one another and to let be interpreted anew?
Are we willing to break what truly nourish life and to share with one another?
We could feel the increasing warmth of our hearts!
We could encounter the Risen One!
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 17th, 2020
4. Station: The Risen Lord Appears to Two Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27)
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, »What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?« And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, »Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?« And he said to them, »What things?« And they said to him, »Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.« And he said to them, »O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 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.
When we walk together through a time of crisis, and sometimes in the wrong direction at that (like the disciples who are moving away from the place of resurrection), we consider many things as vital and important: crisis management, planning, competence, decision-making ability, and solutions. I do not doubt that they are necessary for a pandemic, but I severely doubt whether they alone will suffice. Here we have two disciples, shaken by crisis, and they have none of these things. That describes the vast majority of us at the moment. We are not all doctors, virologists, nurses or politicians. Those who would walk a path of light must learn something that is of particular importance in these days, but hardly ever is mentioned on the list of crisis management: the art and craft of mutual storytelling.
This art is important and necessary for life. »They were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.« Here we encounter the conversation which we need when life has gone awry, when everything is shrouded in darkness, when all hope seems lost, when nothing works and we do not know how to gone on. Yet, on we must go nonetheless.
Jesus gladly joins in. Regardless how bad, dark, hard and depressing the experiences were, mutual storytelling is important. Otherwise, no resurrection to new life can occur. Jesus gladly joins in, but he joins in as a new listener, so that the conversation is not merely a regurgitation of the past, a constant recounting of the old. As a man with fresh ears we wants to prevent us from stifling the life that is left within us.
Mutually tell one another about the state of your hearts. This conversation is the place where we cry, scream, and tell the stories of everything that constitutes our lives, in order that we might find the death that holds us prisoner today.
Jesus listens to everything that his people want to tell him. Not once does he interrupt them. Nor does he contradict them, not even once. He corrects no word. Only when they are finished does he begin.
Only then does he open new perspectives. This is no correction but a broadening expansion. Jesus takes the experience of the disciples, their very personal experience of these days, seriously. Through Moses and the prophets he supplies that which they did not perceive within their own story. Here Jesus awakens new life in the disciples. Out of the experiences and encounters that seemed to signify only death, he draws new life.
Two dangers lurk here for us in this hour of crisis.
- This Emmaus conversation never takes place. We suppress our experiences, pain, doubt and stories, either out of shame or out of suffering. Remember, it is not what we tell that makes us ill, but what we do not tell. Every therapy in the world begins with the sentence: »Tell me what is going on!« We try to restore the flow of storytelling. It would be even better if we followed the lead of the disciples and keep mutual storytelling alive. Jesu must do a great deal for them, but he does not have to enflame the conversation anew. He comes upon a conversation into which he can join in. Mutual storytelling is not only a gift to one another, but to God.
- Only this Emmaus conversation takes place. We need new listeners and fresh ears. At the moment, the danger is great that we will circle like vultures over the graves of our crisis. Recently, a man told me that one of these reflection a day was too much for him. Yet, he daily, almost hourly, consumes the same warnings, prognoses and bad news. He can recite Corona statistics like I can quote the Sacred Scriptures. He passes on every rumor he hears with feverish urgency. Where are the new perspectives, horizons and ways?
A way of light needs the art and craft of mutual storytelling, for by it we shall rediscover the »age-old light in which we stand«.
Erik Riechers SAC, April 16th, 2020
3. Station: The Risen Lord Appears to Mary Magdalene
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, » I have seen the Lord «, and that he had said these things to her. (John 20, 11-18)
The way of light is not an artificially lit boulevard, but a path on which we human beings, from the start, tentatively move from light to light. There is hardly a more beautiful testimony to this fumbling and finding than this tale of Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the garden. Repeatedly it touches us anew, because we repeatedly rediscover ourselves in it.
Today let us meditate upon it with two poems from Wilhelm Bruners and savour it:
At the Tomb
than at the tomb
What could have been
the gardener and
the memory of
the time of singing
with dark eyes
a conversation of grief
with the Unknown
having sussed out
about so much
from: Wilhelm Bruners, Verabschiede die Nacht, 1999
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 15th, 2020
2. Station: The Women discover an empty tomb (Mk 16, 1-8 )
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
A letter from a not so secret admirer.
Dear Mary Magalene,
Sear Mary, mother of James,
Esteemed witnesses and beloved sisters,
In this time of pandemic and panic, I admit that I enjoy reading your story most of all.
This is where the Gospel of Mark originally ended. He dedicated his last story to you.
In my opinion, we should have left it that way, for it a wonderful ending to the Gospel.
You were afraid of the truth of this moment.
And you said nothing to anyone, for you were afraid.
According to Mark, fear is the last experience of the Gospel.
And if we know anything, it is the fear that silences us.
However, thanks to your story, we know that your fear was not as powerful as you thought and that you overcame it.
For, if you really said nothing to anyone, we would know this story.
Yet, I tell it,
and it was told to me,
and we all will tell it to others.
That means that at some juncture in your personal stories of maturity and growth,
you overcame the fear that held you back from telling your story,
the terror and astonishment that shook and distressed you.
Your fear did not last.
Something broke through it
That is why I love your story, because it teaches us that fear is not definitive. We men are also afraid, but we lack the courage to admit it. That is why I am so grateful to you. It is hard to deal with fear if we spend all our time denying it.
You taught us the way of things for Gospel living. Sometimes we are strong, then we stumble again.
Fear and love will always be mixed together.
But fear does not have the last word. You are the witnesses to this.
Fear was not definitive for you at the tomb.
It will need not be definitive for us in the hour of our crisis.
Thus, I thank you, beloved sisters, for your courageous witness. The men, with their macho swagger, were nowhere to be seen during the decisive hours. You were always present. You were the eyewitnesses to the whole story, not the bystanders of selective moments. You experienced how Jesus was arrested, intimidated, threatened, manipulated, nailed fast, killed and then buried and sealed behind a stone.
If we admit to the whole of your story, then all of that plays a role for us at the moment as well. Our story is neither as clean nor as smooth as we like to present it.
Please accept my sincere thanks for your courage and your willingness not to suppress or deny anything that awaits us on this Via lucis, this path of light. And if I may make a request: Put in a good word for us with Jesus, so that we might live our hours of fear as honesty and courageously as you did.
Erik bar Elisheva (son of Elisabeth)
1. Station: Jesus rises from the dead.
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Mt 28, 1-8)
The women went »to see the tomb«. Many of us know this. After the burial of a beloved person we are often drawn back to the grave, to the place where we last accompanied them. It may be an almost childlike yearning, a homesickness, as if we wanted to see them one more time. Or we require the clarity that it really is as it is: death.
Thus, what do the women await on this morning? The confirmation of the death of Jesus, a place for their tears, their grief over this painful loss – we know this experience.
What they then encounter is an experience that is contrary to all their expectations. The await silence and an earthquake comes instead. They expect a sealed tomb and see how the stone is rolled away. They await the breaking of the dawn and instead an angel appears like lightning, with apparel as white as snow. We also know irritating experiences such as these, which contradict all for which we were prepared, even the saddest of things. They make us afraid, because they throw up questions for which we know no answers. The known, and be it the tomb, is familiar to us. Now we are at a loss for words and our sense of orientation abandons us.
At the same time, these women are taken seriously in all that they experience. For the angel addresses their fear and names precisely what they seek. Yet, something entirely new is announced and for this, the stone must be rolled away so that they might truly see: no one lays here. Jesus is not here. No life takes place here.
That is why the angel becomes urgent: The message of the resurrection of Jesus should reach the disciples quickly!
Do the two women understand the message? At any rate, they act swiftly, turn their backs on the tomb and run in order to tell the story. And in the running and the desire to tell the story, great joy already accompanies their fear.
They came to the tomb to see - and now they run in order to tell of the living. What a turnabout!
Perhaps we experience Easter this year in a similar manner. We constantly grieved all that was not possible this year as if we were standing at the tomb of our beloved liturgy of this feast. Yet now we tell – sometimes very hesitantly – of great depth and liveliness discovered in the ways in which we spent the holy hours – where alone or in pairs, in small communities or via Skype. In our lives, such as they are, we experience:
HE goes ahead to the place where we are. He lives. Everything essential is here.
»Hundredweight burden remains burden,
immeasurable suffering remains suffering,
and death remains in the world.
Yet burden and suffering and death no not have the last word.
The last word is reserved to another, and he responds
to death’s force of gravity
with the explosive force of life.« (Ursula Schauber)
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 13, 2020
But a few weeks ago few of us could have imagined that we would be celebrating Easter this year in such a manner. For the time being, life has radically been altered. The pandemic has changed our daily schedules, turned out cherished expectations of life on their head and redrawn the proven maps for the navigation of life.
One of the consequences of the limitations to our freedom of movement and to our freedom of association is that it makes us aware of things that usually go unheeded. That includes our perceptions of the spaces of our lives, the physical, mental and emotional spaces in which we live and move, as well previous assumptions of these spaces, such as human touch and our interactions.
Until now, the crisis has only changed our liturgical praxis of Easter. However, it also has the potential to change our deepest innermost perceptions of the Feast of the Resurrection.
»We imagined this day would be utterly different.« Every woman, every man of the resurrection stories could have spoken that sentence. All of these stories tell of a conflict, namely, between our expectations as to how God should deal with the endangered spaces of our lives and the actual praxis of our God. Normally, we can overplay this conflict, partially even through the liturgy. However, in this year we experience Easter like the first disciples, namely, out of the perspective of the tomb.
The tomb stands for all confining spaces that hold life bound to death, that cut us off from warmth and light, encounter and touch. The tomb is a primordial metaphor for the enclosed space that imprisons life. It is our expectation that God should come in order to liberate us from the spaces of this death, in order to lead us out. The first impulse of God is different.
Mark, Luke and John tell us, that the stone was already rolled away from the tomb before the women arrived. Matthew gives us a slightly altered version of the story.
Now after the Sabbath,
toward the dawn of the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake,
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven
and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
His appearance was like lightning,
and his clothing white as snow.
By doing this, Matthew makes us aware of an important aspect of the disturbance of space which held the body of Jesus.
When the women of his version appear, the stone is still firmly in its place. This cold awaken the impression that Jesus not yet risen. Yet, what happens after their arrival puts a rapid end to that speculation. There is an earthquake and an angel rolls away the stone before their eyes. It is an occurrence that leads the guards to faint. »And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. «
We could not expect that after this dramatic moment the appearance of the risen Jesus would quickly follow. But no. The words of the angel make it abundantly clear that Jesus has already gone. »He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. «
The tomb with its rolled away stone is one of the most vivid images of the Easter story the centerpiece of every Easter garden. Our automatic assumption is that the stone is rolled away so that Jesus can come out. By our human reasoning that is simply logical. We happily imagine it this way, that the confining space of the grave is shattered and disturbed by the resurrection. But Matthew’s storytelling suggest that we think of it the other way around. The disturbance does not come from within the space, but from outside of it. The stone is not rolled away in order to let Jesus out, but in order to let the witnesses in. The women, and later the men, see the empty grave and gradually begin to understand. This pattern is repeated in varied fashion throughout the Gospels. For the first Christians it was especially important and effective to enter into the spaces of confinement (the tomb) and to discover that they are different than their assumptions.
During situations of conflict, like this crisis, we are irritated by the fact, that the spaces of our life are confined and limited like a tomb. We feel cut off from life, held apart from it. What is easily forgotten is the fact, that we often consciously and willingly create such spaces, when it is to our advantage.
The closure of borders, the building of walls, the exclusion through discrimination,
Systemic racism and the coldblooded egoism of a consumer society see such measures a building or creating their secure zones. Yet, the resurrection of Jesus unveils them as tombs. They confine us into a merciless self-absorption while we should be practicing the expansiveness of the heart. They limit us to defence and rejection, where we should be practicing welcome and acceptance. They teach us to pluck the raisins out of the bread for ourselves instead of sharing the whole loaf. They transform our hearts to places of hoarding instead of stretching them unto healing and helpfulness. Such spaces keep us away from life, because life consists of life shared and outpoured for the life of the world.
The stone is rolled away so that the witnesses can enter and see what tomb spaces are really lie. Violence, injustice, the willingness to sacrifice people for our own purposes, envy, greed, power games and a lack of civic courage smoothed the path to the tomb of Jesus. They do so to this day. If we do not enter the tomb spaces which they prepare, we will never know how truly horrific they are.
The disturbance of our tombs is especially important here. Until this day, it is extraordinarily effective to enter into the spaces of confinement (the tomb) in order to discover that they are decidedly different than what we imagined. We could reflect on the nature of some of our practices and habits and ask, whether they contribute to the resolution of conflict and injustice. When our spaces become narrow and closed off like tombs, we should ask how we can disturb these confined spaces. We call the self-created, closed spaces of our lives safety zones. When the stone is rolled away we learn to call them what they are: tombs. We should open such spaces for the life of the world. The Risen One should disturb them so that a change of the way in which we think and act can take place.
There is one experience in particular that we can take away once we enter and contemplate this tomb spaces: »He is not here. « Tomb spaces are not the place where God dwells. They can no more hold God fast than the instruments of death can nail him in place.
That is why the Risen Lord will always appear where rooms are closed and confined: behind locked doors, for they do not protect us from the world, but merely keep us apart from it; on the flight to Emmaus, because it leads us away for the place of the resurrection back into old, habitual narrowness; on the shore, where we awaits his people with bread and fish, after they wrap themselves in night and do anything to keep busy, merely to avoid the painful parts of life.
Dear Friends, it is painful for us to have to celebrate Easter in our involuntary, closed spaces. As soon as these days pass, we can take the lessons of this crisis to heart and disrupt and disturb all the former voluntary, chosen confined spaces of our lives with the panache of the Risen One. When we gather next year under the light of the Paschal Candle, may it be as people who were changed and broadened by this primordial experience of Easter.
ERIK RIECHERS SAC
Vallendar, April 12th, 2020
Dominus flevit. The Lord wept over Jerusalem
Reflection on Lk 19, 41-46
It had begun so promisingly – in Galilee –
in that landscape in which even nature seemed to have the ambition of uniting the contrasts with one another in a confined space.
»The Kingdom of God is already here«, he had said.
Despite all prophecies of doom and contractions. – »Believe me, it is already here«.
And they had followed him.
But then?! – He himself, let alone those who had followed him, had doubts. – En route!
He had to remind himself whose beloved child he was,
of the roots from which he lived.
He needed support from Moses and Elijah.
He eventually had to clench his teeth hard (cf. Lk 9, 51) when he considered Jerusalem. –
Already as a youth, when he went up with is parents, this city had exercised a profound effect on him. Back then, when he had been allowed to discuss Zachariah with the scribes. Indeed, already then it had caused his soul to shudder:
It has struck him like a beam of light and this Zachariah passage had penetrated into his heart like a nearly unquenchable longing. He knew it by heart. He knew every word by heart. He would never forget them.
For there it was written: »And it shall happen that all who remain of the nations coming up against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to bow to the King, the Lord of Armies, and to celebrate the Festival of Booths. … On that day there shall be on the bells of the horses “Holy to the Lord” and the pails in the house of the Lord shall be like basins before the altar. And every pail in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be “Holy to the Lord of Armies”. And all those offering sacrifice shall come and take from them and cook in them, and there shall no longer be a merchant in the house of the Lord of Armies on that day« (Zech 14, 16ff)
Indeed, one day everything would be declared pure, the cooking pot in the house would be as pure as the holy vessels in the temple. And the day will come, when there will be no more enemies. All peoples will have access to the Lord.
Yes, one day it will be like that…
How far off he was from this vision during the past days in Jerusalem, - as a twelve year old boy he had run back to the temple with glowing passion.
Yet, in these days he was always glad when he was outdoors and could consider the city and the temple from the outside; best of all from here, the Mount of Olives.
A few days ago it hard nearly broken his heart as he saw as he saw how a poor widow had offered her last mite.
So much deep faith in God and in the temple!
That had touched him deeply.
Wherefore had she brought this offering?
Certainly not for the temple. (cf. Lk 21,1-4)
He was certain: This temple was ill, ill like a withered fig tree whose best years were behind it. It had become barren. The time of it harvest – a thing of the past. (cf. Mk 11, 12ff)
Neither the servant of religion there, nor the cult of the temple had a future! No, in this moment he found nothing good and longer in the temple. –
Has all of Israel perhaps become like a barren fig tree, noting but foliage?
Yesterday, several people had called out to him on the way to the temple:
»Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!« (Lk 19, 38)
But upon a closer look it was clear: Exceedingly few had understood his vision.
The stones would sooner shout out that the great crowd. . (Lk 19, 40)
No, there was no peace here
and no place for the glory of God. …
There lay the city before him, in all its beauty, but it was hollow on the inside, it had no future…
And he could no longer contain himself. He let his tears flow freely. (Lk 19, 41)
»Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!
But now they are hidden from your eyes.
For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.« (Lk 19, 42-44).
And he made his way, deeply agitated, down toward the temple.
(Arthur Pfeifer, Jerusalem 2020)
How can we love in the time of Corona?
Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death.
This is a story of judgement and when human beings exercise such judgment, they often are looking for something or someone to blame. All God’s judgments seek our possibilities, not our shaming. It could have been so here. Pilate had a choice. He could have simply refused to pass judgement, for not every moment of life requires accusation, judgement and condemnation.
We know this station. Shaken by the Corona crisis, many are deeply immersed in the cycles of accusation, judgement and condemnation: they search for scapegoats: politicians, the Chinese, the Italians, the tourists who brought back the infection, the people who should have stayed home and didn’t.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Could we seek the possibilities of the given hour, rather than the shaming of others?
God of the accused
and the accusing,
who made the mouths, the ears and hearts
of all in conflict.
May we turn ourselves towards that which must be heard,
because there we will hear your voice. Amen. (Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 2: Jesus carries his cross.
This is the moment of bearing a burden we did not choose. There are heavy burdens we carry because we make a conscious decision to do so. But there are also unexpected and unwanted burdens, which others lay upon us. The fear, anxiety, prejudice and inability of others often leads them to lay their burden upon shoulders other than theirs.
We know this station. At the moment we are all carrying burdens of isolation, restriction and intensive precaution. Not everyone deals well with this, and there is increasing outbursts of irritation, anger and even violence in families, among friends or waiting in line at the grocery stores.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Since prayer is as viable an option as protest, could we not rediscover the art of blessing in which we speak gentle words of prayer for and over each other, asking for the guts and goodness that could keep us together?
who bore the weight of wood
on torn shoulders,
We pray for the torn and the burdened,
that they may be held together by
guts and goodness.
Because you were held together
by guts and goodness. Amen. (Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 3: Jesus falls for the first time.
The burden placed on us can become so oppressively burdensome that collapse as we walk, are forced to our knees and fall to the ground. We cannot go on. We cannot bear the great concern for people we love, carry the infirm partner through the day, live with my own handicap.
How difficult it is in these weeks to carry on through the long march under the burdens of isolation and the great uncertainty as to how, in many regards, will go on. Repeatedly people collapse and fall down inwardly under the burden of loneliness and fear.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we love ourselves even in times when we fall? Can we accept ourselves even when lie flat on the floor?
God of the ground,
whose body was — like ours — from earth,
and who fell — like we fall — to the ground.
May we find you on the ground
when we fall.
Oh, our falling fallen brother, may we find you,
so that we may inhabit
our selves. Amen. (Prayer by Padraig O Tuama)
Station 4: Jesus meets his mother.
A deep bond connects mother and son. We also know other deep relationships of love and responsibility for one another. How great is the suffering, the desperation, when we can do nothing more for the beloved child, the beloved person, when they have failed, are at an end and we feel the same way?
Perhaps we are undergoing this harrowing experience at this time. The behaviour of distancing and isolation, of being unable to be with each other as we would wish, is forced upon us and worsens our helplessness.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we simply be present and note that love can lived beyond failure and defeat?
Mary, Mother of Failure,
You met your son at the end,
in a place beyond words,
and must have felt faithless
and empty and alone.
We pray that we may have the grace
to live with our own stories of failure,
knowing that love can continue
even when things end. Amen. (Prayer by Padraig O Tuama)
Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.
There are moments in which we are called to stand by others, who are strangers to us, because it is existentially important to them. We are summoned to make their burden our own and to carry it with them. In such a moment, hesitation can already mean a no.
For weeks people everywhere allow themselves to be a called upon to help in this crisis: reservists leave their work behind and report to help in the field of medicine; people without work experience report to help in supermarkets in order to stock the shelves. A network of young people provide the necessities of life for the elderly.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we also see and do the inconspicuous that is kind and helpful to others?
Simon of Cyrene,
stranger from afar.
You were a help
to an unknown man.
We pray for all who help:
that their help may be helpful;
that their kindness may be kind.
Because yours was,
even though you knew
you couldn’t do
enough. Amen. (Prayer by Padraig O Tuama)
Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
The Gospels do not tell us this story. Yet, the People of God kept it in their hearts and gave it pride of place in their storytelling. It is a story about touch. It is a story about wiping away sweat, without the power to shield the person from sweat inducing strain. It is a story about wiping away tears, without being able to alleviate the suffering that causes them. It is story about placing yourself in harm’s way, because Veronica need not ever encounter or see the face she tends.
We know this station. It is the story of myriads of Veronicas throughout history, of fathers and mothers doing this for their children, doctors and nurses doing it for their patients, beloved men and women doing it for their loved ones. And while the pandemic could shut down so much of our lives, it could not shut down this.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we place ourselves deliberately in the way of a suffering person we could avoid and do the little that is possible for us, even if it is not everything?
your story is doubted,
You did what you could
even though it was very little.
May we do the same
Even when we doubt. Amen. (Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 7: Jesus' second fall
Two days ago I fell and hit the ground very hard. I got up, but I got up bruised, my wrist slightly sprained and my muscles stiffening with a jarring ache. The greater shock was that my body failed me. My knee that has carried me for 56 years refused to serve. It knocked the air out of my lungs, leaving me to painful draw in breath, a thing I normally do with a casual ease. Although I carried no cross, I hit the ground like Jesus. Or perhaps it is better said the other way around. Jesus hit the ground like we do.
We know this station. Hard times like these lay heavy on our shoulders and weigh us down. And sometimes we fall. It always hurts, to know that a former strength has failed us. Things we mastered so lightly before the crisis somehow have now become painful difficult to do. We rise again, like Jesus, but it takes a toll and leaves a mark. Our confidence is bruised and we ache from the effort of carrying on. We hit the ground like Jesus does.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we tell the story of our falling without denying the pain of it and at the same time not forget that our falling did not determine the courage of our rising again?
God of the Fall,
You felt the fall
when your body fell to the ground
a second time.
Gather all who fall.
Gather all our fallings.
Gather the voices.
Gather the breath that’s
forced from our bodies.
Because falling, too,
has a story. Amen. (Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
Only Luke, with his deep appreciation of women and their gifts, tells us this story of the women of Jerusalem (Lk 23, 27-31). They show up, they show their grief, they show their courage and refuse to hide from this hour. And Jesus sees them. The wounded encounter the wounded, the grief-stricken encounter those who mourn.
We know this station. We are very fixated with success. We want to be bold, strong, and confident. Therefore, we do not want to show our weakness, our grief and our tears. It takes the courage of the women of Jerusalem to show up, show grief and show tears. In this time of pandemic and crisis, we often hope for someone stronger than ourselves to show up and fix the situation. But often we are blessing to each other when we show ourselves to each other as equally burdened, equally grieving, equally weak. This story teaches us, that God sees us in such moments.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we help each other to lower our masks and show one another that we are seen, even when we feel unseen?
Women of Jerusalem,
while you mourned,
Jesus saw you
And spoke to you –
He in his sorrow seeing you in yours.
May we see each other,
Even when we feel unseen.
Because when we see each other,
We are seen ourselves. Amen. (Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 9: Jesus’ third fall
When we repeatedly fall on our journey, lay on the ground once more, and feel weaker with each fall we take, then we are in danger of giving up. Knowing full well, that this is our very own path, discouragement and despair start to take hold. How often have we physical or psychologically been down and out and thought or cried out, »I can’t go on! « - only to rise again with our last strength of take the next step.
Many sick people feel precisely this way at the moment. All those who have to stand by ever more people in the intensive care units of the world, people fighting for breathe, have ever more moments in which they feel physically and spiritually feeble and down on the ground.
How can we love in times of Corona? Can we remain on our path even when we fall repeatedly? Can we help one another to remain faithful to what is being demanded us now?
Jesus of the dirt,
you were led to death
because of how you lived.
Help us live like this;
walking and falling, and walking
in the ways of the living
and the dead. Amen. (Prayer by Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 10: Jesus is stripped.
To be stripped before the eyes of others is a very uncomfortable experience: helpless as a baby we cannot defend ourselves from being exposed to the gaze of others, naked and bare. How often do prisoners feel utterly demeaned when they are downright tortured by this method? We likewise feel exposed when people publically give us a »dressing down«. We stand their without protection and wish we could sink into the ground.
For weeks many people have been nervous and tending toward panic. Some tend to deal with others, their neighbour, not only inattentively, but also turn swiftly to degrading them.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we live out of our God-given dignity in such a way, that even being expose cannot take it from us and we, thereby, set a sign?
Jesus of the flesh,
Naked you came from the womb
and naked you were made for the cross.
What was designed
for indignity and exposure
with dignity and defiance.
May we do the same
Because you needed it.
Because we need it. Amen. (Prayer by Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
The path of Jesus, to which he is firmly committed in the deep aware of his being loved by the father, leads him here: inescapably nailed firmly to an instrument of death. . He had seen it coming, but he did not avoid it. He gave nothing and no one up. Every he stands for is nailed to this wood with him.
Our crisis shows us, as all crises do, where we truly stand: We fall into panic, we sway forth and back like a reed amidst the varied opinions and everything that (seemingly) offered us sure footing is falling away. Where are the people who firmly walks on their path of faith and trust, who do not doubt their belovedness even when illness and death threaten them?
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we, with Jesus and like him, approach the crosses of our lives.
Jesus of Nazareth,
This cross was a torture.
It only gives life
because you made it hollow.
Bring life to us, Jesus,
especially when we
are in the places
of the dead.
Because you brought life
even to the instruments of death. Amen. (Prayer by Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross.
The death of Jesus is not a stereotype. He is not an old man with a long fulfilled and satisfied life to look back upon. He did not achieve all his goals or fulfil all his plans. He does not die in the comfort of his own bed surrounded by love ones or in the luxury of a hospital room surrounded by caring medical staff. His pain is not alleviated by painkillers nor his isolation with company.
We know this station. The statistics about the number of dead, which we slavishly follow every day on the news, do not tell a true story. Every one of those deaths was like the death of Jesus, filled with regrets, unfulfilled dreams, and longings cut short. These deaths were a sudden rupture of life through pain and isolation, cut off from loved ones, who are unable to be present at the hour of death. The numbers are sickeningly anonymous. Death is deeply personal, for the dying and for those who stand by their cross.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Perhaps we could remember that the days of Corona are not a newspaper story, a joke, a conspiracy theory, a statistic or an inconvenience for the people who have died and those who are bereaved. If we wish to pray for them at the saddest station of every love story, we should ask ourselves: How close to that cross are we willing to get?
Jesus of the imagination,
you never grew old, always a young man,
and most of us grow older
than you did.
When lives are cut short
the living question the meaning of living.
May we live with meaning
even when the meaning fades,
so that we have something to live for. Amen (Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 13: Jesus is placed in the arms of his mother.
This is a story about facing our worst fears. Mary no more wishes to face this hour than any of the fathers and mothers I have known. This is not how the story is supposed to end. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. The woman who cradled her baby in her arms not rocks his lifeless corpse in her arms. Yet, as lovers do, she embraces him in good times and in bad, in life and in death. This is not a love story because it has a happy ending. It is a love story, because she shows up for her beloved son in the end.
We know this station. We are facing some of our own worst fears in these days. Parents are worried about their children. Children are concerned about the safety of their parents and grandparents. Some fear dying of the virus, in pain and alone. Others dread the thought that they could infect others, bringing illness and death into their homes and to their loved ones. This is not how life is supposed to be. Here we are faced with one of the hardest questions of love: How will we face our fears or one another now that the bad times have arrived?
How can we love in the time of Corona? We can show up and hold the lives placed in our arms and love them in these sad days as we loved them in the glory days.
Mary, Mother of Death,
You held the corpse of your young son
- the worst of your fears -
in your arms,
as he went where we have not yet gone.
We mark this
with Silence and Art.
May we also learn from fear,
won’t save us from anything. Amen. (Pádraig Ó Tuama)
Station 14: Jesus is placed in the tomb.
This is the station where we take leave of those whom we have loved and lost. It is the place where the people who loved Jesus stop to honour their loss. For them the loss of Jesus is the loss of love, of dreams, of relationship, of confidence and of so many hopes. A life that meant so much to them must be honoured. They have to pause and say what he meant to them, that they know what they had in him and can tell others the cost of having lost him. It is the way they say: He was precious.
We know this station. We have lost many things in these days, be it the certainty of our future, the naiveté of believing we are invincible, or some of the bonds that used to hold us together. Many have lost financial security. Many, far, far too many, have lost loved ones. We need to honour what these losses mean to us. The end of the love story is not the end of our storytelling, but the beginning. If we have loved and lost, we have a story to tell. This is the place to tell it.
How can we love in the time of Corona? Can we pause to tell the stories of our losses, openly, authentically and without shame, as the last great act of love which honours all our losses? Conflict and crisis are the birthplace of all storytelling. What stories will we tell beyond the days of Corona?
Jesus of the unexpected,
for at least some of your life
this was not how you imagined its end.
Yet, even at the end,
you kept steady in your conviction.
Jesus, keep us steady.
Jesus, keep us steady.
Because, Jesus, keep us steady. Amen (Pádraig Ó Tuama)
You arrived into a city like a peasant and a king
and lit a fuse that you knew was waiting for a light.
And it didn’t save you from anything.
When we walk into conflict,
help us find the approach that’s true.
Not because it’ll give surety
but because it has integrity.
just like you.
Pádraig Ó Tuama
Text: The Passion According to Matthew (Mt 26, 14 - 27, 66)
The Passion Narratives of the Gospels suffer severely from the problem of their inherited interpretation. Hardly do we begin to hear them and already we have categorized and compartmentalised them as stories of suffering. We are accustomed to this emphasis on the suffering of Jesus: how severe it was, how long it was, what inflicted it, what it did to Jesus. Usually, it is then linked to guilt and shaming. He loved us so much and this is how we reward him.
Yet, a passion narrative is deeper, richer and more complex than that. At its very core, it is a love story. It is within the word »passion« itself. Passion means a strong emotional devotion in love, as well as the suffering it can entail. When we ask a person what his or her passion in life is, we are asking what they love enough that they would also be willing to suffer for it.
The Passion of Jesus is a love story, but not a romance story. John Shea once asked a group of people whether they would be willing to do anything to protect love from anything that threatens it. Every person in the room said yes. Then he insisted that they must be willing to defend love against all romanticizing, because it is an assault on love. It takes neither love nor the lover seriously.
The Passion according to Matthew is a love story, not a romance story, because it takes love and the lover seriously. Unlike romance stories, it does not shy away from a critical and pervasive question of all love. What does love do in the times of crisis?
»I have loved you with an everlasting love« (Jer 31,3) is a statement that cannot be spoken authentically if it does not ask and answer the question: How will I love you in times of crisis? No wedding vow is complete without »In good times and in bad«. I have never officiated at a wedding where I, and everyone present, did not wholeheartedly wish the couple good times. But love is there for all the times. The passion is part of the play.
The Passion Narrative of this Palm Sunday raises this same question in us during this time of the pandemic. How does love work in times of crisis? How does love work in times of Corona? We know how love works in the good times. We hug, touch, share bread, space and time with each other. Just like that, it all came to an end. All the simple and proven ways are taken from us in the days of containment and isolation. We have come to the bad days. We have arrived at our Passion Narrative.
Every station of this story is a place where love is confronted by suffering. And that is the test of all love. Will I struggle for that which I love? If love is genuine, then it seeks a path through and beyond the crisis. I will mention only two such stations of love in the time of suffering.
The Passover meal is prepared, but this feast of joy is overshadowed by sadness and worry. Fearful questions of the future dominate the conversation.
What does love demand and Jesus do? He addresses the issues in the room, and then changes the meal to adapt to the reality they are undergoing, speaking of the future, of what he is willing to give of himself in order to ensure a future for the people he loves. But he does not cancel the meal or skip over Passover. If not the traditional way, then a meaningful way.
Easter is not cancelled this year. We cannot do it in the traditional manner, but we can do it in a meaningful manner. We cannot gather in our usual places, in our usual numbers, but we can be connected and share our concerns openly with each other. Bread delivered to the shut-ins is break broken and shared. Love still works in the times of Corona.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, good will and weakness are interwoven in the friends of Jesus. The disciples want to do more than they are able. They would watch and pray, but can only manage sleep. Three times Jesus returns to them, asks for a little more the first time, lets them sleep the second time and wakes them up the third time. It can be painful to experience the inability of others to give us what we would like in the hour of need and crisis. Yet, as unsatisfying as this is, what does love demand? The disciples may not be able to be as watchful and attentive to Jesus’ need as they and he would wish, but none of them leave him behind either. None of them walk away. Their love might not be able to do everything, but it can certainly do that. Nor does Jesus send them away. He might have wanted and even needed a little more, but their presence counts with him. Better flawed presence than perfect absence.
In our quarantines, self-isolation and our social distancing we are experiencing painful moments. We are not all we might and perhaps should be for one another. We might want to do more for the others and find ourselves too exhausted to do so. But we can stick with each other. We can refuse to use the excuse of our weakness and inability in order to walk away. Our love might not be able to do everything, but it can certainly do that. That is how love works in the times of Corona.
I have mentioned two stations, but there are so many others. There are moments of abandonment: »Then all the disciples deserted him and fled«. There are moments when good friends disappoint us: »I do not know the man!« There are times when our value and worth is questioned by those we helped, healed and loved so much: »Which of the two do you want me to release for you? And they said, Barabbas.« There is the pain of watching others being pulled into our story of pain and being unable to prevent this from happening: »As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon, they completed this man to carry his cross.« In these unsettling days, we know them all. Each asks us to tell a passion story: How does love work in the time of Corona?
In Holy Week, Rosemarie and I would walk with you through the Stations of the Cross, for they are always the moments when love confronts suffering and seeks a path through and beyond it. Fourteen times we will pause with Jesus. Each time we will seek the places in our lives where we know this station, where our love is now confronted by a similar suffering in this time of the pandemic. Each time we will share a question that might help us live our love for God, for one another, for his creation and for ourselves through and beyond the suffering we presently endure. In our Passion Narrative we will do what Jesus does in his, because that is how we open with him the horizons of hope. And we will share a prayer from the ever eloquent Pádraig Ó Tuama, a poet of prayer.
This is how we can move through the love story of the Passion Narrative and treat it with the earnestness and intensity it deserves. This is how we can move through Holy Week.
May it be a procession of thoughtful hope for us all. Perhaps it will help us live as people of his Spirit: living our prayer and praying our lives until love and suffering have embraced and a wondrous love teaches us how to kiss our wounds.
May you be blessed in the holy names of those
Who, without you knowing it,
Help to carry and lighten your pain.
May you know serenity
When you are called
To enter the house of suffering.
May a window of light always surprise you.
May you be granted the wisdom
To avoid false resistance;
When suffering knocks on the door of your life,
May you glimpse its eventual gifts.
May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.
May memory bless and protect you
With the hard-earned light of past travail;
To remind you that you have survived before
And though the darkness now is deep,
You will soon see the approaching light.
May the grace of time heal your wounds.
May you know that though the storm might rage,
Not a hair of your head will be harmed.
Erik Riechers SAC, Vallendar, April 5th, 2020
A Lecture of the Mountains
We encounter mountains frequently in the Bible as special places for the encounter with God and for clarification. For example, on Sinai, where Moses encounters God receives the 10 Words, or on the mountain where Jesus is transfigured, or when Jesus withdraws to the mountain in order to pray.
Reinhold Stecher, the bishop of Innsbruck for many years, loved to unfold the relationship between the mountains and human beings, because he was convinced, that they can be helpful to us I becoming human. In 2009 he wrote in his book »Botschaft der Berge« (Message of the Mountains):
»The mountains teach their lesson about the smallness of the human being. And the knowledge of this smallness is and remains the beginning of all wisdom.
The message of the rocky slopes, landslides and waterfalls is a devastating lesson against the hubris of an era, in which creation was partially confused with a grand laboratory or with a machine shop, with an area of unlimited viability.
It is an impressive corrective to all those ideologies that have made the human being the absolute focus of all thinking and the measure of all things. It is that basic attitude tis fascinated by the ancient voice, from the beginning through all the ages, which repeatedly whispers the watchword: ‘You shall be like God…’
This message of the almighty mountains is like a quiet smile over all those programs and messages of salvation that assume that the human beings can redeem and free themselves from their agonising questions and problems.,…
The mute standing and wonder of the ancient power and enormous forms of the mountains is a healing lesson, an adjustment of reality, a revelation of truth: the truth about my smallness, my tininess, my temporality, my limitations, my dependency vis-à-vis the Powerful One, who stands and lives behind this creation.«
Times such as these lay long-practiced basic attitudes bare . They irritate and shake us, because these attitudes no longer work. However, they can become mountain experiences for us. And people like Reinhold Stecher can become trustworthy and good mountain guides.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 4th, 2020
Prayer as the Core of Life
Several days ago a radio broadcast spoke of how hard the present crisis is affecting our children; not only is their daily life severely restricted, they often experience existentially, if not consciously, the uncertainty of the adults and need our help in their fears and distress. The broadcast mentioned taking time for them, listening, and speaking with them, as well as finding and practicing rituals. And then it mentioned prayer, entrusting oneself to something higher, formulating prayers together. Who would have expected even a few weeks ago to hear such advice on the radio in our secularised world?
This filled me with a quiet joy and a thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s came to mind: »Prayer is the very soul and essence of religion, and, therefore, prayer must be the very core of the life of the human being, for no human being can live without religion.«
For decades ever more people live with the egocentric, arrogant and very secular concept that they can live without religion. Perhaps it will become he blessing of this year, that we humans retrieve a sense of »that, which truly concerns us« (Paul Tillich) and let ourselves be grasped by it. More than ever we recognise the inter-weaving with one another and are rediscovering this inter-weaving with God, the grounds and goal of all life. We are remembering praying to this God and are beginning (again) to nurture the relationship to HIM, who bears and holds all things.
We do not know what comes tomorrow or after the summer holidays – yet we have never know it!
If prayer becomes the core of our life, then we can place our distress before the heart of God, as well as our thanks for all that has been given us and is daily renewed. Today, too, we can pray with the words of Psalm 36:
LORD, in the heavens Your kindness, and Your faithfulness to the skies.
Your justice like the unending mountains, Your judgement like the great abyss,
mortals and beast the Lord rescues.
How dear is Your kindness, O God, and the children of mortals in Your wings’ shadow shelter.
They take their fill from the fare of Your house; and from Your stream of delights You give them drink.
For with You is the fountain of life. In Your Light, we shall see light.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 3rd, 2020
The Heart of the Adventurer IV
This time of crisis during the pandemic does what all times of crisis do. They show us the true heart that beats within us. Do we have the heart of the adventurer that wants to take on responsibility for life? Or does the heart of the tourist beat within us, which needs others to take over responsibility for life?
Lk 18, 9-14 introduces us to a Pharisee and a tax collector. Interestingly, it is the tax collector how has the heart of an adventurer, because in his plea for mercy he wants to take on responsibility for his life. The Pharisee, on the other hand, has the classic heart of the tourist. He needs others in order to make himself big and strong, and thereby they take on the responsibility for how he feels and how he lives.
How does this work? In the Pharisee we have a person who is deeply convinced of his own righteousness.
He places his confidence in what he has accomplished. Yet, he only becomes truly dangerous when he combines this conviction with his contempt for others.
On the surface of things, it seems that both the Pharisee and the tax collector are talking to God. On the surface of things, it seems to be a story about prayer. But only if you stay on the surface. In fact, the Pharisee is never contending with God. God is only the listener, the audience. His task is simply to listen as to how much better the Pharisee is compared to the tax collector.
The Pharisee employs an ancient trick that is known to the heart of the tourist. If I I don’t really want to be better, stronger, or greater than I am, then I simply present myself as better, stronger and greater. In order to make that happen, I simply choose a week opponent. I simply set the bar a lot lower
With whom does the Pharisee contend? He compares himself to thieves, rogues, adulterers and the tax collector. They are easy pickings. The heart of the tourist needs the other in order to avoid authentic responsibility for life. That occurs under the mott0, »I may not be perfect, but I am certainly better than these others«.
By contrast, the tax collector contend with God. He does not raise his eyes, but he raises the conversation to a higher level. »God, have mercy on me!« You, Lord, show me mercy. There is an I and a thou, and the tax collector takes a hard look at what is transpiring between him and God. The tax collector choses a stronger opponent in order to grow stronger himself. This is the heart of the adventurer. It is as in sports. If an athlete wishes to grow stronger, he or she much seek out a stronger training partner, who challenges them, to forces them to dig deeper and to become better. For all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Yet, if I always choose a weaker opponent, then I can always win, but I cannot get better. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.
That is what this story is about, contending with God, making him our training partner. Gotthard Fuchs visited us several years ago and spoke to us about the desert fathers. These desert fathers were always concerned not to deal with the sins of others (with those as weak as they were), but to look at their own relationship to God.
This time of crisis does this for us. It opens us up for an important if awkward question: What is going on with me? Instead of bragging with the claim »I fast twice a week!«, the question could be raised, »Even after that, could it be that I still have too much?«
What about the other 5 days of the week? Do I then stuff everything into myself that I renounced for two days? If I fast on two days, do I give it to the poor or do I heard it for myself for a alter day? Let us remember the masks, the medicine and the toilet paper.
Does fasting empty me for the truly important or does it fill me with a boastful self-complacency that take sup more room I me that 6 meals ever could? If I already have to renounce many things in these days of isolation, does it make me great-hearted or does the horizon of my concern shrink to the width of my shoulder blades?
These are the questions that will arise when we contend with God and seek to take on responsibility for our lives.
»I give a tenth of all my income«. But what do I do with the 90% that I keep? 90% of abundance is still too much! Can I give up something beyond the prescribed 10%? Will I strictly adhere to the regulations of these days or am I willing to do more, to give more than what is demanded? Not even in a time in which so many of our fellow citizens are ill or dying have we managed to place human life above economic considerations. These are the questions that will arise when we contend with God and seek to take on responsibility for our lives.
Anyone can win a wrestling match with a child. We should follow Jacob’s lead and wrestle with God through long dark hours until the light returns. That is a struggle well worth the effort, which makes us stronger and brings us wisdom.
We can hold with the tax collector and take the adventurous path to the multiplication of life. Then we can pray: Lord, make me more generous. Lord, make me more just. Lord, make me more loving. This is the language of the heart of the adventurer who seeks to take on responsibility for life.
Every comparison is diabolical. Comparing Germany to Italy or our health system to those of other countries can lead precisely to the attitude we see in the Pharisee. We are privileged to live through this hour in our countries with their many resources. Yet, privilege does not have to lead to condescension. We could also ask what responsibilities for the life of the world these privileges bring with them. Migrants, refugees, victims of war, women suffering from increased domestic violence in times of Corona, the homeless who have no place in which to live in quarantine, African brothers and sisters waiting on coming of the virus without the most basic of medical care: they all are sitting at the back of the temple. This time of crisis cannot force us to heed them or help them. Hover, this time of crisis can also not force us to take on the attitude that says, »God, I thank you that I am not like other people«.
This time of crisis will merely show us what kind of heart beats within us.
Erik Riechers SAC
Vallendar, April 2nd, 2020
You are what I am, and I am what you are
In these challenging times, so challenging and unusual for us, are we only occupied with caring for ourselves, to get the most out of them, as far as possible and without consideration? Are we people who assiduously and often coldly seek to fill their own cupboards?
Or can we constrain ourselves, precisely because the other needs it? The other who is exactly as I am, a human being full of value and dignity. The other, who is perhaps weak, old, or infirm. Can I forgo in order that he or she might live? Can I maintain the distance in order to protect others?
I invite you to see life anew through the eyes of a man, who struggled and suffered a great deal in the short span of his life: Vincent van Gogh. Here are his words:
So let us go forward quietly,
each on his own path,
forever making for the light, »sursum corda«,
and in the knowledge that we are as others are,
and that others are as we are
and that it is right to love one another.
»Lift up your hearts! « is his challenge, »sursum corda«, for the light is here, it rises and gives us orientation. All can go towards it on their own deeply personal path, calmly, without panic, authentically and not as a copy driven by comparisons, and, above all, with a radiant perspective for all, and not unto ruin.
Together we go as a people who know, that they are cut from the same cloth, a human family that sojourns well when it sojourns in love. Cain is asked, »Where is your brother? «. Let us practice to lovingly heed the others who walk the paths beside us and to accept them as that, which we are.
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 1rst, 2020
The Heart of the Adventurer III
For a crisis that is just a few weeks old, I am increasingly irritated all those who seem to know what this hour will mean for our future. There are newspaper article about this to no end. In meetings the strategy of the future is already being prescribed: for the Church, the liturgy, the society, the economy. And after each diagnosis there is an immediate recipe for everything we are supposed to change afterwards. Fortune-telling is a booming industry.
I maintain a healthy and deep skepticism toward all such prognostications. Therein I see the conflict between the heart of the adventurer and the heart of the tourist.
The heart of the adventure is the heart that desires to explore new territory.
The heart of the tourist is the heart that only desires to be freed from the burden of daily living.
I openly admit that I do not know what the future will demand of us. I have no patented solutions for all that will confront us during and after the crisis. But I am happy to set out and explore the possibilities.
In Mk 10, 32-45 there is an interesting line spoken by two disciples. »Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.« The apprentices in this story are James and John. If we ask why they pose this request to Jesus, we quickly conclude, that they only have their self-interest in mind.
The answer is not wrong. In fact, they believe that they are serving their self-interest and that they are doing themselves a favour if they can get Jesus to do what they want. Here beats the heart of the tourist, a heart that only desires to be freed from the burden of daily living. Then we already define the solutions that occur to us before we have looked at or lived through the depths of the given hour.
How do you know the solutions to an adventure you never set out on?
To apprentice ourselves to Jesus always requires one fundamental exercise: You need yourself: Do you have the heart of an adventurer, the heart that desires to explore new territory?
How do all vocation stories begin? People are fascinated by the lifestyle of Jesus, because it is totally different from that which they know. They feel drawn by his power that is so different from that to which they are accustomed. In Jesus they experience a well-spring of power and life that makes a life even possible. These are well-springs to which they would love to have access and from which they would love to draw.
The prerequisite for this is the heart of an adventurer, the heart that desires to explore new territory. To apprentice ourselves to Jesus with the heart of an adventurer means:
- We remember the fascinating encounters with him, the places and times that stirred the original fascination in us.
- We think it over. We reflect on what has happened with Jesus, what it awakens in us, what it is doing with us and what it could demand of us in the present hour.
- We talk about it. Those who do not talk about it are not fascinated in the sense of yearning. Do not have to have the solutions right away, to complete reform programs and conclude the renewal of all things.
- We test out the wisdom and potential of the fascinating attitude, viewpoint of action of Jesus. We practice, gather experiences, risk new life and venture on new paths. We do not practice what we already know, but what we would like to get to know.
- In a general way, we try to make the lifestyle of Jesus a part of our own. We take the time to integrate the new experiences we have with him into our own lives.
- We also accept the critique that is contained within the lifestyle of Jesus. It is a critique about the way we are presently behaving, the way we look at things and the way we act. A critique is awakened in us, because the very things that fascinate us about Jesus are not what we know in our attitudes, viewpoints, and actions. That is why we do not rush to a reform of the future, because here we make the painful experience that we are also a part of the problem. If we do not hear and heed this, then we will be convinced that it is other powers and other people who are the problem.
- We accept the offer of Jesus to try something new, to explore it and risk it, beyond the old, familiar and well known.
»Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.« In a crisis this request presupposes that we are already masters and have the insight as to what the situation means and how it can be resolved. Should we actually believe that, then we do not need a master who can lead, accompany and teach us. But is it true? Starting with Mk 4, 35-41, Pope Francis writes warning, deep words about this attitude during the crisis of the pandemic.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly »save« us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
»Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?« Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: »Wake up, Lord!«.
I, for my part, will not heed the prophets of the future. With the heart of an adventurer I follow the Lord, who first of all lives through the storm with us and speaks of what this hour demands of us before he says a word about the hours of the future might yet demand of us.
Erik Riechers SAC
Vallendar, March 31rst, 2020
A Word of Counsel, more relevant than ever
Many years ago, an acquaintance tipped me off to an evening presentation on Israel. She knew that I was fascinated by this country, especially since I had just previously been there.
A reverent hush lay over the hall as the speaker arrived. After kind and appreciative words of greeting from the host, his presentation began. Yet, this was no presentation about the beauty and characteristics of the country. Here a man spoke, who had lived at the heart of Jerusalem for more than 10 years, of experiences and movements of his soul – with a lyricism that increasingly captivated me: Willi Bruners. I never again forgot his poem »Counsel. I often quoted it. I would not have withstood difficult times of my life so well without it. Good times receive from it a grateful depth. Precisely today I lay his wisdom upon your heart:
Bid the night farewell
with the hymn of the sun
even during fog
gather the first
pieces of information from
the Songs of David
then listen to
the news and read
heed the sequence
if you wish to maintain
to change the circumstances
pray against the
five star nothingness
that blares forth at you
from every channel.
May we daily first pray ourselves into the foundation on which we stand – then we can stand against all that approaches us from without - »heed the sequence«!
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 30, 2020
5. Sunday of Lent: » Hither, outside!«
God of all time,
We ask, we weep, we wait, we die, we hope, we live, we carry on, we pick ourselves up, we try to understand, we misunderstand, we learn, we ask again, we wait for understanding.
In all of these, may prayer be a companion, not a torment.
May we find in prayer the consolation that sustains us through all things,
Knowing that some things change,
and some things remain the same.
Pádraig Ó Tuama
Gospel: John 1, 1-45
Our impatience and our yearning drives us to repeatedly ask when this crisis will be over. The great storyteller, John, hides within his Gospel a piece of wisdom that deals with a question that goes further. How will we live when the crisis is over?
In John 11, Jesus the stone rolled away from the grace of his friend Lazarus. Yet, then we must listen very carefully how he speaks to his Father.
»Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.«
Note his words precisely! I thank you that you have heard me. That is the past tense! That means, if God has already heard Jesus, then Lazarus is already awake. He is alive! Yet, although the stone has been rolled away, he does not come forth from his grave.
Thus, Jesus must say, almost word for word, what God once had to say to Noah in the Ark. In Noah’s case this happens after he spends two months in the ark even though the earth is already dry and he should be out and about on his mission to repopulate the world and fashion it. For what is Noah waiting? He is afraid to leave the place of safety (the ark) and to give it up. God has to say to him, »Get up and out!« (cf. Gen 8).
Jesus needs to confront this fear in Lazarus. »Lazarus, deuro (hither) exo (outside)!«
He has to command him to come hither. It is striking, because how would a dead man hear and heed the command of Jesus? Jesus knows that Lazarus has received his life back (»I thank you that you have heard me«), but he also knows that Lazarus does not trust himself to enter back into life. For this he will need a twofold assistance.
First, he needs a voice that calls him back into life. He needs the divine voice of encouragement. Otherwise he will remain in his grave like Noah in his ark.
Secondly, he needs a liberation from the old experiences that still hold him back from entering into life. »The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, Unbind him, and let him go.«
We, too, know the fears of Lazarus. When something gives us a sense of security and protection, if it lets us feel comforted and safe, then we do not want to let go of it again. Be it a relationship, be it a good experience or be it a certain lifestyle: if they have served us well and we have grown accustomed to them, then we will not simply let them go. We hole up and settle down.
The problem for Lazarus and for us is that a temporary solution must not become a permanent one. We must not turn a grave into our dwelling place. We must transform the separation, isolation and social distancing in these times of Corona into a lifestyle. What e presently are doing in order to protect life and land is a transitional solution. It is designed to protect life from danger and the demise of our fellow human beings. But it is not a substitute for that which we will have to life afterwards, for that which we will need to fill with life once we move beyond the grave. No sanctuaries of life are given so that we might hide in them. Lazarus hides in the grave due to fear of the life that awaits him and for fear of what it will await from him. We have our own fears of a life beyond Corona, of the changes and responsibilities that will connected with it. At times we will be tempted to continue forms of withdrawal and isolation in order to feel more secure.
Yet, the mission of a life does not reside within a grave. It awaits us outside in the world. All the life which Jesus saves and calls forth is given for the life of the world, for it too awaits ne life, a rebirth and a new beginning.
That is why we, too, need the twofold assistance of our God. We need the voice of God that is greater than our own voice. We need the voice of God that is greater than our fears, that is ready to tell us what we do not necessarily want to hear. For the voice of God is never a mere echo of our small hearts. This divine voice never mirrors our panic or our fears. It speaks with authority, with the voice of the author of life and the world. »Hither, outside!« (deuro exo) is a command, not a suggestion. God takes our fears seriously, but he is not a servant of our fears.
And we need a liberation. Old habits tend to leave nothing untired in order to catch up to us, hold fast to us and drag us back. Just ask the people of Israel. Pharaoh had hardly allowed the people to depart when he changes his mind. He sends his army to catch up with his former slaves, hold them fast and drag them back. Old ways never simply let their people go.
John tells this story as well. Lazarus not only leaves the grave reluctantly, but bound by the old.
»The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, Unbind him, and let him go.«
The hands are the metaphor for our ability to act. They are still bound and our ability to act cannot yet be set into motion. We need a God who can undo fetters, for without the ability to act we cannot form and fashion a world.
The feet are the metaphor for the directions we take in life. Feet translate orientation into movement. Here, too, we need the help of our God, because in the quarantine we dream about all that we want to do afterwards, but the minute we come forth we will be responsible for turning these resolutions into tangible life.
The cloth shrouds his face and does not allow his eyes to see. The eyes are the metaphor for our way of seeing, the way we look upon the world and perceive it. Here, too, we will need a liberation from God, for crises obscure our sight. Just because they over does not mean that we can see clearly again. To the contrary, crises often cause us to see the new opportunities through the filter of our old fears. We cannot fill a new time with life and salvation in that manner.
We need the voice of God, through his word and his messengers. Yet, this voice, which calls Lazarus forth, also poses a question to us. Will we listen to and heed it? Jesus calls us all forth from the grave, but he does not drag anyone out of them. God will ensure that we are called into life. Whether and how we will live after the crisis lays in our hands.
Deuro exo (hither, outside!)
Lazarus, hither, outside!
Your life awaits you.
It cannot be fashioned in chambers of death.
Lazarus, hither, outside!
Martha and Maria, sisters are waiting for you.
Their tears need you gentle fingers.
That is why I unbind your hands.
Lazarus, hither, outside!
The people who mourned you when they thought you dead are waiting for you.
They yearn that you would again come toward them.
That is why I unfettered your feet.
Lazarus, hither, outside!
The world is waiting for you.
With your death, something of the glory of God was lost to it.
Be a person of lived life, for that is how the glory of God returns to the world.
I had the shroud removed from your face. Show your face.
Lazarus, hither, outside!
I dwell neither before nor in graves.
I visit them to call forth life.
I am waiting for you.
I wept before your grave.
Your willingness to live will now be my consolation.
ERIK RIECHERS SAC
Vallendar, March 29th, 2020
»Working tools of the soul«
The Early Christian Desert Fathers had withdrawn individually or as hermits or in small groups into the deserts of Egypt and Syria in order to practice prayer and asceticism. Based on their undistracted, clear view into the depths, they were already during their lifetimes sought after and compelling counselors and many of their words remain not only preserved, but significant to this day.
Thus, this thought has been passed on from Abba Poemen:
» Being on the alert, paying attention to oneself, and the gift of discernment: These three virtues are the working tools of the soul. «
At the moment, all of us are yearning to be guided through all that is transpiring on our way.
Abba Poemen names the three working tools of the soul. » Being on the alert « presupposes that I am aware of myself, of my inner life, in the first place. To be truly present to myself and not constantly in the externals – I allow myself to be guided there, in order that I might not lose myself, but be on the alert.
» paying attention to oneself «, the second tool of the soul, wants to make us attentive to that, which moves within us. It does this not that we might be torn forth and back by emotions, but to perceive them, reflect on them and interpret them.
Finally, the » the gift of discernment « helps us to distinguish impulses that might promise us a great deal, but do not lead to salvation and life, from those that hold more depth and living fullness in readiness. Only these come from God.
Virtues are not cheap goods; they demand exercises – every day and especially right now!
Rosemarie Monnerjahn, March 28th, 2020
The Heart of the Adventurer II
I am often asked whether I have a story for a difficult situation. Thereafter, I am asked why the story did not work. Naturally people assume that the problem lies with the story: it is too difficult, complicated or convoluted.
That is when I have to quote a basic lesson about the interpretation of a story. The text is silent until the reader appears.
This rule applies for all the stories which we encounter, be it the stories we read or hear, or be it the stories which we live and fashion ourselves. For the Stories of God and the Stories of Life always presuppose one thing: the heart of the adventurer must appear to interpret and live them.
Thus we come to the second characteristic which separates the adventurer from the tourist. The heart of the adventurer is the heart that seek ways through the undiscovered country. The heart of the tourist is the heart that only goes on predetermined, habitual paths.
The present new, unaccustomed and unexpected story of illness, social separation and the chaotic change of our lifestyle tests our hearts. We can complain that it is a difficult, complex and convoluted story, like students before a biblical tale: then we possess the heart of a tourist. We want to go the prescribed way. That means we want someone to offer us an explanation of this moment, to make it understandable and succinctly summarise it for us. We can sit back and need only note what they have told us.
All stories, including our Corona story, never assume that they owe us an explanation. The always presume that the listener, reader or recipient has come to ask for guidance and accompaniment. That is why they presuppose the heart of the adventurer. Tourists only come to the story expecting entertainment. Adventurers come to the story to seek the path to life.
This tale of Corona, quarantine, social distancing and fear, through which we are presently living, has a deeper meaning, but its contents and significance are still hidden. As with every biblical story, this story will one begin to offer us orientation when it has received dedicated attentiveness from us. There are reports everywhere about the effect that emergency measure and social limitations are having on people. But this present tale will only begin to having a salvific effect when we interpret what these effects mean. Interpretation is the art form. And interpretation is the art and craft of the adventurer. The heart of the adventurer is the heart that seek ways through the undiscovered country. The tourist does not interpret, but awaits solutions and explanations. The heart of the tourist is the heart that only goes on predetermined, habitual paths.
The relationship between the Corona story and how we will fashion and live through it is a complicated one. In reality, a story only speaks when a hearer appears. A story comes alive and starts to speak only from that moment when we are prepared to listen. How much this Corona story will tell is in direct proportion to how well we listen. For thirty years I have told students that their actions in reading and interpreting are essential if the story is to unfold its effect. We need to heed a story, take it into ourselves, and take it with us. The rule applies in this hour as well. We need to hear and heed the realities and changes, interpret them in order to understand what this hour is asking of us and connect it all to our lives, our behaviour and our actions.
Interpretation is the art, and it remains the art and craft of the adventurer. What we are presently living and suffering through is not an entertaining story, but it could open to us new, unseen horizons, untrodden paths and untried possibilities. For that we need the heart of the adventurer, for it seeks ways through the undiscovered country.
Erik Riechers SAC, March 27th, 2020
Nowadays in Germany, bells ring everywhere in the evening and invite us to place a candle in the window. Beyond denominational boundaries we are called to join with one another in prayer. Those who get involved can feel the community of people at prayer in the common anchoring in God, who carries and hold all things in himself and to whose presence we can entrust ourselves.
»God, you are near to us, now, here, in this moment and at all times.
God, we wish to go with you, give the impulse.
We want to rest with you, give us breath.
With you there are provisions, accompany us.
Remain familiar to us, and become new to us.« *
March 26th, 2020
*Manfred Büsing from: Lectio divina, Bd. 22, 2020
Silence - not curse, but blessing
In these days and weeks of very secluded living that all of us are leading in order to protect one another from the further spread of the virus, I pause repeatedly and become aware of the silence. The air space is quiet and on the street there is no traffic to the school or sporting events. Nothing disturbs me when I take a walk. This stillness does not make me restless or nervous, no, I cherish it as a gift and even relish it.
And I pause with what Roger Willemsen wrote about stillness:
»When all raucous movements, all superimpositions of noise over feelings, perceptions, impulses yields, then the stillness of contemplation sets in.
Nature is often experienced this way, the city seldom. The silence of the forest, the peace over the lake, the hush of the night, they all create associations with peace, the discontinuance of the high-speed, the bustling, the fleeting, even the trivial. Contemplation sets in, pure being-with-oneself. In social life as well, silence does not merely occur, it fills its own functions: In the »minute of silence«, in silent grief, the thoughtful pause, in the contemplation of the firmament, in the still spaces of churches, crypts, temples, in the vow of silence of the Carthusians, the hermits, the Tibetan monks of silence, in the »quiet time« between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Where modesty or even humility set in, there is a becoming-small and often piety, faith, which is reserved to introspection. There also dwells in the still moments of daily life a magic of its own, such as the silence before the kiss, the silence of common understanding in a glance, the silence of prayer …
It is often said of the lasting moments of a life, that they were »breathless«, that all motion came to a standstill in them, that they occurred in utter silence..« *
Can we appreciate and value what this time gives to us? An unaccustomed stillness whose vitality we can now »unpack« and discover.
March 25th, 2020
*from: Roger Willemsen, Musik! Über ein Lebensgefühl, 2018
The Heart of the Adventurer I
In Hamlet William Shakespeare poses an interesting question. Who would choose to grunt and sweat through an exhausting life, unless they were afraid of something of the future beyond death? For this future, which still lies in God’s hands, is the undiscovered country. And the undiscovered country of the future makes us stick to the evils we know rather than rush off to seek the ones we don’t.
Times of crisis, like the one we are experiencing, test our character and our hearts. And what is quickly determined is whether are bringing the heart of an adventurer or the heart of a tourist to the undertaking of life.
These two attitudes toward life will determine the way we approach the Stories of God. They are the two ways we can listen to the Gospel, as adventurers or tourists. More importantly, they are the two ways of approaching life: a spirituality of the adventurer or the spirituality of the tourist.
Today we will look at the first of nine characteristics that distinguish adventurers from tourists. The heart of the adventurer goes where life can be discovered. The heart of the tourist is the heart that goes where others have fashioned the contours of life.
Let us dare two biblical stories. The first story is in the book of Numbers 13-14. The people of Israel stand at the border of the Promised Land and hear the report of the explorers. Now they notice, that it is too much bother and too much effort to enter the land and make it their own. So they turn their back on the undiscovered land of their future and go back to aimlessly wandering the desert for another 38 years. The heart of the tourist is the heart that goes where others have fashioned the contours of life.
The second story is in Joshua 1. 38 years later the succeeding generation stands before the border of the Promised Land. They know it will not be easy and are repeatedly told to be courageous and steadfast. But this time they enter into the Promised Land, the undiscovered country of their future. They need to fight for it. The heart of the adventurer goes where life can be discovered.
Both groups need to face the questions we now face on the border to the undiscovered country of our future. What is a future worth to us?
In both stories the people must carry and forge the decision. Like them, we are confronted with difficult questions in the days of uncertainty.
Will we work for a promising future for us all, even if it demands a clear price from us? Even it entails difficulties? Even if it includes effort, struggle and conflict? The heart of the adventurer says yes to all this, because it is the heart that goes where life can be discovered.
Or are we only willing to speak of a promising future if the path has been prepared and smoothed for us? Or if the problems have been resolved in advance? Or only if the hindrances and obstacles have been removed? This is the heart of the tourist. The heart of the tourist is the heart that goes where others have fashioned the contours of life.
This pandemic has brought us to the border. We are faced with the foundational decision of thoe who stand before the undiscovered country of their future.
How much is new life worth to us? How much strength is it worth to us? How much effort is it worth to us? How much investment is it worth to us?
This crisis is an hour of decision and decisions should be fashioned. Yet, if a future for all should arise out of this time, then we will need adventurers. Tourists have no business here.
ERIK RIECHERS SAC
Vallendar, March 24th, 2020
Practicing, what we cannot yet do.
Last week a letter made me aware of what the great exercise of this crisis is for us Christians. It requires of us, namely, an entering into the »exercise of trust in God«.
Practice is called for, practicing trust in our God!
Yet, we always practice that, which we already know: we need to do everything (properly), to perform, organise, fulfil requirements, plan and carry, keep things in check… everything depends upon us!
Now, however, we are experiencing how little we can do and how little we have control over. That which is not required of us is restraint, waiting, staying at home, caring for our relationships with more distance, to endure silence, to let go. In truth, we must practice this properly. Yet, we do not practice in a vacuum. Our gaze becomes free and sees the One, who has always carried our lives. We were never the Lords of our lives – but we lived as if we were!
If we now enter into the »exercise of trust in God«, then we practice surrendering life to God in all that we can fashion in this time. He has trust in us and trust that we can, every situation, do the right thing – let us trust him, as the God who loves his people, as the one who always carries out lives! Naturally, we must consider and do what is ours in order to develop and protect life, but we do not hold the big picture in our hands.
At the moment, we are living more or less in quarantine mode. The term quarantine is derived from the Latin quadraginta, the number 40. In Italian the 40 days are called quaranta giorni.
Liturgically we are living in the time of Lent. An old word for Lent is Quadragesima. From of old, it always stood for 40 days of preparation, conversion, renunciation and practice.
For me, entering into an »exercise of trust in God« means to consider and nurture my relationship to God anew in its interweaving with all others. I can anchor myself anew in him, from whose hand no one falls. I exercise listening, a prayerful listening. I exercise the lamentation and articulation of all that weighs upon me. I exercise the seeing of all that is good and alive. I exercise thanksgiving.
The psalmist prays »Sate us in the morn with Your kindness, let us sing and rejoice all our days« (Ps. 90). »And I will lead the blind on a way they did not know, on paths they did not know I will guide them« proclaims the prophet (Is 42, 16).
We are not alone in this time of exercise. Let us exercise with all those who went before us and who walk next to us! Let us fill the time of quarantine with the deep meaning of Lent: to anchor ourselves deeply in the love of our God!
March 23rd, 2020
Opened eyes do not mean we live as those who see
A very frustrated man said to me in these days, »Through this crisis will open all of our eyes!« My question to him was, »And then what?« Is it really enough to have our eyes opened? Just because we can see the problems, the possibilities and the realities does not mean that we will act in such a way that we come to life. Just ask the man laying by the roadside between Jerusalem and Jericho. Twice he was seen in his need, once by a priest and a second time by a Levite. And twice lets the shocking line ring out, »he saw him and passed by.«
Today we have the story of a person who learns what he has to do after Jesus opened his eyes. And the first thing he must learn is to say »I«. Not the self-absorbed style of the egotist, but as an expression his human dignity. Without the ability to say »I«, we will deny our value, worth and significance, even after God has esteemed and restored it.
At the beginning of the story the disciples speak with Jesus about who is at fault for the blindness of this man. While discussing this highly personal question, the disciples talk about the blind man even while he is sitting before them. But they do not speak with him, they never directly address him.
Only Jesus does that. Only then does the man born blind become healed, only then does he see. Here Jesus recognises the perpetual danger to his people, namely, the tendency to speak about others, but not with them. All healing, all solutions to our problems and hr chance of winning back perspective and insight begins with the willingness to speak with people, address them personally and to start a dialogue. No one is healed in anonymity.
Talk to one another! That is not so easy, especially when we are accustomed to talking about the others. John makes it clear in the very next scene. After the man is healed of his blindness, the neighbours start to talk about him. No one talks to him.
The ensuing conversation deals with the architect of his healing and where he is to be found, but it does not deal with the man or his experience. No one asks him how he is, was he is feeling, what this means to him. And no one congratulates him upon his healing. And this among religious people for whom gratitude for life and healing is a given. Furthermore, there is no one in the story who praises or thanks God for this healing.
While the neighbours have an intense discussion about him, he must speak up for himself: It is I! For the first time he needs to find his voice and raise it up. He needs to speak up. He must interpret his own experience and stand by it. We, too, must stand up for our experience and for who we are before God, frequently before the superficiality of those around us. If our eyes are being opened in this time of the Corona Crisis, it will be of no use to us if we simply become bystanders in the midst of the panicked crowd. While others gossip in panic we are called to say what we have known, experienced, undergone and felt.
Then they bring the formerly blind man to the Pharisees. Again we not the same tendency. Either they speak about him (»this man«) or about the topic (the healing). But they never speak to or with the man standing right before them. The danger is clear: We talk about the topic and then leave off. The danger is that we do not speak with the people affected by the topic. At the moment, we are talking about a virus, the rates of infection, the curve, quarantines, and toilet paper. Yet, we hear few stories about the people who are deeply affected, the people behind these numbers, statistics and facts. We need to hear of the nurses who work 48 hour shifts and then cannot buy vegetables or fruit, because the healthy are hoarding them. We hear little of the people who cannot bury their loved ones and have no place to grieve. He hear next to nothing about the people who can only dream of the enforced pause the rest of us complain about, because they must work without pause to keep us safe, protected and supplied.
The next step of the story is when the man’s parents on called. The refuse to speak of their formerly blind son. »He is old enough, ask him yourself.« They may well be motivated by fear, but they are nonetheless right. The son must be an adult and that means speaking for himself. And he does so, with increasing strength, with increasing confidence, until at the end of the story he is able to say, »Lord, I believe«. It is the story of a man who discovers his own voice. He ceases to be the topic of the conversation of others and become the speaker who addresses the others. This is now his story.
In this worldwide crisis of the pandemic it is telling how often our talk has become generalised and condescending. We hear what »the people« are thinking or feeling. It is our task to find our own voice in this eye-opening time. As free and mature people we are capable of speaking for ourselves about what God, life and the crisis have awakened in us. My own personal story consists of decidedly more than the fear of this moment. There are stories of God and experiences of faith in me. In me there are stories of healing and of freedom. Community and mission are still a part of my story in these times of social distancing. Gabriel Garcia Márquez wrote a grand novel with the title »Love in the Time of Cholera«. Which stories will we tell after the time of the Corona virus?
Like the man healed of blindness, we discover our true, deepest conviction in confrontations. Only when we are confronted with other people, other opinions and other convictions to the questions of our convictions arise. Will I speak up? What is important enough, indeed, holy enough, to me that I will speak my mind instead of sheltering in silence? Such encounters and conversations undergo times of confusion and resistance, as we discover that others do not share or accept our points of view and convictions. That, however, is the task if we want to become »someone«.
Jesus opens our eyes. But we must find and raise our voices ourselves. Yet, it will not automatically be so. Hopefully, it will not one day be written of us that »they saw, but they passed by«.
ERIK RIECHERS SAC
Vallendar, March 22nd, 2020, 4. Sunday of Lent