Introduction

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

 

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

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

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

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

May you be sheltered!

 

Vallendar, March 21rst, 2020

Erik Riechers SAC

Rosemarie Monnerjahn

 

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

Nächster Abschnitt

If the prophets broke in

 

There are few people better suited to guide us into and through Advent than the prophets. Today Nelly Sachs leads us to these wonderful companions on our journey without hiding the fact, that they are also the most demanding companions of this journey.

 

If the prophets broke in

through doors of night,

letting the star-trails drawn in the palms of their hands

gleam golden bright –

 

for those long sunk in sleep –

 

If the prophets broke in

through doors of night

gashing wounds with their words

in the fields of habit

bringing the faraway inside

to the day labourer

 

whose evening expectations died long ago –

 

If the prophets broke in

through doors of night

seeking an ear like a homestead –

 

you ear of humanity

overgrown with cotton,

would you hear?

If the prophets

burst in on the stormy wings of eternity

if they broke into the canals of your ear with the words:

Which of you will wage war against a secret,

who will invent stardeath?

 

If the prophets rose up

in the night of humanity

like lovers seeking the heart of the beloved,

night of humanity.

would you have a heart to give?                        

                                   Nelly Sachs (translation by Sommer, Catterel and Catherine)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, Erik Riechers SAC, November 30th, 2020

 

 

Words that do not pass away

 

1. Sunday of Advent B 2020            Mk 13, 24-37

 

The first text of this Advent season can be very unsettling. The whole world is changing. Everything that is considered reliable suddenly starts to totter. The sun does not shine, the moon no longer illuminates our nights. Stars, the immortal inhabitants of the sky, are driven away.

We are so busy with this part of the story that we then ignore two wonderfully comforting passages.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.

and

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

Allow me to turn our attention to the first sentence. »From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.« Here Jesus teaches us how to recognise God in our lives, even in times of turbulence. For us human beings, the invisible God can be experienced in the same way as the fig tree experiences the invisible summer: through transformation. John Shea writes:  »No one has seen summer, yet its presence is proclaimed by the budding tree. No one has seen God, yet his presence is proclaimed by the transformed person.« (Stories of God p. 165). We will experience God and be transformed by his presence, just as a tree is transformed by the summer.

Transformation, however, is about movement. We can always recognise change by this criterion, namely that something is in motion. Mostly it is gradual and often barely noticeable. But that is not the point of the change that God wants to bring about in us. It is not about speed, but about continuity. It is not about being ready, but about unfolding. It is not about immediate success, but about receptivity. The question of transformation is the question of Advent. And the question is not: Are you there yet? No, the question is: Are you already on your way?

Transformation is always about movement, a movement from disaster to salvation. Because people often ask me for some helpful clues about this summer-transformation of our God, I give to you what I have sketched out for my students. The transformation movements in which we recognise God go

from non-salvation to salvation;

          from non-wholeness to wholeness;

          from apathy to love and empathy;

          from fear to freedom;

    from loneliness to community;

          from the diabolical ( that which mixes things up) to peace;

          from the ordinary to the extraordinary;

          from boredom to celebration;

          from barrenness to blossom;

         from having no wedding garment to wearing a wedding garment (the biblical image for the readiness to do what this hour requires of us).

If we look again and again in this Advent season at where and when this happens in our lives, we will clearly feel where God is at work in us, like summer in a fig tree.

Then comes the second comforting sentence:

Heaven and earth will pass away,

but my words will not pass away.

What are these words that will not pass away? These are the words of love, hope and encouragement that bring about the summer-transformation of our God. They are not the analytical words that explain love, but narrative words. The narratives of God speak immortal words about the places, times and people who embodied and revealed love for us. These stories of God are transforming. They enable us to experience the presence of God and in this presence they transform us like a tree is transformed by the presence of summer.

Today's text describes a period of uncertainty. Everything seems to fall apart. There seems to be no more reliable ground. What can a person do against so much hatred and stupidity in the world? Should we be vigilant? Yes. Should we be prepared? Of course! Should we be cautious? Without question!  But we also should keep to the eternal word, which is always love, the source of our courage and the source of our hope. This word can be the thing we hope for when we are in turmoil.

During this Advent season many of us are living in times of trial. There are fears about money, fears about stress, there are fears about addictions and diseases. Some worry about their children, others about their parents. And it is precisely at this time of year that the old stories of our lives rise up more frequently. The sun and the moon do not have to fade in order that we feel that our wold is shaken to its foundations. Maybe we live with grief, or we worry about a job or a personal injury, whether public or private. In all these cases, be prepared, be vigilant, be wise, but also hold on to the word that is always love. It alone can transform us.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 29th, 2020

 

 

A new view

 

It is now almost 20 years ago that I first encountered the clarinettist Giora Feidman. It was on a late summer Sunday afternoon in front of Engers Castle.

Like many others I was there very early. I found a good spot; many people went for a walk, some bought themselves something to drink - it was relaxing and nice to have time. Not far ahead of me a family with two grown-up daughters settled down. The two of them were constantly in animated conversation with their mother. The already older father seemed rather remote. He did not take part in the women's conversations or they did not involve him. He repeatedly got up and came back with a glass of beer. At some point I saw that the daughters cast rather embarrassed glances toward their father, but they did not speak to each other. This repeated itself several times.

Almost imperceptibly, clarinet music suddenly resounded delicately from the back, as is the custom with Giora Feidman at the beginning of a concert. The master slowly moved forward through the middle, gradually everyone became silent and the concert began. And soon he had arrived at the music I had come for: Klezmer music. With his instrument, the artist told stories - sometimes funny and cheerful, sometimes serious and melancholic - the whole range of life spread out before us, and it was so lively, so moving, that sometimes I would have loved to jump up and move to it. 

Then my eyes fell on the daughters in front of me. They were a bit restless and kept looking to the left, toward their father. When he turned his head a little to the side, I saw it too: a stream of tears flowed through the deep furrows of his cheeks. He did not try to wipe them away or hide them. He just let them flow.

The young women kept looking at him and at each other, but now the look was different. They saw him with different eyes. No longer an embarrassed distancing - they were touched. They gave their mother a sign and she nodded. A devotion spread before me, a reverence for what Giora Feidman had made resound in this man. 

I will never forget the tears in the deep furrows of those cheeks. But I will also never forget the change that had taken place in the women.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 27th, 2020

 

 

Love is here!

 

Not only have we felt restricted for months, we have also felt impoverished. We talk about loneliness and cold. But this is never the whole reality - not even now. Permit yourself to enter into some thoughts that show us another reality, a reality to which we »only« need to open ourselves:

»As more and more love is released into the world, a wonderful Healing is taking place. It is like balm poured into wounds, healing and making whole. Love starts within the individual. It starts in you, and it grows like a seed, bursting forth and revealing great beauty and wholeness. It is what is taking place now. Many souls feel that something is happening to them, but they are bewildered and do not realize what it is. They search without, hoping to find a clue which will show them what is taking place. Other souls feel a stirring but are afraid of what they feel, for it is new, it is strange and unknown, and they try to shut it down. Nothing will be able to stop this release of love. It is like the genie in the bottle; having been released, it cannot be put back again. It cannot be hidden or ignored. Gradually it will begin to reveal itself in everyone. It has come to stay.«  *

Our God is love and love is in us. Let us surrender to it and let it flow through us: warming, attentive and creative, alive and growing.

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 25th, 2020

* Eileen Caddy

 

 

A People Made for the Promised Land

 

»O, fly and never tire,

Fly and never tire,

Fly and never tire,

There’s a great camp-meeting in the Promised Land.«

 

This is part of the inscription which Barack Obama placed at the beginning of the first volume of his memoirs, fittingly entitled »A Promised Land«.

When I sat down and started reading the book I was struck by many things. The beauty of his use of language, the simple graciousness and warm humanity of the man all are a welcome treat. So is his astonishing honesty about his achievements and his failings. Here is a man with whom I would love drink a cup of coffee.

Yet, the deepest impression of the book thus far is the reason that I would also love to sit down and pray with Barack Obama. Here is a man cut from the cloth of genuine biblical hope.

What deeply inspires me is that he lived as the Psalmist has prayed: »But I will keep hope alive.« Psalm 71:14 .  For four years he has had to watch as everything he worked for was attacked, rescinded or cancelled by his successor. Every single thing he had worked and struggled for was suddenly no longer important: his marked tone of compassion was replaced by self-aggrandizement; his measured and thoughtful response to crisis gave way impulsive narcissism; his consistent call for unity was abandoned for social division, racism and white supremacy; his innate kindness and basic human decency in the great social discourse was supplanted by Twitter polemic and alternative facts; the common good  was tossed aside for personal enrichment, nepotism, and basest corruption. The country he led and so loved was plunged into darkest crisis, constitutionally, morally and physically.

I have known moments of despair and doubt in my life having endured far less devastating setbacks than these. Yet, here is a man who invokes the greatest image the biblical story has to tell, namely, that we are on the way to the Promised Land. What is desired, but not yet achieved, the place we yearn for, but have yet to reach, is not lost. We are on the way, even when we are wander through the desert years.

We have suffered disappointments and setbacks in this time of pandemic. We have experienced losses and sometimes we get the feeling, all these restrictions, lockdowns and measures may be in vain. But we are the children of the Promise and must keep hope alive even during the long stretches of the desert journey.

The Gospel Spiritual »The Gospel Train« (especially the stunning version sung by Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle *) always helps me to recalibrate my soul unto hope.

The Gospel train is coming
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheels a- moving
And a-rumbling through the land

Refrain: Get on board, little children
Get on board, little children
Get on board, little children
There's room for many-a-more

I hear the bell and whistle
She's coming round a curve
She's loosened all her steam and brakes
Straining every nerve

Refrain

The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class on board this train
No difference in the fare.

Refrain

She's nearin' now the station
Oh, sinner, don't be vain
But come and get your ticket
And be ready for this train.

Refrain

 

So get on board. And keep hope alive until we enter that good and spacious land of the God who is our Promise Maker and Promise Keeper.

Erik Riechers SAC, November 23rd, 2020

 

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

  

 

Because it is just and right

Christ the King A 2020   Mt 25,31-46

 

The world in which kings move is usually very sharply divided between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, above and below. These criteria play a big and important role in the world of the powerful and the rich. But now Jesus introduces us to a king after his own heart. Immediately something strange happens when he comes.

Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

This king will undertake a separation. But not by the typical royal standard. He is a king, says Jesus, but he is a shepherd who separates sheep from goats.

The standard by which this shepherd-king separates them will be explained later in the story. He separates them according to the way they have treated him in the past. Not origin, possessions or majestic arbitrariness, plays the decisive role here, but something over which we ourselves exert great influence, namely our way of living before God and with each other.

If that is the yardstick, then there is a difficulty, because both groups admit that they never saw the king and therefore did not know that it was he whom they treated in this way.

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?

The answer of the Shepherd-King is telling:

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.’

He who comes »in his glory and all his angels with him« and sits »on the throne of his glory« identifies fully with the least of among men and women. This glory is not what we think it is. For this Shepherd-King identifies himself with the opposite of all that we think is royal and majestic: Pain, suffering, being wounded, poor, lowly, disrespected: this is where he is present.

The righteous do not recognise him, but they do what is necessary, what is right. They do it because it is »just and right«.  That is the key to this story, because the other group will also say: When have we ever seen you in these situations? »Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?«

However, they deal with the unrecognised shepherd king in different ways. The righteous say: »We have not seen you. We have seen this person in prison, and have simply done what was necessary. We saw this hungry person, and we just did what was right. We have seen this sick person ... and have done what love, goodness and humanity demanded of us.«

The second group says: »If we had known it was you, we would have been there immediately. If we had known it was the king, we would have done it all for him.« In other words, this second group acts according to a typical royal standard.

In a typical royal manner, they pass their judgement on the world. Not the shepherd-king of this parable, but the cursed ones divide the world into camps: the world in which they live separates rich and poor, powerful and powerless, above and below: the royal standard is their watchword. Their problem is that they are dealing with a king who does not adhere to it.

In the world of the second group, the rule is: we do such things for kings, for the rich, the powerful and the important, but not otherwise. They divide the world into those for whom it is worthwhile to work hard and those where it is not. Icy calculation is the issue. Their action is determined by cold calculation: who is important and who is not. They are not interested in the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the captives, but only in hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and captive kings.

The righteous are not calculating. Wherever people are suffering, they want to help, alleviate, and serve. They do not ask who deserves it and who does not. The true separation that is found in this text is in the way of thinking of the second group. They have divided the world into the significant and the insignificant. This is the world in which they live.

Here we encounter an old, deep truth of the biblical stories: It is not God who makes the great division. We create our own separations and then live in the world we have created.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 22nd, 2020

 

 

Of Warmth and being sheltered

 

Outside it is getting darker and colder; the pandemic is intensifying that November feeling for many people and indeed more people are shivering and feeling alone and lost.

Let us tell stories of warmth and shelter against this:

I see a newborn child in front of me, wrapped in a hand-knitted blanket made of wool. The wise midwife has sensitized the mother: This child comes from a protective warmth of a good 36° C into this much cooler world. The young mother now takes care day and night that her child is surrounded by warmth. The woollen cloth is always with her when she carries him around the house. She is driven by conscientious care and I think of the words of the prophet Isaiah:  »Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?« (Is 49:15)

Motherly care is a divine care, the warming cover has something heavenly about it.

And I am wondering where I could give warmth but do not keep it in mind. How much cold there is in the world, because we don't even notice that we too could spread out »woollen blankets« and create a warm atmosphere. But we don't take them to hand, and no warm word comes over our lips.

Let us look again at the picture of the wrapped newborn. The warm blanket is not just laid over the baby, but he is enveloped, wrapped in it. The midwife also had a wise suggestion about this. This wrapping not only helps to keep the warmth in, but also to keep the baby completely by itself. It does not get »out of control« so easily when it becomes restless. It is also then safe and secure in the warming wrap. And when he is "in need", when he gets hungry, the mother is not far away.

We have long lived in a society of insecurity. Where do children find a shelter? They have no warm nest, no rituals that provide shelter - instead they are stuffed full with cold consumption.  When, as young people, they then let the problems of our world and their future draw near, they protect themselves through indifference or develop almost panicky fears, because they have not experienced that they are allowed to take shelter, that there is warmth and security - in and despite it all.

Thus, the view of the warmly wrapped child invites me to remember my own sheltering - come what may. At the end, the prayer of the 2nd Psalm, after speaking honestly about the realities of the world, says: »Blessed are all who take refuge in him.«

May we, especially in these dark days, pause again and again and look for the one who gives us warmth and with whom we can find refuge - come what comes! For it is still true: »Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.« (Is 49, 15-16)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 20th, 2020

 

 

Living in Exile

 

I was recently approached by a young student who asked me if she could interview me for a school religion project. Although I am usually very reluctant to do such interviews, this one turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As soon as she began to ask her questions I was taken by her interest in the biblical stories. She did not simply ask me about my life, but very specifically about the role, importance and effect of the biblical stories in my personal life.

The question that most struck me was this one: »What is the hardest personal experience of your life that the biblical stories helped you to cope with?« If I was a little caught off guard by her question, she was most certainly stunned by my answer. »The biblical stories have taught me most about how to live in exile. Living in exile has been the hardest experience of life.«

Israel lives in exile for large parts of its story. Jacob lived 21 years in exile before he could go home. The Tora is rich in its storytelling tradition of teaching us how to treat those among us who are exiled, the foreigners and the strangers. Prophets wrote from exile. Psalmist sang from exile. And none of it is easy or comfortable.

The biblical stories have taught me that the experience of exile is an experience of accommodation. You learn to fit in, to speak a new language, follow new customs, and deal with utterly different perspectives and ways of thinking. The biblical stories to learn to make a contribution, to heed and respect the people and culture that has taken you in, to help build up the land and the life of its citizens. In this, Daniel and Mordechai became my friends and my companions.

At the same time, exile is a process of fidelity. The biblical stories have taught me to stay true to my heritage in the midst of a dominant culture. It has taught me the importance of standing by my deepest first loves and precious ways of life that have fostered, nourished and carried me. While living in exile, it is a constant struggle not to abandon, forget or neglect the precious heritage of our origins. That is particularly difficult in a place where no one else shares or understands that heritage. Thus; I learned to sing with the Psalmist: »If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.« (Ps. 137, 5-6)

In all the years I have lived in exile, I have learned most keenly a lesson deeply rooted in the biblical story: exile is a place of brokenness and incompleteness. Like all exiles of the Bible before me, I will never truly be fully accepted as part of the people and culture I find myself in. Exiles may be welcome guests, accepted and well treated, but at the deepest level they always remain outsiders, foreigners, »not from here«. My accent, the smirks at my repeated errors in the speaking of German, my cultural preferences and my often differing perspective often become reminders of my exile. I have lived and worked in this land for 15 years, but as soon as I differ from the dominant opinion it is immediately attributed to my being a foreigner.

The young student was deeply affected by my answer. Then she said: »You know, you don’t have to even leave your family or your homeland to feel like an exile. You just don’t have to fit in, and already you’re in exile!«

She is absolutely right. And to all those people who live in exile within their own families and cultures and homelands, I can highly recommend the three great lessons of the biblical stories:

Grow into the world of your exile and make a contribution. At the same time, remain faithful to your soul, to the most holy moments and convictions of your life. And learn to live within a broken and incomplete experience without letting it convince you that you are a broken and incomplete person.

The young student thanked me and ended the interview with a lovely compliment: »I don’t care what people think about the way you speak German. But I want to tell you, that you knew how to speak to my heart.« And that makes me feel at home while living in exile.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 18th, 2020

 

 

»A Picture is worth a Thousand Words«

 

We humans love pictures - ancient cave drawings already bear witness to this. In our time we seem to have become addicted to them. For a long time, only trained photographers were able to take and develop pictures. Most of us still remember sending holiday films to the lab and waiting anxiously for the finished photos. Today, almost everyone has their pictures in their pockets thanks to our smartphones. We often capture moments faster than we can take them into our hearts and share them with each other: views of peaks and sea surf, sunsets or exotic markets, fixed rope routes, beach pictures, especially many fall pictures of home in these quiet weeks - what have we not already collected in this way.

When we later take the time to immerse ourselves once again in our photographs - perhaps in an album - we often have the same experience that I describe from my own experience. When I look at photos from a very intensive trip to Israel years ago, for example, the picture shows me a certain situation at the time, but my inner eye sees more. I suddenly see the face of the Bedouin boy who was standing close by when I photographed the herd of goats.  Or when I look at the group photo, behind the smiling faces I see one or the other sad story that I got to know during the common pilgrimage. I am glad about the memory pictures, they help me, but they do not show the whole reality.

Yes, pictures can even distort, colour and falsify reality.

Our whole world of social media is full of images that show how people want to be seen. Millions of young people are posting themselves on Facebook and Instagram and just as many are eagerly clicking through this flood of images, waiting for approval, being rated and judging others.

How do we deal with pictures? What can they do and what not? Do they really say more than 1000 words?

For a long time now we have been capturing striking moments of our lives with pictures. Have you ever looked for a photo for the obituary of a loved one? We would like to have a beautiful photo, but it should be honest and authentic, show these people how they were, express something typical about them.  They should be seen as we knew and loved them. How much effort it takes to find such a picture, and in the end it is only an approximation.

Newborns are photographed a lot. Already on the second day professionals come to the clinic to take perfect pictures. At home, almost every hour, the parents experience moments that are so unique and new that they capture them and send them to their families and friends. This is very beautiful and delightful, and yet I am reminded of what a young mother said during this time: »"Now we have already taken so many pictures, but it is always only partial. No picture shows our child as it is. The picture is always just a miniature perspective - our child is much more!«

This thoughtful pause of the young woman leads me to the word of the Scriptures that we should not make an image of God, which we then worship as a cult image, and then attach it to God to make him tangible. (Dt. 5:8)

Should we not take this into consideration for images of human beings? For we hold pictures in our hands and have pictures in our heads and then pin people down to them. We saw a raised eyebrow and hold fast the image of an arrogant person. We perceived a tired face and categorise the person as old or dull or lacking in energy. We are impressed by a radiant face and believe that the whole life of this person is easy.

Yes, pictures are good, important and enriching. But let us not predetermine reality based on a picture that always shows only a moment, tells of an episode. Let us remain open and wide: behind every picture there is a much bigger story!

A human life is more than 1000 pictures.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 16th, 2020

 

 

Refusing to put a brave face on it

33th Sunday A 2020   Mt 25, 14–30

 

Today’s Gospel awakens automatic interpretations in us. We are used to interpreting this story as a warning against wasting our talents. In this interpretation we see the third servant as the scapegoat, as the one who acts wrongly, does not assess the situation correctly and therefore wastes the trust of his master and disappoints his expectations.

But as natural as this interpretation has become for us, it is powerfully flawed. This interpretation is based exclusively on our current understanding of the economy and the world. It ignores the world in which Jesus originally told this story. Equally important is that it ignores the life of the storyteller himself, namely the situation in which Jesus finds himself while he is telling the story.

We have read this story with the assumptions of modern economic theory. In our world, wealth is something that can, indeed should, be increased through work and investment. Even more, we admire such wealth and see it as legitimate and right. These are the assumptions that I have spent years bringing to the text. This was not surprising, because they are also the unquestioned assumptions of the world in which I have spent my whole life. Therein lies the problem. Not that I had my assumptions, but that I did not question them.

For Jesus and his listeners never lived in the world of my unquestioned assumptions. They lived in a society that was based on agriculture. In their world, wealth was not an unlimited possibility that could be increased and multiplied by hard work and wise investment. In their world, wealth was a limited commodity. There was only a certain amount of wealth distributed throughout the world. So if one person suddenly had more of it, it meant that another person automatically had less of it.

In the world of Jesus, the »gains« of the first two servants are due to the impoverishment of another person. We see this world view in the parable itself. It is repeated and escalated in the Master's answer in Vv28 and 29.

»So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.«

If I had just quoted this from the economic platform of a political party, would we accept it so casually?

The third servant says, »Here, you have what is yours.« He gives the Master what belongs to him, not what he has taken from others, so that the man who already has abundance is not given more.

We should not ignore the Master's suggestion either, for he is steeped in corruption and misconduct. »Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.« The first two servants promptly played according to the rules set by their master and paid him back the money with interest. But usury was expressly forbidden to the people of Israel.

If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.

Exodus 22: 25

Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.

Levitikus 25: 36-37

You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.

Deuteronomium 23:19.

All this gives us a very different perspective on the third servant. Instead of seeing him as a man lacking in initiative, one who wastes talents, we now see a man who is deeply afraid of his master's power politics. Despite this fear, he refuses to play the game. He will not become an accomplice to the machinations of his master. He is not willing to play along, because playing along means exploiting others to make a profit for oneself. Despite peer pressure (the other two servants are playing along) and despite the threat of punishment for not meeting his master's expectations, he does not give in.

Instead, he exposes the Master and his way of life as false and names the corruption of the powerful: »Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seedOnly thieves, corrupt people and exploiters reap what others have sown and gather the fruits of the labour of others. In reality, this servant speaks truth to power. He also suffers the consequences, as so often happens with whistleblowers. He reminds us that such an attitude can be costly.

The whole story reflects the attitude and situation of the narrator, Jesus. He does not play along either. He refuses to participate in a religious system that is corrupt and calls corruption by its name. And he is punished for it. If he had been willing to make common cause with the religious, political and social powers of his time, he would have had a much easier life and would certainly have been praised by these powers as a »good and faithful servant«.

The third servant is presented to us as an example of the attitude of Jesus. He can give us something to think about in connection with crises and our way of dealing with them. 

He speaks to us of the need to bear witness to the underlying injustices and inequities in a system or situation, even if everyone else is willing to play along in the hope of gaining personal advantage. And he shows us how hard it is when this makes life difficult for us.

However, and perhaps more importantly, this story should make us more alert to the worldviews, assumptions and prejudices we carry within us. We bring them with us (often unconsciously) to this story and to all other life stories. My world and my experiences are not determinative for the whole world and every experience. A different perspective gives a different interpretation. And different understandings will challenge us to pay attention to our own assumptions and perspectives when we try to read a particular conflict situation.

We are facing the current crisis with many such assumptions. If economic stimulus packages are passed one by one; if small sports clubs are closed down in a lockdown while multi-millionaires are allowed to continue to earn football players; if some businesses are allowed to stay open while cultural events are cancelled altogether: then we see the assumption of a society: the main thing is that the economy is booming. Could or would our understanding of this crisis be different if we did not just look through our usual special lenses?

Are there other perspectives and interpretations of life and the crisis that might be worth trying and absorbing instead?

It is much easier to read the parable as a lesson about the use of our talents than a call to step out of systems that are inhuman and exploitative. But this parable begins with the words: »The Kingdom of Heaven is like...« We should ask ourselves, which interpretation better reflects the heartfelt concerns of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 15th, 2020

 

 

Thoughts

 

My head

is never empty.

Always

new thoughts come up.

They create

feelings,

unrest.

I feel

delivered up to them.

Often they drive me

into heaviness,

into darknesses.

Powerless I am drawn

into a whirlpool.

How do I

get out again?

 

Then I remember

an exercise that I had almost forgotten:

 

» Be a doorkeeper of your heart and do not let any thought in without questioning. Question each thought individually and say to it: 'Are you one of us or one of our enemies?' And if it belongs to the household, it will fill you with peace. But if he is of the enemy, he will confuse you by anger or excite you by lust. «

 

Thank you, Evagrius, desert father,

I will start practicing

again.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 13th, 2020

 

 

May his Memory be a Blessing

 

It was with great sadness that I received an email from London on Monday evening. It informed me of the death of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He died on Saturday at the age of 72.

We became acquainted through the planning of a convention in which Narrative Theology was to serve as the platform by which Christian and Jewish believers entered into dialogue with one another. Our contact consisted of several phones calls and a number of email exchanges. I never had the privilege of meeting him face to face.

In our telephone conversations I was impressed by the sheer warmth and generosity of the man. He, in turn, was deeply appreciative of how we took the stories of God seriously. He particularly loved the fact of our deep appreciation of the Old Testament and how seriously we took them.

My fascination with this man led me to read more of his works. And there my fascination ripened into deeper respect and, eventually, reverence. The deep Jewish love for the Stories of God shone through him. He had a mastery of the technical side of biblical exegesis, but never assumed the cold, analytical tone of the exegete. His voice carried the warmth of the biblical storytellers.

Hear it for yourself. Here an excerpt from his article »A Nation of Storytellers«.

»The great questions – »Who are we?«, »Why are we here?«, »What is our task?«, – are best answered by telling a story. As Barbara Hardy put it: “We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticise, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative. « This is fundamental to understanding why Torah is the kind of book it is: not a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of interlinked stories extended over time, from Abraham and Sarah’s journey from Mesopotamia to Moses’ and the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. Judaism is less about truth as system than about truth as story. And we are part of that story. That is what it is to be a Jew…By making the Israelites a nation of storytellers, Moses helped turn them into a people bound by collective responsibility – to one another, to the past and future, and to God. By framing a narrative that successive generations would make their own and teach to their children, Moses turned Jews into a nation of leaders.«

I mourn his death. The world is a colder place without him. And for me personally, it has become a lonelier place, for we live in a world in which the Stories of God are not often taken seriously. The loss of a storyteller of God is a grievous loss indeed.

Zichrono livracha. (May his memory be a blessing).

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 11th, 2020

 

 

From lamentation to dance

 

Many years ago I experienced a woman, long widowed, who withdrew completely after the accidental death of her youngest son.  From then on, her walk to the cemetery was part of her daily routine, she only opened up to her closest family, her formerly beloved piano playing and singing had fallen silent. She did not moan, but she often lamented and cried. And so it remained for a very long time. She avoided going to church on Sundays, because she was uncomfortable with all the people - especially on holidays. Instead, she preferred the manageable weekday services. Even on All Saints' Day or All Souls' Day she went alone to the grave in the morning, she never took part in the official blessing of the graves. In these years of her mourning I was impressed by how firmly and faithfully she remained in her relationship with God, despite it all, never opting out. She felt seen by him and also expressed her sorrow and sadness before him. She knew that she had nothing to hide from him. She did not work through her grief, as we often speak of »grief work« today. No, she lived through the grief. It belonged to her. And she took her time.

A few years later, her eldest married and this celebration filled her with joy. Indeed she enjoyed it, just as she enjoyed her first holiday trip in a long time. Then her grandchildren were born. How do they speak of their grandmother today as adults?

They tell stories of a cheerful woman who always entertained them with her stories and poems and with her singing! They remember that there was no domestic celebration that she had not embellished with her piano playing. A Christmas Eve without their grandmother's »Christmas angel« at the piano was unimaginable long into her old age. She could take the worries of her growing grandchildren seriously and then gently guide them into lightness of being. And she was able to rejoice from the bottom of her heart, enjoying a meal together just as much as an excursion or her classical music in the afternoon.

Her life became a testimony for the verse of the psalm:

»You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth

and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!«

(Ps 30, 12-13)

The older she got, the more grateful she became. She never denied the heaviness in her life, but also not the beauty and happiness. It all belonged to her and she had gone through everything with her God.

She remains a great example for her grandchildren and they keep her last words to them in their hearts: »I would still like to stay with you.«

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 9th, 2020

 

 

Don’t forget the Oil

32nd Sunday A 2020    Mt 25, 1–13

 

In 1985 Neil Postman wrote a fascinating book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it he wrote:

»When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.« (p. 190)

»The kingdom of heaven will be like this.« When a parable begins in this fashion, we should not lose sight of what Jesus is focusing our hearts on. The kingdom of heaven always consists of two parts: the inner consciousness linked to an external action. This kingdom of heaven, the inner consciousness linked to an external action, is incarnated in Jesus. He offers it to us, his apprentices.

The turning point in the parable comes at this point:

But at midnight there was a cry,

»The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.«

At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps,

and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones,

»Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.«

But they replied,

»There may not be enough for us and for you;

you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.«

 

All ten women have been waiting for this moment. Now it is time for the lamps to give light. But the lamps can only shine if they have oil. The foolish have no oil and ask to borrow some. The wise refuse for seemingly foolish reasons. They seem to care for themselves rather than share with those in need. Instead, they suggest to the foolish, »go ...and buy«. In this brief and enigmatic exchange, the foolish show their stupidity and the wise show their wisdom.

The truth of the oil in this story is: everyone must have their own oil. The lamp is a metaphor for the inner life of human beings. Every person has a lamp of inner life. The oil is the symbol of that, which must fill the inner life of a person if it is to have a radiant, luminous effect on the outside world at some point.

Each person must supply this oil from his or her own life. The inner life of a person is like a lamp that has to be filled. But with what? These are the oil questions of the inner life: With which resources do I fill my soul? What do I read? What do I occupy myself with? With which topics do I wrestle? What do I absorb within myself? What am I open and receptive to? You cannot develop spiritually by accepting someone else's inner life and actions as your own. Every person needs oil for himself or herself. The path of each person is unique, each lamp produces its own wattage.

The foolish do not know this path of individual maturation to become a new person in God. They know only the way of going and buying, of seeking what they need outside themselves. »Going and buying« is an image for an inner life that is directed and focused outwards. And this strategy of »going and buying« is deeply rooted in people who live from the outside to the inside. They believe that if the outer world is in order, then the inner world will be satisfied.

In the first story of the feeding of the multitudes in the Gospel of Mark (6, 30-44), the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can »go and buy themselves something to eat!«. (v. 36) When Jesus tells them to provide food, the disciples say: »Shall we go and buy bread for two hundred denarii and give it to them to eat?« (v. 37) Jesus points out to them their own inner resources: »How many loaves of bread do you have? Go and see!« (v.38). But they insist that the only place where they can find food is outside themselves.

While Jesus gives the Samaritan woman to drink, the Gospel of John tells us that the disciples had »gone into the city to buy something to eat« (John 4:8). The foolish have no means of their own and are therefore addicted to going somewhere else for their livelihood. They cannot imagine any other way.

The parable shows us that there are some things that simply cannot be done or achieved at the last minute - for example, you cannot condense three months of study to the evening before an exam and expect to get a good grade. Some things require advance planning, preparation or practice if we want to use or apply them successfully in the hour when we need them urgently. If we did not take care of a deep and supporting inner life before the crisis, it will not be available to us in a time of crisis like this. This is what lamps without oil look like.

Secondly, the parable underlines that not everything can simply be borrowed from someone else when we need it. Things that can determine and guide our response to others in a positive way in this long and tiring time - generosity, kindness, grace, solidarity and helpfulness, a sense of the common good, etc. - must be things that we possess for ourselves, things that come from our own embodied, existential experiences with God and the world. We must continuously cultivate attitudes and habits such as hospitality and generosity that enable and support constructive and creative reactions when we find ourselves in situations of conflict and crisis.

What happens otherwise is that we never find the oil in our lives that can touch the deepest innermost part of ourselves and others. Given the power of our culture, we can go on like this for years until something in our life breaks: then the death of a loved one occurs; a relationship breaks and perhaps our heart as well; a diagnosis is pronounced with the word »incurable«. At some point, a crisis comes along that is strong enough to suddenly empty all the stimulation and entertainment in the world. Then we are forced to look into our own depths, and that can be a frightening abyss if we have avoided following it for years. It is always a shock when lamps have no oil, because then we do not have what we need to break the darkness with light.

The poet Rumi once wrote: »I have lived too long where I can be reached!« If we do that, we end up as the people who still have the lamps with them, but no oil: not bad, just busy; not immoral, just distracted; not soulless, just preoccupied; not profoundly contemptuous, just without practice.

Dear sisters and brothers, when the groom arrives, or the crisis, it is not the best time to start practising.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 8th, 2020

 

 

What we do not need at the moment

 

Many years ago, when I was still a student of theology, I had the opportunity and the privilege of attending a lecture series on Liberation Theology. The guest speaker was none other than Gustavo Gutiérrez, a man often described as the father of liberation theology.

The entire series of lectures was very daunting, because this very soft spoken man never once let up in his honest, brutally frank assessment of the problems that theology faces when it seeks the liberation of the poor. At one point he remarked that he often encountered a great enthusiasm for the theology of liberation until the moment came, when one had to face the existential issues from which people needed to be liberated.

But he did not spare us. He described scenes of stomach churning violence against the poor when they dared to seek a liberation from oppression and a betterment of their situation.  He told us tales of poverty that shook us to the marrow of our bones. But he also told the tales of the oppressors, of the greed that drives them to sacrifice human beings for a little more profit, of the suppression of the most basic rights of human beings to keep the poor in line through fear and intimidation, and of the human rights violations as common in some places as traffic violations in our countries.

One of the participants in the lecture series was particularly and deeply affected by the stories and the storyteller. On the last day there was a question and answer hour in which anyone who so wished could ask Gustavo Gutiérrez a question. This young man, inflamed and enthused by Gustavo Gutiérrez’s words, rose, went to the microphone, but he did not ask a question. Instead he made a statement. It went something like this:

»Every word you spoke was brilliant and seared my soul. Now my heart is burning with the desire to help. I want to come to Peru, I want to be part of a theology that liberates. I am heartily sick of living here in Canada, of the whole decadence of the West. I have had it with all the consumerism and the luxury and society that cares about nothing else. I cannot stand to live here any longer, in a world where egotism is king.« His statement was considerably longer than the words I remember, and as it continued, it back more and more a tirade against the land in which he lived and his fellow citizens. The tone got ever sharper and fury, frustration, resentment and anger became the central themes of this words. When he was finally done, he simply said that he would come to Peru and live with the poor.

The room was stiflingly silent. Many found the moment awkward, others felt personally attacked by his comments and still others felt helpless in the face of so much anger. All of us, faculty as well as students, were at a loss for words.

But not Gustavo Gutiérrez. In the same soft spoken voice he gave his answer, which I give to the best of my recollection. »This is about the Kingdom of God.  If you wish to come to Peru, because you love the poor and because you love the Kingdom of God, then you are heartily welcome. But if you would like to come with a bellyful of rage, frustration, anger and hatred against your own country and its people, then stay at home. We already have more than enough rage, frustration, anger and hatred of our own.«

We would do well to heed these words in this time of Pandemic. Rage, frustration, anger and hatred will not lead us to the Kingdom of God, and thus, they cannot lead us to the solutions, healing and life we crave.

Erik Riechers SAC, November 6th , 2020

 

 

Light in dark times: Lantern windows

 

During these weeks a small movement has been created and is spreading especially among families and in kindergartens: the action »Lantern Window«: »Hereby you hang one or more lanterns in a window that is best facing the street and make them shine with light bulbs or LED tea lights. Then evening strollers, young and old, can marvel at the fantastic lanterns.  Since the St. Martin's procession is unfortunately cancelled in some towns this year, this is a nice alternative, especially for children, to go for a walk with their handmade lanterns and admire the illuminated lanterns in the windows. In the spirit of St. Martin, we want to give hope with the help of the lanterns, in these difficult times.«

When I read this in our local paper, I immediately felt like making a lantern again after many years and putting it in the window as a sign – others will follow. The reactions of my daughters in Stuttgart and Canada were similar and they remembered many lanterns they had made as children.

In fact, in this year during these weeks that by nature grow increasingly dark, for many the days have grown darker still; existentially threatening, emotionally difficult, socially poor in some circumstances - all a potential breeding ground for frustration and emptiness, for sadness and even depression.

To rise up against this, igniting lights and making them visible was already our thought on Monday: »Enkindling a light is not particularly difficult, but keeping a light alive is a skillful and challenging task, even an art form. We see this as the imperative of this hour. We must protect the flame of hope from every headwind of passivity, indifference, lack of perspective or even despair that blows towards us.«

I am also occupied with the topic of making lanterns. Almost every kindergarten and primary school child loves to choose a lantern motif and then get involved. How proudly the finished lantern is later shown and (usually) with what joy it is carried through the dark streets! The effect of the light is embellished and enhanced by a variety of colours and shapes. All this is also possible this year - even without the official St. Martin’s procession! And maybe it is even more necessary than ever!

That is why I love the action »Lantern Windows«. Thus, how about creating an adult version of this action? We invite you to do so: Wherever you see a beautiful lantern these days, take a photo and send it to us. We will post it on Twitter, accompanied by a »light-filled« quote.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, November 4th, 2020

 

 

Breath for the long march

 

»The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with weary feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.«

 

We placed this song from Tolkien's book The Hobbit over the Well Spring Days of last year. There we repeatedly spoke of the breath needed for the long march. A new lockdown begins today in Germany. In many variations and forms similar things are happening elsewhere in the world. We ourselves have noticed that we need a much longer breath than we thought we would in the spring. We feel how this lockdown is weighing on us, something we did not feel at the beginning of the crisis. Our inner reactions to both political decisions and irrational behaviour within society have a different quality than at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Although the crisis has been going on for a very long time, we must now be very careful not to fall into a trap. It is very easy to get the feeling that we are starting all over again. »Oh no, not again!« And there is a danger in that, because although this second lockdown reminds us of last March, the subject has changed. Seven months ago the main topic was how to get through this crisis. But now there is an additional theme, namely how can we keep hope alive until we get through this crisis?

When we sat together and thought about what we would like to write to you today, there were two impulses in us. First, we would like to repeat and renew our initial encouragement to you today. In our very first column of the series »May you be sheltered« we wrote on March 21rst, 2020:

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

We can repeat this today at the beginning of a second lockdown. We are tired, but not discouraged.

 

 

The second impulse came from a photo that Erik brought back from Brakel. There is a lantern house next to a statue of the Mother of God and Child. In this photo we also see an image of the way forward in the coming weeks.

It was built to protect the burning light. Many external elements, like wind and rain, try to extinguish the light. Enkindling a light is not particularly difficult, but keeping a light alive is a skillful and challenging task, even an art form. We see this as the imperative of this hour. We must protect the flame of hope from every headwind of passivity, indifference, lack of perspective or even despair that blows towards us.

What Rosemarie particularly noticed and liked while looking at the picture was the height of the lantern house. If we are to protect the light inside us, it will not be by hiding it. »Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.« (Mt 5, 15) This lantern house stands high and increases the light, making it visible. We see this, too, as an opportunity and a sacred task for this time. What burns within us in the lusty desire for love, life and faith, we must hold high. It is not a question of putting it away or hiding it. We lift our light even higher. It should also have something defiant, even challenging about it. We not only defy darkness, but also wind and rain.

The third thing we want to take away from the photo and share with you is the fact that the lantern house must not be airtight, otherwise the protection of the house will suffocate the very flame that it is to protect. What we build together as companions of faith is a house of light that breathes. We must nurture the light of belonging despite all distance. The culture of conversation must not be interrupted, because we wear masks but not muzzles. And even if this crisis is very demanding, we must not forget that there are still many important issues that must not be stifled by an over-fixation on Corona.

The pilgrims on the Camino called out to each other »Ultreja«. It means as much as »onward, forward!« In this manner, the pilgrims cheered themselves on with a word that gave them courage.

We consciously and encouragingly call out to you: »May you be sheltered«.

 

Vallendar, November 2nd,  2020

Rosemarie Monnerjahn

Erik Riechers SAC

Nächster Abschnitt

Socially distancing ourselves from holiness

All Saints 2020    Mt 5, 1–12a

 

When I read Rosemarie's reflection last Friday, one paragraph awakened a strong memory in me. »We should not place saints on a pedestal and move them to an unreachable, at most admirable, distance. Their lives were human like our own and they were children of their time, just as we are the children of our time. They can become our companions when we look at the sources from which they lived, how they were called and how they lived their lives with their God and ours.«

I thought back to an All Saints Day 25 years ago. Then the celebrant started the celebration with the sentence: »Welcome to the Day of Distancing«. Long before Corona forced to practice social distancing, we have practiced it with the saints. When we »place saints on a pedestal and move them to an unreachable, at most admirable, distance«, we distance ourselves from them.

The real question of the day is: what do the Beatitudes have to do with the communion of saints? They describe the culture that sanctifies a community. That is, blessed are those who do not use violence in and for the community. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for themselves and others. Blessed are those who act in mercy and live in peace and are even willing to suffer for the just cause

But the Beatitudes also have another important function: they show our naivety about our own attitude if we want to challenge the world to more justice and peace.

What is this naivety? It is that we think we can act unjustly, violently and mercilessly for the sake of the holy cause.  This naivety can be summed up in four errors which too often permeate and desecrate our community.

  1. »The urgency of my cause is so great that in this case it is all right to exclude the normal laws that govern public discourse. Therefore I can be disrespectful, arrogant and ugly to those who oppose me.« (Spokesman for George Bush)
  2. »I judge success and failure on the basis of measurable political performance. I am less interested in a Kingdom of God in the long run than in short-term political and social gain.« (US theologian from the peace movement)
  3. »I may exaggerate and distort the facts a little in order to make the concerns of justice clearer, but the situation is so appalling that I do not need to be very conscientious about the exact truth.«
  4. »I am a victim and therefore outside the rules!«

 

Here we encounter the painful truth of this feast day.

Unfortunately, we are again and again ready to use the language of love and justice to justify hatred and injustice. We claim that we are being forthright, even though we are actually only tactless. We claim that we speak »clear« words, but I wonder when the word »clarity« became synonymous with »hurtful«.

This attitude (the willingness to suspend the beatitudes for a holy cause) is the reason why our relationships, families, our society and our communities are not more salutary.

No matter how much we commit ourselves to a good cause, no matter how sacred it is and may be to us, the moment we ignore the attitude of the Beatitudes, every good thing becomes an ideology.

When we use violence, be it physical, moral or psychological, when self-righteousness rather than justice is our hunger and thirst, when winning is more important than mercy, when we are no longer prepared to endure tensions so that all lives can be saved, but only want a solution in our favour so that we are well provided for, then neither the community nor its cause is sacred any longer.

Unfortunately, our actions, for their part, often imitate the very violence, injustice, hardship and selfishness that they seek to challenge.

There is far too much talk of moral indignation: But it very often leads to a replica of the behaviour that caused the indignation. Indeed, moral indignation is ambiguous: the more indignant it is, the less likely it is to contribute to a real moral improvement.

Righteous indignation is also such a dictum. (I need to vent my anger or my frustration). Righteous indignation is often the first sign of the metastatic cancer of violence. It tends to give the indignant ones permission to do or to approve of things that are structurally indistinguishable from those that caused the indignation.

Unfortunately, this is more often than not the case in our struggle for the salutary and just community of Jesus, even when it is conducted under a Christian banner.

On this day we celebrate all those who have lived holy and salvific lives. It is these people who are our role models, because they point out to us that we have to be different from the selfishness, aggression and injustice that we are trying to change.

And they rebuke us. Every time we deviate from the Beatitudes' way of life, and want to justify it with religious motives, then they say to us: Call it by name, or call it what you want, but do not call it holy. The saints are very sensitive about this. Because them, this is character assassination.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, November 1st , 2020

 

 

Holy Companions

 

Someone complained these days that he is increasingly caught up in the maelstrom of the numbers: compulsively he has to inform himself daily about the new status of Covid-infected people and more and more he notices how this makes him feel worse and worse and he is gradually feels like a der caught in the headlights. This means that he is slowly succumbing to paralysis.

This is understandable and often a consequence of the nature of the news and the way we listen to it. But to react and live like this is beneath our dignity. If we immerse ourselves in the stories and songs of the Bible, then it resounds to us from every place that we are created in the image and likeness of God, with the mandate and the abilities to fashion our lives.

In Psalm 8 David sings: »What are mortals that you are mindful of them, and human children that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned then with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.« So we can and should shape what is given to us. For many months the Sars-Covid-19 virus has been part of our lives and the way we deal with it increasingly restricts our freedom.

Whereby shall we orientate ourselves? Where can we find role models? What carries us and lets us walk upright even now?

I grew up with people who lived with the saints. If they were at a loss at certain junctures of their lives, they would turn to a particular saint in their prayers. They were not people who just laid their hands in their laps; they did what they could, but I remember their deep confidence that the saint would help and support their need.

We should place saints on a pedestal and move them to an unreachable, at most admirable, distance. Their lives were human like our own and they were children of their time, just as we are the children of our time. They can become our companions when we look at the sources from which they lived, how they were called and how they lived their lives with their God and ours.

Perhaps they can help us come to clarity about what really matters, to patience in order to endure lean times, to inner freedom and a new state of my life and vocation.

Perhaps this is precisely the time in which we are called upon to creatively encounter people who have lost themselves and see no value in their lives, now that so much is falling away.

In this way we could also become companions of authentic life for others.

For many of us Willi Bruners is such a companion of our time, who can lead us into the depths with his inimitable language. Thus, in these days before All Saints,   I like to read his »Revelation« of ourselves:

 

Revelation

when I ceased

admiring, envying

                    the others

 

the angel opened

                my eyes

 

and showed me my mystery:

                           the king’s child

 

I hardly recognized it

                                  again

 

I had fought too long

                against myelf

 

wilhelm bruners

 

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 30th, 2020

 

 

Small Beginnings and Mighty Shelters

 

»What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?

 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.«

Lk 13, 18-19

 

Whenever we hear the parables of the Kingdom, it is easy to skirt the surface and ignore the apparently insignificant details. Thus, in this instance, we dive straight into the heart of the parable and say that the small beginnings of the Kingdom (be they as tiny as mustard seeds) will eventually develop their fullest potential until they are grow into realities as large as trees.

The seemingly insignificant detail we brush aside is the remark about the birds. They will come and nest in that tree, find home, rest, and refuge within its branches. A whole new dimension opens itself up those who seek the Kingdom. All parables of the Kingdom invite to an experience of God. The Kingdom is the experience of God’s loving action unfolding in the world we live in. Parables tell us how we will encounter it, where to look for it, and the characteristics for which we should keep an eye out in order not to miss it.

That is why details count. The in-breaking of God’s love in our world, the Kingdom, will indeed start small. Like the tree growing from a mustard seed, it most certainly will grow larger, take up more space and become ever more apparent and harder to overlook. But for us, like for the birds, this moving, flowing, unfolding divine love will also become a place of mighty shelter. That is one of the characteristics by which we can detect the growth of the Kingdom. Wherever mighty shelter develops out of small, simple beginnings, there the Kingdom of God is on the move.

In the beginning, before planting, growing and unfolding, the mustard seed is insignificant to a bird. It would be only a fraction of what it needs to eat to stay alive, an almost insignificant morsel barely able to still contribute to the stilling of its hunger. That seed will later become a mighty shelter for the bird.

A soft word, a brief encounter, the tiniest gesture of kindness or the simplest acknowledgement have become mighty shelter for people throughout salvation history. Lasting friendships have ensued because of them. Life changing relationships have grown out of them. Great loves have been born of them, which have gone on to endure for decades. When small beginnings evolve into mighty shelter for the heart, then we know that God is on the move.

I have known more than one mustard seed moment in my life that has given me mighty shelter. One of them of them is in my room. It is my very first copy of John Shea’s Stories of God.  It was already a used book when I bought it off a table at a conference in Toronto. I bought it for no other reason than to help me kill the time on my long bus trip to the hotel on the other side of the city. It was a distraction, pure and simple. It had no meaning, appeal or deep purpose for me. It certainly was not meant to make an significant contribution to my life. I still remember thinking, I can always toss it into the next garbage can when I am done.

Nearly 30 years later, I am still not done with that book and what it did to me and for me. It fired my imagination, enkindled my soul, opened to me the horizons I have sought out ever since, and changed my image of God, changed the way I do theology and ministry. It changed the way I think, feel and act. Above all, it gave me a mighty shelter for the deepest longings of my soul and it helped me find my welcome in the world.

The conference I was attending cost me 500 Canadian dollars. The book cost me 50 cents. There are still mustard seeds that becomes sheltering trees. There are still small beginnings that become mighty shelter. Because God is still on the move in the world. We should try harder not to overlook God, just because the in- breaking of divine love comes in the smallest of packages.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 28th, 2020

 

 

To bless life

 

It is now some 40 years since I heard a critical young colleague say that it would be irresponsible to bring children into this world.

What would young people today say to this? Especially in this year 2020, which has seen so much confusion and in which we have lost so many certainties that for decades seemed self-evident?

Anyone who, especially in this year, experiences families into which a child is to be born, can experience what so often happens when people lovingly allow themselves to enter into life.

Where life is stirring, the time of expectation has replaced the longing for new life. It shows itself in many different ways. Sometimes restlessness and tension grow, but joy also grows deeper and deeper. Patience is needed, but also the good handling of emerging worries. Those who accompany expectant mothers can be deeply touched by their transformation from concern about oneself to the responsibility for the unborn child, for the life that already contains everything, but is not yet visible and which needs to be guarded and protected. Sometimes this lets them feel insecure and anxious. How blessed and important are good companions by your side!

Many preparations are made. Relationships change and often become stronger. In-laws and families feel a new connection and closeness to each other. This not only creates a nest for the expected child, but also a net that carries everything that is needed.

What we experience in times of pregnancy occurs everywhere that new life is allowed to grow - at first hidden and inconspicuous, but nourished and carried, expected and longed for, until it is finally »born« and brought into the world.

 

So we should bless life right now, wherever we encounter it, perhaps in this or similar ways, promising each other that God is always present as well:

 

May God keep you on the way through your life.

May God warm you when fear makes you freeze.

May God strengthen you when uncertainty gnaws at you.

May God encourage you when longing moves you.

May God hold you when sleep envelops you.

May God flows through you when love gives you hope.

May God envelops you when life grows within you.

. . .

Let us be of help in choosing life, serving life, rejoicing over life and in receiving it kindly.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 26th, 2020

 

 

The Temptation of a Crisis

30th Sunday A 2020    Exodus 22, 20-26

 

There is a sad truth about the times of crisis. There is no crisis so bad that there are no people will to exploit it for personal gain.

The plight of refugees is a profitable opportunity for human smugglers. High unemployment in poor countries allows some companies to pay the workers a fraction of the price they would pay the workers in their own countries. This then leads to unemployment for workers back at home, because their jobs are eliminated and outsourced to foreign lands. When tropical storms threatened the East Coast of the USA, some businesses saw this as an opportunity to quickly raise their prices.

The Prophet Hosea raises his voice against oppression and injustice and in doing so found colourful and lively language. One of his most important lines was:

»For they sow the wind,

and they shall reap the whirlwind.«

Hosea 8,7

 

And this word helps us to understand the God who pours out his heart in the book Exodus. God makes it abundantly clear that his people should not exploit the strangers, widows and the orphans.

Here the warning is not only that we should not abuse the people themselves, but also that we should not see their present emergency situation as an opportunity to exploit them. After all, strangers, orphans and widows find themselves in situations where they are easy prey. And such situations lure unscrupulous people to use the advantage of the hour to manipulate them. »Now we finally got them where we want them.« This is where a mutation of the heart happens, because normally the healthy person sees in emergency situations the chance to help others, not to enrich himself or herself.

Those who sow this wind will reap the whirlwind. For God says: I hear this. And I react to this.

»Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.

If you do and they cry out to me,

I will certainly hear their cry.«

 

Furthermore, in strong, even drastic language, God says that people of this kind will learn in their own flesh and blood what it means to exploit the poor and their helplessness and impotence. Those who act and live unjustly will not benefit from this. Those who drive others away do not reap fertile land, but desert wastelands.

God is very concrete here. No interest should be charged when poor people need help or support.

»If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor,

you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.«

 

If a coat is placed as a deposit, we should return the coat after sunset. But why not? Taking a deposit is simply a normal business practice. But in an emergency situation it becomes an exploitation of someone else's difficult plight.

»If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge,

you shall return it to him before the sun goes down,

or that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body;

in what else shall he sleep?«

 

These words are particularly serious. They contain everything that God abhors about human greed, cold-heartedness and exploitation. For the image says:

Woe unto those who take from others what gives them warmth: for then they are responsible for more cold creeping into the world and penetrating into God’s sons and daughters.

Woe unto those, who take from others what gives them shelter and protection: for then they are responsible for exposing people to a life without refuge.

Woe who take from others what gives them a home, in which they can wrap themselves up to find peace and rest: then they are responsible for people having to move into the night of life, homeless and at the mercy of others.

And here, too, God says: I hear this. That is what I react to.

»And if he cries to me,

I will hear,

for I am compassionate.«

 

The path of exploitation is deceptive. It promises unscrupulous people that exploitation will make them rich, happy and content. In reality, this path makes a person cold, unjust, merciless and narcissistic.

»For they sow the wind,

and they shall reap the whirlwind.«

 

This is not a threat.

This is a promise.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 25th, 2020

 

 

Seeing with the eyes of God – Seeing with the eyes of the heart

 

Psalm 32 in the new Luther translation reads

»I will instruct you and show you the way you should go;

I will guide you with my eyes.«

Ever since I read this 8th verse, the word » I will guide you with my eyes « has been on my mind. God sees me, his eyes guide me. And when I let myself enter into this guiding and leading, I grow into the vision of God. This will change my own vision, this will change my heart.

To this end there is a wonderful story by Oscar Wilde: »The Happy Prince«.

It tells of a swallow that cannot take its leave of a lovely reed in autumn and thus misses the departure of its companions to Egypt. Before it finally wants to leave, he pauses at the top of the statue of a prince covered all over with gold, with a ruby in the sword hilt and eyes of blue sapphires. 

As he wonders about the odd drop that falls on him, he looks up and sees that the prince's eyes are filled with tears – »and tears were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity. 'Who are you?' he said. 'I am the Happy Prince.'     'Why are you weeping then?' asked the Swallow; 'you have quite drenched me.'

'When I was alive and had a human heart,' answered the statue, 'I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.'«

And then the prince tells of a seamstress whom he sees through a window, she works, thin and worn, on a festive robe for one of the ladies of the court; her son lies ill in bed and asks for oranges, but his mother can only bring him water from the nearby river.

 »Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.«  The swallow resists. He must finally leave to follow his friends, but finally the sadness of the prince touches him so deeply that he agrees to stay one more night and become the prince's messenger. He picks the ruby from the pommel and flies over the roofs of the city.

»At last he came to the poor house and looked in. The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was so tired. In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman's thimble. Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy's forehead with his wings. 'How cool I feel,' said the boy, 'I must be getting better;' and he sank into a delicious slumber.

Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done. 'It is curious,' he remarked, 'but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.' «

The way in which the prince's open eyes change his heart, what this finally does with the swallow's eyes and heart, is well worth reading about in Oscar Wilde.

It leads me back to Psalm 32:

»I will instruct you and show you the way you should go;

I will guide you with my eyes.«

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 23rd, 2020

 

 

The salty, wet stories of the heart

 

During these past few weeks I have received many emails from people telling me stories of their life during this time of crisis and stress. What has struck me lately, is how many times people have mentioned their tears. That would be, in and of itself, a good thing.  Yet, nearly always these references to tears have been negative, pejorative and self-critical. They are implying, that there is something wrong with them when they feel themselves full of unwept tears. Often the implication is that they are not tough, resilient or courageous enough. If we stay with that interpretation, then sooner or later we will try to try the tears out of our stories.

Years ago I held a retreat weekend for a group of families in Milwaukee. My partner, a woman religious with great artistic talent, had a wonderful idea. Every time I would interpreted a biblical story, she would lead the group and have each of them draw a picture of the story they had just heard.

On the Saturday afternoon I told the group the story of Isaiah 25:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,

of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the Lord has spoken.

Is 25, 6-8

This time my colleague split the group up, the children went to one room and the adults to the other. Both groups then proceeded to draw the story I had just told them. When both groups returned, the pictures were posted on opposite walls and the families told to walk through the room and take a look at what the people in the other group had drawn or painted. Then she guided a respectful conversation between the generations and opened up a warm and very heartfelt exchange of what they had learned from one another.

As this exchange ended, my colleague asked me to comment on the pictures. I pointed out what had not only struck me immediately, but a point on which no one else had bothered to comment. In every painting made by the children, there were tears on the faces of people at this great banquet of God. No one adult in the room had painted a single tear. After I pointed this out, I was interrupted by a man who insisted the children had got it wrong. So I repeated the words of the story. »He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…«. There was a great silence. Then the man said, »I just always assumed that the tears would have to be wiped away before we are allowed to enter heaven. I thought I would have to clean up my act before I get in.«

I simply said to him, »The biblical story tells us that heaven is not the place where tears are forbidden, but the place where God wipes them away.«

Indeed, tears are important enough to God, that they have a place in the banquet halls of heaven. God has deepest reverence for the tears of his people, because the tears that we weep are stories of the heart that are still seeking words. The tears we do not weep are the stories of the heart that are left untold. But God always takes stories seriously. That is why God cares about them, keeps track of them and respects them. Do we really believe that our story-laden tears will have no place in the house of the God of whom the Psalmist writes: »You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?« (Psalm 56:8)

In the book of Revelation there is a similar scene:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Rev 21, 1-4

Even in the new heaven and the new earth which God makes, we will be permitted to bring our tears with us. But it would be wise to sit up and take notice of a marvellously comforting part of the story. The wiping away of tears in heaven is reserved to God. He does it himself. He does not send angels to do this for his people. It is his last, loving service to us before the crying ends once and for all.

The biblical story tells us that heaven is not the place where tears are forbidden, but the place where God wipes them away.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 21st, 2020

 

 

Do not reduce your life!

 

You see the tasks that lie ahead, the challenges of your profession. They are in front of you in the morning and keep you busy in the evening.

You put a lot of thought into what you can afford, what is possible or not. You seldom speak of »consuming«, but it does take up a large space in your thoughts and actions.

 You have a lot of restlessness inside you, it drives you out into the world; usually you have a journey in mind when you just come back from another one.

Heavy things fill your life and burden you mightily. Again and again your eyes become dull with grief, perhaps you even withdraw.

You fulfil a lot of duties and you have the feeling that everything rests on your shoulders and if you do not fulfil the tasks, everything will collapse.

Illness is spreading, either in you or in someone close to you. All your senses and many hours of the day are filled with medicine and care, with worry, even fear.

. . .

All this and much more is a reality and a part of our lives.

But none of these realities is ever everything. But why do we often talk about our lives as if everything is dark or duty or burden? Why do we so often reduce the narratives of our lives to one area?

Life is not easy, but it is not narrow either. It has width and fullness and it is up to us alone to open our senses and our heart to it. Let us take off our blinkers and see the blooming garden in times of heavy workloads, experience a walk through sunny vineyards, hear the words of a companion in times of grief, and laugh with children even in difficult times, experience loving staff in times of illness or even perceive the needy neighbour in times when we are easily preoccupied with outward appearances.

In order to live the fullness and tell about it, we should not limit our days and weeks, our life, to one part or one episode. Let us not reduce our life!

Every day we are challenged to make a decision for life, indeed, to choose life, to act on it and to tell about it - in its full breadth.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 19th, 2020

 

 

Placed before the wrong choice

29th Sunday A 2020    Mt 22, 15-22

 

This story is only superficially about taxes and God. At its deepest level it is a story about conflict. It is about the traps people set for each other, but also about how we can avoid them.

The Pharisees are insincere. »Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.« Outwardly, they present themselves as people who are seeking a conversation. But they abuse the outward form of conversation to disguise their true motivation: they want to trick Jesus into saying something incriminating that they can use against him.

They have planned an attack to bring Jesus down. And to this end they are sending two groups: their own disciples and the followers of Herod. And therefore their question: »Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?«

That is why they brought the Herodians with them. They want to keep Herod in power and Herod only stays in power at the behest of the Romans. The Romans only keep him in power to collect taxes. When Jesus speaks against taxes, it is incitement against Rome. The Herodians will witness this sedition and will accuse Jesus to protect their friend Herod.

On the other hand, if Jesus should bow to the Roman tax, he will discredit himself as a prophet and lose his followers. The people who follow Jesus hate the Roman tax for more than just economic reasons. There is also a theological reason why the tax of the occupying power is hated, and that is why the disciples of the Pharisees were sent along with the Herodians.

The theological reason: it is the deepest conviction of God's people that the land actually belongs to God. But if the land belongs to God, by what right do the Romans levy taxes on everything, from the fruits of the earth and the animals of the field to the fish in the sea?

The economic reason is self-explanatory: this taxation was devastating, not an appropriate percentage, but an unbearable burden. And it was deeply linked to bribery and corruption.

Thus, if Jesus approves these tax laws, it would contradict much of His preaching and teaching.

This is the trap that the Pharisees set. But first, Jesus will buttered up. Excessively the Pharisees flatter him as part of their strategy. They want to make him speak »plainly« and reveal himself. They comment on his truthfulness and his refusal to say only what people want to hear, especially those in positions of power. But precisely because he is so sincere, he will not spare the powerful.

They should be proved right: » Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?«  He does not spare them and immediately addresses them as hypocrites. They are not interested in God or taxes. Their only interest is to undermine the influence of Jesus. So it is all about traps and, just like taxes, they still exist today.

The first trap is to lure Jesus and us into an ego debate. If the Pharisees (including those of our time) manage to do this, then we have a duel of the intellect and no longer the search for true life. Then the only question will not be on theological, economic and social issues: What is true, authentic and beneficial to life? In the ego debate, the only question is: Who has won?

This is what happens in the time of the pandemic. We hold discussions about loosening restrictions and lockdowns, about the obligation to wear masks, social distancing and restrictions. Often, very often, I have the impression that it is not about the cause, namely the protection of life. Often, I have the impression that people simply want to assert themselves, because they even want to make a pandemic a matter of winners and losers. 

Reducing these issues to the raw material of a battle of egos strike me as not particularly helpful in regards to the big issues that challenge us. We see this every Sunday evening on the talk shows. The big themes are announced, but what do you read in the newspaper the next day? Who has won! Do we really have to reduce the biggest questions of the country and our lives to a winner-loser debate? If we do, we will continue to talk about who scores points and who wins, but not about life, social cohesion and concern for each other.

The second trap which Jesus avoids is being caught between two false alternatives. The Pharisees want a »yes« or »no«. In some cases a straightforward »yes« or »no« is an appropriate answer. »Is the traffic light red?«, »Is it raining outside?«: Such questions and many others can be answered with a straightforward »yes« or »no«.  

But other areas do not lend themselves to an »either-or« answer. »Yes or no«- thinking is very often applied in the wrong place. Most questions of life and faith should be approached with caution and with a balanced evaluation. In order to avoid the trap of the wrong alternatives, we must realise that »yes or no«- is not enough here 

The answer of Jesus is clear. We must endure the tensions of life. We should not resolve these tensions by choosing between false alternatives:

- either the Emperor or God.

- either mutual protection or personal freedom

- either economic recovery or social friendship.

The biblical narrative says it again and again: there is room and life enough for all in the world that God has created. But to live in it, we must learn to live with tension. Together with the people with whom we live and work, we must bear the tensions and not allow ourselves to be driven to make a decision between the wrong alternatives. And therein lies the temptation. We have grown weary of crisis. Especially when we are tired and overwhelmed, a quick, so-called clean, »once-and-for-all«, »black and white« solution becomes tempting.

And that is precisely the trap. We should not let this trap be set, not even by this crisis. We should not let the issue of justice for endangered lives be turned into a winner-loser debate. But if we are tempted to do so, I will give one last thought. Who guarantees that we will automatically end up on the side of the winners? At the latest when we end up on the side of the losers in the winner-loser debate, we will long for a world in which there is life and space enough for everyone.

Erik Riechers SAC, October 18th, 2020

 

 

A New Existential Language

 

In the second chapter of his encyclical «Fratelli tutti«, Pope Francis gives a very detailed interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He does it because he wants to call us to become the people who know what the Samaritan knew. Only a truly believing person can bring the experience of faith in his or her life to the lives of others. Only then can the message of faith resound in meaningful fashion. Only the one who connects the faith side with the life side is able to make faith effective. Only in this way can faith develop its power.

Imagine for a moment that we are lying on the ground and hear these words from the book of Deuteronomy ringing across the street:

For this commandment that I command you today

is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.

It is not in heaven, that you should say,

‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us,

that we may hear it and do it?’

Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say,

‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us,

that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you.

It is in your mouth and in your heart,

so that you can do it..

Dt 30,11-14

How would that be received? How would we react to it? Probably we would perceive it as pure mockery. This is exactly what Jesus recognizes in the teacher of the law, this willingness to stay on the faith side of the street and to talk about and discuss things that can only be perceived on the life side of the street as unworldly, unrealistic and aloof. Therefore Jesus shows us the direction. People of faith have to cross over into life, not the other way around.

This is the direction of faith, and it is a one-way street. Our task cannot be to invite people who lie broken on the ground of life to cross over the street while we scream: Come over here. Even worse is the variant where, on the side of faith, we think that our only task is to belittle or even condemn the people across the street and then write them off.

This is something that happens time and again among religious people. But there are also always experiences of church which clearly show the way of Jesus. There are a lot of people who exemplarily transform their faith into flesh and blood, deeply believing people who are constantly driven into life by their faith.

However, when we move to the life side of the road, we need a language that is understood there. The Samaritan knows his way around. Oil, wine and money: this is a language that the beaten up, needy man understands. Oil, wine and money translate for him what we as believers understand by relief, strengthening and solidarity for the poor.

Shelter, care, and helpfulness are the language of the Samaritan. This language speaks to the robbed person in his situation in a meaningful way, because it makes it clear to him what we as believers understand by refuge, charity and selfless service. Loving action, accompaniment, sharing the journey: this is a language this man can understand and it translates what we Christians really believe into the language of everyday life.

To promote fraternity and social friendship, we must courageously follow the way of the Samaritan.  We have to go new ways, try new forms, and look for a new language so that we are understood on the other side of the street. We cannot act according to the old familiar fashion and merely pity, insult, or write off the people who cannot yet believe.

And here lies the warning of Jesus: It is not only: be merciful! The warning is: Cross the road that separates faith from life. Otherwise life and faith will pass each other by.

This is what our meetings, assemblies and discussions should be about. Here is the heart of our spiritual life: we are people who are always trying to find new ways to cross this road. It is well worth fighting for.

 

I am not naive about the rule of Jesus: »Then go and do likewise«.

This requires one more step, which will inevitably combine courage and creativity. The parable may end here, but it is not over yet. Luke the narrator does this on purpose.

For in this parable the teacher of the law should act as the representative of us all. We, too, can enumerate the double commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. It was taught to us as children and is part of the general information of our culture. But we find it difficult to put it into practice.

But our substitute in the story, the teacher of the law, is nowhere to be seen. He has left the place. Our excuse is gone and our cover is blown. We are the addressees of the last word: Go and do likewise.

That is well worth fighting for.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 16th, 2020

 

 

Where Faith meets Life

 

In Fratelli tutti  art. 68 Pope Francis reflects on the parable of the Good Samaritan and makes an interesting comment.

 »The parable clearly does not indulge in abstract moralizing, nor is its message merely social and ethical. It speaks to us of an essential and often forgotten aspect of our common humanity: we were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love. We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast. Instead, we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering. That is the meaning of dignity.«

 

Pope Francis thus recognises the real crisis of fraternity and social friendship. It is not mercy that is in crisis, but action.

The trigger of this story is the exchange with the teacher of the law. He has something on his mind and asks Jesus his question. »Master, what must I do to win eternal life?« Thereafter, Jesus tests his basic knowledge of faith and asks him about the law. The teacher of the law knows the answers very well and burst forth like a shot out of a gun:

 »You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, with ally our strength and all your thoughts, and: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.«

But only now does it become difficult, because Jesus is not satisfied with the man's theological knowledge. He recommends the second step to him.

»Do this, and you will live.«

Do this!  Act! That is the point.  In other words, without action, there is no life.

But those who do not want to act do what the teacher of the law does. He takes refuge in theological abstraction and prefers to speculate about the definition of the neighbour: And who is my neighbour? Whatever answer he finds here, he does not have to act for the time being. He procures a time delay for himself.

And that gives Jesus reason to offer this story. This is why Jesus tells the parable, to look at this flight into abstraction and away from responsibility.

Let us look at the parable more closely. In the story there is this road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Each side of the road stands for something. One side of the street represents life and the other side represents faith.

On the faith side of the road, first a priest and then a Levite pass by. These two people reflect the mentality of many religious people. They have a lot of knowledge about theology and spirituality, they know the formulations of the faith and have a good command of the language, rituals and attitudes of the religious. Here we see the side of the road where the teacher of the law is. What they do not have is the ability to integrate their knowledge with life. The contact with life is quite minimal. Lacking a connection with practical life, they remain in abstract thoughts about faith, just like the law teacher. Their discussions in general about the truths of faith pretend to be faith development.

On the other side of the road life is running out. Here there is greed, violence, bloodshed, wrong decisions, injuries, hardship and injustice. And people lying half dead on the ground.

These worlds of faith and life are clearly separated. The man lies on the ground and his life bleeds out. On the other side of the road are people who know and talk about faith, love, justice, care, salvation and healing.

Pope Francis writes: »We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast.« But, unfortunately, it is an option »to be indifferent to suffering«. And it is entirely possible that we allow someone »to go through life as an outcast.« Just keep faith and life apart. Then it is no problem at all.

In the parable, the Samaritan is the only one who understands what this situation, this hour, demands of him and of us. We must transfer what we have learned on the faith side of the road to the life side. Only in this way can life and faith meet. »Do this, and you will live.« Before faith and life kiss, fraternity and social friendship will have little chance.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 14th, 2020

 

 

Changing the side of the Road

 

In his Encyclical »Fratelli Tutti«, Pope Francis dedicates his second chapter to a reflection on the Good Samaritan. He believes that this story of Jesus can show us the way to authentic love of brother and sister and to social friendship. In this week I will return to the parable three times to help us go a little deeper into parable. Like all parables, it is a story of invitation and decision. This time of the pandemic is like the parable also a story of invitation and decision. And if we choose not to accept the invitation to fraternity and social friendship, we will not be protected, but at most we will be spared for a while.

In art. 63 Pope Francis writes:

Jesus tells the story of a man assaulted by thieves and lying injured on the wayside. Several persons passed him by, but failed to stop. These were people holding important social positions, yet lacking in real concern for the common good. They would not waste a couple of minutes caring for the injured man, or even in calling for help. Only one person stopped, approached the man and cared for him personally, even spending his own money to provide for his needs. He also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: he gave him his time. Certainly, he had his own plans for that day, his own needs, commitments and desires. Yet he was able to put all that aside when confronted with someone in need. Without even knowing the injured man, he saw him as deserving of his time and attention.

The road to Jericho is littered with some interesting travellers. On the one side of the road brigands wait to prey on the naive and unsuspecting sojourner; they have chosen their place on the road calculatingly. On that same side of the road a mugging victim lays beaten half to death; he chose his side of the road incautiously.

On the other side of the road a priest and a Son of Levi came a walking. They saw the man, but they »passed by on the other side«. They chose their side of the road very carefully.

Finally there is the Samaritan. He, too, saw the man lying on the roadside. Yet, he is different from all the rest. He chooses to change over to the other side of the road.

Here is as potent and accurate a definition as any for compassion: to change over to the other side of the road. These is a frequent mistake which occurs on the road of human life. We confuse seeing what is happening on the road's other side, with crossing over to that side.

We too see the interminable suffering of those left on the side of the road. We have seen the women whose spirits are as badly bruised as their faces; the student grappling with a learning disability whose self-confidence has been savagely beaten with taunts of »stupid« and »moron« that hurt more deeply than anything sticks and stones could ever inflict; the pregnant teenager whose heart shrivels as her belly swells. We see the horrors Pope Francis describes in the our news everyday: the throw-away world, the lack of human rights, the conflicts and wars that lead to hunger, homelessness and waves of refugees driven by despair etc. We see them, but we do not let our gaze linger. Too often the motto of life is: Cast your gaze to the ground and your cares to the wind, and keep on going! We pass by on the other side.

What we see does not touch us enough to lure us across the road that separates us from the other. We see all these things: they incite us to anger, fill us with indignation, drive us to demand tougher prisons, stiffer penalties, and swifter justice. Yet, they seldom lure us to compassion. Our eyes flit restlessly across landscapes and television screens. If they should linger but a moment too long, they might do more than just see: they might end up taking a good hard look.

Not so with God. Bette Midler sings in her pop song that »God is watching us from a distance«. As a chantress she invokes desire, yet as a theologian she leaves much to be desired. God is not watching us from a distance. He has done for us in the flesh and blood reality of Jesus Christ, what the Samaritan has done in the parable. He has crossed over to the other side of the road. The God of Infinite Love and Mercy comes to us. 

The Gospel tells us that the Samaritan »saw him and was moved with compassion«: God saw the inner and outer brokenness of the human family and was moved with compassion for his people. Just as the Samaritan crossed the road to heal the bleeding man, God has crossed the road to heal us, touching our deep wounds with the flesh of Christ. In the words of John Bell and Graham Maule:

To the lost Christ shows his face;

to the unloved he gives his embrace;

to those who cry in shame and disgrace,

Christ makes with his friends, a touching place.

 

Why did God cross the road? Because once he saw the state we were in, he wanted to get to the other side.

The path to genuine love of brothers and sisters and to social friendship will always start this way. First you have to see what is happening on the side of the road that is not your own. Then you have to linger long enough to let your heart be touched by what you have seen. Then you must be moved to cross over to the other side of the road to touch the reality that would never touch you if you simply passed by. It is the very nature of mercy, in God and in us. Mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of the other.

Erik Riechers SAC, October 12th, 2020

 

 

Of Invitation and Decision

28th Sunday A 2020    Mt 22, 1-14

 

The first impression of this parable is always associated with invitation and rejection. Guests are invited and have to decide what is worth going out and participating in. And this question is also put to us. To what are we invited? What is there in our lives where we would say: This would be worth leaving my usual life and participating in? What happens if we refuse the invitation?

Jesus makes it clear that this dynamic of invitation and decision is about the Kingdom of God. He compares this kingdom to the filling of a wedding hall.

The Wedding Hall is the place where people give themselves over to love and union in order to create a community of life and love. Even more important for the host is his deep conviction that such a human enterprise, such a community of life and love, and the people who dare to live it, deserve to be celebrated. The King desires nothing more than to fill this room with people who want to celebrate just that

The king does simply settle for his longing, but serves it. Thus, messengers of this invitation are sent out.

The first sending of the messengers is as follows: »He sent his servants to call the invited guests to the wedding«.  The invitation here goes to people who were invited beforehand. They are reminded that they are on the guest list, that they are expected and should come. This is not a surprise. They have had time and space to prepare, get ready and adjust their schedules

The arrival of the messengers holds no surprises for them. They have known for some time what they are called to participate in. The messengers simply remind them that the time has come for them to take their place and let love, union, and community of life into their lives. The hour of decision has come.

Their response is somewhat casual. »But they did not want to come.« In other words, they simply do not feel like it. They do not want to free up the time or space required for the concerns of the invitation, which are also the concerns of the host.

Now the king possesses a certain cunning. He knows that a lack of interest can be changed. And that is exactly what he is trying to do.

Therefore the second sending of the messengers is undertaken: »Tell the invited: My banquet is ready, the oxen and fattened cattle are slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding!«

The second invitation comes with a description of everything that is already in progress and has been arranged. When people come together in love and unity, it is worth taking on a lot of bother in order to celebrate. The king shows that he has done his part. His second reminder of invitation is somewhat more urgent: »Do you understand now? Come, take a seat in this room, and celebrate what is happening here!«

Their answer is clearly different this time. »But they didn't care, one went to his field, another to his shop, still others attacked his servants, mistreated them and killed them.«

This time the answer is not listlessness but fatal disinterest. For here violence is used against the messengers. They have come to issue an invitation: come, take part in a place where love, union and a community of life are celebrated. For this invitation they must die.

Immediately an old story unfolds.  The violence of those invited creates a greater violence in the king. »Then the king became angry; he sent his army, killed the murderers and reduced their city to rubble.« A man who wanted to celebrate a union of love and life lets a whole city feel his wrath, not only the murderers of his messengers. But as soon as the violence ends, the king's old longing returns. He wants to hold a wedding. This violence has done nothing for his heart's desire, has not brought him one step closer to his goal. It has destroyed much life and served no life. That is the true nature of violence.

The king does not give up. Now a third sending of the messengers takes place. Off to the streets. However, the criterion of the invitation has changed. This time it is: invite people who are on the road, who are on the move. Not good or bad should be the standard, but readiness and mobility. Up to now only the established and sedentary were invited. But now it should not be people with fields and shops, but people on the road, people who are flexible, who are open toward the spontaneous and unexpected.

At last the king gets what he wants: a hall full of people who share his heart's desire and his joy. Only the servants come back from the first sending. From the second sending nobody returns. But from the third one, all come back.

And the hall is full. The place of love, union and fellowship is finally full, and it is full of people who are on the move and mobile.

The king comes and one of them stands out. He is not wearing a wedding garment. Only this one guest. Yes, the invitation came unexpectedly and suddenly. Yes, the invitation came as a surprise. But this is true for all the guests in this room and yet they all wear wedding robes. Because a king gave each guest such a robe on entry so that no one would cancel their participation simply because they had nothing suitable to wear for such a celebration. One of them did not wear this robe. Only one is not dressed for what must happen here.

This is the place where love, union and community of life should be celebrated. The man may come into the room, but he does not bring the right attitude and willingness. He gets another chance to explain himself, but has nothing to say. And for those who are not ready to celebrate life, love and community, darkness and loneliness await them, they are bound.

 

Brothers and sisters,

Where is our wedding hall? Where is the place where we invite others to share our heart's desire, because it is for us an experience of the Kingdom of God? And how do we fill the hall?

Do we go out into the streets and look for people who are on the move, new people who share our heart’s desire even if they are not part of the old guard of the sedentary?

We should remember: the messengers of the invitation come upon two reactions.

1. No desire – here only the messengers came back. (We know this experience and we can let such people live).

2. Fatal disinterest - here nobody came back. Because the servants of the invitation are killed. For these guests, field and shop are more important than celebrating a wedding. Regrettably, even today, real estate and property are given more attention than the human spaces in which love, life and community are celebrated.

If we let the people of fatal disinterest determine everything, then no one will come back to fill the spaces of life. Then, only the street remains for the people who would fill the space for the celebration of life and love.

Of course, the street can be a place of movement and mobility. But there is one condition for this.

The street must not be the place where we are forced to live. People who freely head out onto the streets are on the move. People who are merely put out onto the street are homeless.

The story of the Kingdom of God is a story of invitation and decision. In a world where many boast about the number of invitations they receive, perhaps today we can think more about which invitations we will accept. Because without a decision, an invitation is worthless.

Erik Riechers SAC, October 11th, 2020

 

 

Not without Rosa!

 

Learning fraternity from children - is this possible? Definitely!

For some weeks now, I have been regularly picking up my grandchildren at two different places: the 4-year-old from her kindergarten, then we have half an hour until the 6-year-old comes out of school.

I love this half hour with the little one. We look for a parking spot, take our time for the short way, meet, if we are lucky, a little dog and she chats lively and tells me about her experiences of the day.

Again and again I try to entice her to use the time to explore a new path or simply to go for an ice cream in the nearby pedestrian zone. But none of this appeals to her. Not because she does not like to go for a walk or because she does not want an ice cream. On the contrary, she loves ice cream very much. But she does not want any of this without her sister. "Only if Rosa comes too!" is always her answer.

And so we stroll towards the schoolyard and wait by the fence. All of Edda’s senses are exclusively focused on finally having her sister back with her and on sharing life - the remaining hours of the day - with her. That is why, in these minutes before the school bell rings, her best place is by the schoolyard fence with an expectant gaze toward the front door: When will Rosa finally come? When the children rush towards us, she calls out at some point:  » I can see her already!« As soon as Rosa is finally with us, Edda is neither exuberant nor pushy. She just walks next to her sister, tells her about the little dog or where the car is, and on this way back, I always have the impression that for her, her world is now complete again. She and her sister belong together. Yes, many hours of the day they have been going their own ways for weeks and Edda feels very much at home in the kindergarten. That is everyday life. But beyond that she wants to share beautiful things with Rosa. She cannot   imagine enjoying them without her sister.

She doesn't want to have ice cream all to herself. Full stop!

The world around us often shows us the opposite: the main thing is that I get something! Full stop!

On which side is more joy?

The minutes before the end of the school day show me how a four-year-old child lives the fullness of the biblical message. It has absolutely nothing to do with morality (we have often made that out of Scripture), but it is simply beautiful and good and gives Edda joy.

Living as brothers and sisters means looking after each other, waiting for each other, enjoying each other, not wanting to be alone. To live this way makes you happy.

I gladly go through this »school« of my little granddaughter every Wednesday and I relish it!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 9th, 2020

 

 

The blunt, direct and incisive question

 

In his recently published encyclical, »Fratelli tutti: On the Fraternity and Social Friendship«, Pope Francis writes about a question that has received a new and contemporary significance through the pandemic:

What should the world look like? He expresses a very deep conviction that deeply saddens and impresses me: we will not return to normality after the pandemic. We shall emerge from this time of crisis either as better or worse people.

To substantiate his vision of social friendship and fraternity, in chapter 2 he uses a beautiful, deep and moving interpretation of a world-famous parable: the parable of the Good Samaritan. With the verve of a narrative theologian, he moves through this narrative of God, pointing out the many roles in it: the robbers, the passers-by (a priest and a Levite), the wounded man (the one left behind), and the Samaritan. Then he asks a question: »Which of these persons do you identify with? This question, blunt as it is, is direct and incisive.« (Fratelli tutti Art. 64)

In a crisis like this pandemic, we all have a role to play. We are either the Good Samaritan, the robbers, the people who pass by, or even the victim. But Pope Francis is very right when he says that this question is blunt, direct and incisive.

»Which of these persons do you identify with?«  The question is blunt, because it challenges us to be authentic people. In biblical stories as well as in the everyday life of our personal stories, we dress up in our favourite roles. This is how we want to be. This is how we see ourselves and this is how we want to be seen by others. This is our abstract and conceptual commitment to a story. But no flesh and blood has yet been brought into play here. There is no skin the game. When it comes to a concrete, existential commitment to a story, we often live out something quite different from what we would like to claim about ourselves. All crises, not just the pandemic, are apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word: they unveil what is really within us. And this question is blunt, because here we are not looking for the masks that disguise us, but for the identity that shapes us. The question is blunt because it confronts us: Who am I really?

»Which of these persons do you identify with?« The question is direct. The question is not whether we understand the story, but whether we know it. The question wants to know where and how we appear in this story.  It is always easier when a story indirectly points us to topics we might want to look at. But the question as to whom we identify ourselves with is not such a question. It cuts through the superficial and gets to the core. Sometimes people complain about biblical interpretations (mostly sermons) because they have nothing to do with their lives. »Where am I in this story?« is a valid question. But there are also disadvantages to asking the question so directly. Because when I notice where and how I appear in the story, it could very well be that I do not enjoy what I see about myself. It could require conversion and change. Indirect questions may be much more pleasant, but they are much less useful for the authentic shaping of a life.

»Which of these persons do you identify with?« The question is incisive. Because the people we identify with in a story will have a decisive influence on the people we become. The stories we tell shape the way we live. If a person constantly speaks about himself or herself as stupid and worthless, then we already know with whom he or she identifies. Then we will not have the expectation that a person who tells stories like this will live self-confidently, purposefully and creatively. A person who constantly talks about his or her helplessness will certainly live a passive rather than an active life. That is why this question is incisive. If I identify myself with the robbers then the exploitative elements of my personal story will be strengthened and confirmed. If I identify with the passers-by (a priest and a Levite), then words like »Every person for himself or herself« and »Save yourself first« will play a decisive role in my life and action. When I identify with the wounded man (the one left behind), I become more aware of what help and care I need, even though I have always believed that I don't need all this because I can take care of everything myself. However, when I identify with the Samaritan, a lot of investment of time and space and resources will be required of me at the same time. This would also be decisive for the person I am and will be from God.

»Which of these persons do you identify with? This question, blunt as it is, is direct and incisive.« Fratelli tutti Art. 64) This question is always posed in parables, but also in every crisis we live through. But in a crisis the question is always blunt, direct and incisive, because we cannot avoid it and we cannot delude ourselves as to the answer. As soon as the crisis came, it became an unveiling (apocalyptic): passers-by hoarded toilet paper while their neighbours were not even allowed to go out shopping for themselves. The robbers raised prices to take advantage of the moment, while others could not even earn a wage. Some just complained about the restrictions on their normal routine, while others wondered how they could help.

Now Pope Francis leads us once again to this story of God and shows us the possibilities it offers for a world of fraternity and social friendship. This also gives us a chance to think again about how we want to appear in this story.

»Which of these persons do you identify with?«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 7th, 2020

 

 

Mercy: Knowing the true starting point makes all the difference

 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4, 7-11

 

A woman heard two sermons shortly after one another. Both had mercy as their theme. But the woman was worried, because during the first sermon she felt an uneasy feeling rising in her as the preacher repeatedly emphasised the unworthiness, sin and ingratitude of humanity and then looked at the mercy of God. In the second sermon, however, she felt very comforted and strengthened. Now the good woman was unsettled and asked me what could be the reason for this, because both sermons were about the same thing.

Not really. In the first sermon, sin is seen as an occasion for mercy. Sin is the trigger, and then God develops mercy as the strategy with which He responds to sin. In this sermon sin takes the initiative. It sets everything in motion, even God. Because we are such great sinners, mercy comes. Because we live so ungrateful, mercy comes. Because we act so unworthily, mercy comes. It is very clearly emphasised that sin sets God in motion, and that mercy is God's answer to the initiative of sin.

In contrast, John writes an essential word: In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 

John emphasises that mercy (love) was God's initiative and that it comes first. Love (mercy) comes before sin. It can deal with sin. But mercy is older than any sin.

Because we need mercy even when we have not sinned at all. Mercy is love that takes the initiative. If the other person does not have the strength, the courage or the possibility to act lovingly, mercy, on its own initiative, creates space of life for people. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

We need this loving initiative of mercy when we are ill, anxious, intimidated, lonely, depressed, exhausted, discouraged, disappointed or simply listless. These are the moments when God speaks the first word, makes the first gesture, takes the initiative. But these are not sins to which he is responding. It is nothing less than the life of his beloved people.

That is why it always matters where and with what you start, because you can end up in a very different place. I always prefer guide people to the place I have found most healing in my own life: the place where God makes the first move and loves us first.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 5th, 2020

 

 

From possession to participation, from competition to cooperation

27th Sunday A 2020

 

These days, Pope Francis preaches often and forcefully about the world we want to shape after the pandemic. A few days ago he said:

»In the normality of the Kingdom of God, there is bread for all and more to spare, social organisation is based on contributing, sharing and distributing, not on possessing, excluding and accumulating.«

Pope Francis thus draws two worlds for us: one world is characterised by possessing, excluding and accumulating and another world would be characterised by contributing, sharing and distributing.

After Covid 19, if we want to move from one world to another, we will face a great challenge. The virus has changed the outer world around us. But the condition of the heart inevitably determines our lives; the heart is ultimately the place, where everything is decided. We would have to change the inner world of our hearts.

Today's Gospel shows us the twofold change of heart that is needed here: the transition from possessiveness to participation and the transition from competition to cooperation.

Let us begin with the transition from possessiveness to participation. We should stop thinking of life as a possession. We may participate in life, but we do not own it.

At the beginning of the parable, Matthew pays much attention to the landowner who planted the vineyard. We are told a lot about him.

 »There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,

put a fence around it,

dug a wine press in it,

 and built a watchtower.

Then he leased it to tenants

and went to another country.«

What is Matthew trying to tell us? Psalm 24 puts it like this: »The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.« The landowner is like the Creator: he makes all the  effort, creates and shapes the world in which others are allowed to live and work, provides the means to enjoy the fruitfulness of this world (wine press) and its security, so that there is room enough in which to live (tower and fence).

The earth does not belong to us human beings! Life does not belong to us human beings. It is not our possession, our property, but something we have leased. We are all tenants. Everyone is a tenant on the earth. The whole of creation is at our disposal. It is even entrusted to us by God, but it does not belong to humanity. It is not our property, but the property of another. We must move from possessiveness to participation.

What happens if we do not get this first of the two movements of the heart right?

There is a deep urge within us to take possession of the world and life. So the true landowner sends us messengers to remind us that we are only tenants. And we do not like that. So we kill the messengers when the message is hard for us to digest.

Let us take a closer look at the parable. When the tenants are finally allowed to speak, it becomes very clear where the problem lies. The landowner sees an opportunity here: »They will have respect for my son!« The tenants also see an opportunity here, but a completely different one. They think to themselves: Fabulous! We have the heir! If we kill him, everything will be ours. Then we own it all.

And that is the point for Matthew. The evangelist sees here, as elsewhere in his Gospel, the connection between the urge to possess and the willingness to kill. Possessiveness and the desire to take something fuels the willingness to kill. When we want something too much, when possession becomes more important to us than participation in life, then the willingness to kill arises.

This is the name in Hebrew for Cain, the first murderer of the Bible. Cain is the same word in Hebrew for possession. Cain wants to possess and he commits murder in order to possess. He murders Abel. Possession, even if it is only the possession of God's approval, becomes more important to him than sharing a life with his brother.

If we forget that we are all participants in this world, then we want to own the earth, life, simply everything. The world that is based on possessing, excluding and accumulating is at the same time the world that is ready to kill for it. Because this world reduces everything to a competition and all people to competitors. This world is then about winning with all the means at our disposal, if necessary with brute force and deadly injustice.

The tenants have not taken the chance to make the transition from competition to cooperation. But therein lies the chance of a world in which everyone can live.

 

Dr. Edith Eva Eger wrote her unique memoir and published it under the title »The Choice«. She describes how, as a young Jewish woman in Auschwitz, she was forced to dance for Dr. Mengele on the day he sent her parents to the gas chamber.

»He must be impressed by my performance, because he tosses me a loaf of bread—a gesture, as it turns out, that will later save my life. As evening turns to night, I share the bread with Magda and our bunkmates. I am grateful to have bread. I am grateful to be alive.

In my first weeks at Auschwitz I learn the rules of survival. If you can steal a piece of bread from the guards, you are a hero, but if you steal from an inmate, you are disgraced, you die; competition and domination get you nowhere, cooperation is the name of the game; to survive is to transcend your own needs and commit yourself to someone or something outside yourself.«

Later, Dr. Eger must go on a death march from Mauthausen to Gunskirchen. She knows that falling down means death. Those who cannot go any further are shot on the spot. But Edith is at the end of her strength and begins to stumble.

»Every part of me is in pain; every part of me is numb. I can’t walk another step. I ache so badly I can’t feel myself move. I am just a circuitry of pain, a signal that feeds back on itself. I don’t know that I have stumbled until I feel the arms of Magda and the other girls lifting me. They have laced their fingers together to form a human chair.

‘You shared your bread,’ one of them says.«

 

Only in this way will we be able to transform our accustomed world of possessing, excluding and accumulating into a in a world of contributing, sharing and distributing. Here our hearts must make the double transition from possessiveness to participation and from competition to cooperation.

Fingers that greedily hold on can also be hooked together so that we can carry each other in the happy world where we can say to each other: »You shared your bread.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, October 4th, 2020

 

 

For what shall we pray?

 

Once again this week, may Ana and her prayer be honoured. Her words are too rich for us to pass over them too quickly.

After her request for blessing over the largeness that she feels within herself, she continues to pray:

»Bless my reed pens and my inks.

Bless the words I write.«

She requests a blessing over her tools, over reed pens and inks. This is a very down-to-earth, grounded request. For without these things, she cannot express and show what is within her. Without these means she could not fashion anything of what is important and sacred to her. Without these tangible things her wishes would remain unlived daydreams.

She requests a blessing for her words. These words come from the divine spark in her. They grow in her »heaven«, out of here yearning. They are what flow from her innermost sanctuary. They are what is set in motion. Ana’s creativity is what allows the first mothers of the faith to come alive. Here creativity should flow on as a blessing.

These two requests for blessing show what all genuine stories need: Grounding and solid  foundation, an eye for »heaven«, the ability to take longing seriously and, finally,  the water-like getting-into-the-flow that arises from it.

A great trust in her outer and inner gifts speaks forth from these two little pleas: she has tools and words, she sees that clearly. But she asks for blessings in their use. May these gifts not be given in vain, may they not be used unworthily, and may they enjoy God's favour.

Then she speaks out what she herself longs for in her heart for her creative work:

»May they be beautiful in your sight.

May they be visible to eyes not yet born.«

Whatever she will write down, whatever words will pour out of her: may they be beautiful in God's eyes. Beauty is an attribute of God and everything she will write should bear witness to this. For wherever beauty meets and touches us human beings, it leads us to wonder, to pause and finally to the Creator.

Her words should not be short-lived, headlines for a few days or weeks and then out of sight, out of mind! No, she wants them to be noticed by future generations. She is so aware of the preciousness of what she will produce that she does not want any of it to be lost.

»When I am dust,

 sing these words over my bones:

she was a voice.«

In the end, she asks not that God say about her life that she wrote beautiful things and told good tales, but that she was a voice. This woman, with her entire existence and her talent, gave expression, form and sound to what was in her. In the end, may God say this about this life.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, October 2nd, 2020

 

 

The Fear of what is in me

 

In her column »Blessing for what is in me«, Rosemarie reflected on what it means to ask God to bless what is in us. Like her, I take my cue from the prayer Sue Monk Kidd weaves into her novel »The Book of Longings«.  There, the heroine of the story, Ana, writes the prayer of her heart into a simple prayer bowl:

»Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart.

Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it.

Bless my reed pens and my inks.

Bless the words I write.

May they be beautiful in your sight.

May they be visible to eyes not yet born.

When I am dust, sing these words over my bones:

she was a voice.«

 

The line that strikes me is »Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it.« A line of stunning honesty, for we fear the largeness within us.

We love this largeness when we think of its potential. We dream of what would happen if the largeness that stirs and rumbles within us would be let loose, of what we could do, achieve, and create.

But we fear this largeness when we think of the cost. And the cost is threefold: live freely, take on responsibility and act creatively.

If we trust the largeness in us, we have to live freely. There is no point in speaking of the largeness in us, if all we ever do is execute the orders of others. Then all that remains is obedience, and for that you do not need largeness,

The largeness in us calls us to take on responsibility, to be people who take the initiative in life, set a direction, risk the articulation of a vision, or undertake a course of action. If we only follow the directions and visions of others, then all that remains is obedience and for that you do not need largeness.

Above all, the largeness in us makes us fearful because it calls us to act creatively. Creativity is the most exhilarating of human activities, but at the same time it is the most exhausting. In creativity we do not carry out patterns others have set, but design our own pattern. There is no safety net in creativity. If all we do is copy what others have set before us, carry out their plans and designs, then all that remains is obedience and for that you do not need largeness.

A tiny suffocating world can still be a very safe world. It does not give us much room for freedom, growth and adventure, but it also makes very few demands on us.

To ask God to bless the largeness in us is a bold and risky venture. For once God sees and recognises, loves and names the largeness in us with his warm words, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to ignore or suppress that largeness, no matter how much our fears would like to do so.

The last line of the prayer is inalterably linked to letting the largeness within us live free, responsibly and creatively. Ana tells God what the goal of her desire is, how she wishes to be remembered before God and her fellow human beings: »When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.« Yet, none of us can ever become a voice before we embrace the largeness within ourselves. Rosemarie is right: We need to ask God to bless this largeness. And that blessing of the Most High should lead us to embrace it ourselves, no matter how we fear it.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 30th, 2020

 

 

Blessing for what is in me

 

In a world far away from us

                and yet so near,

a long time ago

                and yet like today,

a young woman passionately seeks

to be truly born

and to be allowed to live what is within her:

»My life was begging to be born!« *

Everything speaks against it: the conventions, the understanding of her role, her father's position and her mother's lack of love and understanding.

And yet the young woman does not give up, learns to read and write, fights for papyrus and inks, quills and colours - and knows who she can trust on her path: her unconventional aunt.

                Blessed are those who have such accompaniment on the path to authentic life!

Full of confidence she shows her aunt her treasures: self-written stories of the barely-mentioned women of her Jewish Holy Scriptures.

And full of astonishment, the aunt reveals to her: You are blessed by God! There is something of the divine in you!

                How we longed to truly hear this!

Thus, at the first light of the day she is able to write down her own prayer in a bowl from which it rises like a dance.

 

»Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart.

 Bless the largeness inside me,

no matter how I fear it.

Bless my reed pens and my inks.

Bless the words I write.

May they be beautiful in your sight.

May they be visible to eyes not yet born.

When I am dust, sing these words over my bones:

she was a voice.« *

*from Sue Monk Kidd, »The Book of Longings«

 

Can we hear our voice in this?

                               Do we want our voice to be heard?

                                               Does it speak what is inside us?

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 28th, 2020

 

 

What use is a voice you never get to use?

26th Sunday A 2020

 

To open, honest and forthright in an exchange is never easy, often daunting and always requires courage. That courage is never needed more than when we need to give an answer truthfully that will undermine the solid world of concepts we build around and within ourselves. What if I recognize the truth of another person’s argument, but am afraid of what it will mean if I admit it? Or perhaps we are so committed to our way of thinking and viewing the world, that we will do anything, including denying what we know to be true, in order to preserve and protect it. 

The chief priests and elders are caught up in this dilemma. They are not engaging in a dialogue of openness that seeks the truth of the matter, but instead are the victims of the calculating heart. Jesus asks a fairly straightforward question. »Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?« And immediately they go into the mode of calculation. They carefully calculate what it will mean if they say it is from heaven, what it will cost them, the possible responses they might expect from Jesus. Here they are particularly concerned with the reaction of Jesus and how they might lose face if he challenges their actions. »If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’«

Then they calculate the responses, repercussions and costs of saying that John’s baptism is of human origin. This time, however, they are particularly concerned about the reaction of the people, who hold John in great esteem. »But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.« 

So they resort to a common tactic. They hedge their bets. They refuse to answer, show their true colours or reveal what they really believe to be true. 

This is the framework of the story which Jesus then tells of the two sons being asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard. The first son is breathtakingly honest, puts on no show and truthfully answers the request of his father. He is not calculating. He is not basing his answer on calculating what his father will say and think, what his brother will say and think, or what the other workers will say and think. Yet, when he changes his mind, is also honest enough to do what he now knows to be honest and right. That is no easy task. To change your mind is to risk the gossip of every crowd. »Why does he suddenly come back? What changed his mind? What is he up to?«  But here, as previously, the first son is free to act, because he does not have to first weigh up and calculate every response of the crowd, nor the repercussions and costs of changing his mind. Thus, he can change a no into a yes. 

Then the second son is asked. His response is the one expected of dutiful children in every generation. And he say what he knows his father wants to hear. It is what good sons and daughters do. Yet, because it is an answer that has nothing to do with the true state of his heart, he does not turn his yes into action. The appearance of being dutiful is more important than doing his duty. 

Jesus uses the parable to tear open the smooth story of the chief priests and elders. They are akin to the second son of the parable. They will give the answer that is considered appropriate, but they are not likely to act upon it, because it has nothing to do with the true state of their hearts. But the trap Jesus sets is a cunning one. After all, he asks them to pass the verdict: »Which of the two did the will of his father?« The trap snaps shut on them when they answer »The first.« They have just been unmasked. They have inadvertently proven that they, in fact, know what it means to do the will of God openly, honestly and forthrightly. But they have chosen the path of the second son.

What Jesus says next is neither insulting or cruel. »Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.«

The tax collectors and prostitutes do not have to calculate what the possible repercussions and reactions of the others will be when they give answer. They have nothing to lose. They do not have to protect their status or reputations. For people who have no reputation to lose from the start, there is no fear of losing face. They can honestly say what they think about the work, words and ways of John the Baptist. We think that having power, prestige and status can only be an advantage, but not on every case. The more we have of these things, the more we are tempted guard and preserve them. The longer we have them, the more we fear losing them. And then it becomes easier and easier to be like the second son: we say what »one« is supposed to say, meet expectations, uphold a masquerade. But none of it has anything to do with our real life anymore, with what we really think or feel. 

In the film »Scent of a Woman«, there is a remarkable speech given by Colonel Slade. A blind veteran, he has come to the Baird School to defend his young assistant, student of the school named Charlie Sims. The headmaster, Mr. Trask, wants Charlie to name those who damaged his car, but he refuses to betray the other students. Their rich and powerful fathers intimidate the headmaster, so it is easier for him to evict the poor student Charlie than pursue the children of the rich and powerful. I let the dialogue speak for itself.

 

»I don't know who went to this place, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell -- whoever. Their spirit is dead -- if they ever had one -- it's gone. You're building a rat ship here. A vessel for sea going snitches. And if you think you're preparing these minnows for manhood you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham. What kind of a show are you guys putting' on here today. I mean, the only class in this act is sitting next to me. And I'm here to tell ya this boy's soul is intact. It's non-negotiable. You know how I know? Someone here -- and I'm not gonna say who -- offered to buy it. Only Charlie here wasn't selling'…..

Who the hell you think you're talking' to? I've been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there isn't nothing' like the sight of an amputated spirit; there is no prosthetic for that. You think you're merely sending' this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are executing' his SOUL!! And why?! Because he's not a Baird man! Baird men, ya hurt this boy, you're going to be Baird Bums, the lot of ya. …

As I came in here, I heard those words, "cradle of leadership." Well, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here; it has fallen. Makers of men; creators of leaders; be careful what kind of leaders you're producing' here. I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong. I'm not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this: he won't sell anybody out to buy his future!! And that, my friends, is called integrity! That's called courage! Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here's Charlie. He's come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It's the right path. It's a path made of principle -- that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey.«

 

In a room full of people who lived like the second son of the parable, Colonel Slade admits that he lived like the second one as well. Yet he comes to the defence of a friend who lived like the first son. He names with painful, raw clarity the cost of living a life in which our voices never match what is within us. But I disagree with Colonel Slade in one regard. He says: »I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it.« But he knew the right path here and he took it. I think he became the first son in that moment, and turned a no into a yes.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 27th, 2020

 

 

Living on

 

We are experiencing - not only this year - so much anxious concern and so much preoccupation with topics and things that may well be significant, but which are ultimately not essential and do not nurture our genuine lives. And even more importantly: they do not nourish and enrich the lives of the people who come after us - how could they gain depth and value from our consumption? What remains of us? Are we perhaps living like fools after all - often with a contorted face?

How different does the story of a young woman appear? She lives far away from her family of origin, very simply, surrounded by nature. It happens more and more often that she roams the woods with her husband and suddenly sentences of her grandmother come to her mind. The young woman often experienced and heard since her childhood how much this grandmother loved the forest. The most impressive and memorable of these were wonderful quotations that fell from her grandmother’s lips. They came from her fiancé, who had not returned from World War II. He was a forestry ranger and how he loved to talk about the fact that he who truly knows how to love nature would never perish mentally. There were also funny incidents. The granddaughter still smiles about the fact that the young man once asked her grandmother if she knew what kind of tree this or that tree was and she just answered: : » a rare one.« 

What particularly moves the young woman today, and me as well when she recounted it to me:

This young forestry ranger of yesteryear and that which moved and filled his heart live on in her. He is close to her, although he has not been alive for more than 75 years. » Sometimes I feel as if I had known him. And when I roam the woods, soaking up the scent and feeling deep joy, I feel so much of him that lives in me, too.« Her grandmother's stories have kept him alive. She herself is amazed that the bond that forever connects her with her grandmother now seems to grow longer.

»If my Oma had not told me about all this - over and over again - this world would not exist in me at all. And somehow Ferdi lives on in me!«    

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 25th, 2020

 

 

9 Gifts of a Clear Beloved Face

 

Recently I witnessed an angry and very nasty encounter between a woman and her colleague. In her unbridled rage she screamed at this man and raged at him. But although her rage was voluminous and her words poisonous, her face remains in my memory. It was distorted into a mask of hatred. And it made an otherwise seemly face ugly, even hideous.

Ever since that encounter, I have been thinking about our faces, their beauty and their purpose. And it brought me back to a very old and decidedly beautiful Gaelic blessing. I heard it years ago at a baptism in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada where I was the parish priest. It was spoken by an elderly Irish woman who had flown in from Ireland to be present at the baptism of her first grandchild. Before I spoke the final blessing, she took her grandson from the arms of his mother, and spoke warm, tender, words of Gaelic blessing over him. After the ceremony, I asked her to translate the blessing. »Father«, she said, »the blessing is a promise of the Holy Three (the Trinity). It is about the promise they place in every face«.

Here is the blessing she spoke.

 

»We place nine pure, choice gifts

In your clear beloved face:

The gift of form,

The gift of voice,

The gift of fortune,

The gift of goodness,

The gift of eminence,

The gift of charity,

The gift of integrity,

The gift of true nobility,

The gift of apt speech.«

 

Then she smiled at me. »I truly believe the Three, Father. It is what they place in every face. The hard part will be to see it when Liam (her grandson) is a pouting child, a rebellious teenager or an angry young man.« Then she sighed and added: »Surely Father, we do some terrible things to our faces, don’t we?«

Indeed we do.

Erik Riechers SAC, September 23rd, 2020

 

 

»You fool!«

 

We do not like to be addressed in this manner. It could be intended to be lovingly teasing in the sense of a joker or a kidder, but there is usually another element to it. We also call fools simple-minded people who act unwisely, are rather clumsy and stupid.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has God speak in one of his parables to a farmer and has him say to him: »You fool!« The context quickly shows us that he does not mean a kind of jester. Rather, this is the way God says: You think and plan like a fool. You imagine that you are particularly clever. But in reality you are clueless.

What is this parable about? A rich farmer expects an exceptionally large harvest, which his previous barns will not be able to contain. So he plans to tear them down and build much bigger ones. Then he will have enough for the next few years.

That sounds very reasonable; in this and similar ways we often secure our lives for the future.

However, God calls him a fool! »This very night your soul will be required of you.« (Lk 12, 20) Why does he call him this? What constitutes the foolishness and simple- mindedness of this farmer?

It is his understanding of life. He understands it narrowly, so narrowly that he believes he has it under control. But this biological life is finite - it will be over this very night! No one knows when and everyone should know that it is finite.

God's idea, his gift of life for us humans is different. It is deeper, wider, and fuller: life in abundance. And it is indestructible. This is the life Jesus is concerned with and he never tires of standing up for it in speech and action: »I came that they might have life, and have it in fullness. « (Jn 10, 10). This life pours itself out. Whoever lives, loves, shares in this way is not anxiously concerned about himself. He works at increasing life, because he knows himself to be a loved and gifted person. Such a life outlasts death, indeed it rises from it and is a treasure that remains eternal.

The sly farmer seems to have no idea about this. That is why he plans like a fool. "Every person is his own neighbour" is neither wise nor true in the sense of the Creator, but is instead short-sighted and has only the ephemeral in mind, as if that is all we have and all that constitutes life.

Crises show us again and again: growth in the quantitative sense does signify or bring about more life. Crises cannot be overcome with »always more« and by hoarding for oneself.

A rethinking is called for, so that we multiply real life and no longer live like fools. 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 21rst, 2020

 

 

Avoidance and Confrontation

25th Sunday A 2020

 

In his poem »Counsel«, Wilhelm Bruners reminds us of a deep and essential life teaching of the biblical narrative: 

»Pay attention to the sequence of things if you want to maintain the power to change the circumstances.

Pray against the five star nothingness that sounds out of every channel.«

 

Now in this story there are two sequences that we should keep in mind. The first is found when the owner of the estate wants to hire workers for his vineyard. Here is the sequence of recruiting the workers of the first hour, the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and the eleventh hour.

Then comes the second sequence, that of the payment of the wages. And here comes the decisive sentence of the narrative: »Now when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward: Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last ones and ending with the first ones! “Here he stands the sequence on its head. In this sequence, those who come last are taken care of first. "So the last shall be first and the first last.«

When he then pays the agreed wage of the first hour also to those who came in the last hour, the workers of the first hour expect a higher wage for themselves, but receive the agreed sum of one denarius.

When we then read and feel (because we are immediately deeply involved and have strong inner reactions to the action of the property owner ourselves) the confrontation that ensues, a question arises. Why does the landowner do this to himself? To his question: »Am I not allowed to do what I want with what belongs to me« we can only say that it is self-evident that he is allowed to do so. But if he wanted to give as much to the last as to the first, he could have saved himself so much trouble by keeping the sequence of hiring during the payment of wages. Then the workers of the first hour would have happily accepted their wages, would have been satisfied and grateful, without ever knowing what he had given the workers of the other hours.

»Pay attention to the sequence of things if you want to maintain the power to change the circumstances.« A deeper level of this sentence lays in the actions of the landowner. The sequence he chooses brings a confrontation that he could have spared himself. But if we want to maintain the power to change the circumstances, we must not avoid such confrontations. »Out of sight, out of mind« is a saying that Jesus questions here. Because there are things that we should mind, even if we wish them to remain out of sight.

For the sequence of payment raises important questions about love and justice, as well as envy and greed. These questions are not private matters, but indispensable parts of what it means to be a community as well as it means to belong. These questions are too essential, large and significant to be entrusted to just a few. They concern us all, not just the willing and open-minded. And we should not be spared these questions.

If we have what we need, why do we begrudge it to others?

We have a roof over our heads, food on the table and care when we are sick or injured. We have these things safely in our hands, like the coin in the hands of the workers of the first hour. Don't the people in the refugee camp of Moria need these things to live? Many people were irritated or even angry when their holidays were restricted.  But here we are talking about people who only want to have a basic security for their lives, for men, women and children who have not been allowed to travel for years. Why don't we grant them what is a matter of course for us? As Martin Luther King Jr. once warned, »Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding of people of ill will.« Thus, these are questions we must not avoid.

Why can't we rejoice that others are allowed to live who had fewer opportunities than we did? The workers of the first hour received a good daily wage. What the others get costs them nothing and takes nothing away from them. They only compare the working hours, but not the possibilities of their coworkers. Not all people have our possibilities, our chances in life. Does that mean that they are not allowed to live with human dignity?  Ralph Waldo Emerson was quick to spot this mentality and call it out for what it is. »Shallow people believe in happiness. Strong people believe in cause and effect.« These are questions we must not avoid.

Why are we so busy comparing instead of creating a life with what is already in our hands? We have so many things that we can create, can do, can afford. Instead of looking at what others have or get, we could create a life with that which he have received. Or have we become people of the envious heart? These are questions we must not avoid

If the landowner had given a denarius as alms to the unemployed of the eleventh hour in the market place, would we still protest? Most of the time we would admire personal kindness and generosity. Why wouldn't we do it if it is linked to a job that gives dignity? A young man from Syria recently told me that his neighbours only became envious when he got a job. Since then he has been »one of those people who take our jobs away«. When the parish community that accompanied him took care of him, it was not a problem. What does that say about us? Where does this attitude come from? These are questions we must not avoid.

W. Bruners recommended at the beginning of my homily: »Pray against the five star nothingness that sounds out of every channel.« What the landowner does is to force us all to confront this five star nothingness. And this confrontation must exist. With the sure eye of a prophet, Joseph Gordon-Levitt confronts the deep problems of a shallow culture: »Supermarket tabloids and celebrity gossip shows are not just innocently shallow entertainment, but a fundamental part of a much larger movement that involves apathy, greed and hierarchy.« This time of the pandemic has revealed much about us as a society and as individuals: Fears, envy, the selfishness of hoarding, the selfishness that forgets others with striking ease. We should not avoid the confrontation with these questions by immersing ourselves in the five star nothingness of consumption, entertainment and distractions of all kinds.

We are like the people of the first hour. We are used to always be among the first. We live in great security and know from the beginning of our day what we will have at the end of the day. But our God is not only the God of the first hour, but the God of all hours. Those who disregard the sequence of payment (taking care of the last ones first) and evade the confrontation, also avoid meeting the God who wants this sequence. But we cannot avoid the question without avoiding the questioner.

Prayer (Alex Wimberly)

God of justice,

God of grace:

in trying to make sense

of this world

and our place in it,

we train ourselves to expect

reward for our work,

and our worth to correspond

to our effort.

As you give us today what we need,

may we consider not

where we stand in relation to others,

but how we might stay

in communion with those who,

like us, are dependent

on divine generosity.

Amen.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 20th, 2020

 

 

We walk by faith

 

When the sun sets this evening, the Jewish New Year will begin, Rosh Hashanah. In preparation of the holiest days of the Jewish year, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks held a series of brief talks on what it means to celebrate these days during the Corona Pandemic. And one line in particular struck me as hitting the mark.

»But the single most significant impact of the pandemic and its consequences, has been insecurity. People have felt that they don't really know what is going to happen: to their health, to their work, to their business, to society, to everyone and everything around them. They don't know  how long a lockdown will last or when new quarantine restrictions will be put in place or when masks will be required and when not required, and what is going to happen with testing regimes. People can't plan for the future. They can't know what tomorrow is going to bring. And that is undermining their sense of security.« *

What impressed me most, however, is Jonathan Sacks instinctive answer to this feeling of insecurity that plagues us. He recalls the great stories of journey for the People of Israel and how each of them taught the People of God how to cope with insecurity: You need to have faith, the kind of faith that lets you set out into the undiscovered country of the future. Or as Jonathan Sacks puts it: »That willingness to journey to an unknown future is of the very essence.« *

The focus of a large majority of those who wearied and worn by the Pandemic has been to find ways to alleviate the insecurity.  The cry is overwhelmingly: Give us back all the old certainties, then we will feel secure once again. Restore all the old certitudes (whether they are authentic or not) and then all will be right with the world and with us. We want the problem to go away. It is also what we often ask of religion: speak the word that makes the insecurity go away.

Yet, this has never been the path of authentic faith. We Christians inherited a great portion of the way we walk by faith from our Jewish sisters and brothers. Jesus may have enriched and perfected it in many ways, but he himself taught that faith is the willingness to set out into uncertainty like Abraham, like Moses , like Ruth. Paul, a man who never denied the rich roots of his Jewish faith in his Christian conviction puts it this way: »We walk by faith and not by sight.« (2 Cor 5,7). We have our own stories to tell about that willingness to set out into the undiscovered country, in the calling of the disciples, the sending of his people to all the nations, to every land, to the ends of the earth.

Thus, our answer is not to make the feelings insecurity go away, but to learn how to deal with the questions that insecurity poses. We have to go to new places. We have to give new paths a try. We have to risk new directions. We have to explore new possibilities. It is not the task of faith to still the storms we encounter in life. The job of faith is to learn to navigate the storms of life. You need to have faith, the kind of faith that lets you set out into the undiscovered country of the future.

God loves us dearly, and nothing endears us to him more than when we trust him to lead us through the uncertainty of life. Jeremiah recounts this when he writes: »Thus says the Lord: I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, how you were willing to follow me across an unknown, unsown land.« (Jer 2,2). That willingness to follow God across an unknown and unsown land will be critical and decisive for how we emerge from the days of the Coronavirus Pandemic and from every other crisis that we face in our lifetimes.

To all our Jewish sisters and brothers and to every person who wants the fresh beginnings the great journeys of faith with God bring, I wish a shana tova (good new year) to you all.

 

* Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks “FAITH & INSECURITY”:

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur During the Coronavirus Pandemic;

Elul 5780 Lecture Series.  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

 

Erik Riechers SAC, 18. September 2020

 

 

Willing to Change?

 

We would like to answer this question in the affirmative: yes, we are ready for change. We know our longing for it and sometimes sigh for it. Often we also keep it hidden deep within us. We may vaguely feel how good it would be to try to change the way we look at things, the direction we take or the way we live.

But – cross my heart: Doesn't it usually remain a mind game, a reverie, and mere speculation? Travelling on our well-greased familiar tracks - are we ready for change? Are we ready to let ourselves be changed?

Then we should honestly lay out our lives »on the table« ; our egocentric anxiety and worry about being short-changed or of missing out on something, our comfort, our lack of trust, our belief that we are always in control.

In March and April of this year our lives changed abruptly and many things were cut back very significantly. But this challenge from the outside also turned out to be an opportunity. It was a relief to us that it was possible to get out of the constant hectic pace of life - yes, it was possible! We were able to enjoy the beauty of spring at home and many a person asked himself why he had always believed that he could only experience beauty in foreign lands.  Neighbourly help developed; young people did the shopping for old people and both were happy about it. The sky was blue without condensation trails and for many weeks out air was cleaner.

We got an inkling of the possibility of changing our lifestyle, of looking at what is essential in a new way and living a different quality of life.

This crisis had what it takes to change us.

But change does not take place from the outside to the inside. We have to let it happen inside, and then live and shape it from the inside to the outside.

Interiorly we would have to let go of our culture of egoism, of domination and determination and above all of consumption. Instead, however, since early summer, voices have been increasingly raised that everything should finally return to »normal« Could it be that our willingness to change is not as strong as we would like to think? Are we in our – from a global perspective - small, spoiled world not able or willing to see the new challenge as an invitation to leave the well-worn tracks and let ourselves be lured onto unknown paths?  Perhaps our longing for full, deep life is too small and our words about the desire for change are empty babble.

In the Bible, prophets appear in times of crisis to motivate people to change, to remind them of their responsibility for each other and before God. But if their hearts are occupied and not open, change is not possible. Towards the end of the small book of the prophets Zefanja it is written:

» Therefore wait for me, declares the Lord, for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed. For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.« (Zefanja 3, 8-9)

Our LORD wants life for all. Let us awaken our longing for it and not suffocate it! Let us engage in the transformation of consumers into designers of authentic life. 

 

 Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 16th, 2020

 

 

What really counts

 

These days of the pandemic have raised a question that constantly accompanies us: What really counts for us? This question is evident in all areas: when, if and how we send children back to school, whether sporting events with spectators should be allowed again, or the areas of our society in which we want to invest something, as well as the areas we call »system irrelevant«. No matter which questions we answer these days, the question remains: Do we even know what really counts anymore?

Reinhold Stecher, the deceased former bishop of Innsbruck tells a fine story in this regard.

»Many years ago, I sat with other religious education teachers from Germany and Austria in a primary school class where we attended one hour of religious instruction on the occasion of a specialist congress. The religion teacher - a layman – worked with children who were obviously enthusiastic about religion, not entirely according to the standards of modern biblical science, didactics and methodology, but with a lot of heart and a response from the boys and girls that was hard to ignore. I was a little amused by the matter, because in the high-level discussions in which the congress was held, things were a little different.

Suddenly a German colleague, a layman, university professor and well-known author, leans over to me and whispers: 'Well, you know, scientifically speaking, I don't quite agree with this man here, but I would love to entrust him with my own children...’.« *

My respect for the religion teacher of this story is great, but my respect for the professor is no less. He was able to see what really counts, namely a lot of heart that calls forth a response from the hearts of the people entrusted to us. John Henry Newman called this »The heart speaks to the heart«. In spite of all of the professor’s competence, scientific theories and personal opinions, he was able to recognise what was so important, so essential, that he would be willing to put what was precious to him into these hands with confidence.

I pray often and hard that we will possess this divine wisdom of the heart in the weeks and months ahead. I pray often and hard that our economic theories, social convictions and personal habits do not blind us to what really counts in the wounded, bruised and battered world beyond our theories, convictions and theories.

Blessed are those who can recognise what really counts.

* Unseren Kindern zuliebe, S. 9-10

Erik Riechers SAC, 14. September 2020

 

 

The Calculating Heart

24th Sunday A 2020

 

When Jesus tells parables about the Kingdom, his aim is usually to unveil a mindset that is hidden but operative within us that goes well beyond the details of story he tells. Jesus is trying to get to the underlying dynamics or attitudes to which we need to attend.

It is easy to point out the obvious pitfalls for the human spirit in this parable: status, power, and control play a mighty role in our daily life. What is less apparent is the quiet, unassuming role played by an unnamed power that slithers into the human heart and drives the story from beginning to end, namely, the power of calculation.

When the human heart falls prey to the world of calculation, then it enters into a world that generates a potent illusion. Calculation lets us feel that we are in pursuit of justice, right order and fairness.  In reality, calculation creates a world that radically limits our options.

At the start of the parable, the Lord has a choice to make. If the Lord of the parable has a calculating heart, then he has no other option but to throw his servant into prison. There is no question, no doubt, that he well within his rights to demand what is owed him.  The sum is duly owed to him and he would justified in rigorously demanding ‘Pay what you owe!’ Yet, by acting beyond calculation, he opens new possibilities of life for himself and for the servant suffocating under the debt load. The servant can live a life dedicated solely to perpetual debt repayment and the king can live a life beyond the never-ending pursuit of truant debtors.

But the servant who has just won an unexpected freedom by being unfettered from a world of brutal and relentless calculation, then proceeds to immediately re-establish that world  when it is to his advantage. ‘Pay what you owe!’ (the motto of all calculating hearts) never comes alone. It is accompanied by violence and aggression (“seizing him by the throat”). For the world of calculation always breeds these retributory aspects. And suddenly the stripping away of a person’s freedom and the imprisonment of a human being who is the very same boat as I was just in becomes a viable option. Calculation always creates a world that radically limits our options. 

At the end of the story, everyone is back into the world of calculation, including the lord. And who benefits from this? Who can live because of this? No one. The first servant is now back in the punitive world of debt repayment that he cannot master. The second servant is locked away in a place where he can do nothing to repay the debt he owes. The lord does not get his money back and now has two servants sitting in prison, losing their service, talent and presence. This is the inhibitory power of calculation. The calculating heart creates a world that radically limits our options.

 Peter’s heart strayed into the world of calculation and Jesus knew it the minute he asked his question. »How many times must I forgive my brother?« That is a classic question of calculation. It is trying to figure out what it owes the others and when that obligation ends. It wants to calculate when it has done the job and can move on. It is works on the oft spoken and yet so dangerous word »enough«. How blithely we think that categories we apply to the world of business, commerce, contracts and marketplaces can be simply applied to every other place the human heart goes. I can ask when I think I have worked enough to earn my wage. My employer can state what wage he thinks to be enough for the work I have rendered. But how do we apply this word »enough« to the ultimate works of love and relationship or to matters of the heart? How can I ask when I have been son enough to my mother? How can I ask when I have been brother enough to my sister? How do I pose the question as to when I have been friend enough to the people who journey with me? As soon as I pose the question, I am replacing a heart of flesh with a heart of stony calculation. And as soon as I pose the question, the people around me would know: he wants to know when he is finished with us. Whom among us would feel loved knowing that the other only wants to know when he can be finished with us. The heart of calculation limits our options very severely.

In all his parables about the Kingdom of God Jesus ruptures the smooth stories of life, mostly by rending the unquestioned perceptions and mindsets that lurk within those stories we love to tell ourselves about ourselves. In this parable, Jesus tears the smooth story of the calculating heart and reminds us that the Kingdom of God is about the ‘chaos of uncalculating love’.(George MacLeod).

Yet I am not inclined to deceive you into believing that this is an easy path. Quite the contrary, it requires an extraordinarily expansive and liberated heart. And when we encounter such hearts, we will be astonished, shocked and, in all likelihood, discomforted. I dare to introduce you to such hearts and let you judge for yourself what it does with yours. This closing prayer of my homily was prayed by women in a concentration camp in Ravensbrück.

 

Peace to all men and women of evil will!

Let there be an end to all vengeance, to all demands for punishment and retribution…

Crimes have surpassed all measure, they can no longer be grasped by human understanding.

There are too many martyrs. …

 

And so, weigh not their sufferings on the scales of your justice, Lord,

 and lay not these sufferings to the torturer’s charge to exact

a terrible reckoning from them.

Pay them back in a different way!

 

Put down in favor of the executioners, the informers, the traitors and all those of evil will,

the courage, the spiritual strength of the others,

their humility, their lofty dignity,

their constant inner striving and invincible hope,

the smile that stanched the tears, their love,

their ravaged, broken hearts that remained steadfast and confident in the face of death itself,

yes, even at the moments of the utmost weakness…

 

Let all this, O Lord, be laid before You for the forgiveness of sins,

as a ransom for the triumph of righteousness,

let the good and not the evil be taken into account!

And may we remain in our enemies’ memory not as their victims,

not as a nightmare, not as haunting specters,

but as helpers in their striving to destroy the fury of their criminal passions.

There is nothing more that we want of them.

And when it is all over, grant us to live among human beings among human beings,

 and may peace come again to our poor earth

 – peace for people of goodwill and for all the others.

Amen.

 

This encounter with the hearts of these extraordinary women of prayer, is an encounter with hearts that did not let calculation determine how they prayed, how they lived, what they hoped for and, for many, how they died.

It leaves my heart inspired and unsettled, roused and rattled. I cannot already pray with the psalmist of Psalm 57: »My heart is ready, O God; my heart is ready«. But I want it to be able to do so. And that is a good start for us all.

Erik Riechers SAC, September 13th, 2020

 

 

Gentle Strength

 

When obstacles stood in the way and threatened to counteract all the good I had in mind, I tried to deal with it by force.

When good words did not work, I tried hardness.

When my heart hurt too much, I protected myself with a hard shell.

When it looked as if I had failed, I beat myself on inside.

 

Then I found this story by Paolo Coelho:

»The monastery on the banks of the Rio Piedra is situated in a lush landscape, a true oasis in the middle of the barren fields of this part of northern Spain. Here the small river becomes a water-rich current and splits into countless waterfalls.

The wanderer roams through this place, listening to the sound of the water. Then he suddenly discovers a grotto behind one of the waterfalls. He sees the polished stone, the beautiful shapes that nature has patiently created.

‘It was not the hammer that gave these stones their perfect shape, but the water with its gentleness, its dance and its song.

Gentleness fashions while hardness only destroys.’«

 

And I wept over this »gentle strength«.*

                                                                      * Paolo Coelho, Unterwegs

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 11th, 2020

 

 

An unfiltered Story

 

Yesterday, on the feast of the Birth of Mary, the Genealogy of from the Gospel of Matthew was read. This unfiltered story of Jesus' birth contains elements that we cannot easily imagine when we sing our Christmas carols. The family tree and family origin of Jesus was far from perfect and pure. And we should never lose sight of this if we want to believe in Jesus, but reject the church because of its imperfection, scandals, and painful history. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but there are many things in his origin, as this Gospel makes clear, which are far from pure, immaculate and spotless.

While this story tells us of the origins of Jesus, it points to at least as many sinners, liars and schemers in the genetic and historical lineage of Jesus as it points to saints, honest people and men and women of faith.

We also learn that the family tree that gave us Jesus is not only made up of the great and talented, but equally of the poor and insignificant. In the list of the names of all the ancestors of Jesus we recognize people who were famous and others who have no claim to having accomplished anything at all special, extraordinary or significant. This story tells us, that the human blood that flowed through the veins of Jesus was produced in equal parts by great and small, gifted and untalented.

What can we learn from this? For one thing, it becomes clear that God can write straight on crooked lines. Secondly, we should not set up an over-idealized picture of the history of salvation. God does not need such images to work salvation. And finally, even if our own lives are marked by weakness and simplicity, they, too, are important for the continuing history of salvation.

The God who wrote the beginning on crooked lines also writes the continuation on crooked lines, and some of these lines are our lives and our personal stories. A God who did not shy away from the schemers and the noble, the impure and the pure, the men the world listened to and the women the world looked down on - this God continues to work with the same troupe today. If the last part of the family tree is already a challenge to acknowledge that completely unknown people were part of the story of Jesus, it might be an even greater challenge to acknowledge that the unknown characters of our time are an essential part of the continuation.

God’s story of salvation was not written only for the perfect. It is also written in the lives of the impure, the sinners, the calculating schemers, the arrogant, the dishonest, and of those without any recognizable worldly talents. No one is so bad, so insignificant, so without talent and so outside the circle of faith that he or she is automatically outside of this story. For God does not write off anyone. He simply continues to write on.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 9th, 2020

  

 

He does not slumber

 

Psalm 121, with which we prefaced all that we have published here since March, urgently and repeatedly places before our eyes, indeed it inscribes in our hearts, that we have a guardian.

Here the person on a quest speaks, the pilgrim, the person who is on the road. He must rely on his feet during the day and at night on strangers who offer him shelter or on the protection of a refuge somewhere in nature. On narrow ridges, on steep slopes, he knows the fear of wavering and stumbling. The midday heat in Israel is unbearable. Sometimes he is so tired that he would prefer not to get up after a midday rest. There may be hours when he does not believe he will arrive safely, because evil and all that is hostile to life oppose him.

This song is written out of the experience of such moments, but also for the times of such experiences.

When I am on a pilgrimage, says the one who prayers here, I know the challenge and keep watch for help. I look up to the mountains, the ancient places of the encounter with God, and I can say: »My help comes from the Lord who created heaven and earth.« This LORD is not only my help, he is the keeper of Israel. Therefore I assure you, who are on the path with worries and fears: » He will not let your foot stumble. . . he neither sleeps nor slumbers «.  Have no fear! Dare to walk, trust your feet, our guardian goes with you. HE will not be distracted and he will not fall asleep - he always guards you! And if you are afraid of the dark night and its dangers: HE guards you! If evil in whatever form threatens you: HE protects you! When fear for your life takes your breath away: HE guards your life! Until eternity, wherever you come from and wherever you go, HE is always at your side!

All our lives are a pilgrimage and pilgrimage is not easy. Sometimes we stagger like a reed and do not know where to place our foot for the next step. Sometimes the arguments during the day are so fierce that we feel exposed and would like to hide somewhere. Sometimes the night is so dark and so long that we lose the hope of a morning light.

Then let us hold to the prayer of the Psalm for the pilgrimage. Let us look out for the places of experiences of God and remember: Our God is the Lord, who created heaven and earth, in whom everything is lifted up and supported and who is therefore our help - always, every day, every hour, no matter how difficult it is.

And we will perceive the saving shadow beside us and the companions who are at our side. We will take courage again for the next stretch of the road and continue on our way - that is life.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, September 7th, 2020

  

 

The Passion to Win over the Other

23rd Sunday A 2020

 

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

 

Albino Luciani (the later Pope John Paul I) published a beautiful book with the title: »Illustrissimi«. He wrote these fictitious letters to various personalities for his Diocesan newspaper when he was still Patriarch of Venice. And the last letter of the volume he addressed to Jesus. My favorite part is towards the end of the letter.

»When you taught then: 'Blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted', I was not there. If I had been there, I would have whispered in Your ear: "For heaven's sake, speak of something else, Lord, if You want someone to follow You! Do you not see how everyone strives for wealth and comfort? Cato promised his soldiers figs from Africa, Caesar the riches of Gaul, and – for good or bad - they succeeded. Now you come and promise poverty, persecution. Who do you think will follow you there?«

I would likely have whispered the same advice into Jesus' ear if I had been there when he preached the gospel we hear today. Hardly any other text arouses so many protests as this one. I understand that well. 

For here Jesus reveals to us his relentless passion for reconciliation. And those who do not share his relentless passion for reconciliation can only protest his proposals.

This intense passion of Jesus for reconciliation gives us a way of acting within the community of believers. We should employ it when our relationships with one another collapse. If we follow these steps, there is a good chance that the broken will be put back together and we will win each other over.

But it is not easy. And automatic success is not promised here either. If reconciliation does not take place after the first step, then the commitment and action will increase. 

But if reconciliation is not so important to us, then we can save ourselves the trouble. Then we should not lie to ourselves, but also say clearly that regaining our relationships is not important enough for us to make such an effort.

Jesus says we should seek the conversation in private, one on one, as a first step. Sit down, speak things over and put everything on the table. This is of course a question of courage: Confronting another person about his or her behavior is never easy. Therefore, the first step is often simply skipped. Of course, everyone nods their approval at this first piece advice, but very few follow it.

When I hear in conversation what is on a person's mind after a serious conflict with another, I always ask: Did you actually tell the other any of this?  And then I hear mostly: "There is no point. That wouldn't make any difference anyway.” We are quickly writing off what we have not even tried.

So we would rather call upon the next higher authority in the hope that the other is reprimanded or forced to comply. We often seek punishment, because reconciliation requires mental and emotional abilities that we do not possess.

But this step also demands something from the people being addressed for their wrong doing. They too need certain skills. The gospel says that apprentices of Jesus must be able to listen. Listening requires concentration, and in many conversations, we turn our attention on and off at will. When we listen to personal criticism, it is especially difficult to stay focused and attentive. We are often too busy formulating a devastating response. Our defense mechanisms run full steam ahead.

However, it is clear to Jesus that the one who is offended or hurt takes the initiative and seeks out the one who has offended or hurt him or her. Here, too, we follow an unconventional path. According to our ideas it should be the other way round. To our way of thinking, whoever r started the mess should also take the first step to clean it up. 

The result of this first step is successful when the relationship is restored. To "win over" the brother or sister is the goal for Jesus. But to win each other over does not mean that we have to prove who was right from the beginning.

And again we encounter the problem: Often our dogmatism is more important to us than our being together. We would rather walk away as winners than walk away together. 

To win back the brother or sister means that an understanding is reached that brings about reconciliation.  If it can be achieved on this level, then there is no need to go further.

However, if this first step is unsuccessful, witnesses are called in to mediate the dispute. Their role is to sort out what really happened and suggest what could happen to bring people back together. They should accompany the processes which two people cannot manage alone. And that happens. Why shouldn't it? Do we really have to master everything that life throws at us? Should we never be overwhelmed by a situation? Is it reprehensible to admit that we cannot cope alone and could use help?

If this second step does not bear fruit, the larger community is called in to bring the two people together. At this level, of course, action will be more formal and authoritative. What we must not hide is that this step will also make it much more complex and complicated for everyone involved. For the community, this can create pressure for one side or the other to take sides, rather than finding a way for the two people to win each other back. At the same time, the temptation is great for the disputants in the community to seek allies rather than companions.

Should the third step not work, the offender should be seen as someone who has maneuvered himself or herself outside the community.  Such people should be considered las heathens and publicans, people who are in particular need of the community's relentless concern for life and reconciliation. This is not a picture of rejection, but a picture of responsibility. Only Pharisees write off Gentiles and publicans. For Jesus they are people who need special devotion, care and attention. They need a missionary commitment from us to bring them back into the community. Here it depends on how I see the difficult people in my life.

These steps of Jesus reflect his passion for reconciliation. It is his hope and his intention to infect his people with this passion. This divine passion to win back the lost is always looking for the next step, for the next possibility where the hardened heart could open. But in the end only one thing counts: whether we share this passion with God. 

This text arouses protest in us when we simply read it as a course of action that we have to take to win other people over. Yet, the text not only speaks of what we should do, but also of what could be done for us. We usually assume that we are the offended, the afflicted, and the victims of other sinners. And what if it is the other way around? What if we are the perpetrators? 

Do we really want to claim that it is not worthwhile to win us back, that we are not worth seeking and finding, being accepted and taken in again?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, September 6th, 2020

 

 

Like an Angel

 

The transition from late summer to early autumn is noticeable.

The brightness in the morning makes us wait for it a little longer,

the twilight in the evening comes earlier and earlier.

Regret awakens in my heart, because the bright evenings did my soul good.

But with it also comes a gentle joy at the prospect of more time for retreat and silence.

There I meet an almost 40 year old song from ABBA:

»Like an angel passing through my room«

and I marvel:

At that time I had not noticed it at all.

Long awaited darkness falls
Casting shadows on the walls

In the twilight hour I am alone
Sitting near the fireplace
Dying embers warm my face
In this peaceful solitude
All the outside world subdued

Everything comes back to me again
In the gloom...
Like an angel passing through my room.


Half awake and half in dreams
Seeing long forgotten scenes

So the present runs into the past
Now and then become entwined
Playing games within my mind
Like the embers as they die
Love was one prolonged goodbye

And it all comes back to me tonight
In the gloom
Like an angel passing through my room
I close my eyes
And my twilight images go by
All too soon
Like an angel passing through my room

Writer(s): Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn,  September 4th, 2020

  

 

»In this life all symphonies remain unfinished.«

 

These have been trying days for us all. Yet, despite the uncertainty, the restrictions and the inconvenience of it all, for the most part I have personally found it fairly easy to take the days with a touch of humour and a healthy portion of faith. The crisis has not disheartened me.

Yet, in the last weeks, I have found a touch of discouragement creeping into me. It is not the crisis, but the critics who have worried my soul and troubled my tranquility. There are the theologians who are boldly declaring the pandemic to be the death of the Church. There are the critics who claim that we are not being innovative and creative enough in the face of the crisis, and who seem to believe that they have some birthright to do so with the most vitriolic and nastiest of invective they can muster, assassinating character and truth in the same tirade. Others complain vociferously and at great length that what has been attempted thus far is insufficient: it is not fast enough, good enough or soon enough.

This phenomena is not just a sign of battle fatigue or even of plain human grumpiness. It is a symptom of an affliction of the soul that looks at the Church, the world and life in general in an unhealthy fashion. People who suffer from this affliction expect perfection when none will ever be found. They expect fulfillment before the race is run.

So I turn to a quote from Karl Rahner, who was ever keen to keep our view of life healthy and just.

»All renewal, all progress of the Church will be consumed, as it were, again and again in the experience of the hardships of history, in the disappointment about ourselves, who are the Church after all, and so we must experience her in the same way… We always play the unfinished symphony of the glory of God, and it is always only a dress rehearsal. But therefore all effort, all the always unfinished and unfinishable reformation is not in vain, not senseless. It is simply the task of the servants who sow in tears so that God may reap, the task that only Christian hope can accomplish against all hope, because it alone, believing, knows that even the defeat we accept will continue God's victory on the wood of the cross.«

Karl Rahner touches on this simple yet so important truth. All of life is an unfinished symphony. This is a work in progress and all our business is unfinished business. The question is, whether we can appreciate and live with the beauty, charm and opportunities of unfinished symphonies.

Years ago I heard a song that always comes back to haunt me when the discouragement of insufficiency strikes. It is entitled: »That’s all I have to say.« *

I've had time to write a book
About the way you act and look,
But I haven't got a paragraph.
Words are always getting in my way.
Anyway, I love you.
That's all I have to tell you.
That's all I've got to say.

And now, I'd like to make a speech
About the love that touches each,
But stumbling, I would make you laugh.
I feel as though my tongue were made of clay.
Anyway, I love you.
That's all I have to tell you.

I'm not a man of poetry
Music isn't one with me
It runs from me
It runs from me

And I tried to write a symphony,
But I lost the melody.
Alas I only finished half.
And finish I suppose I never may…

Anyway, I love you.

That's all I have to tell you.

That's all I've got to say.

The songwriter obviously has a great love for the unnamed person of the song, and it drives him to put it into words, to create an expression of his love that would be a revelation to the beloved. The song sings of that, which the singer cannot sufficiently express about the beloved, but this does not defeat him. After all, there is this song. And although he claims, »That's all I have to tell you. That's all I've got to say«, I am glad that he had this to tell and this to say, and someone to whom to say it with all its flaws and inadequacies. It is unfinished, but beautiful. It is not everything, would it not be more than enough to delight your heart and lighten your spirit if someone had this to tell you, even if it was all they had to say?

Karl Rahner wrote »In this life all symphonies remain unfinished.«

For all those who, like me, are fumbling through the dress rehearsal, there is a pleasure all its own in rehearsing for the show which no spectator in a theater will ever know. Be an actor and get on stage.

For all those who, like me, who have stumbled over words and whose tongues were made of clay, there is a joy in the very art of creating something, not just in the finished product. No passive listener will ever come to know this. Be a storyteller and show up with a tale.

For all those who, like me, wanted a symphony and lost the melody, there is a pleasure all its in own in the composing, in creating something of rhythm and melody. No impartial bystander will ever touch it. Be a composer, and write your unfinished symphonies.

Why let a little incompleteness spoil a perfectly good life?

Erik Riechers SAC, September 2nd, 2020

 * A beautiful rendition of the song can be heard here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Utt2wLMbz0k&list=FLCWG96HZx8GTKKe2v0tBdSA&index=4&t=0s

 

 

To Stand Before the Day

 

Recently I encountered anew a special blessing into the day. I remembered how I had discovered it a long time ago and how I had often prayed it in the morning.

Now I perceived it anew, as often happens when something or someone falls out of sight and suddenly appears before us again.

I felt it physically - first in my posture, because I could not pray it sitting down, but had to stand up.

I may stand up at the beginning of the day.

And then to be quietly completely with myself . . . feel all my senses and let them come alive . . . and gradually enter the depth of my soul and my being borne.

 

Experience it for yourself:

 

I arise today

 

In the name of Silence

Womb of the Word,

In the name of Stillness

Home of Belonging,

In the name of the Solitude

Of the Soul and the Earth.

 

I arise today

 

Blessed by all things,

Wings of breath,

Delight of eyes,

Wonder of whisper,

Intimacy of touch,

Eternity of soul,

Urgency of thought,

Miracle of health,

Embrace of God.

 

May I live this day

 

Compassionate of heart,

Clear in word,

Gracious in awareness,

Courageous in thought,

Generous in love.

(John O’Donohue , To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn,  August 31rst, 2020

 

 

Because I am here, Where is it that I am absent from?

22nd Sunday A 2020

 

There is a small scene at the beginning of today's gospel.

 Peter takes Jesus aside.

He reproaches him.

Jesus turns around, looks at his disciples, and rebukes Peter.

Here are his words. »Get behind me, you Satan!«

In an older version, this sentence was once translated as »Get out of my sight«.

Get out of my sight is a clear message. It means that if we do not think as God thinks, then we will be punished, and in the harshest manner. For the punishment is not that we are rebuked.  No, the punishment is the deprivation of closeness and presence. The punishment is that we are sent away, that we are no longer seen, that we are no longer wanted and desired. »Get out of my sight« says, that I am now persona non grata. 

This image of God has been preached to us often enough. We feel the harshness, the threat that lies behind it. It works with withdrawal of love, something that we humans fear very much. But the withdrawal of love is a human strategy and not a divine one. 

But that is not what the phrase »Get behind me, you Satan!« means.

Peter takes Jesus aside, off the path he has taken. He reproaches him. This way leads him to Jerusalem. There Jesus suffered much and was rejected by the high priests and the scribes. In other words, Jesus is setting out on a path that will take him to where violence and abandonment await him.

Then it becomes interesting. Because the text says: Jesus turned around. That means he now has Peter behind him, has him at his back.

Then he looks at the disciples, because they are as affected by this scene as Peter is, and rebukes him.  He makes a course correction. 

Why is this necessary? Peter was the one who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and called him that. He is convinced that this Jesus has the words of eternal life. But now, when he has doubts about the way and the wisdom of the Messiah, he wants to take over the lead. And Jesus tells him through this word and his gesture: »Peter you should be following me. In order to follow, you would have to stand behind me. Let yourself be guided. Let me lead you on paths that you would not take. But this will only happen if someone else knows the direction, and therefore you must stand behind me. If you always follow the paths that you are already on, you don't need anyone to guide you. But if you want to experience something new, unexpected and untried, then stand behind me.«

Jesus leads Peter to the place where is invited to answer the question my friend John O’Donohue loved to pose: »Because I am here, Where is it that I am absent from?« This is a place of awakening. Peter has tasted something of the grandeur of God, and nibbling at the side of the path will no longer satisfy him. 

But nobody is sent away here. Jesus wants to correct the relationship with Peter, not cancel it.

How does Jesus deal with a person who is not yet able or willing to walk in the ways of God?

He corrects the attitude, but he does not send him away.

  • He helps people to reposition themselves, but does not write him off.
  • He makes a return to the path of life (from which Peter deviated - he took him aside), but he does not dismiss him.
  • He clarifies the circumstances, but does not terminate the relationship.
  • He points out the right order, but not once does he want t say to Peter that he has no place in that order.

The withdrawal of love is a human strategy and not a divine one.

»Get behind me« means follow my path. And the name Satanas is an allusion to the Tempter in the desert. Peter is not being demonized here, but is made aware that his present attitude is that of the Tempter in the desert. He thinks like the tempter in the wilderness, who also tried to dissuade Jesus from the way, who also wanted to stand before him (cf. Bow down before me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of this earth).

When people do not have in mind what God has in mind for the world, then the order is distorted.

We human beings avoid the unpleasant; so we will avoid being at the mercy of others and violence. We will get out of the way.

Jesus turns these things and does not avoid them. Instead he deals with them, he confronts these realities.

When people try to avoid the path of life, Jesus clarifies how a healthy, life-enhancing relationship with God works.

This is an image of God that we can live with. And that is the point. No matter what our images of God might be, what use is one that keeps us away from the life-giving presence of the God it portrays? How does an image of God ever help any mortal to achieve anything, including repentance, if it repels rather than attracts?

I am not ashamed to admit, that I have been Peter in my life. There have been times when I have stepped away or strayed from the path that leads to life. Sometimes I was too afraid to go places that seemed too demanding, too frightening or too uncertain. And I have had times when I vocally and vehemently told God in no uncertain terms, that this was surely a mistake. Yet, I would never have returned to the path of life if the response had been »get out of my sight«.

I have been prodded, teased and persuaded to get back in line. I am happy to be here.  There is a distinct advantage to being one step behind the Spirit Master. There is always One who is one step ahead of me. There is always One who is between me and the uncertain future that I fear. If you ask me, there is no better place to be.

  

Erik Riechers SAC, August 30th, 2020

 

 

»Lord, your love reaches«

 

Do we want to have as much as possible or do we learn to accept life and make the most of it with everything that is?

Then it might be, that we gradually no longer wish to be spared from evil and difficult things, but deepen and broaden all our senses. We learn to perceive beauty in unusual places. We feel the divine in moments in which we used to stumble over many things. We perceive that we are given more than we expected and recognize more and more the richness of life in its depth and breadth.

Being brought back to myself more and having less external distractions revealed to me the beauty of a face that smiled despite illness. I saw the splendor of an evening sky on my simple balcony. I enjoyed the spicy, resinous air in our forest. I recognized the treasure that lies in the silence. The desire awoke in me to make contact with people I had not seen or heard from in a long time.

And I allied myself anew with the praying person of Psalm 36 when he speaks:

 

Your steadfast love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep;

 man and beast you save, O Lord. How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

 The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

 (Ps 36, 5-9)

 

He hymns the skies and clouds, the mountains the floodwaters - creation in all its breadth and depth.

He does not deny that we are at the mercy of many things, but he sees salvation and the Saviour and in it the preciousness of divine love.

Let us take the images seriously. When the »heat« becomes unbearable and we threaten to wither, his shadow will be there under which we can shelter. When we feel lost and homeless, he offers us his house and his table where we can refresh ourselves. When thirst consumes us and the longing for vitality dries us out, he dreches us with his abundance. 

Let us look at our life: When and where have we had such experiences?

And how often have we given them to other people?

 »For your steadfast love reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!« (Ps 57, 11) – we are always enveloped by it, we live and move within it.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 28th, 2020

 

 

Which request works?

 

»You cannot have everything!« - You must have heard this sentence again and again as a child (I even have a song in my ears!); perhaps you remember using this sentence against your children and their all-encompassing wishes. We all had and have to learn to decide. What do we really want? What is essential? What serves life? In order to mature, in order to become adults, we must ask ourselves these questions again and again and answer them for ourselves. We simply cannot have everything. How difficult it is for us in our pampered world of prosperity to accept this!

No one has been and will be spared the danger of a tiny virus, the coronavirus, during this year and beyond. People at all levels are learning and practicing how to encounter it and how to deal with it well. Thus, strategies are developed and rules are worked out. We learn them and practice them, because we want to stay healthy and get through this time well. And there were weeks and months in which we were happy, even proud, that we mastered this pandemic quite well as a society. 

But then desires were and are awakened. We want to travel again, take a vacation, we want to celebrate together, meet each other more often and more closely and more relaxed and ... and ... and ... and ...

Indeed, the childlike idea creeps in that we can have everything, an unrestrained life of prosperity with all the freedoms AND health through protection from the virus. Sometimes we even complain that we have not lived » properly « in the last months, because not everything was possible as usual.

In her poem »Request« , so beloved by many, Hilde Domin expresses in inimitable fashion that no one is spared in life and the wish that it be so is neither helpful, nor does it work.

Nevertheless, rich life is possible.

What works is to ask

please

that at sunrise the dove

will bring the olive branch

that the fruit will be as colourful

as the blossom

that even the rose petals on the ground

can become a shining crown.

 

Let us look at the images: they speak of life possibilities, fertility and beauty. May we not overlook their signs in our lives - they are there!

Hilde Domin goes even further: even when the waves threaten to crash over us and everything becomes threatening, there is the perspective of healing and maturation:

And that we, out of the flood
out of the lions den and the
fiery furnace
will be released
renewing ourselves
even more wounded and even more healed.  

To become and be an adult does not mean to expect less, but to live deeper and more fully.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 26th, 2020

 

 

Mass

 

I celebrated Mass the other day. I had been informed in the sacristy of all the precautions and restrictions I needed to heed before I had entered the church. No singing, no sign of peace. Disinfect your hands before distributing communion. Keep your distance. Indeed, always keep your distance.

I went into the Church and prepared the altar. When I looked up, several people smiled at me. When you are a priest, you get used to having all manner of people prepare the altar for you. Out of respect and gratitude for their service, I never interfere, but I take an irrepressible glee when I am able to prepare the altar by myself, whenever I get the chance. I love setting the table.

It speaks of loving thoughtfulness for people you care about. It speaks of reverence, because we do not prepare for that which is unimportant to us. It speaks of expectation, for there is no need to set the table if no one will come and take a place at it. It speaks of the willingness to share, of opening the heart by granting the simple access to the place where you expect to share, where you take what is yours and put it out on a table for others to partake in and enjoy. And when the people smiled at me, I was reminded of my mother, who would smile at me from the kitchen when I set the table in the dining room.

The Mass was simple. It was stripped down to the basics. There were stories of God, followed by stories about the maddening people with whom he is so madly in love. There were prayers for those present and those longed for, soft words for burdened hearts, remembrance of people who presumable think they are forgotten. There was a touch of Thanksgiving in the midst of the mundane and humdrum. A bit of bread was broken and shared. Eyes met where hands were not allowed to touch. There was communion, between those who ate the bread and with the One who transformed it for us. And there was gratitude for the chance of the gathering.

It was pure. There was no pomp. It was not entertaining, but edifying. There was nothing to jazz up the moment. It was more a simple lean meal than a banquet or a feast. It reminded me of meals I have shared with my family and my beloved friends. It reminded me of a dear friend who recently told me of the simple, attentive and loving way her mother used to prepare every Sunday morning breakfast for her family. It reminded me of my teacher’s gently insistent words: gather the folks, tell the stories, break the bread.

One of the people who attended paused after Mass to tell me what she missed: the singing, the embrace at the sign of peace, shaking hands before and after the Mass. I went back to my room and paused to say a prayer of thanks. I had loved it, all of it, every moment of it. The liturgists will ask for my head on a platter and the musicians will decry that the barbarians have breached the sanctuary. Theologians will bemoan my lack of nuance and subtlety. Critical Catholics will protest the lack of sophistication and modern critical commentary to every imaginable ideological concern under God’s uncritical, undiscerning sun. Traditionalists will judge it unworthy for its lack of transcendent, other-worldly ambiance. Yet, none of it changes the fact that I was content, sated by bread and story and companionship. I felt a little more alive, a little less burdened, a lot lighter in my spirit and closer to my God and our people.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 24th, 2020

 

 

Power as Influence

21st Sunday A 2020

 

Almost all conflicts between Jesus and his disciples (and he has quite a few) are about power and authority. »They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them (the disciples): 'What did you talk about on the way?' They were silent because they had talked to each other on the way about which of them was the greatest.« Even in the society of Jesus' day, the question of power was never far from the surface.

In today's Gospel, Peter recognizes that the source of Jesus' power lies in his fully accepting and living out of his role as a beloved Son. Jesus is truly the Son of the living God. For this insight, Peter is rewarded with the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

But while Peter has a special position, as the rock solid foundation and bearer of the keys, later (cf. Mt 18:18) Jesus will say to all his disciples: »Amen, I tell you: Everything that you will bind on earth will also be bound in heaven his and everything that you will loosen on earth, that will also be loosened in heaven.« People from the second row also have to deal with binding and loosing. 

But here the story takes an amazing and often overlooked turn. Because for people of all times the tendency is to use the power of binding and to understand and exercise power as control over life, the world and fellow human beings. But not with God. He tends to turn to the power of loosing, because God exercises power as influence. And we, who have both options, must choose how to understand and exercise our power. It will be seen that this power is more of a challenge than a privilege.

 

1. Mt 16, 21-23

Power that does not withdraw and dispense from life,

but embraces the fullness and the heart of life.

The conflict between Jesus and Peter over the use of power begins in the very next scene of Matthew's Gospel.

Jesus foretells that he will go up to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified and rise from the dead on the third day. Peter does not want to know anything about it: »May God prevent that, Lord! It must not happen to you!«

This sincere token of concern brings him a rebuke. »Stand behind me!« Take your place in the succession and let me show you the way.

The problem lies in the way Peter sees power. Peter sees Jesus as the Son of Power; and he knows how power works with other people. Power is given so that you can dispense yourself from the fates and facts of life to which the powerless are helplessly exposed. The sons of kings do not die in the wars their fathers initiate. The daughters of legislators are not ground down the tax laws their mothers pass. The people in power exercise this power to secure themselves against the factors of life that would otherwise lessen, exhaust or drain them

Those who understand power in this way will find it folly for the Son of the High to simply submit to the conditions of powerlessness. But Jesus redefines the understanding and use of power. Power does not dispense itself from life, but rather embraces the conditions of life in a new, creative way.

The power that God has entrusted to us is not armor, but increased vulnerability. This power is an openness toward life and it wants to overcome the destructive elements within it. We should not want to escape, but to delve into the heart of life.

 

2. Mt 18, 21-22

Power that does not exclude, but includes.

Here we have the second episode of this conflict over power. Peter knows that Jesus has a great tendency to forgive. That is why he offers Jesus a very generous number. »Seven times?« In this exchange, Jesus' rebuke is milder, but it is just as clear. »Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.«

This is more than a contrast between a limited number and an infinite capacity. This is about the power of binding and loosing.

Peter also has the power to bind, but what good is it for if you cannot lock some people up and shut out other people? With people, power is used as a control, and then power will show itself as the ability to determine who is allowed to be there and who is not. We know this form of power only too well. (If you do not do what I want, then you cannot be part of my group. It is practiced from schoolyards to workplaces.) 

That is what Peter does at this point. Insidiously, he asks Jesus when he can finally use the power of his keys and exclude others. Jesus, on the other hand, questions the whole premise of Peter. Power is not for the purpose of exclusion. Power is for the mission of inclusion. The power that flows when you love God, with all your soul, with all your heart, with all your power, brings people together. It does not tear them apart. 

 

3. John 13

Power, not for abstract concepts, but for real human needs.

The third episode and the most famous conflict between Jesus and Peter is told in the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Peter refuses this service. Jesus replies that if he does not let himself be washed, he cannot have a part in him, that they no longer have anything in common. The ever exuberant Peter then asks for a whole bath.

But the question of power in this episode goes far beyond a role reversal. The Master serves specific human needs. Dirty feet are the objects of his care.

Just think of the rhetoric of service that overflows in the Church. This language is often, very often, more noble than this particular service. Talk about it is loftier and the words about it pompous. We speak of serving the Kingdom of God, serving the ideal social order, and serving the vision of the future.

But often, very often, it remains on the level of abstract concepts. Then we tolerate broken bodies and a shattered spirit becomes acceptable. Divine love not only requires that our power be used for service, but that it serve specific human needs.

 

This is what power could look like if we live it out like God on this earth.

1. A power that does not withdraw and dispense from life, but embraces the fullness and the heart of life.

2. A power that does not exclude, but includes.

3. A power not for abstract concepts, but for real human needs.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 23rd, 2020

 

 

Flow over, but do not grow empty

 

Times of crisis in our life are part of our life. Sometimes they last a few weeks, sometimes they turn into adventurous years. Times like this show us what is perhaps also true during times of calm waters: We often feel empty, we are tormented by excessive demands, we look for refueling opportunities.

If we are not careful, we believe we are switching off when we indulge in various forms of amusement. But later we are surprised that we have not recharged our batteries at all, that we have not recovered and that we are very quickly drained from fulfilling our tasks.

Maybe we should practice a new point of view. The attitude of Bernhard von Clairvaux, whose memory we celebrated yesterday, can help us in this.

Bernhard was an energetic monk of fascinating charisma and comprehensive learning as well as extraordinary self-discipline. He gives us the following:

 

Those who are wise, therefore, will see their lives as more like a bowl than a canal.

The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives;

the bowl retains the water until it is filled.

In this way it discharges the overflow without loss to itself.

 

The bowl imitates the spring. Only when it has been filled with water, does it pour itself out in a

stream and becomes a sea. Act likewise. First fill yourself up, then pour over.

 

The charity that is benign and prudent does not flow outwards until it abounds within.

I cannot see myself being enriched by your wasting of your powers.

For if you are mean to yourself, to whom will you be good?

Help me out of your abundance if you have it;

if not, then spare yourself the trouble.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 21st, 2020

 

 

»There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you«

 

When Maya Angelou was eight years old, she was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. But she did not hide it. Instead, she testified against him. He was sentenced to a year in prison but was released the same day. Four days later he was found dead, presumably the work of her uncles.

This had an extraordinary effect on Maya Angelou, because for the next six years she stopped talking except to her brother Bailey. She was convinced that her voice, her words, had killed a man.

Maya Angelou describes this episode of her life in her memoir »I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings«. In it she writes the sentence: »There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you«. She knew the weight of an untold story.

In the book of Proverbs stands a warning that is deeply linked to this:

 »Can a man carry fire next to his chest

    and his clothes not be burned?« (Proverbs 6, 27)

This image of carrying fire next to the chest is always powerful for me. This is an image of the inner processes of our life, of that which moves us interiorly, preoccupies our heart and drives our lives. It is ab image of the untold stories that we bear within us.

We all have such fire, such stories within us. That is hardly the problem, because fire, just like stories, is something fundamentally good, something useful for life. This applies to the internal processes of the heart. No matter how broken, painful and uncomfortable they may be, they too are fundamentally good and beneficial to our lives. They are a part of our story.

Yet fire, like stories, can swiftly become dangerous in two cases.

  1. If left unattended. A burning candle on the Advent wreath is beautiful, gives off warmth and light and radiates security into the winter cold of life. But if we leave the room without putting out the fire then, in the end, more burns than we wanted.
  1. When it is left to the inexperienced. Because children do not recognize the power and danger of fire, they treat it carelessly. The matches in the adult's hand are useful instruments. If we put them in the hands of small children, they can quickly become dangerous for hearth and home. And again, in the end, there is more burning than we originally wanted.

The same danger exists for people when they do not take the inner heart processes of their stories seriously.

  1. What goes on in the heart must not be left unattended, otherwise these processes expand to places where they do not belong.
  1. We must not remain immature in relation to these inner processes of the heart. If we do not know how to deal with them, then they will spread and take up spaces that do not belong to them.

God does not want us to remain immature, that we deal carelessly with heart processes. We should look lovingly and gently at the story within. We should recognize these processes as having a powerful effect and, above all, take them seriously.

»Can a man carry fire next to his chest

    and his clothes not be burned?« (Proverbs 6, 27)

That is why Jesus often turns our gaze inward to look at what is in us, what is happening within us and what drives us. We should grow into a reflected consciousness so that we can clearly see the sources from which our moods arise, our motivations come and our attitudes grow. And we should do so in order that what goes on in the heart does not make us mute and speechless in the end. For the agony of an untold story will then determine everything in life, all our actions, thoughts and feelings. In other words, we should see to it that the clothes (the exterior of life) do not catch fire (through the internal processes).

We could, of course, spend our time putting out everything that lit the fire in the clothes. Thus, anger can seep into our hearts, we explode and the next person who comes along suffers the full fury of our wrath. We apologize and straighten things out (extinguish the burning clothes), but if we do not look at the anger inside of us, then the whole thing happens all over again. It becomes an endless cycle of explosion, remorse, and apology. We only put out clothing fires. Should that be the goal of our life, then we would be better off working for the fire department.

 »Can a man carry fire next to his chest

    and his clothes not be burned?« (Proverbs 6, 27)

Or we can use the time to lovingly and gently look at the untold story within us, at the processes of the heart, deal with it responsibly and keep an eye on it, so that only that burns which radiates light, warmth and security.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 19th, 2020

 

 

A summer day that supports us

 

The thoughts circle and do not come to rest; Heaviness spreads within us. The worries make us brood and we move through the yesterdays or speculate about tomorrow. Can we see and appreciate TODAY in its fullness? Do we even recognize and feel what is essential, the companions at our side, that which supports us?

Today I am sharing a song by Reinhard Mey with you. He does not deny the darkness, but is also not ready to give it supremacy - on the contrary: he knows and names his priorities and he sings about what was, what is and what supports.

 

So many summers spent with you,

Loved and cried and laughed with you.

Let us live happily today on this summer day,

How many more summers might there be?


All good things must end

Let us give away, let us be lavish.

The hand that gives away empties and fills at the same time,

Only what we give away makes us really rich.

Let's scatter happiness with full hands.

All good things must end.

 

So many summers spent with you,

Loved and cried and laughed with you.

Let us live happily today on this summer day,

How many more summers might there be?


The tears, the grief, the defeats

Sleepless nights, questions and laments.

The doubts, the fears, the worries and troubles,

Blossom-dreams that will not fade.

Standing together, borne together,

The tears, the grief, the defeats.

 

So many summers spent with you,

Loved and cried and laughed with you.

Let us live happily today on this summer day,

How many more summers might there be?

Love outshines everything in life

All the stars pale next to it.

The only message, the only meaning,

The only refuge lays therein,

To give one another comfort and warmth.

Love outshines everything in life.

 

So many summers spent with you,

Loved and cried and laughed with you.

Let us live happily today on this summer day,

How many more summers might there be?

Guard the light of this summer day

For the winter day that can safely come.

 (Reinhard Mey, Album »Mr. Lee«, 2016)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 17th, 2020

 

 

To do what is necessary

20th Sunday A 2020

 

In his book, On Earth as it is in heaven, John Shea recounts a seminar about theological reflection that he led in the vicinity of London. On one of the days, the group discussed today’s story from the Gospel of Matthew. The exchange was broad. The participants shared many ideas about the interpretation of this story and how they could be applied to life situations in the present day.

»There was a quiet, older woman who didn't participate very much. But she was observant and seemed very interested. After everyone else had their say, she added quietly, ‘It's your daughter. She wants her daughter healthy and she will do what is necessary.’ «(p. 255)

This woman touched on and named something essential in this story. The Canaanite woman does what is necessary for her daughter, come what may. Jesus is amazed at precisely this woman and says to her: Woman, your faith is great.

Now a question arises: what constitutes faith? Most of the time we think that faith is synonymous with »belief in God«. And great faith is often interpreted as believing in God in situations of suffering. For in such situations of suffering there is a temptation to think that we have been forsaken by God. Great faith, on the other hand, claims that God is present even when there are no obvious signs of that presence. Holy people will always acknowledge and worship God.

 

But that formula does not work in this story. That is not the great faith of this woman. Her faith consists in the fact that she acts in a hardnosed way out of her deepest conviction. She takes nine important steps in the story.

 

  1. She needs to know what she really loves. Important questions must be clarified in her heart before she goes on the streets and confronts Jesus. What are my heart's concerns? What is it worth fighting for in my life?  That is the unspoken premise of this narrative and it is the indispensable prerequisite for any narrative of great faith. We have to recognize what we really love, because only for that will we go all out. We do not fight for what leaves us cold, we do not fight for what is indifferent to us. If we don't care how the story ends, then we won't get involved.
  1. The woman must recognize that her dearest daughter is in danger. A situation arises in the daughter's life that needs healing. But she will only notice that if she watches carefully over her daughter, looks at her again and again and constantly checks what her condition is.
  1. The woman must recognize where salvation and life are possible. The fact that Jesus brings these possibilities of God with and within is useless if she does not know who he is and what he can do. She needs to recognise the potential in Jesus for her life and the life of her daughter.
  1. She is not passive. Her daughter's illness does not paralyze her. She walks towards Jesus. She does not wait at home for God's possibilities to come to her.
  1. She makes her request clearly and precisely. She knows what she wants (have mercy on me) and why she wants it (my daughter is tormented by a demon.).
  1. She does not accept silence. She does not break off the dialogue and does not sneak away just because Jesus does not want to talk about it for the time being. Her daughter's life is too important to her for that, and her concern that her daughter may live safely and freely again is too precious.
  1. She also does not let the feeling of discomfort in the others put her off. »Then his disciples came up to him and asked: Send her away, because she is shouting after us!« She does not go away on her own, just because her concerns make the disciples uncomfortable.
  1. She is ready to enter into confrontation. If she has to persuade the Jewish Messiah and remind him that although there are many ethnic groups, there is still only one God, so be it.
  1. She is a determined servant of these possibilities of God. She uses everything that is available to her. Her character changes in the course of the story. She is loud and assertive, then pleading and indulgent, then smart and confrontational. Her great faith is not just an inexorable devotion to the betterment of a person she loves and her situation. It is also the creative ability to find the way to such a betterment. That is the hallmark of creativity: it has no predetermined agenda. Creativity has a clear mission, but not an inviolable, universal strategy. Creativity does not know what it is about to face. It knows very well that there will be resistance, but it does not know the exact nature of that resistance. So this creative woman is ready, alert, and open to what will be needed. Do I need arguments? Then there are arguments. Do I need reverence? Then there will be reverence. Do I need confrontation? Then there will be confrontation.

 

And Jesus is amazed at precisely this woman and says to her: Woman, your faith is great. She doesn't let anyone or anything (not even Jesus) stop her to get to where life and salvation are.

 

And this path is open to us as well. We, too, could take these 9 important steps of a great faith.

  1. We should know what we really love, what is truly important to us. Only for this will we invest strength and energy, undertake adventures and even make personal sacrifices.
  1. We should notice what endangers our heart's concerns. If we do not realize that they need healing, they can die of neglect very quickly. Just as we pay close attention to our state of health, we should often and regularly look at the health of our heart's concerns.
  1. We should recognize where the possibilities of God are that could bring us salvation and life in our hour of need. Which people, stories, encounters or conversations could give us these possibilities?
  1. We should not become passive, but rather move towards God's possibilities for salvation and life, take steps and become active. This is especially dangerous in forms of spirituality where we are always passively waiting for God's action while we ourselves sit back and wait for him to come.
  1. We should clearly state our concerns. Often we know exactly what we dislike and what we no longer want, but we cannot say exactly what we need and want.
  1. The silence of others about our concerns should neither determine nor prevent us from pursuing and realizing them.
  1. Even if others do not feel comfortable with what is important to us, or even if they reject it, we should not let ourselves be turned away. What touches and moves us does not lose its meaning or legitimacy if others do not share it.
  1. We should be ready to enter into confrontation. For everything that is truly important to us, we have to expect resistance, disinterest and rejection. And if we really love something that is important to us, then we will enter into confrontation for it.
  1. We should use everything that is available to us; be loud and assertive, pleading and indulgent, smart and confrontational. Be creative, ready, vigilant, and open to what will be needed.

 

This is the point of the woman who says to John Shea, »It's her daughter. She wants her daughter healthy and she will do what is necessary.« The full range of human creativity must be practiced in the pursuit of healing, life and the future. That is a great faith.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 16th, 2020

 

 

»Because God gazed at her«

 

In the hot summer of 2003 I spent several days with my eldest daughter in Aachen. She had a lot to do and so I enjoyed the city for two days. When, on the morning of August 15th, the bells of the Church of St. Jacob rang next door, I let myself be drawn and went to the small community gathered around the altar to celebrate the feast of the Assumption with them. The pastor related the following story in the sermon: Some time ago he and a friend visited the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar. There they had wandered from work to work, deeply interested in art, when they witnessed a touching and moving scene in front of a picture of Mary. A little boy there asked his father: »Papa, why is the woman so beautiful?« The father crouched down, took his son on his thigh and answered: » Why is the woman so beautiful? - Because God gazed at her!«

 

We all live from being seen. Not to be looked at, to be overlooked, not being noticed, makes us uncertain of ourselves.

 

Hilde Domin puts it this way in her poem:

Your place is

where eyes look at you.

Where eyes meet

you are created.

 . . .

You exist

because eyes want you,

look at you and say

that you exist.

 

                        (Hilde Domin, Gesammelte Gedichte ,1987)

 

It is told of the simply but charismatic Cure d’Ars that he often sat in silence for hours in his little village church. When asked what he was doing there, he simply replied: »He looks at me and I look at him.«

 

Gazing means more than seeing. It means taking something into our sight, to let our eyes rest on something. To gaze at a human being means turning toward them, to go with them at eye level.

Or, as John O’Donohue formulates it so beautifully: »When we gaze at something with undivided attention, we draw it into ourselves.« That means, when we are seen like this, gazed at like this, we are also drawn in. To be truly seen mediates to us a sense of security and protection.

 

And we hear what resonates when God looks at me: He looks at me as I am, in the depths of my soul, in my personal core; it doesn't matter whether I am important in the world or not, whether I am poor or rich, healthy or sick, productive or in need of help, inconspicuous or magnificent.

 

To be gazed at by HIM makes beautiful.

To be gazed at by HIM makes great.

To be looked at by HIM lets you sing. That is why Luke puts this wonderful song on Mary’s lips:

 

» My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; My spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.« (Lk 1, 46-49)

 

If the loving gaze from person to person makes life possible, how much more so if the person stands eye to eye with God, who is love. This experience gives irrepressible strength, deep joy, creative vitality, sometimes explosively, often gently growing.

 

I am because He is gazing at me.

I am allowed to live what is mine because He is gazing at me.

Receiving my reputation from Him makes me beautiful.

 

At the end of the Liturgy in the St. Jacob’s Church in Aachen, the Pastor dismissed us with the words: »When you now go outside and a person comes toward you, remember: God gazed upon them as well!«

 

Tomorrow may we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary with joy!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 14th, 2020

 

 

The Search for Perfect Solutions

 

In the last few weeks there has been criticism of the solutions and measures that politicians, doctors and virologists have proposed and introduced. Donald Trump may be the most prominent critic of this kind, but it does not seem difficult for him to find a lot of companions in the public lamentation of these imperfect solutions.

I happily admit that none of the measures or solutions are perfect. Masks help, but they cannot always prevent infection. Distancing is effective, but it cannot guarantee that we will not get the virus.

But the search for a perfect solution is always dangerous, because it can cost us life, joy, love and enjoyment wherever they are given to us merely because they are not perfect. But we can live well, even very well, with imperfect solutions.

So I am sharing a wisdom story that can help us to calm down a bit by giving up the search for the perfect solution and taking the search for all that life has to offer us more seriously. The title of the story is: Nasrudin and the Perfect Woman.

Nasrudin, the wise fool, was drinking tea when a friend stormed excitedly into his house. “Nasrudin” he shouted, beaming with joy, “I am getting married! I am so happy. Say, have you ever thought of getting married in your life? "

Nasrudin looked thoughtfully into the distance. “Yes,” he said after a while, “when I was young I really wanted to get married. I spent a long time looking for the perfect wife and the best of all mothers for my future children.

“I traveled a lot in search of her and finally believed I had found her. It was in Damascus. She was hauntingly beautiful. Her hair was black as ebony and her lips as red as pomegranate seeds. She was beautiful not only on the outside, but also on the inside. Her heart was kind and her nature meek and beyond that she searched for the deep truths of life. She was truly was really great, unique, and beautiful. Then Nasrudin sighed. “Unfortunately, she wasn't educated. Of course, that meant she was not the perfect woman. And so I kept searching."

“Despite all my disappointment, I continued my search. Years later, I met a woman again, this time in Cairo. I was very careful and took the time to form an accurate opinion about her, but the longer I was with her, the more she seemed to fulfill all of my wishes. She was both spiritually interested and educated; she knew the most beautiful poems in the world by heart and it soon became clear to me that she had sat at all the seven pillars of wisdom and learned there: she was beautiful, her hair black as raven feathers and her lips red as young cherries; she was graceful and at the same time very mysterious. I fell madly in love with her. ” Then Nasrudin was silent for a long time before continuing. " Yet, my friend, unfortunately it turned out that she had a tendency toward stubbornness so we argued more and more often. After a while I moved on again, because under the circumstances she could not be the best of all women and mothers.

And so Nasrudin continued to tell of the women he met in Medina, Aleppo, Beirut, Istanbul and Amman. All of them had hair as black as the night, like pitch or coal or ink or coffee with cardamom. And each of these women had lips red as scarlet colored cloth, like sun-kissed tomatoes, like the paprika spices of the merchants of the Souk, like roses or like blood.

Yet none of them were perfect. One turned out to be greedy, the other as stingy. One was jealous, another imprudent, and yet another insidious. In the end, none of them was the perfect woman.

The acquaintance, who had been beaming with joy just shortly before, was now sitting there, deeply saddened and full of sadness for Nasrudin. “I think I understand you, my friend. You are telling me you wasted your time. There is no such thing as a perfect woman. And with that you also want to warn me so that I do not fool myself and believe, despite my joy and my being in love, that I have found her! "

Nasrudin looked up and gazed directly at the young man. “But no, my young friend. But no! That is not what I want to tell you at all. On the contrary. Finally, I met the perfect woman. It was in Baghdad. She was even more graceful and beautiful than I had imagined in my dreams. Her hair was black, but our poets have not yet woven a word for that color. And her lips were a shade of red that no flower or plant has ever produced. She was also educated like a grand vizier and wealthy like the caliph. She knew how to entertain her guests wisely so that angels forgot heaven. At the same time, she was filled with a deep love for God, that widened the heart of the Most Holy and Most Merciful, praised be his name. Oh, she was the perfect woman."

The acquaintance leaned forward with great relief in his voice and his eyes wide with curiosity. “And” asked the young man eagerly, “did you marry her?”

Nasrudin shook his head sadly. "No, my friend, unfortunately not" he mumbled.

"Damnation," shouted the young man, indignant and forgetting himself. “You old fool. What possible fault could you find with this one? How could you not marry her? "

Nasrudin looked at him sadly. "Well, my friend, unfortunately for me, she was looking for the perfect husband."

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 12th, 2020

 

 

 

Life through transformation

 

This first summer of the pandemic is very thought-provoking. In many places there is a wordless return to old holiday habits; loud protests are being shouted out into the world against alleged conspiracy theories and supposedly exaggerated government regulations. But whom does this serve? Where does life grow out of ignorance and self-centeredness? I notice rigidity in many faces and statements. But rigidity and hardness have never led to more life. On the contrary! Life always has to do with transformation and presupposes the willingness to let oneself be changed. Do we want that?

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said: »You are nothing but a path and a passage and you can only live from what you transform. The tree turns the earth into branches. The bee transforms the blossoms into honey. And your plowing turns the black earth into the sea of flames of the grain. "(In: The City in the desert, Citadelle)

The stories of God and of faith are full of stories of transformation. People bring what they are capable of into play and then experience that God makes his own contribution and that a change occurs that serves life and leads to abundance.

Let us imagine what would have happened if the servants at the wedding at Cana had been stubbornly resistant. Why and to what purpose should they fill 6 jugs with 100 liters of water each at this stage of the celebration? What is the point of this? But in John 2 we are told that they do so. What then happens makes the feast go on with joy and new abundance. Everyone can live from what has been transformed, from water to wine, from that which people have painstakingly provided to that which makes life worth celebrating.

We all live from transformation. Yesterday we celebrated the anniversary of Edith Stein's death, a woman who let herself be transformed, who could become a grain of wheat. As a highly educated scholar of Jewish origin and with adoctorate in philosophy, she was gripped by an experience in 1917 that began to transform her. A college friend had died in the war and she went to visit his widow in Bergzabern. She worried very much how this encounter would turn out in the face of the pain and grief. What could she say to the troubled woman? But she met a woman who was strong and firm in her faith and thus carried her cross. At that moment, said Edith Stein later, her Judaism had faded, her unbelief collapsed and faith appeared in the redeeming suffering of Jesus. That was her first encounter with the cross and she opened herself into what happened to her as a result. She searched, she read, and eventually the autobiography of Teresa of Avila became her turning point and she was baptized in 1922.

This highly educated woman did not deem her knowledge to be the highest or place her knowledge above everything else. She had an open, searching heart that was ready for encounter and transformation.

The grain of wheat that falls into the earth does not resist and does not hold on rigidly to remain as it is. It lets itself enter into the new environment and lets something happen to itself. The hard shell breaks open and life for many can grow.

Let us not remain or become hardened in this long time of crisis. Let us not stubbornly cling to what is supposedly ours. We could tranquilly trust that transformation is happening in us and through us.

We all live from it!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 10th, 2020

 

 

Where do we hear the voice of God?

19th Sunday A 2020

 

1 Kings 19, 9-13

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.

And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Where do we hear the voice of God?

In today’s story from the First Book of Kings four images for the presence of God are named: A great windstorm, an earthquake, a fire and a low whisper.

A great windstorm, an earthquake, a fire are three classic images of the presence of God. They were all three present on the selfsame mountain on which Elijah finds himself (Mount Horeb is but another name of Mount Sinai) when Moses received the Ten Words from God.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.

Exodus 19, 16-18

When the Prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming of God’s presence, he employs the same powerful triad of images.

And in an instant, suddenly,

you will be visited by the Lord of hosts

with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,

with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.

Isaiah 29, 6

 

These three images of God's presence all have something in common: they have enough power and violence to make themselves heard. They can force us to pay attention. They can force us to take directions and paths that we don't necessarily want to go.

In the rather shallow translation of today's reading, the last experience is described as the sound of a low whisper. But here an important part of the original text is missing, because here the Hebrew always speaks of a voice. It may be quiet and gentle, but it is a voice. Martin Buber translates the passage as follows: »but after the fire a voice of floating silence.«

This is not insignificant for this story of God. The last experience stands out from the first three experiences in two ways. It is quiet and gentle where the others are loud and powerful. But it is also a voice connected to a speaker, while the first three only make noises. A whisper would be merely a sound. Elijah reacts not only to the gentle and quiet, but to a voice. Because where there is a voice, there are opportunities for understanding, communication and relationships.

But a voice of floating silence has little chance against the loud and powerful experiences of storms, earthquakes and fire. It can easily be ignored, faded out, ignored. And it has neither the power nor the attractive quality to make itself heard.

A voice of floating silence only has a chance if we give it space and an opportunity to be heard. Such a voice can be heard when we listen. This is why the Celts say that listening is first reverence.

It is not just about how loud and penetrating the voice of God is in the world: it is about the form and quality of our attention.

We are accustomed to our attention being caught and held. Especially in this time of great fatigue with Corona and the associated restrictions, the call for it becomes louder again: »Entertain to me, convince me, rouse and keep my interest«. In other words, catch and hold my attention. Those who can do that make themselves heard.

Before we shrug our shoulders and dismiss that with »That's the way the world is«, we should at least pause long enough and honestly state the price that such an attitude entails. More importantly, we should clearly admit who is paying this price. Because in a world where only those who can catch and hold our attention can make themselves heard, there is a harrowing downside. Those who cannot do it are doomed. Because the poor, the refugees, the displaced, the youth, the old, the infirm, the sick, the homeless, the hungry and the homeless can neither catch nor hold our attention. They cannot entertain us. And that is why their voice of floating silence is mostly not heard.

That is why it is and remains true: listening is the first reverence. Because there is a second form of attention: I can pay attention to a person. We call this mindfulness. In mindfulness, the ability of the other does not determine whether I hear him, but I take the initiative and purposely, consciously give my mindfulness. Attention is drawn. Mindfulness is given. Goethe captured it: »Because that is the quality of true mindfulness, that it makes nothing into everything at the moment.«

Why would I give my mindfulness to a voice of floating silence? Because behind a voice there is a speaker and I can choose to meet this speaker, be he God or a person, with awe. Because the speaker has worth, dignity and purpose. Because he is loved and wanted.

Thus can a voice of floating silence lure us out of the cave so that we face God. Because God can make himself heard. After all, he has done it before in storms, fires and earthquakes. But this hour is an hour of clarification, because God also wants to know: would you listen, pay attention to me, if I do not force you?

The news these days pull us back and forth between storms and a voice of floating silence.

The civil war in Syria, the refugees without their belongings, the sick struggling for breath and life, the mourning who could not even say goodbye to their dead, but also the homeless and poor on the streets, and widows whose children will no longer come home: they cannot catch and hold our attention. They will only be respected and helped if we give them our mindfulness.

Where do we hear the voice of God?

O God of the softer tones,

you spoke to Elijah with the voice of floating silence.

Weave your words in whispers around us

that we might lean in with intense curiosity inside of leaning back in self-satisfied satiety.

You, whose gentle voice lures us out of our caves and hiding places, in our day and on all days.

Amen.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 9th, 2020

 

 

New ways, new actions, a new perspective

 

Again and again we humans want this: to finally do something different, to set out in a new direction, to gain a new perspective and to live. But the old familiar ways hold us tight. We repeat and practice what we always do. It is more convenient and it seems safer to us.

Since March we, as individuals and as a society, have been faced with major challenges that are new for us all. The worldwide active danger of the Covid19 virus forces new ways of acting on us as well as new ways and a changed view of many things that are taken for granted in life. Many of us accept it and persist in it. Many seemed to accept it and live according to it, but at some point it fell apart. Once again the well-known paths to parties and family celebrations, to beloved spots in the city and elsewhere are being taken again.

The familiar ways of acting are practiced again and the selfish and egocentric view that has been practiced for many years has not really changed and is now breaking it path once more.

So why, as some people initially hoped for, doesn't the crisis lead to a blessing?

Because we don't really want to set out.

Let us look at ancient history of the faith:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went ...      (Gen 12, 1-4)

God is asking Abram to set out in a threefold manner which we like to skim over. He should leave his country, his kindred and his father's house. To set out from my usual country means to tread new paths that I have never followed before, to put my feet on unknown ground and to take a completely new direction.

Leaving kindred behind means bravely taking new steps and not just doing what is usual, what I have always done and what others know and expect of me.

Leaving my father's house requires me to really grow up. Then I do not just take over the way my family thinks and sees, but change my view of myself, of those for whom I am responsible, and indeed of life as a whole. Then I immerse myself into my own experiences, consider and interpret them and gain my own perspective.

God's promise is clear: THEN you will grow up, be blessed, and bring blessings. We could also say it differently: If you do what flows from within you and what be demanded of you in a completely new way, if you walk your own paths and not on well-trodden paths, if you live what is within you and gain your own perspectives, then you will win life and new life will burst forth from you and blessings will come into the world through you.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, August 7th, 2020

 

 

The Sign of Jonah

 

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Mt 12, 38-41

The scribes and the Pharisees are not the only ones who would like to see a sign. At some point we all desired a sign. We would like a sign that relieves us. The sign should give us a brilliant clarity, rescue us from a tricky story, take away a problem or solve a crisis.

Jesus' answer is merely to promise the sign of the prophet Jonah, and that is not what we have in mind when we dream of a sign. Because the prophet Jonah is not brought out of a tricky situation, but sent deliberately into the heart of the situation. He is expected to go where he does not want to go. The problem is not taken away from him, but he has to take on a problem that he would keep far from himself. God does not solve a crisis for him, but entrusts this crisis to him.

Jonah will be in the belly of the fish for three days. That was an important part of his struggle with that which God entrusted to him. Nothing is spared him. A lot is expected of him. He has to endure darkness, insecurity, doubt and fear. And while these clarification processes are ongoing, he is brought to the place where people need him.

Jesus sees this image as an image of his own way. The Son of Man is brought to the heart of the earth where he has to endure darkness, insecurity, doubt and fear and then, in the resurrection, is brought to the place where his people need him.

That is the only sign we are given. We want a sign from God for our path, especially in times of crisis like this. However, we, too, will endure darkness, insecurity, doubt and fear to be taken to where God's people need us.

People who avoid this path, who avoid this experience with all their might, will ultimately not be where people need them. They want to be spared, but as Hilde Domin puts it so well: »The wish to be spared is no good!«. This is a good thing, because being spared is the basic recipe for immaturity. Those who are spared do not learn, do not grow. Those who are spared never discover what potential, power, talent and transformative power are in them. Those who remain untouched remain unmoved. To be spared does not lead to rest, but to paralysis.

Because in order to be spared we have to avoid people. Jonah wanted to avoid the people of Nineveh. »The people of Nineveh will appear at the Last Judgment of this gender and will condemn it.« Why? Because they know exactly what would have happened to them if Jonah had been spared. Their city, their children and families and their future would have been wiped out. That is what is at stake if we avoid people to spare ourselves.

The tiredness we feel in these long days of the corona crisis quickly triggers the desire for a sign. We too will only be given the sign of Jonah. And that is good. When we are in crisis, from whom do we expect help? Certainly not from those who only want to be spared, because they will avoid us at all costs so as not to be burdened by our questions, worries and fears. In the belly of the fish, in the heart of the earth, in the midst of the crisis, we will find the people from whom we can expect something.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 5th, 2020

 

 

The Fear Before the Adventure: A Prayer

 

O God of all our wild and meandering ways,

my heart withers at the mere thought of adventure,

when I hear the stories of my world.

 

Why are all the heroes so lonely?

Why must their adventures be borne by none but themselves?

What is so splendid about their isolation?

Even their statutes stand lonely above the admiring crowds.

 

In your stories, being an adventurer is not a solo performance

You do not write plays for one actor.

Your cast is magnificent in its breadth of characters.

Mose’s song had Miriam’s dance.

While David’s prowess saved a nation, Jonathan’s fidelity saved his friend.

Esther’s hesitation had Mordechai boldness.

Ruth had Naomi.

Mary had Joseph

Jesus had us.

 

And then it falls like scales from my eyes.

(Saul also had Ananias).

No paths I have walked were ever eased by loneliness.

Adventures without companions are nightmares.

Isolation is but unaccompanied terror.

I would rather stand in the sheltering of my sisters and brothers.

 

O God of all our wild and meandering ways,

my heart blossoms at the mere thought of adventure,

when I hear the stories of your world.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, August 3rd, 2020

 

 

A Mutual Help

18th Sunday A 2020

 

The Gospel story of the feeding of the multitudes is seen almost exclusively as an example of how Jesus helps his people. But would it be conceivable that this story also gives us an example of how we humans come to the help of Jesus? Could it be that this is about mutual help and strengthening?

 

Because this story begins with a deeply shaken Jesus. »When Jesus heard that John had been beheaded, he retired from there by boat alone to a lonely area.« Jesus was deeply affected by the violent death and brutal injustice against an innocent friend. And so Jesus does what many very badly affected people did before and after him: he withdraws. He withdraws from his work. He withdraws from his friends and fellow human beings. He needs time for himself and wants to be alone for the time being.

 

Well, even if we have no use for the world around us, it often still needs us. Nowhere in the story is it implied that Jesus had enough time to work through everything that depressed and shook him. Nowhere is it said that he is now less affected than before. But the crowds now stand before him. These people are also affected by the news of the execution of John, the violence of their king and the brutal injustice of the powerful against an innocent brother out of their midst.

 

The crowds of people, however, take a different path. As Jesus withdraws into loneliness, the crowd moves toward a common enterprise, towards a common action. In the face of John's violent death, they have not given up the hope of life, salvation and healing. They do not withdraw, but set out instead. They are not looking for loneliness, but for encounter. Abuse of power and the disregard for justice have made them hungry for more life in a world where too much killing takes place; for more salvation in a world where too much harm is done; for more justice in a world where there is too much arbitrariness; for more compassion in a world where there is too much mercilessness. What is increasing here is no the number of loaves, but the hungers of the human heart.

The Jesus who had withdrawn now meets crowds of people who are hungry for more life. And this encounter seems to change something in him. He sees the many people and what he sees in them stirs pity instead of withdrawal. The hunger for life in the crowd awakens the desire for healing in Jesus. This encounter is a mutual blessing, because both sides will be deeply drawn to a world in which salvation, life and healing play the decisive role, and that after experiencing a world in which violence, injustice and arbitrariness seemed to determine everything.

 

In this encounter, Jesus recognizes a great deal in his fellow human beings, including their potential. It is evening and there is nothing to eat here. The place where they are is described in a similar way to the place that Jesus originally sought out when he wanted to be alone: remote, lonely, abandoned. The disciples look at the place and come to the conclusion that there is no potential to feed and satisfy hungry people here. Jesus looks at the people in this place and recognizes something more: »They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat! «

 

The depiction of the biblical story remains much more sober than the language of the faithful. There is never any talk of a multiplication of loaves, nor of a miracle. There is talk of willingness to share and of a rhythmic give and take and give: the disciples give Jesus five loaves and two fish. Jesus takes them, blesses them and breaks the loaves. Then he gives the five loaves to the disciples. They take them and give them to the crowd. The crowd accepts the broken bread and eats, but they end up giving what is left over to the disciples. Throughout the story, everyone involved has been a giver and a recipient. Here, too, the story is based on an encounter that leads to mutual blessing. And again more life arises than before.

 

I believe that in the mutual encounter between Jesus and his people there is a transformative force that changes everyone in the encounter. Jesus and the people learn that people like Herod cannot kill the forces of love and justice that John triggered. Even in the lonely places in life they will not be able to wipe out the spirit. The people who makes life and death decisions at the banquets of palaces as if it were a game, will not be able to kill the willingness to encounter and share. And even if the hour is late, there are opportunities to satisfy hunger, to face injustice with power and to encounter and touch one another mercy and benevolence. The residents of the palaces have no idea of any of this.

 

And what of us? What do we desire of and what will we bring to the encounter that will transform God and humanity? How will we, with Jesus, respond to violence and injustice in our time? Will we be passive, withdrawn people in the face of corona, racism, abuse of power and disregard for human rights, or will we set out with a hunger for salvation and life, looking for someone who shares this hunger with us?

 

I began my homily with two questions: Would it be conceivable that this story also gives us an example of how we humans come to the help of Jesus? Could it be that this is about mutual help and strengthening? I deeply believe that this is not a lesson that Jesus taught his people, nor a lesson that the people taught Jesus. It is lesson that we teach each other, born of encounter and touch and relationship. In the Liturgy of the Hours we begin with the plea: God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me. It does my heart good to be know that sometimes I can come to his assistance and hasten to help him.

 

ERIK RIECHERS SAC

Vallendar, August 2nd, 2020

 

 

Against Exploitation

 

This time of the pandemic brings with it many depressing things. What particularly shakes me is that even in this situation there are people who are willing to exploit people in need. They offer remedies that do not work or try to make money out of them with financial schemes. The prophet Hosea raised his voice against such injustice and coined an important word:

For they sow the wind,

and reap the whirlwind.

(Hosea 8,7)

 

This word helps us to understand the God who pours out his heart in the book Exodus (22, 20-25). Strangers, widows and orphans should neither be exploit nor misused by his people.

 

The warning here is not only that we should not exploit other people, but that we are not to exploit to our advantage the current situation they find themselves in. Because strangers, orphans and widows have come into situations where they are easy prey. And such situations lure unscrupulous people to use the moment to manipulate them. »Now we finally have them where we want them.«

 

Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind. For God says: »I will hear, for I am compassionate.« People of this kind will learn firsthand what it means to exploit this poverty, this helplessness and this impotence. Those who act and live unfairly will not benefit in the long run. Those who drive others off will not harvest fertile land, but desert.

 

»If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.«  (Ex 22, 26-27) These words are particularly serious. They contain everything that God despises about human greed, cold-heartedness and exploitation.

 

There is no keeping of the cloak as a deposit after sunset. Back then, many would have asked themselves: Why not? It's just good business practice. But it is again the exploitation and exploitation of someone else's situation. And again God says: »I will hear, for I am compassionate.« Those who sow such a wind will reap the whirlwind. They will not be rich, happy or satisfied.

 

For the image says:  

Woe to you, if you take from a person that which gives him warmth: because then you are responsible for ensuring that more cold penetrates into the world and into people.

Woe to you who take what protects him: because then you are responsible for the fact that people have been exposed.

Woe to you if you take from a person that which gives him a sense of home, that in which he can wrap himself to find rest and peace: then you are responsible for the fact that people have to move into the night of life homeless and at the mercy of the elements.

God says: »I will hear, for I am compassionate.«

For they sow the wind,

and reap the whirlwind.

 That is not a threat. It is a promise.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 31, 2020

 

 

Lord, To whom shall we go?

 

When people asked the Walter Burghardt SJ how they could personally lived more fully and deeply out of the Just Word of the biblical stories, he loved to tell them to make friends with men and women of justice. Read their words, listen to the way they speak, immerse yourself in their stories. I have often been deeply grateful for his wise counsel. Yet, the older I get the more I go one step further. To make friends with men and women of justice is to make friends with men and women of hope, for the hardest part of justice is to keep hope alive.

Among the most famous quotes from Dante Alighieri's work Inferno, is the line »lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate«, usually translated as »all hope abandon ye who enter here«. They are the words written over the gates of hell.

I have understanding for that line. It expresses a deep truth about the hells we humans create through avarice and envy, through self-absorption and hatreds too numerous to count. And that truth is savagely simple: Every hell ever fashioned saps hope from the human heart.

»All hope abandon ye who enter here«. I have understanding for that line. But I have greatest admiration for those who refused to abide by it. I have sought to befriend the men and women who have seen this writing on the wall and went into a hell anyway, to bring life and hope beyond the leeching powers of hell. 

Howard Zinn was such a man. As a historian and political scientist at Boston University, he was an ardent student of civil rights movements and of peace movements. Following Walter Burghardt’s advice, I read his memoir You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. With every page turned my admiration waxed. Let me share with you my favourite passage from this book, and perhaps you will understand why.  

»To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.« *

»All hope abandon ye who enter here«. I have understanding for that line. But I have greatest admiration for those who refused to abide by it, people like Howard Zinn. Yet, the greatest friendship I have tried to forge with a person who refused to abide with this line, is with Jesus of Nazareth. This is the deepest truth of the line of our Creed. »He descended into hell.«

In these days of Corona and the lamentation of second waves, we might spend a little more time refusing to abide by the line »All hope abandon ye who enter here« and more time writing a story of »compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness«.

*Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 29th, 2020

 

 

Let them be who they will be I

 

The Younger Son

 

In his book The Spirit Master, John Shea tells the story of the Father and his two sons from an uncommon and startling perspective. He lets each character speak the story from his point of view.

 

In these days of uncertainty and hesitancy about Corona and the future, there is a similar dynamic afoot. Varied people have varied interpretations as to what the experience means. Some feel nothing more than the need to restore what was taken from them in this time. Others feel deep-seated resentment toward the restrictions and hardships this crisis brought with it. And some seek deeper meaning in it all while answering the call of the hour in service, accompaniment and love toward to their companions on the journey.

 

This will be a tale told in three parts. We hope you will immerse yourself not only into a magnificent tale told by a master storyteller, but also in the world of the parable and its possibilities. It would be delightful if we grew in understanding and insight into the story Jesus told so long ago. It would be redemptive, if we could also grow in understanding and insight through the story into the moment we are living through right now.

 

Then Jesus said, »There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.«

 

The Younger Son

 

On beef,

the meat around the bone is best:

On woman,

though, I prefer the pump parts.

 

What a feast my father throws!

O belly, we’re back!

No more watch and rumble

while the swine swill and snort

and I bite through my lip and drool

for a munch on one of the carob pods.

But a love slap on the unclean rumps!

They made me remember my own trough –

DADDY

 

I rehearsed a speech,

a mumble masterpiece.

With a mouth turned down,

an eyeful of mist,

repentant as a whore with clap:

I whimper:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven

and against thee.” (voice falters).

            (Daddy, your little boy has done wrong

            and he’s so sorry that he’ll never do it again.

            Really, he won’t.)

“Do not take me back as a Son:

Take me back as a hired hand.”

            (But TAKE ME BACK,

            my belly and I do beg,

you large-lardered,

stuffed-saddlebagged,

wine-drenched

old Daddy.)

 

Grovel a little to guzzle a lot:

Crawl on your belly to feed it.

That is my philosophy.

 

But the old man upstaged me.

He fell upon me in mid-sentence

ruining my clever act.

But the script was magic.

A robe, ring and sandals

suddenly appeared;

and this feast fell from heaven.

It was like I was,

what can I say,

a long lost son,

a dead man come back to life.

 

But I suspect Father is up to something.

No one can be that happy

to see the return of an appetite

That swallowed half an inheritance.

But, then again, I always was his favorite

And I could make him dance to any tune I piped.

Gushy old men are my speciality.

Anyway, the calf is succulent.

 

I have what I want,

and that is what I have always wanted.

 

John Shea, The Spirit Master

 

July 24th, 2020

 

Let them be who they will be II

 

The Older Brother

 

The Older Brother

 

All these years!

Even the servant boy sensed it.

He would not look at me

as he told me the news:

“Your brother is home,

and your father has killed the fatted calf

because he has him back safe and sound.”

He has had ME home –

all these years –

and no music ever greeted ME

as I dragged in

from our fields.

All those mornings!

With him coughing up his night phlegm

and complaining of the cold,

and me throwing a blanket around his bones,

and sitting him on a bench in the sun.

All those days!

With him staring off in the opposite direction

of wherever I was,

growing weary from watching

for the one who does not come,

and me looking up from the earth

to find his back blocking the sky.

All those harvests!

With me, giddy as a child who has found a coin,

yelling for him to come

to see the hundredfold crops and sagging vines,

and him coughing and sighing

like the wheat was dust and the grapes were rocks.

All those nights!

With him droning a prayer

and nodding over his food,

and forgetting to bless me before bed.

And me watching for the embrace

he was saving,

hoping for the words

he was hoarding,

eager for an unfeigned arm

around my shoulder,

for a kiss strong enough

to bring blood to my cheek.

 

Now he tells me that

all these years

we have been

together and have become

one.

“You have been with me always;

and all I have is yours.”

I need more, Father,

I need you to run to ME

out of breath and heart-bursting,

not as you are now

with your sensible “Now see here” logic

about the fittingness of feasting

For someone else.

 

All these years!

John Shea, The Spirit Master

 

July 26th, 2020

 

Let them be who they will be III

 

The Father

 

The Father

 

I have two sons,

neither of whom wants ME for a father.

So they make me into the father they want.

 

One makes me into a pimp for his belly.

He thinks he tricks me into concessions,

cons a calf from a sentimental old fool.

He credits my dancing to his piping:

but the music I hear has another source.

 

He is always empty

so my fullness is hidden from him.

His cunning gives him no rest

so my peace eludes him.

He secretly seizes in the night

what I freely offer in the day.

He wants a father he can steal from.

Instead he has me,

a vine with more wine

than he can drink.

It is hard for him to forgive me

for providing more than he can plunder.

I am abundance.

He must learn to live with it.

 

The other one counts my kisses.

He wants me to count his.

“For two days ploughing,

take this hug.

For a plentiful harvest,

receive this blessing.”

He is so unsure of himself,

he cannot share my assurance.

He lives by measuring what he does not have.

An eye anywhere else

is an eye lost to him.

He thinks I take him for granted;

but I lean on him like a staff.

he is the privileged companion

of my morning pain and evening praise.

I would allow no one else to see

the stumble of my memory,

the embarrassment of my body.

 

But he credits my love to his loyalty.

He wants a father, indentured to him,

paying him back in affection

for his back-breaking labour.

Instead he has me,

an ancient tree with its own soil.

He does not understand

that he cannot calm his panic with a bargain.

There will be chain between us.

I freely tie my wrist to his.

 

I have two sons.

Wherever they are,

I go to meet them.

I am their father.

But I am who I am.

Let them be

who they will be.

John Shea, The Spirit Master

 

July 27th, 2020

 

Desert Experience

 

Oh, how long have I endured on this inhospitable desert floor! I owe the fact that I am still alive solely to my frugality. Of course, my roots are extremely long. And when the winter time brings some rain, I bloom almost abruptly. One or  the other then pauses when they pass this way on their journey from Beerscheba to the south in the early part of the year, and marvel at my white blossoms. It does my soul good. Because for the greater part of the year I look more like a shrub and I am hardly noticed. After all, I am now nearly two meters high - I give shade now and again to one or the other tired traveller.

One such as this was here yesterday. He came alone, dragged himself close to me in the midday heat! He had to curl up to more or less come under my shadow. Somehow I felt that he did not just want to take a break. And indeed: I heard him whisper something about » It's enough, Lord. Take my life «. Oh my, I thought, if you want to stay here, then nobody needs to take your life, then you will dry up all by yourself. Unfortunately, there was no breeze that would have passed through my thin branches - otherwise I would have tried to draw his attention to me. Perhaps he would then see life in me and consider how this is possible here. Maybe then he would look at his life. But there was no chance - he was already fallen into a deep sleep.

Restless and saddened, I kept a quiet watch over him, the tired stranger. I myself know the drought and how close I came during some autumns to drying out and perishing. But I never ceased pushing my roots deeper and deeper towards the water; and as soon as the blessed water came from above, I greedily took it up and let myself flow full with it. It is worth living for that, dear wanderer!

But how could I, a broom tree in the Negev, convey this to my guest!?

Then I heard a voice and the man awoke from it. »Rise and eat!«, it had briefly spoken. Next to him was a still warm bread and a jug of water and you cannot imagine my relief: he ate and drank! Now he, too, allows himself to flow full with water and nourished and then he will want to live on and set off soon, I thought. But there was no sign of this; he lay down again just as weakly as before. No wonderment, no joy, no desire – whereby, he had not had to do anything for these gifts of life! This went beyond my little broom tree comprehension.  We who live in the desert value everything that keeps us alive and draw on it as soon as it is given to us. And how my blossoms dance in the spring wind and with what joy do I pass out my seeds! But this person felt nothing of all this.

Which Lord had he addressed earlier when he wished to die and asked him to take his life? Was it the Lord, Yahweh, whom I heard people speak of throughout the years? They also called him savior, liberator and told stories of life when they passed swiftly through this desert. If he meant this Lord, then it seemed that likely that he would seek to help him live rather than to die. Did he not he understand that?

Perplexed, I kept my eyes on the sleeper and found no peace.

»Rise and eat, lest the way be too far for you « it suddenly sounded forth next to me or within me. I do not know, but the voice was clear, powerful, and determined. And it worked. The man ate, drank, got up and took up his bag. He stretched his stiff body, shook himself a little, and headed south towards Sinai without a word.

A tremor went through me. What kind of Lord must this be? He is asked to take his life, but he stubbornly ensures that life goes on.

I felt a smile deep within me: Indeed, the only thing the man had to do for himself was to eat and drink!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 22nd, 2020

 

 

Choose life

 

»I want to finally live!« I am confronted with this statement repeatedly and in various ways. People speak it after long dry stretches where they feel and find little joy and meaning. They speak this sentence when they are ground down by a lasting lack of orientation and an enduring emptiness. A hunger rings forth from this sentence. A thirst lies at the heart of it.

In the end, however, after the sentence is pronounced, people often discover that it is incorrect. Because when it comes to doing something, to struggling, making decisions and getting involved, they shrink back. What they discover is usually painful and extremely unpleasant, because we are very reluctant to look at this side of our soul. What they discover is what they have not spoken aloud, but what they really want. They really want to live, but only if life is given to them.

In Deuteronomy 30,19  God makes a different, but very clear offer. »I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life,  that you and your offspring may live.« Life is a possibility that God offers us, but we must choose it. Yet, because we would prefer to have life without the effort of choosing, fully finished and served on a silver platter, God calls heaven and earth as his witnesses against us from the very start. This was never his offer. He gives us a choice, not a finished product.

In 1 Kings 19 there is a parallel passage to the Dt. 30,19. Here Elija sits down under a broom and wishes for death. But then he goes on to say what he really wants . »It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.« He does not want to choose death, but rather that God should kill him. The offer of God, also for Elijah is: »I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.« But Elijah does not want to choose. God should become his murderer and thereby relieve him of the need to choose between life and death.

Thus, God sends him a messenger who brings him a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water, touches him, wakes him and says: »Arise and eat.« At that moment, God again presents Elijah with a choice between life and death. In doing so God says to him: »I give you the opportunity to choose life with water and bread. But do not imagine for a moment that I will kill you. You cannot make me the murderer of your life. If you want to die then choose death. Then don't eat and don't drink.«

And lo and behold: Elijah eats and drinks. Then he lies down again. So God sends him the messenger for a second time, again with the same offer. This is not to be belittled, because people often need more than one chance to really take something to heart. At the same time, this decision cannot be postponed indefinitely, because he is laying a desert that will kill him very swiftly if he does not come to a decision. »I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.«

In the end, Elijah chooses life. This is in no way a romantic story, let alone a fairy tale. Because as soon as Elijah chooses life, he has to wander through the desert to the mountain of God, Horeb, for forty days and forty nights. At the beginning of the story, he only went one day’s journey into the desert until he wishes to die at the broom tree. With the choice of life, he not has to cover a distance that takes 40 times as long to cover.

The broom tree hears how Elijah wishes for death. I sometimes wonder what the broom tree would think if it heard the sentence »I want to finally live!« Because at the start, this too is nothing more than a wish. But if we really want to live, then we have to turn this wish into a decision, combined with everything that a decision entails in terms of effort, labour and investment. The desire to finally start living is cheap until we answer a question: What is a life really worth to me? And this is the question we are asked by God when he says to us: »I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 20th, 2020

 

 

Of Wheat and Weeds

16 Sunday A: Mt 13, 24–30

 

I love biblical stories. No matter what the topic happens to be, they always remind me of three important wisdoms for my life: You are not the first. You are not the last. You are not the only one.

I love the messy stories better than the clean ones (and in the end, all the biblical stories are messy ones). Because my life is messy. The lives of my brothers and sisters are messy. The life of the world is messy. What would a clean, flawless and antiseptic story be able to say to us who have never had the luxury of living a life that is clean, flawless and antiseptic?

During this time of crisis, I was recently asked by a reader why he is often touched at the beginning by a sermon, impulse or story, but after a short time falls back into old patterns, attitudes and views. He had read an impulse from the series »May you be sheltered« and felt that he grown more loving, considerate and merciful in the days thereafter. Then he came back in contact with an old conflict and, as he interpreted it, he had lost everything he had gained before.

He is not the first. He is not the last. He is not the only one.

 

People leave the church on Sundays, inspired by a liturgy. They feel rooted, grounded, or realigned once again and feel the renewed confidence that they can face the trials of the world with constant mercy and justice. The parking lot and its traffic will be their first ruin. Honking the horn, they sing songs that are not to be found in church hymnals.

 

That is exactly the experience of the wheat and the weeds. The field of this story is the image for the human heart. Just as weeds can be found in every field, they will be found in every heart. We move between moments of knowledge and clear orientation on the one hand (wheat) and broken and distracted behavior on the other hand (weeds). There are times when we have everything under control (wheat) and then someone or something throws us completely for a loop (weed).

 

As long as we humans dwell in time and space, the kingdom of God will be like this in us. There will always be a struggle between the initiative that God plants in us and the resistances that are within us. The good and the bad will always exist side by side in us. This is not a sign that all of us are always getting it wrong, it is simply the reality of the human heart.

 

That is why Jesus never preaches of conversion as it can take place once and for all. We must immerse ourselves into a process of never-ending conversion. Here a fine distinction is of particular importance. This conversion that is always needed is not only a prerequisite for entering the Kingdom of God. No, this ever-necessary conversion is the way in which the Kingdom of God permeates the earth of our hearts. When the wheat and the weeds have stopped growing and have reached fullness, then it will be necessary to sift them. But as long as our hearts are still growing, as long as we are still in the process of becoming and the fruitfulness of God is still developing within us, that time has not yet arrived.

 

Wheat and weeds grow side by side. They are so interwoven that they form an inseparable unit. Wheat grows from the earth of the heart when we successfully embody our deepest inner convictions about love. Weeds grow out of the earth of the heart if we cannot embody, implement, or implement precisely the self-same convictions about love. We are a mixture of wheat and weeds

 

That is why we need time. All true growth takes time, in us as individuals and in a church or a society. Time is an opportunity for conversion, the chance to change our opinions and beliefs, and to do so again and again. We are repeat offenders. What we need to practice, and this with a little gentleness, is to become a repeat repenters.

 

It will certainly remain that way in this life. I was recently told that it will not be like this at the end of days. That is absolutely correct. But in case you have not noticed this yourselves, we have not yet arrived at the end of days.

 

As long as we still have breath within us, struggling with life is the goal. What we know is the way. We know what we should try, what we want to become and how we can promote and nurture it. That we should live lovingly, justly and in service is not a state secret. We know the way. What we do not now all that well are our own hearts. They are more sensitive than we would like to admit, they have more scars and more resentment than we would care to acknowledge.

 

When I, as a novice, complained loud and long about the imperfection of the community, my spiritual director said to me: »This is the community, not heaven.« In the community, wheat and weeds grow side by side.

 

It certainly could not hurt to look at such a strong agricultural picture from a farmer's perspective. The farmer does not see weeds as a mistake, but as an annoying necessity. Weeds do not grow because you are a bad farmer, but because farming without weeds is simply impossible. They are a part of the experience, a part of the process.

 

There are no clean solutions, neither in agriculture nor in the landscape of the soul. Radical courses of action, political or social, human or systemic, long for something that does not exist. The victims of racism do not have more decent living conditions and equality if we set fire to the inner cities, ransack shops, and tear down statues and damage houses. And we will not become better people if we scourge ourselves and make ourselves small or try to clean up the landscape of the heart with hardness or brutality.

 

What really matters is that we can distinguish wheat from weeds so that on the day of the harvest we gather in what is life-giving and throw away what is harmful. At the moment they often grow side by side in my heart. It is crucial that we know what we want to harvest. I know exactly what I want to keep and protect and what I don't. And with that in mind, I can calmly say to the weeds of my life: You have currently taken up some space in my heart, but in the long run you have no chance.

 

I am not the first. I am not the last. I am not the only one.

 

ERIK RIECHERS SAC

Vallendar, July 19th, 2020

 

 

An Exercise of the Sea

 

We want to have our life under control

to determine our small world ourselves.

We talk ourselves deeper into our notions,

childlike desires, demands, reproaches.

Sometimes we then grow short of breath,

we gasp for air.

 

And it is time to draw close to the sea and step into the surf:

 

Sea

When one comes to the sea

one should start to remain silent

at the last blades of grass

one should lose the thread

 

and breathe in the saltyfoam

and the sharp hiss of the wind

and exhale

and inhale again

 

When you hear the sand sawing

and the shuffling of the little stones

in long waves

you should stop what should be

and desire nothing more just the sea

Only the sea

Erich Fried

It's like an exercise

of letting go,

of surrender,

of becoming silent,

of devotion,

of self-forgetfulness

of drawing breath.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 17th, 2020

 

 

»The Struggle for Tenderness« II

 

When May began, the media talked weekly abut loosening the restrictions – including gradually doing so in old age homes. But nothing changed for Hans and Mercedes. Adding to his pain came a desperation that he also felt physically: his old asthma broke out again and began to torment him. He did not feel understood by anyone among his circle of friends. »Very few could understand how badly he needs his wife and how she needs him. And: How a man misses his wife and a woman misses her husband cannot be compared to how you miss a grandmother or your parents. «* This he confided to ZEIT- Magazine.

By the end of May, there was an increasingly large easing of restrictions in old age homes nationwide. However, the need for security in the retirement home, in which the Hans and Mercedes live, is very high and so everything here was still handled very strictly – successfully, in regard to protecting the elderly from the virus.

However, the misery of the loving old couple became oppressively stronger. They could now meet about every 10 days. Of course, a telephone registration was required and this was becoming more and more difficult, since the phone was mostly busy and often their son made the appointment. They were then together in the chapel of the house for less than half an hour. They sat opposite each other at a table with a Plexiglas pane between them and under constant control. At one such meeting, his wife exclaimed in Spanish: »What crime have we committed to be treated like this?«*

When Hans heard such statements from Mercedes during these difficult weeks, it always warmed his sad heart, because her erudition and her intelligence sounded through - she quoted Spanish poets or incorporated old experiences into her words. Even if she seemed to be deteriorating- his Mercedes was still there! He even managed to smuggle cakes and strawberries past the Plexiglas pane - and she ate with pleasure!

In June - it was already in the advanced third month of this disruptive situation - an email finally came with the message: » Visits are again possible in the respective living quarters every day.«* - at a distance, of course!

But now it became clear how this time of distancing had affected Mercedes. She raged and shouted something about the Leftists and the war. Old traumas from her childhood in Franco’s Spain, in which her hometown had been under siege for three months, had re-emerged: once again she had been forced to live three months apart from the world. Her husband could not calm her down and his fear grew that » something had irreparably broke down « during this time.* His heart was not filled with joy, but with great despondency and sadness. He felt at an end and asked their son to take on the next visit. How happy he was when he called him, lured him to the balcony and waved to him from the window with Mercedes at his side. He gave his mother the phone - and Hans beamed when she professed her love for him.

The struggle for tenderness is not yet at an end. But there has been an evening in which he was able to remain with her until she fell asleep – and during which she was finally able to say »their « sentence again: » I am happy that I have you.«

He feels gratitude, but also anger:  »Because I realised how many days had been taken from us. «*

 

» Love is patient and kind; … Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.«

 

*ZEIT-Magazine of July 2nd, 2020

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 15th, 2020

 

 

»The Struggle for Tenderness« I

 

Of all the stories we heard and told during the Corona crisis, I bet that the fewest of them were love stories.

» Love is patient and kind; … Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.«  Thus writes Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians and many couples chose this reading for their wedding and tend to believe that their love is precisely described here. Yet, such a love matures and is forged in life and whether it becomes masterpiece will be seen long, long after the weeding.

In the spring of this year a 65-year-old love story was continued in Berlin and I am grateful to ZEIT-magazine that I was allowed to read this story.

Mercedes and Hans look back on fulfilled and lively decades, both professionally and privately. They were able to fashion their lives together in Germany for over 6 decades and then in Spain after retirement. Hans had held a university chair in Saarbrücken for over 30 years; Mercedes, whose intelligence and love for surprises he still loves to this day, built small schools for the children of Spanish guest labourers.

For some time now they have been living in a retirement facility in Steglitz. Two years ago Mercedes began to suffer from dementia as a result of a luckily rather mild fall, but she had to move from their joint apartment to a room in the nursing section.

In their great love, which had lost none of their fascination for one another since they met as students in Madrid 65 years earlier, they were able to fill this situation with life. Every morning and evening, Hans came to his beloved wife for two hour. He spoke of the fact that a kind of marital community was formed that he had never known before. »'He read her books, including her own, they listened to music, he caressed and washed her. . . . He drew strength from her evening ritual: when she was given an anxiety reliever, he sat at her bed, holding her hands as she relaxed and became more and more tired and, just before she fell asleep, she always said the same sentence: ` I am happy that I have you. 'She meant her husband and son..« *

But then in March this ended abruptly. Due to Corona, the 86-year-old was no longer allowed visit his wife, who lives only 30 meters away from him, as the crow flies. He soon turned to the press because he was very worried and received no help at the home. In their phone calls, he increasingly noticed that Mercedes was growing worse. How could she live without his closeness? Nobody could give her what Hans gives her.

By mid-April, he had been allowed to see his wife three times. »See but not touch. That means a world of difference to him - and probably for her too. In the next weeks a battle would ensue around this world of difference.«* Little wonder, since the meetings took place in a large, prepared room, with a face mask and a distance of 2 meters, initially with a nurse in attendance as well - like a visit to a prison. At the first meeting, Mercedes called out, : » What kind of shitty meeting is this?« Weak as she was - she got to the point. Yes, they could finally see each other again, but what was that compared to what they needed!

Hans now dreamed of recapturing their evening ritual and had been hopeful since mid-April, when the number of cases was slowly declining, that this was not far off. On April 20, he confidently wrote an e-mail to the managing director: » Today I will simply write down a dream for you. … I am allowed to return to my wife's room. ... When my wife is in bed, I will stay with her until she falls asleep, as I have done for a year and a half. Then she says once again: 'I'm happy. ‘«

*ZEIT-Magazine of July 2nd, 2020

(To be continued on July 15th)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 13th, 2020

 

 

15. Sunday A 2020

 

The Word shall not return to me empty

 

When my old teacher began a new series of lectures he would place a biblical word in the room. This is the word we heard in the first reading.

»So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it..« Is 55, 11.

 

Thereafter he asked the first big question of our training as narrative theologians. »Ladies and gentlemen. If the Word of God never returns to him until it does what he sent it to do, then the question arises: what, exactly, should this word do?« Then it was our turn.

To help us, he was happy to tell us a little anecdote from the life of Martha Graham (world-famous American dancer and choreographer). After a performance she received the press. The reporters showered her with praise and could not find enough superlatives to describe her dance. Then a reporter asked her, »Can you explain the dance to us?« Her answer came immediately. »Don't be foolish, darling. If I could explain it, I wouldn't have danced it.«

This tip did not help us much either. The problem was simple. We assumed, as most people do, that the word has only one real purpose, namely to lead us to understanding. It should educate us, make us wise and give us insight. Sometimes it is true. Sometimes a light goes on, something becomes clear to us and we understand ourselves, the others, life and even the world a little better.

 

Sometimes. But not always. Sometimes we hear the word and nothing is clear to us. On the contrary; we are frustrated and annoyed because the narrative is difficult to understand, because the parables give us no revelation, and the whole Bible appears to us like a book with seven seals. If it was God's purpose to send His Word just to enlighten us, then he took on too big a project. Because each of us knows that the word often returns to him very without having brought about enlightenment in us.

Again and again we experience the confusing complexity of the biblical stories and cannot tame them. We tell about a God who negotiates with Abraham and Moses, then we tell a story about a God who yields no inch with Job. The God who is a quiet voice for Elijah is a whirlwind for Job. The loving father does not intervene in the death of his son. And inside we scream: illogical! And we stumble over ourselves to create logic as quickly as possible.

But logic is the very last and least passion of God.

The word that comes from his mouth is not primarily a word of understanding, but a word against forgetting. He sends out his word and it does not return until we are reminded of what God does not want to be forgotten. The word given reminds us of many things that we would easily forget.

When we use analytical language, the situation is often clear. We can understand explanations and precise instructions more or less easily. But such words, as popular and sought-after as they are, have another characteristic, a characteristic that we almost always conceal. They are all extremely easy to forget.

The vast majority of God's words, however, are narratives. They are rarely unambiguous, are usually complex, and often require a lot of time and space to interpret them.

But whether we understand them or not, we don't forget them. In this first lecture, John often said to us, »If Jesus had written a book about the spiritual life, we would have long since forgotten everything in it. That is why he told us stories so we don’t forget them.«

The words (narratives) of God ensure that we do not forget the poor, the oppressed and the broken. Without the Word of God, they would have little chance. We often talk about poverty, but God's Word reminds us of the poor and gives them a name and face. We speak of systemic oppression, but God's Word reminds us of the oppressed.

 

The words about Lazarus and the rich man remind us that beggars are at our doors and we should do something about it. Jesus' healing of the ten lepers reminds us that outcast people have no home unless we offer them one. The feeding of the multitudes, such a multi-layered narrative, simply reminds us that people are hungry.

For people who suffer from relationships in their families, this word helps us not to forget that love, security and acceptance can also be given to us in other, unconventional ways.

When we are childless, when we are sterile, when we feel empty and feel no life in us, this word reminds us of unexpected pregnancies and of life that grows in people, where it should not be and often where it is normally forbidden.

This word tells of a woman touching the hem of his robe so that we do not forget that in the crowds around us there are people who are bleeding to death.

That reconciliation is a possibility;

that justice is troublesome;

that self-knowledge will not harm us;

that mistakes do not have the last word about us;

and that life can be shaped, protected and increased, especially in places where we will prematurely write it off:

the word of God reminds us of all that.

And it will not return to him until we remember. God is far more concerned about what we forget than what we do not understand. Because what we don't understand cannot really harm us. But what we forget can cost us our zest for life. We all know it. Each of us knows love. But we do not know how it works. And sometimes we are even surprised that it works, that we are really loved after all. But woe to people who forget that somewhere in the world a heart beats for them.

 

So I want to tell you a story from John Shea.

In the nineties John Shea went to Ireland to hold storytelling Workshops. A 75 year old told a story from her childhood in a small group setting.

»I was one of fourteen children and my mother tried to put order in everything that had to do with our brood. Every Sunday we would walk to the church about three miles away. But before we set out, there was a home ritual every bit as set in its ways as what the priest did at Mass.

There was only one mirror in the house, and my mother would stand in front of it. Then each of us would queue up and pass between my mother and the mirror. As we did, she would straighten us up and comb our hair. After this combing we could go out and play. When everyone was done we would gather and walk to church.

One Sunday, I was about third in the queue. My mother looked down the line and saw that my little sister did not have a shoelace in her shoe.my mother looked at me and said, ‘Go back and get your sister a shoelace.’

But I did not want to lose my place, so I didn’t budge. When my turn came, I stepped between my mother and the mirror. My mother said nothing. She simply combed my hair and off I went to play.

I came in a little while later. My little sister – the one without the shoelace - was between my mother and the mirror. My mother bent down and took a shoelace out of her own shoe and put it in the shoe of my little sister. When I saw this I went into the back of the house and got a shoelace. I came out and knelt at my mother’s feet and put the shoelace in her shoe. As I did this and while she was combing the hair of my little sister, she reached down with her free hand and stroked my hair.«

Her story ended there. John Shea met her outside after the break and thanked her for the story. »It was rich and moving. I don‘t know what it means, but I was moved by it.«

Note John Shea’s words: »I don‘t know what it means, but I was moved by it.«

The woman was not convinced. She thought her story was stupid and that she should not have told it. But John Shea told her, »We are all the better for having heard it.«

Every afternoon, after lunch, John would sit under a tree smoking his cigar. On Thursday, the fourth day of the conference, he sat under the tree without a cigar. The old woman approached and asked him where his cigar was.

»It’s in my room, but I am too tired to go get it.«

»I noticed you did not have one, so I brought you a cigar«, she said. She handed me a cigar.

While preparing to smoke the cigar, it suddenly dawns on him. The cigar is the shoelace.

After the next session he approached the woman and said to her, »The cigar is the shoelace. The cigar is the shoelace.«

»She looked up at me and stuck out her chin. ‘I know that’ she said. She looked down and then looked back up at me. ‘It was a pact with my mother’, she said with emotion. ‘It was a pact with my mother’. As she said this, she hit her heart twice.«

 

»So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it..« Is 55, 11.

 

Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers,

I do not know whether you understand this story. But I am certain of one thing. You will never forget it.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 12th, 2020

 

 

Our hearts measure up to all of this

 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak.

2 Corinthians 4, 8-13

 

Paul makes 4 statements against resignation.

  1. We are afflicted in every way,

but not crushed;

 

  1. perplexed,

but not driven to despair;

 

  1. persecuted,

but not forsaken;

 

  1. struck down,

but not destroyed.

 

Our danger is that we often only tell the first half of the story. Then the narrative reads: We are afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. What comes after the »but« is usually not told.

 

  1. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.

We are able to find and design the spaces of life, even where people would deny them to us.

 

  1. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.

We are able to endure tensions, even when we do not have or receive black-and-white answers.

 

  1. We are persecuted, but not forsaken.

Pressure, agitation and disregard are realities that we know: but they do not have the power to make us people of hopelessness. We believe, come what may, that we are his people, that we have value, dignity and meaning, that we are loved and wanted, and that our God goes with us.

 

  1. We are struck down, but not destroyed.

We are still here! We are still breathing, we are still alive, we are still moving. The world still has to reckon with us.

 

And because that is the case, Paul continues:

»Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written,

‘I believed, and so I spoke,` we also believe, and so we also speak.«

 

This means, we too have something to say about all that is happening in the world

 

We also believe, and so we also speak: The world will not be fashioned without us, even if the darkest powers of greed, possessiveness, terror and injustice try to prevent us from doing so.

 

We also believe, and so we also speak: The spaces of life for the People of God will not be determined without us, regardless how wickedly we are dealt with.

 

We also believe, and so we also speak: The priorities of life cannot be set without us.

 

This crisis is long, painful and persistent. The proposed solutions and the craze of lifting restrictions are short-sighted, reckless and unbearable in the long term. But as long as we believe and speak, the last word has not be spoken. Our hearts measure up to this crisis.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 10th, 2020

 

 

Tatort and the Holy Spirit

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Gal 5, 22-23

 

I have made a discovery over the years regarding German culture. When I unsuspectingly gave the comment that all of the programs of the crime series »Tatort« were more or less the same, I was swiftly informed otherwise.  The passion with which I was informed about the locations, commissioners and actors of the various »Tatort« programs was breathtaking. At the end of this clarification, the sentence fell, »Erik, all Germans love Tatort.«

 

I am very pleased to hear it, because this text is made for crime scene fans. Here Paul invites the listener to track down the Spirit like a commissioner.

 

Like every commissioner, he starts by searching for clues and the first thing he finds are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

 

These fruits are already at hand. We do not have to acquire them. In inherited interpretations, believers are typically called upon to acquire these fruits. But there is no question of this in Paul. He wants us to notice them.

 

These fruits are proof that the perpetrator, the Spirit, was already among us. When we find evidence, we deduce backwards to the source. (Just ask Sherlock Holmes). For example, if we find a 38 round, we know which weapon it has to come from. When we see apples in a box in the market, we know that apples can only come from an apple tree, because apples have no other place of origin. If I then find : love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,  or self-control, then I know that they also have only one origin, namely the Holy Spirit. And we are already on the track of the divine perpetrator.

 

When I see these apples in the store, I do not have to see the tree to know where they come from. Where we find the fruits of the Spirit in our life, we do not see the perpetrator Spirit, but his fingerprints. We know he must have been here.

 

Now, in our search for clues, we come to discover that the fingerprints of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control can be found everywhere. This perpetrator has been everywhere. We find these fingerprints criss-crossed throughout our life. Not just in church, in the liturgy, or in prayer. We experience these fruits in everyday conversations, where we show patience that even surprises us. In the office, at work, we have experiences of goodness. In the bedroom where parents put their children to bed and where people love each other again, we experience love and joy. We encounter friendliness when barbecuing, and we experience loyalty and self-control on the playgrounds of both children and adults. Sometimes we experience these fruits as gifts that others give us. Sometimes we experience these fruits as gifts that we give to others.

 

These fingerprints are to be found everywhere. That means, that the perpetrator is everywhere, the Spirit is present and active everywhere in our lives. This is not insignificant, because here we are told something essential about the perpetrator. He is reliable.

 

Nothing heals without reliability. An elderly woman recounted to me the visit of a young man who entertained her for an afternoon. He played games with her, sang her favorite songs, and even did some magic tricks for her. Finally, the old lady said to me, »And since he was here, I've been so depressed and sad.« Her daughter, who was sitting there, jumped out of the chair and then out of her skin. »Mom, how can you say that? He came and sang for you. He came and visited you. He came and entertained you.« Then the old mother shouted back,» But he never came back! «

 

But he never came back. As beautiful as it might have been, it was not reliable. Nothing heals without reliability. Who of us can live from a single act of love? Who among us of us will be healed by one experience of kindness, one experience of loyalty?

 

Thus, at the end of our investigation, we can conclude: In order to track down this perpetrator, we have to research all of life. This perpetrator is unlikely to be apprehended

 

But, brothers and sisters, sometimes there are cases that we do not have to solve. Because nobody loses anything here, nobody is robbed, killed, humiliated or betrayed. The perpetrator leaves more behind than when he arrived. So a good strategy would be the following:

1. Notice the clues of the perpetrator (fruits of the Spirit).

2. Become more grateful.

3. Live more consciously (like a commissioner looking for the perpetrator).

4. And enjoy your richly gifted life.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 8th, 2020

 

 

Crisis and Meaning

 

How can we traverse the paths of our lives when they become difficult, when crises shake us, when we feel powerless? We all know such times and this year there is the additional experience of the pandemic that connects us worldwide. Such a global crisis experience was last seen in and through World War II. There are diverse testimonies of how people endured, bore and survived misery and danger at that time, both externally and internally. Their stories nurture us to this day. We need only think of  Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi or Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Eva Erben or Marceline Loridan.

As a Jew, the Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) knew, like millions of others, existential threats and brutalization. He survived four concentration camps from September 1942 to the end of April 1945. His father died in one camp, as did his wife; his mother and brother were murdered.

He had already found his focus in his medical studies: depression and suicide. This led him to the center of his work, the question of the meaning of life. He had to go through hell and lost his most beloved ones, but he did not break. His thinking and work became deeper, richer and more fruitful, to this day.

How can we traverse the paths of our lives when they become difficult?

» If you know the meaning of your life, this awareness helps you more than anything else to overcome external difficulties and internal complaints.«, said Viktor Frankl.

Today we come across phrases like, » The main thing is that we have our good health « or »it’s all good! « And currently we hear, »Finally everything is back to normal again! » - Nothing seems more important than to return to superficiality and supposed lightness of being as quickly as possible. But life is not only pleasant and if I try to somehow bend and reduce it to this, it becomes flat and attains no real depth. Viktor Frankl always said that suffering, gravity, need and death are part of our lives. All of this has a purpose that we destroy when we try to separate the dark from our lives. We would take the true shape from our lives. "Only under the hammer blows of fate, in the white heat of suffering from it, does life take shape and form." A man who had to go through the hell of concentration camps could say that. In the pain of suffering he could see the formative power through which his true self was shaped more and more, and so he could fulfill the meaning, the task, the calling of his life even deeper and more fully.

We Christians go to Master's workshop and Jesus never set an example or promised us an easy, simple life. His concern was and is the abundance, the real wealth of an authentically lived life, in which nothing is ignored or excluded. He lived as the true son of the Torah and in it is said: »Today I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you. I present life and death to you, blessing and curse. So choose life so that you live, you and your descendants. «(Dt 30,19)

I can truly live my life in all its breadth, in all its facets from light sky blue to somber black-gray, if I know the meaning of my life and always choose it anew, namely, to fashion what is given to me, even if it is sometimes very little.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 6th, 2020

 

 

14. Sunday A 2020

 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you,

and learn from me,

for I am gentle and lowly in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Mt 11, 28-30

 

Who of us does not feel troubled and weighed down by heavy loads? And who of us does not want peace of mind? As soon as these words of Jesus are spoken, we already feel the great desire to register for this recovery package.

 

However, this longing lures us into a trap. Because as human beings we mostly want someone to take the burden off us, and that I why we do not listen to the text until the end. Because Jesus' offer is not to take the burden off us once and for all. Here he actually suggests an exchange. Jesus' proposal is to put down an unbearable burden and take on a bearable one.

 

It is always the same with Jesus. He is always interested in taking what is unbearable from people, and at the same time he is always clear and consistent in his demand that they should take on something (my yoke) that is bearable and serves life.

 

There are several things that are unbearable for us: guilt, sin, death, blindness, paralysis. If we carry loads of this kind for too long, we will perish. But in order to live freely, redeemed, seeing, alive and flexible, we also have to take on something bearable. The yoke has many names in Jesus’ preaching: go; sell, search, give away, act on it, etc. They are also a burden, but a light, bearable burden.

 

Let us take forgiveness as an example. Forgiveness is a bearable burden. The unbearable burden is the fact and feeling of guilt. We always think that our past and our mistakes are troubling us, but it is actually our guilt about them. Because if we deal well with our past and our mistakes, then we don't bear our guilt forever. It is unbearable when we say: »I feel guilty, because I failed at the time. I feel guilty for not being good enough. I feel guilty for making wrong decisions. I feel guilty… «. And so on, and so forth.

 

In the long run, guilt is the unbearable burden. But even though we are sure of God's forgiveness (I am kind and humble from the heart), and we are relieved of the burden of guilt, we have to take on something else, namely, the yoke of forgiveness that we have to find in ourselves and which we need to accept.

 

It is not enough to say that God's passion is forgiveness and not the punishment of his people (My yoke is easy). How many times do we actually have to hear »Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden«? It won't be enough to say that we want redemption, freedom, or new life chances.

 

At some point, we have to lay down the burden and rest a little. At some point, we would have to stop constantly nagging at ourselves, churning up the old, digging around in old wounds. Eternal, uninterrupted self-analysis eventually becomes a substitute for life.

 

We have to find enough compassion, vitality and courage in ourselves to forgive ourselves. There is always a yoke, something we have to carry, if we want to live beyond the unbearable burden.

 

Time and again, there are forms of self-observation that will occur in people. These forms are disfigured, damaged and toxic. If we observe ourselves too habitually, we can put off life experiences before they can take place. In almost addictive speculations about how to proceed or what the future holds for us, we come up with all sorts of scenarios and are so disheartened and frightened that we dare not risk, attempt or try anything.

 

Lay down the unbearable burden of eternal, relentless self-reproach and rest a little. Take up a lighter load:

Go through life for a while and live without analysis.

Sell something to which you cling, but that is not good for you.

Search for new opportunities in life.

Give away the old excuses as to why you're not good enough.

Act and set something unknown in motion.

 

These are things that Jesus lay on our shoulders and when we put them into practice, they are truly a burden. I know, because every time I recommend them to people, they complain about how difficult it is to take them up. Of course they are a burden, but a lighter one, a bearable one. We dream too much of an unencumbered life and do too little to create a resilient life.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, July 5th, 2020

 

 

The Crisis and Shalom

 

Will the great worldwide crisis of this extraordinary year change us humans?  It does do one thing: It helps to uncover how we really are - as individuals or as a society. The way in which we deal with responsibility, risks and restrictions has to do with our inner self. Like every crisis, the insecurities of the pandemic reveal how strongly we are determined by external circumstances, or how rooted and stable we live in and out of our depths.

Recently, an experienced therapist talked about how unbalanced and unstable we often are in life. Our emotions surge up, the inner sea is so restless that it is impossible to look into the depths. Only when the surface became calm again could we see what is available to us in the depths and draw from it.

A word of Jesus’ comes to mind: »See, the kingdom of God is within you.« (Lk 17, 21) If we went to this source over and over again, peace could spread within us, shalom in the deepest sense of peace and well-being. For we already carry this abundance within us. Instead, we experience aggression and violence on the night streets, protests and conspiracy theories, ignorance and recklessness, far and wide. All of this speaks of discontent in the souls, of how much people are dependent on external circumstances and are susceptible to seething emotional turbulence. Of course, this has consequences and is also reflected in our outward behavior.

The ways of the indigenous peoples can wonderfully express the interweaving of the inner and outer worlds:

 

The first peace, which is the most important,

 is that which comes within the souls of people

when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers,

and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit,

and that its center is really everywhere,

 it is within each of us. That is the true peace.

(»Black Elk«, Oglala Lakota people)

 

In order to stay on the track of this peace, I have to become silent and expose myself contemplatively to myself and the world. And gradually the sea becomes calm. I recognize the wealth in me, in my depths. Then I can practice walking in the center.

 

»See, the kingdom of God is within you.« Times of crisis come and so do fluctuations. That is why we practice living in and out of this center within us.

 

And we genuinely wish one another »shalom«.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, July 3rd, 2020

 

 

So that the circumstances do not change me

 

In his poem »Counsel«, Wilhelm Bruners suggest how we should enter into the day. It is his counsel that we should »take the first information from the Songs of David« before we listen to the news and read the papers. Then comes my favourite passage: »Note the order if you want to maintain the strength to change the circumstances«.

His advice is dear to me and I follow it every morning. Truly, we should do everything to maintain our strength so that we can use it to change the circumstances of daily life and the dominant culture around us.

But what happens when our strength does not suffice to change the circumstances? Often people think that there is nothing left to do. But that is not true. If my strength does not suffice to change the circumstances, then I have to be careful that I employ my strength so that the circumstances do not change me.

Elie Wiesel tells the following story:

»Listen to a story: One day a just man came to the city of Sodom. He began to preach to its inhabitants, telling them to change their evil ways. He wanted to save them from destruction, a destruction he knew would come as a result of their sins against one another. ‘Please,’ he said, ‘stop your cruelty, stop your inhumanity! You must be kinder to the stranger, to the children of the stranger!’ He went on like that for many days, but no one listened. He did not give up. He continued preaching and protesting for many years. Finally, a passerby asked him, ‘Rabbi, really, why do you do that? Don’t you see no one is listening?‘ He answered, ‚I know. No one will listen, but I cannot stop. You see, at first I thought I had to preach and protest in order to change them. But now, although I continue to speak, it is not to change the world. It is so that they do not change me.’« *

If my strength does not suffice to change the circumstances, then I have to be careful that I employ my strength so that the circumstances do not change me.

To those who will not listen, the Rabbi appears to be a madman. But, here too, Elie Wiesel remains true to his deepest faith intuition. We should study the »madmen« »in order to learn how to resist. Madness holds the key to protest, to rebellion. Without it, if we are too ‘sane’ by the standards of our surroundings, we can be carried along with the world’s madness.« *

If my strength does not suffice to change the circumstances, then I have to be careful that I employ my strength so that the circumstances do not change me.

*From: Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom, by  Ariel Burger

 

Erik Riechers SAC,  July 1st, 2020

 

 

Traces from days long past

 

We all remember people who left deep marks on our lives. We are essentially created for relationship and encounter. Martin Buber put it this way in his thoughts on education: »The human being becomes an I through the thou.«  We are not even aware of many of these traces.

Today we commemorate two men, whose traces have been visible in the greater Christian family for 2000 years and are repeatedly considered and celebrated: the Jewish fisherman Simon Petrus from Galilee and the Roman citizen and Greek-educated Jew, Paul of Tarsus.

Why could they - coming from the margins of the Roman Empire of that time - leave such indelible marks on our soil? The answer sounds simple: Because they chose the narrow path in life. But what did that require of them?

They had to make decisions and act accordingly

Their way repeatedly demanded of them that they be focused and decisive.They could not avoid encounters and situations, but face them and dealt with the challenges.

Let us take a look at a few stations of their respective ways.

In the Gospel of Matthew we hear of Peter for the first time in chapter 4. » While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.«  Whatever constituted the fascination of this call, Peter decides to follow Jesus. Thus, his path with him begins and much later, in a difficult hour, he can say to Jesus: »You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!« (Mt 16, 16)

How narrow this path is and how difficult we find it at times to focus on it and not veer from it, is something he discovers shortly afterwards. When Jesus makes it clear to where his path is leading, namely to death, Peter says to him: » “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you. « Jesus, however, helps him to remain on the narrow path: » Get behind me…« That means: Stay on my track, even when it gets narrow.

Peter learns his »handcraft« and later shows repeatedly that he does not avoid the challenges on his narrow path. The Acts of the Apostles repeatedly tells us about it. Thus, he can confess Jesus as the Risen Lord and heal a paralytic in the temple and later stand up for it before the High Council, despite all hostility, prohibitions and threats: »Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.« (Acts 4, 19-20)

Thus the traces of Peter mark the ground on which we stand.

In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul tells of his way. He recounts his earlier life:

»For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.« (Gal 1, 13-14) But he was called by God himself to a new way on which he first needed help and had to practice: »… nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.« His path always challenged him anew - the Acts of the Apostles and his letters are filled with this. It, too, was a narrow path, not a motorway.

People who walk the broad paths of the masses need not do any of this.  They can let themselves drift along, do not have to focus to stay on the path, can easily avoid difficult situations. But there are no traces of them left behind either. How could there be?

Our question should be: Which path leads to life? That is exactly the heartfelt desire of Jesus. . Towards the end of his great life-instructions on the mount, he says: » Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.« (Mt 7, 13-14)

Peter and Paul are witnesses to this. They left their mark on the world, because they made their way into life and are therefore a role model for all of us.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 29th, 2020

 

 

13. Sunday A 2020

 

One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him.  And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.

2 Kings 4, 8-17

 

Two years ago we held a Wellspring Day (a day of biblical recollection) in which we very intensively contemplated the stories about Elischa. When we arrived at this passage of today’s liturgy, we posed a question to the group. What awakens a gratitude in me that is deep enough (and not merely superficial) that I am not only touched, but moved to invest time and space in order to give life to others?

The woman from Shunem awakens a deep gratitude in Elischa. Let us take a look at what awakens this gratitude: food, a room, a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp

At first glance, the list seems rather meager. After all, for these little things Elisha is ready to put in a word with the head of the army or even with the king. And in the end, he gives the woman the fertility that enables her to carry a child. The price-performance ratio seems to have gotten a bit out of hand here.

Or perhaps not. Those who have eyes to see will note, that each of her gifts represents a deeper, richer world of life and love.

  1. She gives him something to eat. Food is always that which sustains life. But to give him food, she must first keep an eye on his hunger.

 

  1. She sets up a small, upper room for him. She grants him a room that belongs to him, a place where he can dwell. And she does this for a person who otherwise has no place for himself, no space that he can call his own. For this, she must keep an eye on the homelessness of this person.

 

  1. She gives him a bed. This is the gift of peace and quiet, where everything that belongs to us, that is under tension and has to carry loads, can rest. For this, she must keep an eye on the exhaustion of this person.

 

  1. She places a table at his disposal. This is the place where we can put down food, books and other valuable things so that we have our hands free and can relish them better and more deeply. The cheap things of life we can put on the floor, but the valuables of our lives require a table. If you place a meal on the floor, you reduce a human being to a dog. A table ensures dignity. But for that she had to keep an eye on the poverty of this person.

 

  1. She provides him with a chair. This is the place where we can take a seat, linger and stay. If someone offers us a chair, it is an invitation to linger and take some time. But if we have to remain standing, we know that the other person would like to get rid of us as soon as possible. But for that she had to keep an eye on the longing for belonging in this person.

 

  1. And in the end a lamp is provided for him. A lamp brings light where no otherwise light cannot go. A lamp can extend light into times when light normally cannot rule. But for that, she had to keep an eye on Elisha’s subjection to disorientation.

 

In the Lectionary, this story is abbreviated and the following part is left out:

 

One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him.  And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”

 

This part is not insignificant, because it clarifies what gratitude towards such a woman, such a giver of life, can look like. If this woman's reward comes from the king or the chief of the army, it will be power, status, wealth, or influence. That is the currency of the rulers and the powerful. That is what they have to offer.

But it is not her desire. This woman was touchingly worried about the life of a helpless man and does not begrudge him life. She knows that power, status, wealth, and influence are dangerous for people like her. We always argue that these things can also serve life, but the overwhelming experience with them is that they corrupt us. Power, status, wealth and influence divert our attention towards them and away from people. They are not known to sharpen our view of life. Most of the time, they become an end unto themselves.

The woman wants what all servants of life want, namely, more life. A rule as old as the biblical story says: Where life is offered, life will arise; whoever grants, enables and serves other lives will receive life and become a bearer of life. The woman will have a child.

At the moment we are very preoccupied with the world of rulers and the powerful. After long days of crisis, they should now give us back everything we had to do without: sports, restaurants, travel, consumption, cinema, theater and all forms of entertainment.

I pose the question at the start once more, but more pointedly: Will these be the things that awaken in us a gratitude that is deep enough (and not merely superficial) that we are not only touched, but moved? Will this merciless restoration of superficiality and mindless consumption move us to invest time and space in other to grant life to others?

What use is all of this to us without people who grant us life: food, a room, a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp?

What use is all of this to us if we build a society and a Church that know nothing but superficiality and consumption? Who keeps an eye on the hunger of our fellow human beings, if we only deal with our satiety? Who keeps an eye on the homelessness of the severely afflicted, if we only care that we are well accommodated? Will we keep an eye out for people's exhaustion during these days, if we only care about our relief? Where is an eye for the poverty of the many economically weakened people, if we only want to restore our prosperity? Do we even want to keep an eye out for the longing for belonging in other people, if we only care about the restoration of our social contacts? Do we have an eye for the disorientation of so many people for whom this crisis is far from over, when we only have our own future in view?

 

If anyone can understand and appreciate this woman, it is Jesus of Nazareth: “The foxes have caves and the birds of heaven have nests; but the Son of Man has no place where he can lay his head.” (Mt 8:20) His experiences will make him keenly appreciative of life's little gifts and services: food, a room, a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp. Those who stay close to the Son of Man stay close to the poor. Those who stay close to the poor appreciate everything that serves life and all who are life carriers for them.

So I return once more to our question: What awakens a gratitude in me that is deep enough (and not merely superficial) that I am not only touched, but moved to invest time and space in order to give life to others?

If we grant and prepare life for others, life will merge or us.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 28th, 2020

 

 

»My house shall will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.«

(Mark 11, 17)

 

After many years I had taken the long journey upon myself. I wanted to visit the temple in Jerusalem again, I wanted to enter it. Since my youth it was splendid in my memory, its beauty had something heavenly about it. Even though I did not believe in the God of the Jews, he had enchanted me at the time.

I left my daughter behind, who was now well back on her own feet, and went south in the course of many daily marches and then up into the Judean Mountains. Finally Jerusalem drew near, the city on the mountains - what a sight! There was nothing comparable in my Canaanite homeland. When I finally approached the Temple Mount, the alleys grew ever fuller. Many people were on the way to their sanctuary, because it was just before the great Passover festival of the Jews. And so I went with the crowds south around the Temple Mount and climbed the steps - slowly, with a pounding heart, step by step. Then I stood in front of the entrance gate to the portico. I knew it was the only gate that I was allowed to walk through as a pagan woman, so I walked through it more consciously and found myself again in the forecourt of the Gentiles. Yes, we were only allowed in this area, the actual temple was not permitted to us. There was so much longing for the holy inside of me. It had accompanied me up all the way up to this place, indeed, even driven me. That suddenly became clear to me as I stood in the hustle and bustle and looked up at the huge temple building.

It was different from back then, many years ago. I was no longer a youngster. Life had shaped me since then. But here, too, it was not the way I remembered it. So much business, so much hustle and bustle, so many merchants! Sacrificial animals passed over their tables, coins changed hands - this seemed to be all about business.

Just as I wanted to look for a quieter place, it happened: voices grew loud, tables were knocked over, pigeons fluttered and people jumped to the side. For a moment there was a swath cut through the masses and I saw the man who was about to tip over another merchant table. I carefully stepped closer. Then I heard his voice. It was clear and distinct: »Is it not written in the Scriptures:  My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made of it a den of robbers. « I had to squeeze through a few onlookers in order to be able to see him even better. My heart seemed to stop: I had met him once before. He was traveling with his friends in my homeland more than a year ago. He did not want to be disturbed and yet I took a chance. I was in great distress. I fought for my daughter like a lioness. I insisted she was to be freed from the evil spirit that had possessed her. When he suddenly was so close by, I put all my hope in him. But: how dismissive he was! I did not give up. I whimpered like a puppy. I know that I am not one of his chosen people. But may we not live as well? I will never forget his look when he realized that he was my hope and sent me back with the words: Go home, the demon has left your daughter! And so it was – thanks be to God!

That I should encounter him here, today – he, the one who saved my daughter!

And what had he said? »My house shall will be called a house of prayer for all the nations. « Then it would be so for me as well. Then I would truly be allowed to enter and my heart could touch the holy. We could all pray together. Tears run down my cheeks –this sentence touches all of my yearning that has driven me to this place.

 

Now I lose sight of him. I withdraw behind a pillar and look toward the sanctuary. What a precious moment! This rabbi, who healed my daughter, the child of a heathen, has the courage to say, at the very heart of his religion, that all can pray here.

His God is all the God of us all. . . What a pilgrimage! And for one moment I am filled with the feeling, that I have found my home.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 26th, 2020

 

 

I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining:

The Birth of John the Baptist

 

»I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. And I believe in love, even when there’s no one there.

And I believe in God, even when he is silent.« These words were written in the Warsaw Ghetto, a place of crisis and death. They were prayed in a place of atrocity against the brothers and sisters of the one praying these words.

 

We are currently coping with a crisis that is much milder and easier for most of us. Can we pray like that, talk like this about God and, more importantly, talk like this about our faith in times of distress? Maybe today's feast day of the birth of John the Baptist can help us.

 

The mystery of John’s birth lays in the fact that God does not just offer us life, but that he offers us life beyond our expectations. When the angel of the Lord announces the Baptist’s birth, he announces a gift of new life in a place and time neither Elisabeth nor Zechariah expect to find any such thing. There should be no budding life in a woman of Elisabeth’s age or medical history. This is the time for barrenness, not babies. This is a time for Geritol, not gestation.

 

However, God offers the two of them a life beyond their expectations. Barrenness suddenly blooms. Expectations are radically challenged, as life is offered at a juncture where the future looked as dry and withered as the womb of Elisabeth. The lesson is simple. God defines where life will be granted, and our expectations are no impediment whatsoever to God’s freedom to surprise. 

 

There are many places where God offers us life beyond our expectations. It happens when women discover that they are expecting a child they did not plan or expect. It happens when we care for our elderly and ailing parents. It happens when we nurture people with severe disabilities. It happens in the days beyond funerals. It happens in the throes of cancer and chemotherapy. In all these moments, and in many others like them, we are crushed and deflated because we are convinced that we have come to the threshold of an experience that will drain, defeat or, destroy our lives. We cannot even begin to contemplate that we are being offered a gift from God. So we need a little help.

 

This requires of us a second moment of reflection. When God’s enforced silence finally kneads the recognition of blessing from our stiffly resistant hearts, then we, like Zechariah, need to say, »His name is John«. 

 

The name Johannes means »God has shown us grace«. When Zechariah names his son, it is not merely a designation. It is a profession of faith. The man, who did not think that God could or would offer him life beyond his expectations, now clearly says that the birth of the Baptist is a moment in which God has shown his grace.

 

We, too, need to profess that God’s love is at work in the unexpected places. We need to name our unexpected and even resisted blessings and to admit that God has shown us grace. Silence is appropriate to give us the chance to deepen our understanding of what is offered to us in the unexpected hour. However, once we understand what God is offering us in the surprising hour, then silence must be broken.

 

In the end, our silence must be shattered. When the children we were afraid to bring into the world have filled us with laughter and brought light to our days, it is time to say, »His name is John« (God has shown us grace).

 

When we have accompanied the dying to the edge of life, feeling it hurt like hell, and still know we were privileged to be there, we must proclaim, »His name is John« (God has shown us grace).

 

Perhaps we have suffered the scourge of cancer and chemotherapy, only to discover it has formed us into disciples of greater love, service and sacrifice. Even more surprising is the realisation that our blessing was born of our bleeding, bruising and breaking. Now is the time to make it clear to the people around us, that »His name is John«, for God has shown us grace.

 

I had a friend who could do that. In a life marked by many losses and tragedies, he was a narrator of grace. Be it the early loss of his father, the death of his best friend, or his own suffering from the illnesses that took so much from him so early, he was a storyteller of blessing. He could work out the places where God had shown him grace. He was still a child when he could discover a lion's heart in his loneliness and homesickness.  I had a friend who could do that. His name was Johannes.

 

On this day when we commemorate the birth of John the Baptist, there should be a quiet, even melancholy, joy about us. Let sheepish grins play across our faces. Let tiny smiles tug at the corners of our mouths. Let a chuckle escape our lips at the memory of all the times when we stood with Zechariah, sure of tragedy while being drenched with grace. Then say a silent prayer of thanksgiving that God has given us all a chance to change our minds.

 

For Joachim on his feast day.

Zichrono livracha (May his memory be a blessing)

 

Erik Riechers SAC

June 24th, 2020

 

 

The Human Being and Art

 

Many children love to put color to paper. At first it may look like doodles to our eyes. Later they try to paint their view of their world. Sometimes they immerse themselves at the painting table in kindergarten or at home and later proudly show their works. It is the same with music: a few rhythm instruments, and already they try out what is possible with them. If they have plasticine in their hands or play on the sandy beach, they start to shape and model.

Even at this very early stage of artistic creation, we can recognize the essentials: unplanned times and stimulating spaces are needed to become creative and to express what is in us. New worlds can arise in creative dedication and that awakens joy - inside and outside, with the creator and in the beholder. Our observation of children or the memory of one's own childhood can thus show us that artistic activity essentially belongs to us human beings. In creative fashion our soul expresses itself, ideas are born in us and become reality. We want to create something beautiful, we enjoy working on it, it pleases others and they feel gifted. Has not an experience of the past few months been that we felt poor because we could not go to choir rehearsals, because theater and concert visits were not possible? Museums were closed and creative courses that might be part of our weekly program did not take place. Art is not merely an addition or a luxury in case time and money are left over.

» Art is a matter of the most profound, a test of the fineness of spirt and soul.«

We should nurture it and not dismiss it as irrelevant or even superfluous. Because if it is always only about the useful and pragmatic, if a great deal functions, indeed, if we function, but everything that stirs in our soul and what our spirit weaves finds no expression, our humanity will be lost.

The Bible tells us how we humans are created: as God's image and likeness, that is, with the ability to be creative like the Creator

What truly did our hearts good in the weeks of greatest isolation amidst all the worrying and caring? We sang for each other and with each other from balcony to balcony or we connected musically via the Internet. Children painted rainbows on windows, families painted stones and used them to lay footpaths. Musicians recorded house concerts and sent the films out into the world. How much art has been and still is shared - a blessing for donors and recipients.

Many of us love the biblical Psalms. They are themselves a poetic art form. They often mention in which way and by what creative means people can bring before God their thanks, their praise and their love:

 

I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God;

I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.

My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you;

my soul also, which you have redeemed.

(Ps 71, 22-23)

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

May my poetry be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

(Ps 104, 33-34)

Art unfolds within dedication and is an expression of the fullness and beauty of life. Whether I am active as an artist or contemplatively surrender myself to it, it touches me in the depths of the spirt and the soul.

 

Should we object that we have no time and leisure for creative activities and attentiveness on account of all of our tasks, then let us listen again to God's instruction for life. He commands us to keep a seventh of our lives free from pragmatic usefulness and toil:  » ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.« (Dt 5, 12-15)

God knows: Our soul, our innermost center, needs food and possibilities of expression. And he encourages us to keep times and spaces free so that we don't become slaves – to whomever.

I like the sentence of Ernst Barlach: » Art is a matter of the most profound, a test of the fineness of spirt and soul.« Because he does not refer art to the professionals, but to where it belongs: in the midst of each of us.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 22nd, 2020

 

 

12. Sunday A 2020

 

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?

And not one of them will fall to the ground

apart from your Father.

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

The talk of sparrows, pennies and counted hairs is characterised by a lightness of touch that can be very misleading. For through this language, Jesus tentatively moves toward a deep and creeping fear within human beings. Addressing and looking at such fears requires a gentle hand, for otherwise the fear of the fear grows ever worse.

 

So Jesus begins with a simple question. »Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?« In fact, you could buy two sparrows for a penny at the time. In other words, they were cheap goods, they were insignificant, because they were easy to replace.

 

And yet Jesus emphasizes that God does not forget one of them. Why? Because here lies the deeply hidden fear. We are afraid that we and our lives may be meaningless. We do so much and yet the question creeps up on us: are we easy to forget? Does anyone notice what I do, who I am, that I am? When I look at everything I do and endure, the question comes up at some point: Does any of this have a purpose? Or is my life meaningless?

 

That's why Jesus talks about sparrows. He suggests that everything that at first appears cheap and insignificant (sparrows) will not be forgotten by God. Here Jesus lifts us into the fullness of God. We, who often feel so insignificant and inferior, are not just on God’s radar screen. He knows us in intimate detail.

 

Here Jesus reveals one of the most valuable insights into the heart of God. In a poetic account of Psalm 139, Huub Oosterhuis writes: »Do you know me? Who am I? Do you know me better than I do?« Well, here Jesus answers the last question clearly. Yes, I know my people better than they know themselves.

 

»But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.« We can hardly imagine it, but it is so. But the message here is not that God cares about us, but that God cares more about us than we do. We humans worry a lot about our lives, invest a lot in our health and appearance. But who of us knows how many hairs we have on our heads? Do we know how many hairs we've lost? Some of us no longer know the original colour of the hairs upon our head.

 

Here we have to make a clear distinction between our type of care and God's art of caring. Because our way of caring is (1) abstract and (2) selective.

 

Every day we make decisions about what deserves our care and receives and what does not. We have internal criteria for these decisions. We will not wash the car today, because there are no arguments or accusations coming from the car. We choose: I will do one thing, I will leave the other. I will take care of this plant, but I will dispose of the other one. Our way of caring is selective, very abstract, and sometimes very arbitrary. I throw this shirt away because I'm tired of it. It's still okay, but I just can't stand it anymore. That's how we humans do it.

 

We are abstract and selective in our caring process. That's why we do not know how many hairs we have, because we don't take care of everything equally, we do not treat everything equally. And then we project our abstract and selective way of caring onto God.

 

But it is not like that with God. Kierkegaard once said; »There is an infinite qualitative difference between the divine and the human«. We should take that seriously.

 

The divine is a source and a process of support for everything, equally. God holds everything in being, supports everything in being. God's art of caring is in no way similar to the way of human caring. God supports the earth and humankind at the same time, the seemingly insignificant birds and the exceedingly important people.

 

God's care is not selective. He refuses to choose between us. God's care is universal, unconditional, enormous, and ever present. The art of divine care is not selective. And it is not abstract.

 

After the sentence: »But even your hair on your head is all counted« comes the key phrase: »Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.«

 

Here we have the remarkable dynamic of how to deal with fear. We should put an end to our isolation and bind ourselves back to all of creation. We are part of this creation, just like the sparrows. In this creation, God receives and supports everything equally. We are part of a larger work and still we do not go under. God cares for our deepest selves, even if we feel it as small and unassuming as a sparrow. Who we really are is worth more than many sparrows. Our real self is safe, protected, and secure.

 

The fear of being meaningless cannot be reassured with competitiveness and comparisons. We do not live in competition with creation or with each other. We have to go to the deeper space where we are part of the divine care, a care that is omnipresent. In this space of the soul, of the heart, we are safe.

But the fact that God has this trust in us is not enough. Because God is not afraid. It is not God who fears that his people's lives are meaningless. Any confirmation of His care for us will ultimately have no effect until we ourselves confirm what God sees and loves in us. »As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live,« wrote Goethe. »You are of more value than many sparrows,« says Jesus. Well, then we should not speak of ourselves in any manner beneath our dignity, and certainly not sell our lives short.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 21st, 2020

 

 

 

The Power of Words

 

»Words are things, I’m convinced.

You must be careful of the words you use or the words that you allow to be used in your house.

Words are things, you must be careful. Careful about calling people out of their names. Using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that.

Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls, they get in your wallpaper, they get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes and finally into you.«

– Maya Angelou

 

Since I was a child, I was told to watch my words. They forgot to tell me why.

 

When I was young, my teachers taught me not to curse.

               But they did not teach me the power of words,

                              so I did not know what cancers they carry into the world.

 

I was raised not to use the Lord’s name in vain.

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not know what happens when you mistreat the holiness of a name.

 

I was reminded not to use vulgarity.

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not know how vulgarity demeans the speaker’s soul.

 

Do not to speak ill of others, they said.

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not know how words can sicken the heart of people.

 

They told me never to use racial pejoratives,

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not understand how words colour sight.

 

I was taught not to ridicule the weak, taunt the disabled, and demean the poor.

But they did not teach me the power of words,

               so I did not grasp how they add scars to those already wounded.

 

»Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me« taught me to ignore the jibes of others.  But it utterly failed to teach me the power of words.

 

And power they have. They can do to your soul what sticks and stones can do to your bones.

They have power when they are spoken.

They have real power: to create and build, to tear down and annihilate.

They can plant a seed and carry hope.

They can smother dreams and cut the heart out of us.

They can infuse courage and stiffen the backbone.

They can wither resolve and make our guts turn to water.

 

They have power when they are withheld:

The »I love you« no longer uttered.

The compliment not given.

The acknowledgement not offered.

The gratitude unexpressed.

The greeting not given.

 

I am no child and still I watch my words. Great teachers taught me why.

Since knowing them, I heed no man or woman who do not watch their words.

I will give no quarter to those whose words drip venom into the heart through the ear.

I will not keep company with the vicious critics who demean the efforts of others while offering nothing of themselves.

 

But to all who take care of their words, who weave them thoughtfully and considerately, who infuse them with warmth, I say: Friend.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 19h, 2020

 

 

You are not the God …

 

Lord of all life,

If the days and weeks of this lingering crisis have taught me anything, then it is this:

You are not the God…

of my dreams,

of my expectations,

or even the God I wanted.

I ask you to treat me like an adult, let me make decisions, forge a path and discover what awaits me. But when I am tired of crisis, weary of perseverance, exhausted by the labours that life and love demand of the adults in the room, then I want you to take care of business for me. Don’t explain to me the meaning of this moment, just make it pass by.  Do not teach me how to navigate storms, just still them for me.

I want to be free to make choices, set directions, and determine my own actions. As soon as the crisis crowned us, I complained bitterly about the price of responsibility and accountability, of having to make so many choices, constantly orient myself through battering storms and determine what comes next. I writhe in the chains of my freedom and beg for scapegoats to unload them on.

I ache for community and companionship in hours of my isolation and loneliness. You do not look away, which suits me when I want to be seen and drives me crazy when I want to be left to my own devices. I love the camaraderie that shortens the road, but hate the longer roads that camaraderie demands of me when others need to pour out their hearts.

I crave the sharing of life and love with you and your people, but would dictate to you the hours when they suit me best. The moments you choose are madness, the truth you speak is inconvenient.

I want you to speak to me the Word of life, but I wish to edit it in advance. I hate it when you tell me things I do not wish to know, even though I badly need to know them. I hate it when you point out to me where the men and women are lying beaten and blooded beside the road. I would keep company with priest and Levite, masters of averted eyes, of forgetting what has already been seen. You set me up with Samaritans, road crossers, oil pourers, bandage binders, shelter seekers, purse openers and coin givers.

I treat maturity, freedom, community and love as hobbies: I pursue them

when I feel like it,

when I am in the mood and

when it suits my purpose.

 

You treat maturity, freedom, community and love as a calling:

for every season under the heavens,

for every hour on the clock,

for every grain of sand tumbling through the narrow neck of the hour glass.

 

It is an inconvenient truth that there is a life beyond my mood swings, a horizon broader than my perspectives and matters more pressing than my self-interest.

You are not the God of my dreams, my expectations or even the God I wanted. It takes a long time for me to grudgingly mutter: Thank you.

For I am a dishonest dreamer:

I dream of advantage, not service

I dream of privilege, not community.

I dream of being carried, not of helping to carry.

 

You are not the God I wanted, but the God I needed.

You are not the God I expected, but the God who came anyway.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 17h, 2020

 

 

Buzz words

 

For years it is apparent to attentive readers and listeners, how quickly terms quickly terms become presentable and advance to buzzwords that then often appear in all areas.

As of late, it is the word »systemic importance«. As the first relaxations were being considered, the first task was to look precisely at which areas are of the utmost importance to the maintenance of our common welfare. The highest priority was always given to what was necessary for our basic supply. That is why supermarkets, gas stations, banks and post offices were always open. Beyond this, everything of »systemic importance« were gradually opened more swiftly than areas that seemed to be less essential for the functioning of our social system. Here, at the latest, important questions arise: Who decides this? Of which system are we speaking? What measure of values are applied?  Are we even speaking of human beings at all?

Buzzwords seem to be unbeatable. Our media spread them in no time at all. They arise from very simplistic black and white thinking and foster it. We, however, should be resistant.

One example made me reflective:

Hospital chaplains recently commented on a letter to the editor on the systemic importance of their work within the »Church system«. At the end they posed the question: »How fundamentally relevant are sick and dying people for us as Church?« and came to the conclusion: »Without the sick, the Church is not whole!« (CiG 22-2020, p. 236)

What a statement! Does that mean that a Church of the healthy is not whole? Is it only whole with the sick? How can we understand this? Let us take a look at the book of life, our Bible.

Over 8 chapters the oldest Gospel tells of Jesus activity in Galilee. Here the Evangelist Mark demonstrates how the coming Reign of God is unfolding.  The proclamation of Jesu: »The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel!« becomes visible through his attention to the people. It is a matter of his people becoming whole, becoming well and blossoming. It is time that they – and we – become what we are from God: seeing, hearing, upright, upstanding, free from illness-inducing spirits, flexible and alive. To this end, he sends out the disciples to proclaim precisely this and to act like he does – toward all. All of us are in need of salvation.

Thereby, the sick challenge us as Christians to encounter them as people, not as parts of a system, and to stand by them. They make us aware that God is concerned about the people, about every person. From the beginning of creation we people are his chief concern. For this matter of the heart Jesus lived (and died). Since the sick always require special attention, they are also always the chance and reminder of the core message of our faith and of the foundation of our Church. Every human being is worth looking at and being accepted. Every human being is in need, none are perfect. Our social interaction with the sick thus reveals how seriously we take the message and mission of Jesus.

For Jesus it was never a matter of a system. He lived the love of God to humanity. That is our way in order to become whole as a community of believers - »ever more disabled, ever more whole/ always anew/ released / unto ourselves«. (from Hilde Domin, Bitte)

Words can be used like buzz saws. We can, however, also quietly, questioningly and reflectively pause and then step anew onto the track of life.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 15th, 2020

 

 

11. Sunday A 2020

 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 

Recently a woman told me a story that unfortunately does not occur all that seldom. In the office in which she world, her colleagues often have long talks about superficial topics, they chatter. She, however, has very different issues, seeks depth and meaning for her daily life and thus keeps her distance from such conversations. She is more than willing to talk, even yearns to enter into a meaningful conversation, but not at any price and certainly not about anything. As a consequence, her colleagues do not see her. They do not notice her.

This is a story as old as humanity. When men and women are dare to be different, when they do not share the dominant concerns of the world around them and do not join the chorus the crowd, then they are not seen. Since the Corona Crisis has gradually begun to ease there are any number of people who are no longer seen: who speaks of the victims of this illness anymore? What of the grieving who lost loved ones and were unable to bury them with dignity and honour? Who even mentions the people who offered themselves up in the hospitals for weeks on end? What about all those people for whom the crisis is far from over? What filled every column of every newspaper just four weeks ago is not even mentioned any more. They are no longer seen.

One part of today’s Gospel is also not seen. »When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.« This talent and lifestyle of Jesus that enables him to see the people is something we urgently need to regain for ourselves.

The way in which Jesus sees is remarkable.

  1. He sees the people; not just his friends, relations and colleagues; not only the people who share his interests, are of his opinion and follow his teaching. He sees the people. For Jesus being a human being is reason enough to be seen. Publius Terentius Afer captures this well when he writes: »I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.« Nothing that Jesus sees is alien to him. He does not look away, because it is all familiar, all part of his own story as well as or own.

 

  1. He sees their exhaustion and weariness. He sees what they are suffering from, what presses down on them, what burdens them. This is neither a superficial nor a cowardly way of looking out into the world. Precisely when we recognise suffering and burden we are tempted to look away, to avert our eyes. That which exhausts and wearies people is not easy on the eyes. Now that many of us are doing better after the long days of the pandemic, we do not gladly look at all those who remind us that the pandemic is not over, and neither is the suffering.

 

  1. Jesus sees that they are exhausted and weary, because they have no direction and no accompaniment. He knows the causes behind their suffering. He does not just see that they are suffering, but why they are suffering. If no one accompanies them, they are not seen. Their concerns are not taken seriously, their hunger not honoured, their issues downgraded. We manage to look past their need. We manage to cut out and segregate what we do not wish to see.

 

 

And the reaction of Jesus? He has compassion on them. And what about us? We too encounter people who are exhausted and weary. But do we see them? Do we even want to see them?

We change the topic as easily as we change the channel. We speak more of our desires than their need. It is astonishing how quickly we have resumed talking about our desires in the face of deepest need. We are afraid of not being able to crank up our consumption fast enough, of being unable to realise our holiday plans or of carrying out our leisure projects as we would like. Unemployment, rising rates of depression, loneliness, migrants who cannot find a welcome in the world, let alone a holiday resort, impoverished countries who face a health catastrophe, the increase in domestic violence and many other things are simply brushed under the carpet.

We fear what compassion will cost. For compassion means being willing to enter into the chaos of the other. But how much will that cost us? How much time and space will we have to make available? Which expectations and cherished habits will we have to change in order that others might live?

 

We are afraid, but fear is not the problem. The way we deal with fear is the topic. Classically, the Bible names three false ways of dealing with fear: denial, repression and avoidance. All three have one thing in common. They are three different ways of looking away.

 

Maya Angelou once wrote: »The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.« How will we ever reach hearts when we have not even seen them?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 14th, 2020

 

The Veiled Holy

 

The old woman imperceptibly shook her head and you could see that she did not feel comfortable- not physically, but deep in her soul; she was not understood.

In the extended family circle they had spoken of former days, of special hours and days in the Church’s year that she had so loved.

The last great feast before the summer was especially dear to her heart: Corpus Christi. In her youth the entire village was preoccupied for days with developing tapestries made of petals and collecting the appropriate flowers, with setting up altars and to decorate everything for the great procession. There her beloved Jesus, veiled in bread, was carried through the streets. And she had begun to softly hum:  »I adore You devoutly, Godhead yet unseen…«.

Her children, who had still experienced this custom, interjected, that so much of it has been external, just show! That was not what really mattered.

She wanted to retort: »And – what does it look like these days? The externals are everything – baptisms, First Communion, weddings; do you think I don’t notice how the external feast is the only thing for so many? «

Yet, the conversation had already moved on to other topics and she disconnected from the conversation and stepped into her sanctuary.

All at once some lightly tapped her and tore her away from her thoughts. It was her 13 year old grandson.  »Oma, I believe I know what you mean«, he said, »in my class there is a boy who lives in a really simple family. No one really notices him, he simple tags along with them. But I like him. I met with him a few times in the afternoon. There is something fantastic about him! He can tells stories, you would not believe it! We dive into adventures – he has glorious ideas. But we can also just simply talk to each other, about what we experience and how things are going.«

The grandmother smiled. Yet, her grandson was not yet finished. »Papa always says, I should keep company with Philipp more; he comes from a respectable family, they have name and status. But «, he paused briefly, »he always puts on such airs and I do not know, who he really is.«

Again his grandmother smiled. »Yes, yes, the Holy, the Authentic, is veiled«, she almost whispered. »Yet, we can draw near to it. That is how it always is. We share simple bread and encounter the dearest of the children of humanity. You know, when your grandfather and I married, we wanted to do all things beautifully, and we managed to do so. Why? Because our love for one another was holy to us, because it was so beautiful and we tried to show something of it. But what was truly inside«, she softly tapped on her heart, »no one could see that. The two of us had to veritable unpack it bit by bit and never came to an end.«

She closed her eyes and sang softly to herself: »I adore You devoutly, Godhead yet unseen…«.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 12th, 2020

 

 

The Day the Olive Tree spoke to me of God

 

On a free afternoon during a pilgrimage through Israel, I took a book and sat down beneath an olive tree to read it. It was pure and blessed relief after days of non-stop walking, praying and talking.

 

While reading Nikos Kazantzakis Report to Greco I was struck by particularly beautiful passage: »I said to the almond tree, 'Sister, speak to me of God.' And the almond tree blossomed.«

 

Playfully I looked up and said: »Sister, how about it? Will you speak to me of God?« It was then that I discovered that olive trees do not deal so lightly with inquiries of the soul as almond trees. They take their conversations about God extremely seriously.

 

»Son of Adam, to speak of the Creator is a task for great hearts. You cannot hold onto a blossom, but you can hold onto the words of the deep heart.

 

May I take you seriously, Son of Adam? You have asked me a question, but a question is only a question if you are interested in the answer. To speak of God is to grow in places where life will not flourish without your dedication. Would you hear true Words about God, or have you only come for comfort, to rest in my shade, to have me shelter you, to have me soothe you? I do not bandy words about God, young friend.

 

My kind are among the oldest denizens of the Land. Some have seen the annual festal moons rise more than 2000 times. We have seen a shepherd-made-king weep and flee to prevent evil under our branches in the Kidron Valley. In that same place we have held vigil over a carpenter become a shepherd as he wept and remained to face evil. Our skin is story.

 

You would have me speak to you of God? Then I tell you this. Our Creator made us resilient. Resistance is never futile. When drought denies us water, we resist. When diseases attack our lives, we resist. When fire burns our bodies, we resist. Even when we have been reduced to ashes and all the earth about is charred, our roots regenerate us and let us rise as new fruits from the fire. We resist.

 

What of you, Son of Adam? We have marvelled at the resilience our mutual Creator has woven into our human brothers and sisters. Do you make use of it? Do you resist when lives are threatened, start again from ashes if need be? Or is life not held as precious among the sons and daughters of Eve as among the olive trees?

 

My kind does not strive to shimmer with beauty or tower above the world, yet we grow lovelier with age and our every curling wrinkle fills us with delighted pride. The Creator molds us still.

 

What of you, Son of Adam?  Can you walk a simple path with pleasure, or does your heart only sing when you out shine the others? Does your aging become you? Are you becoming more interesting with every passing year? Are lines of character being etched in your face and your soul?  Does the Creator mold you still?

 

We esteem the life and growth with which our Creator suffused the soil and we hold fast to it, even when it is not rich and flushed with nutrients. We have touched water in the deep places where others do not sense life. We do not wait until it flows lavishly across the surface of the world, but dig deep to claim its power for our lives.

 

What of you, Son of Adam? Do you cherish and hold fast to every bit of life and growth, be they ever so thin and plain? Will you work with any gift given to you by God? Will you go deep to find what keeps you alive, or are you a perennial spectator of life, waiting to be served?

 

A lineage of honour and courage runs through my kind. Our kind was there when God chose a branch from the boughs of my ancestors to carry to Noah. Since then we have been heralds of the hope for peace, the hope that evil and destruction will be rid from the world, and that we can all live in safety.

 

What of you, Son of Adam? Will you let yourself be chosen, even if you must give something of yourself? What would you be willing to part with in order to kindle hope? What would you give of yourself that will speak of peace to your people? What kind of herald are you?

 

So I would speak to you of God once more, little brother. That branch was to us what flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone is to your kind. When your people were beset with destruction and fearful of the future, we sent you a sign. Now that our time has come, and we are beset with destruction and fearful of the future, will your kind set a sign for us?«

 

Then the olive tree fell silent.

 

And I awoke, startled, troubled.

I pulled myself up, leaned against the gnarled trunk of my sister and let my breath whistle out. »It was only a wild dream.«

She whispered to me: »Wild dreams were ever his favourite way of talking to us!«

As I said, olive trees take their conversations about God extremely seriously. Since then, so do I.

 

Toda raba, achot g’dolah.*

*Thank you very much, older sister.

 

For Carmen, a daughter of Eve.

Erik Riechers SAC, June 10th, 2020

 

 

We ask for nothing else...

 

A soul so wounded by love

Tomorrow is the feast of Columba the Elder, an extraordinary Irish saint of the 6th century. He was highly educated, composed poetry and sang; he was politically active and also combative; as monk and missionary he established many churches and monasteries, the most important being Iona in Scotland, that is still vibrant today. He founded it with 12 companions who had come with him from Ireland and continued to do missionary work there. He returned to the west of Ireland several times, which was in and of itself an adventure each time. It is an example of a truly actively lived life.

His companions often asked him to write down a rule, but he constantly staved this off. »As it had to come, one day Columba lay on his deathbed and his brothers were saddened, for not it was definitely too late to write a rule. They gathered around the bed of their founder and asked him for at least one last teaching for the time after his death.

Columba raised his hand and said:

´Like the five fingers of my hand, everything essential to the spiritual life can be summed up in five thoughts.

First: The heart is never definitely born.

Because the heart of a human being is never definitely born, we must always keep before our eyes:

Second: Being human requires practice.

Third: Being human takes time.

We must heed and honour this practice and time in the hearts that are growing. For

Fourth: They ensure that rhythm is given for the body, for the body needs rhythm.

Fifth: They ensure, that home is given for the soul, for the soul needs a home.’

Then Columba died.

The brothers wrote the five words on their fingers. But one day the heart absorbed the inked words through the skin into itself. As the writing faded, the words were already long embedded in the hearts of the people of Iona.«

Why are we telling all this to you today?

We are starting a new rhythm for our accompaniment in this unusual year. It can and may become a year of renewal and internalisation and the wisdom of Columba can teach us to gently, patiently and lovingly deal without ourselves and others. His prayer was fervent and holistic. He never separated it from the here and now. It was like an acting of devoting oneself, attuning oneself and letting things happen.

 »… We ask nothing other than that you give us yourself. For you are our all: our life, our light, our salvation, our food and our drink, our God. Inspire our hearts, I ask you, Jesus, with that breath of your Spirit: wound our souls with your love…Blessed is the soul so wounded by love.« *

* from: Steve Rabey, Im Haus der Erinnerung – Keltische Weisheit für den Alltag

As we continue our path together this week in a somewhat other rhythm, then we may pray thankfully and clearly, courageously and confidently as the companions of Columba:

I thank you for this, my God:
I am a traveller
and stranger in the world,
like so many of your people before me.
(Columba)

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 8th, 2020

 

 

 

Trinitiy Sunday 2020

 

A religion teacher tried to tell her class something abut the Trinity. She did not get far. The language about the Trinity is confusing, dry and impenetrable for most Christians, let alone children. This language was born out of the philosophical attempt to speak about God. It is not the language of the biblical stories. That is what it is also not the language of the people in search of a relation and encounter with God in daily life.

 

But what caused to religion teacher to stumble was yet to come. She has brought several images of the Trinity to the school and allowed the children to contemplate and comment on them. One 11 year old boy said: »They do not seem particularly pleased to see each other.« From the mouth of babes. I have thought that, but never spoken it aloud.

 

I ask myself, what kind of images have we painted, with words as well, that such an impression is created? In the Trinity lays a revelation of love, but not an abstract philosophical treatise about it. The biblical story speaks of the Three as a community of life and love. At the same time, their community is a school of life and love for us. It wants to endear our hearts to the steps of life, the processes of loving. The Three offer us no definition of love, but a path to it.

 

In this school of love there is a constant flow of love between the three persons. It reveals to us the true dynamic of love. Who better to teach us this dynamic than the three architects of love? Therefore, we need three life lessons from them.

 

  1. Love moves from unity to uniqueness and back again.

 

  1. Like every person in the school of the Trinity, we, too, are called to live so that each person is a recipient and giver of life at the same time.

 

  1. Like every person in the Trinity, in the school of love, we must love in such a manner, that every person spontaneously and freely takes the initiative in loving and does not wait for the other begin.

 

If this is our story about God, what kind of reaction and impression will we then awaken? If we live and do this, what kind of faith will grow from it? I am fairly certain it will be significantly other than »they do not seem particularly pleased to see each other.« And I am equally certain that it will then not be spoken about us as Christians.

 

Several years ago John Shea dared this question: If we immerse ourselves into the love story of the Three, what would be recognise and profess? Thus, I entrust his liturgical creed to your hearts on this Sunday. It is not in the customary language of our liturgy. But it is the language of the love experiences of a people that learned a lot in the school of the Trinity.

 

A Prayer of Belief: A Liturgical Creed

 

We believe that where people are gathered together in love

God is present

and good things happen

and life is full.

 

We believe that we are immersed in mystery,

that our lives are more than they seem,

that we belong to each other

and to a universe of great creative energies

whose source and destiny is God.

We believe that God is after us,

that God is calling to us

from the depth of human life.

 

We believe that God has risked God’s self

and become a human being in Jesus.

 

In and with Jesus, we believe that each of us

is situated in the love of God

and the pattern of our life

will be the pattern of Jesus –

through death and resurrection.

 

We believe that the Spirit of Peace

is present to us, the Church,

as we gather to celebrate

our common existence,

the resurrection of Jesus,

and the fidelity of God.

 

And most deeply we believe that in our struggle to love,

we incarnate God in the world.

And so, aware of mystery and wonder,

caught in friendship and laughter,

we become speechless before the joy in our hearts

and celebrate the sacredness of life

in the Eucharist.

(John Shea)

 

Now, isn’t that a story we would love to be a part of? If it is, then it is a story we would love to tell.

Whenever that 11 year old boy is today, I hope he found the teller of this tale.

 

Erik Riechers SAC

Trinity Sunday, June 7th, 2020

 

Talk and Action

 

Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, » And in general - even the slightest work is higher than talking about what has been done.«

Many bemoan it, but the crisis of the pandemic demonstrates, among many other things, how addicted we are to words. Yet, the more we talked and talk, the more premature and swiftly all kinds of publications were issued, the less they stood the test of time, sometimes only for one day. What did stand the test of time and fostered life was and remains the action of all the people who did not talk a great deal, but acted. They were the ones who accompanied others through the dark valley, sometimes carrying them. And let’s be honest: that is how it always is.

I John’s Gospel Jesus says: » But whoever does what is true comes to the light «.  (John 3, 21) He says it to Nicodemus at the end of his nighttime conversation. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and »leading man among the Jews«, had sought out Jesus by night to talk with him, to philosophise and have an exchange of views. Yet, as John describes in detail, he does not really understand Jesus; and Jesus’ last sentence to Nicodemus is: » But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.«

Words are important, but only the action that flows from inner truth leads to the increase of life.

In our days, a young politician proves herself to be convincing, of whom it is said she belongs to a » new generation of leaders for whom empathy is as important as decisiveness and assertiveness«. * It is Jacinda Arden, young Prime Minister of New Zealand. She repeatedly shows that she does not just preach to the people, bit that she is with them and acts. Thus, she unrelentingly pushed through the anti-Corona-measures in her country and achieved great success thereby. Her budget for 2019 did not set economic growth as the highest priority, but the well-being of the people.

» But whoever does what is true comes to the light « - and light is the world of God, his Kingdom in which life is possible for all, not by talk, but by action.

Thus, we could nurture contemplation and weigh words, live interiority and out of it come to true action.

* taz online, 30.05.2020

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 6th, 2020

 

 

Not without Companions

 

For weeks people have been talking and speculating about the end of the Corona crisis. Regardless of what they wish or imagine, this exercises bears within it a dangerous illusion. Crises do not simply end. They slowly ease off and we slowly emerge from them.

After 40 years in the desert, Moses holds his grand farewell speech at the border to the Promised Land. A part of his speech emphasises, that the crisis is not yet over. Nee tasks grow out of old crises. Conquering a desert does not yet signify that a new territory has been conquered and fashioned.

In the desert Israel had to learn to strip off attitudes and behaviours that they had learned and internalised as slaves in Egypt. After such a long period of time, they first had to practice how to live as free people. People cannot continually live in fear and terror and then expect that it leaves no mark on them when they are rid of them. For weeks we have nurtured and fostered timidity toward contact and closeness. Distance and restraint were inculcated into us. Now new possibilities are being opened again, bit do we have the courage to use them? Contact is again permitted. But will we seek contact, risk encounter?

After this crisis comes a time of reconstruction. A thought of Wilhelm Bruners has occupied Rosemarie and me for weeks. He sees the same themes emerging after this crisis as 70 years ago after World War II: The questions of life and death, youth and the elderly, community and loneliness, public service and withdrawal.  Yet, in comparison to World War II, this reconstruction will be, for he most part, interior. It is not rubble that needs to be cleaned away, but mistrust. Everyone is speaking of economic stimulus packages. But what will they stimulate aside from consumerism? No economic package in the world will help us answer the questions the crisis raised in us.  An economic miracle will not help us to regain trust in one another, restore the courage that enables us to gradually wager more life and to cautiously attempt touch, encounter and relationship.

There needs to be a restoration of interiority, healthy spirituality and of the heart. But not without companions.

For this reason, Rosemarie and I will carry on with »May you be Sheltered!«. We have noticed, that people do not need as much as they did in the past 11 weeks, but on the other hand we are far from reaching our destination.

Every Sunday I will write a homily for you until the resumption of normal Masses is possible. As of June 8th, reflections will be published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday so that in a regular rhythm we have access to the empowering, orientation, encouragement and comfort of the stories of God.

One day before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged his people.

»Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!

And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!«

Thus, Moses spoke to the people. Thus, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the people. Yet, the message was never, »It is over«, but rather that things are coming that they should not fear but fashion.

We will manage this as well, but not without companions. For if we now need to undertake an interior reconstruction, we should do it as companions on the journey.

 

In my name, and in Rosemarie Monnerjahn’s name, we continue to bless all our companions with the wish: May you be sheltered.

Erik Riechers SAC. June 5th, 2020

 

 

»he could do that «

 

The poems and stories of the pastor Wilhelm Bruners have long accompanied and enriched us. Many people who traveled with him through the Holy Land during his 18 years in Jerusalem cherish this memory like a treasure upon which they can draw again and again. He opened the Scriptures and rooted biblical words in the earth as he told stories and moved across ancient land. In his poetry be combines with sensitivity the wisdom of the Stories of God with the heart of the reader and the listener.

Toda, on his 80th birthday we wish him rich blessing and greet him with a »L’Chaim!« - »to life!«

And let his words to speak – what could be better?

 

he could do that

 

with every piece of bread

that he shared

he gave himself

because he believed and loved

because he sought community

because he rediscovered his life

in them

because he could say

I-AM

because he

wept and celebrated with us

with tears in his eyes

 

because he became one of us

because he did not

shield himself from us

because he became a brother

and it  was no lie

 

he can still do that:

guiding the tracks of our tears to the light

and rise with us unto life

 

unto the indestructible

                              Wilhelm Bruners, Am Rande des Tages, 2020

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 4th, 2020

 

 

The Masks we are not Forced to Wear

 

Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling. A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

(Proverbs 26:24-28)

Wearing a mask is an act of hiding – from others, and perhaps from oneself. From God, however, we cannot, nor do we need to, hide. He hears our cry. He answers our unspoken prayer. He heeds the unheeded and brings them comfort.

In the aftermath of long term crisis a mending of identity is often required. We have often worn masks that no one forced us to wear. Afraid to show our true selves, we wore a mask of certainty where we felt nothing of the sort. Fearful to let God or others see what is raging, roiling or bubbling within us, we don masks of disdain, anger, outrage, indifference, and exhaustingly painful coolness. 

The biblical stories of disguise (such as Jacob disguising himself in order to inveigle a birthright or Tamar disguising herself to trick justice for herself where it is not freely given) are deeply religious chronicles of psychological growth and maturation. What they tell us is simple and profound: those who stand before God need no disguises to achieve self-worth when standing before humankind. The stories of God tell us to drop the masks.

During these days when we are forced to wear a mask to cover our mouths and noses, we grudgingly accept the necessity of doing so as a safety precaution. They are uncomfortable, annoying and make it harder to breath easily. And we complain vociferously about them. Then why wear masks no one forces us to wear? We willingly choose masks that are supposed to protect us from one another, from sorrow, ridicule or misunderstanding. And like the ones we are presently forced to wear, they are uncomfortable. They make us more fearful, more suspicious and less trusting, and that makes it harder to breathe easily in each other’s company.

In his song »When the Masks Fall«, my confrere Alexander Diensberg shows us the kind of honest, healthy questions that are raised when people drop the masks.

 

Whereto with all the many questions?

Whereto with all the puzzlement?

Whereto with all the many pictures,

which really are only shards?

 

Whereto with all the darknesses?

Whereto with all the vanities?

Whereto with all the many fears,

which really are only shards?...

 

Whereto with all the many sufferings?

Whereto with all the sadnesses?

Whereto with all the many crosses,

Which really are only shards?

 

Whereto with all the many plans?

Whereto with all the many tears?

Whereto with my childhood dreams,

Which really are only shards?...

 

When the masks fall, they set faces free,

the faces of us all, wounded and shy.

Scars of old times will be buried deeply in them,

Wounded and shy – but free!“»

 

Life is already difficult and suffocating enough as it is. Why should we then wear masks that no one forces us to wear?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, June 3rd, 2020

 

Back to daily life

 

In the liturgy of the Church year we have return to ordinary time. For 50 days we remembered and celebrated the resurrection – from the fright of the first hours on Easter Sunday through the fearfulness and the repeatedly astonishing experiences of the disciples of Jesus to the mighty sending of the Spirit.

The crisis-related enforced deceleration and quiet of these weeks offered us the chance to take more time for the biblical texts and to thereby ask ourselves the question: do I know this?

A new, at times hesitant perspective of life is offered to me, but I am frightened by it and pull back – do I know this?

I am going in circles in my backwards glances and in my brooding I make no progress - do I know this?

I am called by name, I am addressed and feel new life grow in me - do I know this?

Sometimes my confidence is suppressed by fearful worry - do I know this?

I share my hopes with others and experience a strong community - do I know this?

There are times when strengths come to me that I did not suspect in myself -do I know this?

 

May we, truly strengthened, move into and through our daily lives.

May we develop an eye for the moments of new life, so that we will always be able to pray in thanksgiving:

You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth

and clothed me with gladness. So that my glory may praise you and not be silent.

 O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks.

 (Ps 30, 12-13)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, June 2nd, 2020

 

 

A Prayer to the God of Surprises

 

Attack

when the sun has turned the lake to flame

and the waves are music on the beach.

 

Ambush me

in the quiet beyond words

I have with her.

 

Spring at me

from the running boy.

 

Vanquish me

in the courage of the weak.

 

Take me by surprise

in the wrinkled smile

of the lady with the floppy hat.

 

But be warned.

I will be on my guard

welcoming defeat.

 

                 John Shea

  

Erik Riechers SAC, June 1st, 2020

 

 

 

Pentecost 2020

 

Vincent Pallotti took the Pentecost experience very seriously. He saw in it the fast of mission in which all people, men and women, are filled with the Spirit. On each one this tongue of flame rest and that is why Pallotti detects here the primordial image of a church of co-responsibility for all.

As a Pallottine I grew up with these images and share Vincent Pallotti’s conviction, today more than back then, that in a church of co-responsibility for all, the mission must also be the task of all.

What I find gets short shrift in all this is not the result, but rather the process that leads to this Pentecost event. I believe, that we cannot truly take Pentecost seriously until we recognise it as the fulfillment of the trust God places in us.

I am the trusted one of God. This is the key phrase in our relationship with God on the way to co-responsibility. There can be no partnership without trust. But this trust is fulfilled at Pentecost, not begun.

The beginning of this process of unfolding trust lays a long ways back, in the garden of creation. There God sets his trust in us for the first time and in a foundational fashion. First, he places all of creation into our hands, entrusts it to us. He trusts us, trusts that we can not only manage it, but that we will do it in his intention, as his image and likeness, as his representatives. Secondly, in the creation of Eve, he leads man and woman together and sets his trust in us yet again. He entrusts us to one another for safe-keeping.

The process of God’s trust in us is continued n Jesus. Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus entrusts the mission to the world to us, unto the ends of the earth, for all peoples. We are to immerse them into the dynamic of love and relationship that constantly flows between him, his Father and the Spirit. He entrusts all this to us.

Then comes Pentecost. The Spirit comes and does not hold back. The sight for the fullness of life is restored for people who have hidden behind wall too often and for too long. Gifts are poured out and mighty visions and passionate visions are enkindled. Men and women are filled with clarity and strength, intoxicated with the yearning to proclaim his inexhaustible and untameable word in all languages and for all people.

The Spirit comes at Pentecost and gives us the inner motivation to translate God’s trust in us into life. Therefore, Pentecost cannot be the feast of the mission for all in a Church of co-responsibility if it is not first the fulfillment of the trust God places in us.

When the fulfillment of trust comes, then we will have to fulfil three inner tasks.

The Spirit drives us to liberate, develop and wager what it has woven within us:

  1. Liberate :

 The Spirit sprouts in seed of hope and humor. Thus, we must foster this sprouting in us so that we approach life more hopefully and humorously. The Spirit dances in the pulse of life, thus we must let out the liveliness within us and set ourselves in motion with zest. The Spirit burns in the fire of our passion, but then we must reveal this passion. Everything is there, everything is entrusted to us. Yet, no one lives until it is liberated for the life of the world.

 

  1. Develop:

The gifts of the Spirit must also be developed. They are given to us as potential, not as finished products. The fullness that resides in us must expand and stretch to that despite so much banality we might enthuse many people.  We should unfold our gifts of the Spirit so that love can overcome violence without employing violence and the ill-treated creation can find ever more friends and advocates.

 

  1. Wager:

»Send forth your Spirit« is the request we address to God. When the Spirit comes, we are the ones being sent forth. Since he famously is known to blow where he wills, we must be ready for every surprise that blows into our lives with him. The mission of the Spirit is a wager. He will shake our familiar excuses, shake us awake from our lethargy, and whirl about our false securities.

 

Then come three tasks for the outer world. They lead us to a Church of co-responsibility for all.

God’s trust in his people means:

1. Live free!

The Spirit does not speak of the freedom of the children of God, but challenges us to live out the freedom of God’s children in all its dimensions, in full strength and in its entire breadth.

The Celtic Christians say, that the Spirit is not a domesticated pet, like a dove, but a wild goose. We are called to live out the wildness of God in us.

 

 2. Take on responsibility!

 The Spirit lets us anticipate what a world according to his heart would look like. In the world that he would fashion, even the small and the discouraged would stand up and do today what seems only possible for tomorrow. We are not the spectators of this process, but the collaborators of this work.

 The stormy Spirit, who blows into our closed-heartedness, challenges us to take on responsibility, to blow into situations of life in order to make hard people soft again, to show the timid a horizon beyond their walls, and to transform intimidated whisperers into the powerfully eloquent. »Act accordingly and you shall live!« is the basic formula here.

 

 3. Act creatively!

The Spirit gives no guidelines, marching order or organisational charts. We are sent out with the full trust of God. The Spirit comes wordlessly. He comes stormily, violently, tumultuously and shakes us thoroughly, but without words. We are now responsible for the words and that requires that we act creatively.

 We cannot wait until the conditions improve. We may not wait until something or someone opens the locked doors and shuttered windows of our society and church. We need to get creative, seek paths, take initiative, and find solutions. The Spirit has sent us forth because the face of the earth badly needs our attention.

 

Pentecost wants to renew the people of God. The Spirit does not want to inform us, but to animate us. As a Church of co-responsibility for all it cannot be that all our conversations revolve around us as a Church. We are sent in order to harvest something of life, to feed the poor and to live as redeemed people so that other people might live redeemed.

Therefore, Pentecost cannot be the feast of the mission for all in a Church of co-responsibility if it is not first the fulfillment of the trust God places in us. God is truly counting on us.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, Pentecost, May 31st, 2020

 

Pentecost-Spirit

 

Narrative Theologians learn and teach it: Take the stories seriously!

Take your own stories seriously! Take all the stories of God and his people seriously!

The Bible is for the most part laconic, therefore, it is all the more important to plumb the weight of every word, to relish and interpret the metaphors.

Today we give you a poem, which is full of biblical metaphors and creates a link from the origins of our faith into the future that we are to fashion.

Wilhelm Bruners, a master of the word, wrote three years ago:

 

Pentecost-Spirit . Future-Spirit

Woe to us, if heaven gets serious

an allows fire and glowing coals

to rain upon us. When it takes our breath away

because the fire breath of God comes  over us.

When, tossed from our nests,

We become full-fledged, whether we want to or not.

When our nosedive begins into a world

that urgently needs us.

 

Blessed are we, when all that is dead

is incinerated in God’s Fire- Spirit

so that our future

               has a living chance.

                                                  wilhelm bruners, June 2017

 

Let us read it word by word and hearken within us what this word unleashes in us and where we have encountered it in the Bible before.

Take your time, read it again and again, and you will experience the depth and explosive power.

50 days after Pessach, the Jewish people celebrate Shavuot , the heart of their faith, namely the giving of the Torah. On precisely this day the Holy Spirit descended upon the assembled disciples and set free the power for the future. Here the resurrection finally becomes liveable and we can be called blessed

  »when all that is dead

is incinerated in God’s Fire- Spirit, 

so that our future

                               has a living chance..«

 

Thusly, let us celebrate Pentecost!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 30th, 2020

 

 

»Toss your fear into the air«

 

One of the last words which Jesus speaks to this beloved disciples in the Acts of the Apostles is:

» While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. « (Acts 1,4-5)

In these days we bring to life the remembrance of this. This Spirit, the Holy one, the Giver of Strength, is also promised to us.

Yet, like the disciples, we know fear. Sometimes out hope fades away. Sometimes we believe, that we have no more strength for the next day.

We also know the finiteness of our life, which we repress or which weighs on us, because it puts us under pressure.

Thus, for months our world is especially filled with the fear of life, because we are afraid of dying.

Yet, all that is part of our being human and we could look at it gently and honestly.

Rose Ausländer (1901-1988), truly rich with life experience, found the following words:

You’re here, still

Toss your fear
into the air

Soon
your time is over
soon
heaven grows
under the grass
your dreams fall
into nowhere

Still
the carnation smells sweetly
the thrush sings
still you may love
give words away
you are here, still

Be what you are
Give what you have

Rose Ausländer

 

In order to be what we are and to give what we have, we need God’s Holy Spirit.

May he strengthen us so that we might » no longer be children « and » tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind «. (Eph 4,14)

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says in farewell: » I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!« (Joh 16, 33)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 29th, 2020

 

 

The Heart of the Adventurer V

 

There is nothing like a crisis to unveil the true nature of the heart. When the going gets rough, then we see whether a heart of the adventurer beats in us, or whether we harbour the heart of a tourist.

The heart of the adventurer is marked by the readiness to pay a price in order to live freely. This heart refuses to raise the claim that it be dispensed from the crisis or the toll it demands. The heart of the tourist holds fast to the belief, that it has the right to a comfortable life that demands no price while insisting on every advantag         

 

Proverbs 30, 18-19 offers us a stunning glimpse into the heart of the adventurer.

The writer of Proverbs modestly admits that four things baffle him.

…the way of an eagle in the sky,

            the way of a serpent on the rock,

                        the way of a ship in the heart of the sea,

                                   and the way of a man with a maiden.

 

It is the puzzle posed by the third line that concerns a people who, like all adventurers, are entering into undiscovered country.

In ancient times ships stayed close to the coast, using the sight of land to direct their journey. In other words, they used the tried, tested and true to navigate. This gave them a great sense of security, but it also severely limited the routes they could take. You simply had to follow the curve of the land. There were faster ways, smoother ways, better ways to sail, but none of them were pursued for the sake of keeping the shore in sight.

Whenever human beings make security their personal overriding concern and issue (the tried, tested and true), then they severely limit their ability to move, explore and discover. Because they always use the same securities in order to navigate, they never manage to discover that there are other ways to live, faster and better ways to fashion life and community, and even much simpler ways of living and acting.

This is the perennial problem of the Tradition. For the most part in today’s Church, the Tradition has been reduced to the equivalent of the shoreline. We give people the lay of the land, and then tell them to slavishly follow it. At the moment we see it at work in the often slavish willingness to do whatever it takes to resume public liturgies.

But the biblical understanding of tradition is deeper and healthier. Tradition is not the shoreline, but the enduring ability to sail any sea and keep the ship afloat, no matter what is tossed against that ship.

The heart of the sea was its unknown and unknowable centre, far from the shore, terrifying to think of and impossible to navigate.

Considering that the biblical image of the heart often stands for the unknown and the hidden, the way of the ship at the heart of the sea (the unknown and the hidden), then the challenge is to risk precisely that, entering into the unknown and the hidden.

 

In Luke 5, 4 Jesus will tell his disciples to launch out into the deep. This was hardly welcome advice for the fishers of that day.

It meant risk, since hardly one of them could swim and to fall out of the boat in the depths meant you could not simply stand up and wade back to shore.

It meant uncertainty, because the deeper the water got, the murkier it got, the less you could see in the water.

It meant you had to trust, that the tremendous amount of water under you would carry you, and that the murkiness contained the life you were looking for.

But it was basic wisdom on the part of Jesus. Because although hugging the shore is easy, comforting and very enticing, there is one tiny drawback: there are no fish near the shore.

Fish mean life, and there is no life to be found near the shore.

There is no life to be found where certainty determines where you can or cannot go.

There is no life to be found where you are wrapped in a certainty and security that enslaves you, because you are so addicted to it, that you cannot go any place that would endanger it.

Then you spend all your time and energy preserving not your life, but your security. And therein lies the fatal error. All too many people confuse having this security with having a life.

 

The Celtic Christians did not share the conviction of the Roman Church that there were seven deadly sins. In fact, they were utterly certain that there was only one mortal sin, one deadly sin: the unlived life. The seven we love to name are merely the examples of how life remains unlived.

The writer of Proverbs is baffled by the way of a ship at the heart of the sea. How do you keep life and spirit afloat in the midst of the hidden and unknown, far from the certainties and securities that once sustained and calmed us? The only way you will ever find out, is if you sail to the heart of the sea. And for that you will most assuredly need the heart of an adventurer.

Erik Riechers SAC, May 28th, 2020

 

 

God, you are close to us

 

In my youth I saw Pier Pasolini’s Film » The First Gospel – Matthew « on television while I was at home.  This black and white film impressed me a great deal at the time. Finally a biblical film that was not a Hollywood epic! Here the images spoke of the barrenness of the land and the poverty of the people. The spoken words were all selected out of the Gospel of Matthew and nothing was added to them. The faces of the people in action got under my skin –they were so honest, simple and strongly expressive and carried me along into the growing tension of the plot. However, in the end it was one sentence that fell into my heart and lives there until this day. It is the last sentence of the Gospel and it was the last sentence in the film:

» . . . I am with you all days unto the end of the world.«

Never before had I heard it in this way and every time when I hear it since, I feel again the warmth of this never-ending promise that encourages and comforts and in which I can believe.

It is as if I come into contact with the name of God, as Moses heard it at the thorn bush: »I am the ‚I-am- here‘«.

Jesus promise means: He is with us and journeys with us on every day, whether they be relaxed or full of tension, healthy or sick, sad or joyful. Just as he sends his disciples to all peoples, so he promises them and us, to be with us to the end of the world. I understand this »end of the world« not just spatially, but also temporally – HIS presence does not end.

As a companion of the journey of this trust and in this week moving toward Pentecost, may a small prayer be of service to us:

God, you are close to us, now, here, in this moment and at all times.

God, with you we would like to walk, give us the impetus.

With you we would rest; give us the breath.

With you are provisions, accompany us.

Remain familiar to us and become new to us.

                              (Manfred Büsing, Lectio divina, Vol. 22, 2020)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 27th, 2020

 

 

»At the same time«

 

Sometimes we hear a story of a song in a totally new way. We are not the same as we were the last time. Other aspects step to the fore, deeper levels are reached.

Thus, a few days ago I again encountered Barbra Streisand with her song »At the same time« - a song about the connectedness between all people. For decades we have been speaking of globalisation – of the economy, travel, climate change and environmentalism, of aid activities during great catastrophes and of the present threat through illnesses and epidemics. Yet the term is mechanistic and cold.

By contrast, Barbra Streisand loves the lyric poetry of Ann Hampton Callaway, because she knows «how fragile the planet is, how fragile souls are, and how desperately we need unity« *

I invite you to encounter this song with your ears and your hearts, to take it into yourselves and to explore what it sets in motion within you:

 

At the same time

Think of all the hearts beating in the world

At the same time

Think of all the faces and the stories they could tell

At the same time

Think of all the eyes looking out into this world

Trying to make some sense of what we see

Think of all the ways we have of seeing

Think of all the ways there are of being

 

Think of all the children being born into this world

At the same time

Feel your love surround them, through the years they'll need to grow

At the same time

Just think of all the hands that will be reaching for a dream

Think of all the dreams that could come true

If the hands we're reaching with could come together joining me and you

 

When it comes to thinking of tomorrow

We must protect our fragile destiny

In this precious life there's no time to borrow

The time has come to be a family

 

Just think of all the love pouring from our hearts

At the same time

Think of all the light our love can shine around this world

At the same time

Just think what we've been given

And then think what we can lose

All of life is in our trembling hands

It's time to overcome our fears and join to build a world that loves and understands

 

It helps to think of all the hearts beating in the world

And hope for all the hearts beating in the world

There's a healing music in our hearts beating in this world

At the same time...

At the same time

                                               * Barbra Streisand, Higher Ground CD 1997, Accompanying Booklet

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 26th, 2020

 

 

A Prayer to the Master of Shock

 

Too many people come to the conviction, that if they believe in God, they have taken out something akin to a divine life insurance policy. Naturally, when a time of crisis arises and they are not immune or exempt, they become either angry or depressed.

There is only one cure for that and that is the restoral of a healthy image of God. I know just the man who can help us with that.

 

A Prayer to the Master of Shock

 

When you told the seventy-two

to travel without bread and coin,

was it to boggle the mind of the rich

and buckle the heart of the fat?

For you were the master of shock,

Dancing out of the desert of fast

with the message in your mouth

that the earth had not yet cooled.

 

Then you said

the far flung God was as close

as the widow without justice

and the stranger without a roof.

And you rose up,

like an open hand in a time of war,

and stood by every fire and sea

wherever ear would hear and eye see,

hanging stories like axes in the air

about a son of shame who returns to fanfare

while a son of duty stays without a party,

 

about a worker who bears the heat of day

while an afternoon stroller is the first played,

 

about a son who says yes and means no

while another says no and means yes,

 

about a priest who passes by the other side

while a terrorist wraps wounds,

 

about a poor man who dines with Abraham

while a rich man cannot find a finger of water,

 

about a good man whose prayer is swallowed in air

while a sinner has the ear of God.

 

And when the cripple

at the Sheep Pool of the Five Porticos

told you

the water only heals

when the angel troubles it,

you turned on him like a knife,

 

»I am the water that troubles«.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 25th, 2020

 

 

7th Sunday of Easter 2020

 

The art of great conversation

 

In John’s Gospel, the Farewell Discourse goes on for 4 chapters. But I have always felt that it was more of conversation than a discourse. In the course of the long talk he speaks with his disciples, answers their questions, turns to his father and speaks of what is stirring and happening within himself. This is a matter of a last great conversation in which Jesus pours out his soul and places everything that is valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile to him into appreciative hands.

If we wish to manage such a conversation as Jesus die, then we should pose two significant questions:

 1. What is so dear to my heart that I simply have to pass it on?

 2. To whom shall I entrust it?

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus pours out his heart and soul. He places what is valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile to him in sure and appreciative hands, namely, in the hands of his trusted ones, the disciples. To be invited to hear and share such a conversation is to know you are trusted.

If we wish to pull that off, we need to hold fast to something:

Listening is the first reverence.

In such conversations, I must be present, listening and attentive. I have to take notice, take it in and take it along. That is how it was with the disciples around Jesus.

If I do not do this, then neither my hands nor my heart are secure enough and appreciative enough for something precious to be placed in them.

Without the first reverence of listening nothing truly valuable can be passed on and then the valuable has no future.

Yet, such a conversation in which I pour out my soul and place everything that is valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile to me in sure and appreciative  hands, has a price and it always demands its payment.

The price is belonging. The Farewell Discourse is not the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus selects his own listeners, and belonging is his measuring standard. There is a good reason why Jesus warns us not to cast our pearls before swine. This is not an insult but a deep wisdom of the soul. Swine do not know what to do with pearls. In other words, never, ever, entrust what is most valuable to you to those who have no idea what to do with it and therefore can neither appreciate nor protect it. Belonging creates trust, but belonging takes time, and raw quantities of it.

This brings us back to the two questions.

1.What is so dear to my heart that I simply have to pass it on?

This presupposes a sense of my life. It presupposes that I have not lost contact to my inner life. The valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile matters of a life do not lay on the surface, but can only be found when we plumb our depths.

 2. To whom shall I entrust it?

This presupposes the kind of relationship to others that generates trust. Belonging becomes critical here. I have to know whom I would like to whom I entrust what is precious. Whom will I show the most beautiful things, the most moving things, the most precious and worthwhile treasures of my life? The answers can only lay in relationships of belonging. I will not be able to entrust it to the unknown and the stranger. In order to protect myself and my heart’s desire, I will also not entrust it to someone familiar to me, if I know in advance, that they will not know how to appreciate it.

 

If I had asked, »When was the last time you enjoyed a really great meal?«, we would pause for moment of reflection and soon have an answer ready. Yet, if I pose the question, »When was the last time you really great conversation, which sang and echoed in your heart afterwards for weeks and months? «, then you will have to think hard for a long time.

Still, we can learn and practice the art of great conversation. The lovely part is, it does not have to be a Farewell Discourse. At any point in life, we can converse about what is valuable, precious, dear and worthwhile in our lives and entrust it to others. A time like this, a time of crisis, would be a very good place to start.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 24th, 2020

 

 

When everything becomes so different

 

As I recently waited for my grandchildren outside of the kindergarten, I entered into a conversation with the mother of a preschool child. She told me that her daughter was crying repeatedly because all the nice things she had anticipated with joy were canceled. »How much she wanted to have a sleep-over in the Kindergarten at the end of the year! And now everything is canceled«, she lamented.

It is a fact. We are experiencing a loosening of the severe regulations. Thus, children can again be brought to the institutions, but that is by far not as it was or what was planned, what a six-year-old had prepared for or was hoping for. That is a pity and I saw the sadness in the eyes of the young mother.

Fortunately, it is not existential. Then other images come to mind. They are images of lost children, of abandoned  children, of children whose lives are determined by illness. They are images of flight and deportation, of ghettos and favelas - a millionfold.

 

During these days a gripping graphic novel by the Israeli artist Esther Shakine will appear in German. In »Exodus« she tells and illustrates how she survived the Shoa and finally found a new home in Israel. Her childhood in Hungary is happy and carefree, with cats and friends. But at some point the stars of David appear and later the police storm her home during the night. Her mother hides her in a closet, but her whimpering is heard and the closet is torn open. »His boots were directly before my eyes. Pitsy hissed with fear and ran away. The policeman wanted to give her a kick and nearly fell down. . ‚Damned cat!`, he cursed. I stayed back alone in the closet. I no longer cried. Thereafter , I did not cry for a long time.«

Everything is falling away.

While going on the wrong track through the city, she finds a priest who takes her into the orphanage of the monastery, where she finds a home until it’s bombardment at the end of the war. After that, she wandered aimlessly with other Jewish children, often to the train station, in the hope of finding her parents. But they never come.

Via a Zionist children’s home and after many adversities, she arrives in southern France in 1947 and embarks with 4500 Jews onto to a ship to Palestine. It  is the »Exodus«. The British do not allow them to set foot on land. The refugees return to Germany. Only the next year does her passage finally succeed. Thus does the story end, with the sunset of her first evening in the kibbutz: »I had the feeling that I had finally arrived.«

How can people bear so much suffering and brokenness in life, repeatedly, sometimes for many long years?

In Psalm 77 the person praying laments his great need. He finds no comfort, indeed, he feels himself rejected and forgotten by God and poses question after question to God:

Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable?

Has his steadfast I love forever ceased?

Are his promises at an end for all time?

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

Yet then he pauses: 

And I said, ‘ This is my anguish; does the right hand of the Most High act so differently? ‘

This, too, is still a question. Does God still have something to do with me, even when everything comes so differently than I imagined, so difficult and hardly bearable?

The person praying here remains on this track and enlivens the memory:

I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember your wonders of old.

I will also meditate on all your work, and talk of your deeds.

Your way, oh God, is holy indeed.

 

During such times, can we find this track? Can we look past our personal actual need? Can we have a sense of trust in the totally other God who goes with us?

 

Come, Spirit of God and strengthen us that we might pose our questions with courage.

Come, Spirit of God and widen our view and our heart.

Come, Spirit of God and enliven our trust and our hope.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 23rd, 2020

 

 

Twisting ourselves out of shape

 

These days, we are officially allowed to celebrate public Masses again. Some hail it as a victory. I am not among them.

The guidelines and restrictions are so ludicrous that they disfigure the Eucharist into something unrecognizable. Only a tiny select group of people are allowed to participate, everyone else is excluded. All must wear face masks, stay six feet apart, and no singing is allowed. Communion is distributed with plastic gloves and tongs or from behind Plexiglas barriers.

In order to accommodate these restrictions, we have turned the Eucharist into a hollow shelf. How is this a Eucharist when every gesture screams, Stay away from me? How are we celebrating the hope of the resurrection when every gesture shows that we are deadly afraid of each other? How do we celebrate communion while rejecting its building blocks, namely, contact, closeness, sharing and encounter?

It calls a story to mind. Clarissa Pinkola Estés recounts it in her Book »Women who run with the Wolves«.

 

A man came to a SZABÓ, a tailor, and tried on a suit. As he stood before the mirror, he noticed the vest was a little uneven at the bottom.

“Oh,”said the tailor, “don’t worry about that. Just hold the shorter end down with your left hand and no one will ever notice.”

While the customer proceeded to do this, he noticed that the lapel of the jacket curled up instead of lying flat. “Oh that?” said the tailor. “That’s nothing. Just turn your head a little and hold it down with your chin.”

The customer complied, and as he did, he noticed that the inseam of the pants was a little short and he felt that the rise was a bit too tight. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” said the tailor. “Just pull the inseam down with your right hand, and everything will be perfect.”

The customer agreed and purchased the suit. The next day he wore his new suit with all the accompanying hand and chin “alterations.” As he limped through the par with his chin holding down his lapel, one hand tugging at the vest, the other hand grasping his crotch, two old men stopped playing checkers to watch him stagger by. “Oh, my God!”, said the first man. “Look at that poor crippled man!” The second man reflected for a moment, then murmured, “Indeed, the crippling is too bad, but you know I wonder... where did he get such a nice suit?”

 

Do we really want to twist ourselves so out of shape simply to create the appearance that what we are doing is fitting?

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 22nd, 2020

 

Ascension 2020

 

Sometimes what we celebrate in the liturgy is not attuned to what we hear in the story of God. In today’s liturgy we have a strong focus on his ascension. Yet, in the story of the Acts of the Apostles Jesus places the emphasis elsewhere. He prepared the disciples for their mission after his departure.

 

»It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.«

 

He makes it clear that we have a task as wide as his earth. He has entrusted to us a responsibility for his people that is boundless.

 

But the disciples do what we often do: They stare at what was given earlier. Jesus makes it clear, that his presence among us, in the form and figure of the Holy Spirit, will live on, but that is not what they want. Jesus gives us the strength of the Spirit in order to fashion and wide and wild world. We, however, would prefer to keep things as they were. Disciples of every age require messengers of God to shake them out of this paralysis.

 

»Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?

This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,

will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.«

 

The translation is weak. This is not a matter of looking, but of staring. It is the fixation that paralyses us.

 

Ascension reminds us that we are at the fourth of 5 stages of the Paschal Mystery. The core statement of the Easter Season is, that Easter is so great and deep a mystery that no day can contain it.

 

Easter is one event, but with five important phases that combine to form this event. Paschal life consists of five clear stages; death, resurrection, the 40 days, Ascension and Pentecost. Each of these stages also has a deep meaning for the people who would like to live out of the Paschal Mystery.

 

Death means the loss of life. In this stage we must mourn and honor our losses.

 

Resurrection means the reception of a new life. That is an offer from God, but people are neither obligated nor are they forced to accept God’s offer. We can also reject this offer of new life.

 

The forty days are the time of maturation, of reflection and of practice, so that we might gradually decide in favour of the new life.

 

And then we come to the Ascension. Here we practice the refusal to cling to the old life. »Men (and women) of Galilee, why do you stand staring at heaven?« Ascension is the moment where we must decide whether we accept new life or are only interested in the mummification of our former lives.

 

This is the only way in which we come to Pentecost, to the point where can receive a new spirit and actually experience something of this new life. Pentecost, the fifth stage, is the reception of a new spirit.

 

Ascension is the encounter with the God who requires us to let go of the old, so that the engaging with the new can succeed. In religious circles we speak often of letting go, which is very weak from a biblical point of view. The stories of God always speak of letting go in conjunction with the ability to let yourself enter into something new. We should let go of some things so that we can enter other thinks better. Yet, only when the adventure of God knocks do we notice what it means to let something go in order to enter into the divine adventure. No one will receive a new spirit while clinging to their old life. But we can reject the offer of a new life by always wanting the old one back.

 

We have a name for that: nostalgia. We know it only all too well, this yearning for the »good old days«.  But this romanticizing of the past is only a way in which we avoid the challenges of the present. Nostalgia is dishonest. The old days were never as good as we portray them. They had their share of pain, suffering and strain. If we all entered a time machine and returned to 1955, I guarantee you that we would encounter people there who would be yearning for the »good old days«.

 

Ascension does not only speak of the glorification and fulfilment of Crist, but also of the task he left behind for us.  Before his ascending, Jesus emphasises that we have a task as wide as his earth and that he has entrusted to us a responsibility for his people that is boundless.

 

We, however, can cling to old conceptions that hinder us in forming our days. We hold fast to old dreams that hinder us at working at the vision of today. We mummify old structures instead of seeking ways how we can live here and now

 

Death, resurrection, the 40 days, Ascension and Pentecost; this is the true rhythm of life and the terrible and pathetic practice of mummification.

 

At the disciples at the Ascension Jesu stood then where stand now: between heaven and earth, paralysed, unable to move and to fashion our lives. This standing between heaven and earth reminds me of the Word of God in the Book of Deuteronomy. »I call upon heaven and earth as witnesses’ against you. I place before you, life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life that you might live.«

 

A true word for the people of Ascension, who consciously choose life and not mummification.

 

The message of the angel is gentle, but I will translate it clearer language. People, the homework assignments are down here.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 21rst, 2020

 

 

Wiil this crisis change anything?

 

This question arises repeatedly in myself, my surroundings, but also in public conversation. It speaks of the yearning that we always feel when we ourselves or our beloved people have to go through difficult times in which those things break away which we consider to be self evident, which we consider to be safe and lovingly familiar. We yearn that there might be a meaning in the crisis and that we or others will allow ourselves to be positively changed. Then, matured and enriched after the crisis, we would fashion our lives differently.

The rather melancholic and introverted Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard once wrote: “ Transformation can only go forth from those who have been transformed .« This means that it does me no good to desire any form of transformation whatsoever, if I am not willing to first to face the invitation or the provocation that has transformation as a consequence. If, for example I am a very spontaneous, even flighty person and I wish that I would act with more consideration and that I would be more consequent in staying with things, I will not attain this if I follow every disturbance and every intervention from outside. If something approaches me, I must accept it as a task and as an exercise. I look at what this means, I place it so to say “on the table” in order to work at it and on myself. Or,  if I never face what the hour demands of me, but rather allow the difficulties to pass by my heart superficially, the wish for more depth will not be fulfilled, indeed the yearning for it will atrophy.  Instead, I would have to look at the difficulty or the need, be at my own or that of another, I need  to “put it on the table”. Only what is placed on the table will be transformed. That is how Nico Derksen once said it long ago. We cannot hope for transformation if we withdraw from every church that would lead us to transformation.

We should not expect transformation from those who did not practice allowing themselves to be transformed, but a repeat of the claims on life all remain self-righteous in the attitudes and ways of thinking, which they have always fostered.

Let us be honest: the people who truly went through the times of affliction - often with great suffering of body and soul - discovered the Essential, lived transformed, and found the path of life of which Paul speaks:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror  the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the spirit.

(2 Corinthians 3, 18)

To come to the path of transformation, we may not kill the yearning through distractions or superficial self gratification. Thereby, we only cover up and disguise thIngs. Those who are accustomed to living in this way will also not be changed by a crisis.

Those who allow themselves to enter into that which the other demands of them no transformation in the lives and they will be further transformed by the present crisis. They know that transformation requires a letting go in the sense of releasing one thing in order to be open for another.

Can I allow things to happen, trusting in the Spirit of the Lord, like a caterpillar that does nothing but allow itself to be transformed? That would be truly glorious.

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 20th, 2020

 

 

For all who would give up hope

 

When she entered the room, he looked up and love pooled in his eyes. Like the poet of the Song of Songs, his heart spoke of her »she whom I so love«.

Yet, his heart was troubled. He saw the strain in her, the suffocating burden of the traumas of yesterday and the burdens of today.

»How was the day, my dearest one?«, he asked with worry interlaced with tenderness.

»I have given up hope«, she replied.

»That will not do«, he said as he leaned with his left shoulder against the wall.

»I cannot manage it. I have given up hope«, she repeated. Her eyes were so full of tears, but her voice was so void of courage.

He felt so helpless. So he told her a story.

 

»My grandfather was a terrible drinker. His favourite drink was Turkish anisette. But he grew troubled by his constant drunkenness and all the pain it caused his beloved wife and children. So one day he sat down to drink his anisette, but this time he added a little water to dilute it. But it way of no use and he got drunk anyway.

So he decided it was time to make a change. He gave up the Turkish anisette and started drinking Scottish Single Malt whiskey. Here, too, he always added some water to dilute it, but it was to no avail. He still got drunk.

Not one to give up without a fight, he made another change. Now we would drink only a fine red wine from France. Again he was careful to thin the wine with water, but it did him no good, In the end, he still got drunk.

One day he called his wife and children to him. “You are my most beloved people in the world”, he said. “I have an announcement to make. I have given up anisette, then whiskey and now red wine, having always diluted them with water. No matter what I did, I still got drunk. I have resolved to give it up. As of this moment, I am giving up the water.“«

 

His pearl of great price looked at his somewhat bewildered. »My dear, what does that story have to do with me?«

»It is quite simple, my dearest one. When you told me that you were giving up hope, you were like my grandfather who wanted to give up the water. If you want to heal what ails you, then you are both giving up the wrong thing.«

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 19th, 2020

 

 

The sum of the day

 

Years ago, an acquaintance lamented at the end of a year, that this year had been so terrible and horrible and that he was glad that it was now coming to an end. On the one hand, I understood him, since I knew that he had lost his last grandparents, in brief succession, during the second half of the year. Yet, I pointed out: »This was not the whole year. Look at the wonderful feasts and experiences you had during the first half!«  He grew quiet, paused and  then he agreed with me. The first half of the year had even been exceptionally joyous and radiant with the elderly ones for him and his family.

 

In this time of the pandemic, it often appears to me that the life which we are all leading is reduced only to this pandemic, or that it is perceived as if the pandemic was only determining topic - regardless from which side of the reflection people find themselves.

 

In what we offer at Siebenquell we repeatedly make the effort to widen our view to the whole of life. The Bible speaks often of the fullness of life and here we can practice the broad point of view. All of it is life: the light and the heavy, suffering and joy, the light and the dark, the broken and the healed.  When we modern people wish for fullness or hear that fullness is promised to us, then we expect only the beautiful that we may relish. But that is not how life is. A wise old man on his deathbed said to his wife: »Let me also relish this here!« All his life he had practiced to accept the whole the fullness, the entire spectrum of life.

 

Friedrich Hölderlin, whose 250th birthday was marked in March, expressed it this way in a small poem:

As with lifetimes,

so, too, with the days.

None are enough for us,

None are totally beautiful,

and all have, if not their anguish,

then certainly their imperfection,

but add them together,

then a sum of

joy and life results!

 

 When the Bible speaks of the glory of the Lord or of the glory he has prepared for his people, the word »kabod« is often used. It expresses heaviness, weight in the sense of weighty importance. Some translate it as »pretty heavy «.

 

We are invited to see in the sum of a day, a year or a life, the glory: everything is there and has its weight. This preserves us from superficial white washing as well as one-sided doom and gloom.

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 18th, 2020

 

 

6th Sunday of Easter 2020

 

To the Last Generation Recounting

 

I have sat at the deathbeds of people who regretted that they could not leave more behind for their children. They understood their contribution to their future primarily in the sense of the financial emoluments they would leave behind.

On the other hand, I have eaten at tables with richly rewarded heirs who quarrelled over the last will they deem to be unjust. At times they were willing to destroy all their familial relations in order to acquire more money. They were apparently of the opinion that one could fashion the future with money, but without family.

What we leave to the next generation can be truly dangerous.

What would I like to leave to the next generation? This is the question facing Jesus. Today’s text from John’s Gospel originates from the so-called »Farewell Discourse«. John gives it the form of the last will and testament of Jesus. And in it Jesus takes up a sentiment from the deep heart of the Psalmist:

»Let me open my mouth in a rhapsody,

let me voice the verses of old, ;

that we have heard and we have known,

    and that our fathers recounted to us.

We shall not conceal from their children,

to the last generation recounting

the praise of the Lord and his might,

    and his wonders that he did.«

 (Ps 78,2-4)

 

In Jesus last will and testament he places the greatest value on relationships. Therefore, his bequest to the disciples is something that will not tear them part like money, land and possessions, but something that will hold them together.

»Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.«

 

Jesus leaves love as his bequest to us. It should bind us to one another and lead us together. He sees a future in this for us. Now we are again at the question: What would we like to leave to the next generation?

 

Several weeks ago, Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, complained about the economic damage cause by the Corona Virus. Then he stated, that many grandparents would rather risk their lives than leave behind an unstable economy to their grandchildren. This, too, is an answer to the question: What would I like to leave to the next generation?

But what kind of a future do I wish upon the people who come after me? Is it enough to leave behind a healthy, stable economy to people, but no love? They will be haunted all their lives by the thought, that as soon as they endanger the stable economy they will be as cold-bloodedly sacrificed as their grandparents were. Would the economy for which I am supposed to sacrifice myself, ever make a sacrifice for me when I am ill, old, disabled or unemployed?

What will we do with a generation that thirsts for inspiration? Is the economy supposed to be their muse? And what of those who experience too little life because they have no share in our economy? Love can give an answer. Are the artists, who give us words and images so that we do not leave behind the true bequest in the death of forgetfulness, simply to be written off? They will certainly not be categorized as relevant to the system by the economic forces at play.

I do not deny that people make the choice of Dan Patrick. In these days I am often horrified how often human lives are wagered in order to save the economy. Human sacrifice seems to be socially acceptable again.

Nevertheless, we all have to answer this question and there is an alternative. We could choose to relationships of love. To all those who will inherit from us we could bequeath our passion for life, relationship and love. We could so treasure and protect our love for each other, for God and his creation, and then pass it on to the next generation.

 

Thus, I end my homily with a favourite story. It is called: »The Most Precious« and tells in enchanting fashion of a woman who knew what she would like to inherit.

 

There was a man in Sidon who lived together with his wife for ten years, but she bore him no child. So they went together to Rabbi Simon ben Jochai and requested him to dissolve their marriage.

The Rabbi spoke: “As you were brought together with food and drink, thus shall you be parted through food and drink”.

The man, however, had previously said to his wife; “You may take what is most precious to you with you to your father’s house”.

What did his wife do?

She prepared a rich meal and arranged that her husband would drink to excess. When he fell asleep, she waved her servants and maids over and commanded them: “Lift him from his bed and carry him into the house of my father.”

At midnight the man awoke from his sleep, for the wine had given way. He spoke to her: “Daughter, where have I been brought?”

She replied: “You are in the house of my father.”

He asked her: “What am I to do here?”

His wife responded: “Did you not say to me that I could take what is most precious to me with me? Well, I have nothing more precious to me than you.”

 When Simon ben Jochai heard of this incident, he prayed for the two of them and they were blessed with a child.

 

Well, to that I can only say: Amen.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 17th, 2020

 

 

» The Bones of the King«

 

Just as every day represents a new challenge and each evening offers the opportunity to pause, look back and reflect on what we have experienced and how we interpret our experiences, it also happens in times that are especially challenging and unusual, like the ones we are living through at the moment.

Since January we are witnessing how the new Corona Virus is gradually spreading over national borders and in the meantime is already dispersed around the entire globe. We had to recognise that the globalisation of the economy, from trade to tourism, also brings with it the globalisation of illnesses. Who could have seriously believed that this is improbable or even impossible?

We have had a further experience during these months. Let yourself take the plunge into a small

story and see for yourself:

 

The Bones of the King

There was a Spanish king who was very proud of his lineage. He was also known to be cruel to those who were weak. He was walking one day with his senior people through a field in Aragon, where, years before, his father had fallen in battle. They came upon a holy man there, picking through an enormous pile of bones.

» What are you doing there?« , asked the king.

» All honor to Your Majesty «, said the holy man. » When I learned that the king of Spain was coming here, I decided to recover the bones of your father to give them to you. But no matter how hard I look, I cannot find them. They are the same as the bones of the farmers, the poor, the beggars and the slaves. «

                                    (From: Paolo Coelho, Maktub)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 16th 2020

 

 

See your possibilites and act!

 

On Instagram a thought from Claudine Beckley, Her who runs a yoga studio in Belin, touched my heart. There she writes:  

»Memory from two years ago, when I injured my knee playing soccer, and was told all the stuff I couldn’t do. But everyday I sought out to find the things I could do. Maybe they looked different, and were different, but they fed joy and strength to my spirit.
I find myself in a very similar place right now mentally, and emotionally. When the limitations are set, what CAN you do. How can you continue to feed and nourish your spirit in these challenging times.«

 (»yogasportberlin«, March 24th, 2020, Instagram)

 

Her reflections have moved for days, because i know one thing very well: to let myself be driven by thoughts of things that are not possible – no more, not yet, not at all – one way or the other. Let’s be honest: everyone knows where leads when we give ourselves over to this way of looking at things and set nothing against it. Then we become passive, look for those to blame for our horrible situation, our speech becomes whining and accusatory, resignation and even depression settle in. In such phases, we feel nothing of the power to fashion or of joy, but rather paralysis and sadness.

Claudine Beckley did not linger there. She changed her way of looking at things and set out on a search two years ago after her knee injury. She looked for opportunity to act and thus for opportunities for life. She discovered, that much was different in comparison to the time and the possibilities of a healthy knee, but she could do many things, and to experience this nurtured her joy and gave strength to her life.

In her remembrance of this she can transfer this experience to herself and her life during the first weeks of the virus induced restrictions. This is the question at hand: Will I choose life?

The answer to this question is existential for each individual as well as for us as a community.

At the end of his life, Moses places a grand perspective and task before the people, a people who had been entrusted to him for decades and whom he will no longer accompany into the Promised Land:

»See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.« (Dtn 30, 15-16. 19)

The task is to choose life – the future is only possible in this way.

Sometimes the possibilities of life lay open before me and I choose and move lightly.

At other times, I have to search out these possibilities and it might be difficult for me to find them. Yet the search itself is the first step and a choice FOR life!

Many of us know and love the song »Fluch und Segen hab ich gegeben in die Wahl deines Herzens«.*

Let us sing it during these months and, above all, take it to heart!

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 15th, 2020

* » Curse and blessing I have placed into the choice of your heart«. German Hymn. Musik: Jörg Gattwinkel SAC. Text: Rüdiger Kiefer SAC.

 

 

»We have a story for that« V

 

The Teacher gives Answer

I begin every Narrative Theology course with the attempt to convince my students that every person has insights into biblical stories. A story of faith pierces the heart, a word strikes us. The stories of God awaken life in us. Not in chosen hearts, not in highly educated hearts or privileged heart, but in all hearts. Having a human heart is the only access code required. John Shea calls this the work of the inspired imagination of the Scripture.

»When our eyes are opened and our ears unstopped, our mouth is also loosed. We speak back to what first spoke to us. This is the answering imagination.«  (John Shea, The Spirit Master).

Then he goes on to write these words: »We should not be surprised at all to see that friendship flourishes in conversation.« There is a friendship that blossoms in the conversation between the inspired imagination and the answering imagination.

As four of my students saw the need of these days, the inspired imagination awakened in them the word that is also desire: »We have a story for that!«

Their answering imagination touched and moved many readers. Now it is time for the teacher to respond to their inspiration with his answering imagination.

 

The Inspired Imagination

Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them. (Mt 18, 19-20)

 

The Answering Imagination

In Dublin’s fair city, in the square of Trinity college vis a vis the great library in which is housed the Book of Kells, there sat a man in a large black hat. He is my friend. I keep a watchful eye on him, as with all my friends.

He looks old, I thought. Cares and burdens have left lines on his face. His eyes are tired and smiles do not come as easily to him as they once did. However, since I am a ceaseless reader of hearts, that I know that is but the surface. I also know of the responsibilities and sorrows have drawn furrows through his heart.

And so I waited and watched and listened.

He held a cigar in his right hand. Memories of the last time he had sat on that bench rippled back to him, as the tide returns to the shore. He had sat between two great storytellers, who had been his teachers and had become his friends. Their trinity of friendship, kinship and love reminded me of mine. They had smoked cigars and laughed uproariously. They were celebrating his induction into their guild of storytellers. How they rejoiced in each other. I remember, because I was there as well. It really is true: Where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them. I can’t help myself. Friendship is simply irresistible to me.

Many appointment calendars had been filled since that day and now he sat alone. The friend to his right had passed into the house of my Father and now gladdens the Kingdom with poetry and stories. Even my Father stops to listen when he starts to spin a tale. It is simply irresistible to him. Abba does so love stories.

The man in the big black hat was separated from the friend who had sat to his left by many thousands of kilometers. This friend had grown frail with age and mounting infirmities. One friend lost, one friend far away. It had become a terribly lonely place

He rolled the cigar between his fingers, a token, a sign, a sacrament that spoke of bonds that life forged and death could not break.

And he sighed.

Then he tucked the cigar back into the inside pocket of his jacket. And I heard his heart murmur: »How the guild has shrunk. I need to find a smaller bench.«

He turned to the sheaf of papers laying to his left on the bench. These were the stories of four of his students. He needed to read them and mark them. He picked them up and started to read.

And so I waited and watched and listened.

And then it happened.

Their stories made his eyes shine with pleasure, his heart swell with pride, his lips twitch with amusement. Admiration blossomed and excitement grew at lessons learned and phrases well turned. »Jesus, that is beautiful«. It was not a prayer when it slipped from him, but it felt like one to me. Twice I saw him clandestinely wipe a tear. When he had read the four stories he leaned back and closed his eyes.

I had seen it all before, in the eyes and hearts and on the lips of his two friends as they watched his soul unfurl and his gift unfold.

And I sighed.

Then he reached within his jacket and retrieved his cigar. He lit it, drew on it and let the tip glow red. He glanced down at the pile of four stories. I heard the thoughts of his heart. »Thank you, Lord, for new company on the bench. How the guild has grown. I need to find a bigger bench!«

It really is true, you know. Where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them. You should see the size of the benches in my Father’s house.

And then it happened.

I saw him smile.

And so did I.

Erik Riechers SAC, May 14th, 2020

 

 

»We have a story for that« IV

 

When the Fog lifts

 

So Peter went out

with the other disciple,

and they were going toward the tomb.

Both of them were running together,

but the other disciple outran Peter

and reached the tomb first.

And stooping to look in,

he saw the linen cloths lying there,

but he did not go in.

 

Today I would like to make this small excerpt from a great story the focus. It offers us a help in this difficult time to find orientation for our life.

 

Under the protective masks we unsettled human beings can occasionally lose our orientation. Thereby it is less a matter of finding a street of city, but far more a matter of navigating our own lives. We sit behind closed doors for fear of the threat of Corona and wait. Sometimes it seems to me that we wait resignedly. Yet, there is another option: To switch from waiting to anticipation. We could take a step into the Easter morning. Peter can assist us thereby. He allowed himself to be called out by Mary Magdalene, out of the enclosed house, and ran to the garden to look at the tomb.

 

I know such an experience in my life, when I receive important news or have a brilliant idea. Then I want to act immediately, I want to start running right away and to see what I can do with it. Then I stand before it, see, hear and suddenly courage deserts me. Then I do not know how it could work. I have the feeling that I am standing before a mountain and cannot climb it. I suddenly no longer know why I wanted this. Peter probably had a similar experience. There he stood, in the empty tomb. This simply cannot be. Just two days earlier he heard with his own ears and saw from a distance that Jesus had died. And now the corpse is gone.

 

Peter sees it. The stone before the tomb has been rolled away. He stands in this empty tomb and sees everything, but he could not yet understand it. He was in the fog, confused, uncertain and without orientation.

 

We have experienced that in the past weeks. A crisis comes and people start to run. People start panic buying and hoarding things they believe they absolutely need. We see the need to leave contacts be and feel closed in, limited and then forget why it is necessary. Then we want to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. We want to know the limitations lifted as quickly as possible and even liturgies should place as they did before Corona. We stare into the tomb, empty indeed… and now? We feel like we are in the fog, uncertain, confused. We have never experienced anything like this. How will we get through it as quickly as possible?

 

In “The Neverending Story”, Michael Ende lets the hero, Bastian, sail through the sea of mist in a ship. The fog mariners impress him. They are a tight community who ceaselessly perform a communal dance and a wordless song. The fog mariners do not argue, because none of them feel like an individual. Harmony exists between them with total effortlessness. Bastian only notices how problematic this harmony is when a fog crow grabs one of the fog mariners and carries him off. The fog mariners are shocked for a brief moment, but as soon as the bird has disappeared with his prey, they start their dance again. Because they are all the same, they do not miss the abducted one. There is no individuality among the fog mariners. There is no lamentation and there is no place of grieving. No one remembers. The individual does not count. They simply want to return to normalcy as swiftly as possible. One is gone (the tomb is empty). Let’s carry on as usual.

 

Yet, will that work? Simply returning to normalcy?  Will we navigate our lives in such a way that we quickly return to pre-Corona life, or will we learn something from this crisis?

 

We know this. Sometimes we stray through life as in a fog, especially now, in this time, when we do not know what will happen, when we are annoyed, irritated and uncertain and must navigate our lives through the fog. Fog crows will try to convince us that we slowly return to normalcy and take the risk of losing a person, even in the Church, because we absolutely need to celebrate a liturgy.

 

The experience of the empty tomb did not lift the fog in which Peter found himself. Only gradually and through other encounters with the Risen Lord did the fog lift. This requires patience. The Easter season lasts for all of 50 days and makes it clear to us that Easter, resurrection and life are a process that require patience and do not work instantaneously.

 

Through the encounters with the Risen Lord, Peter experiences all that changes within himself. He experienced the Risen One and has risen himself. He began to navigate in the fog. We recall: Peter was the one who denied Jesus three times: I do not know him – and bitterly regrets this betrayal. For him it was not just the death of Jesus, but also his betrayal of his friend and teacher that represents a deep rupture. Peter knows what it means to experience deepest desperation, to be disappoint in oneself, not to be able to bear one’s own company, to torment oneself with self-accusations. For him, everything had come to an end…

 

Jesus pulls him out and helps him navigate. Later, at the sea, Jesus poses the question three times, “Do you love me?” And three times Jesus draws more life and love than betrayal out of the depths of this man.

 

Gradualness is the order of the day, not just for Peter, but also for us. Navigating in the fog is not that easy.  It is gratifying when people can celebrate liturgy together once again. On the other hand, it speaks of impatience when it should take place at any price. The relationship to God and my faith do not end where Eucharistic Celebrations no longer can take place. This crisis is a challenge where we need to navigate what serves life.

Peter experienced what changed within him through the crisis. Perhaps we will sense what is changing within us. May we weigh in our hearts and preserve that which serves life.


Sr. Andrea OP, Datteln April 2020                              published on May 13th, 2020

 

 

Sheltered in the Psalms

 

Since the Ides of March 2020 the psalms have grown even dearer to my heart than before.

Temporary quarantine, increasing limitations – in the meantime we are all more than aware of them!

Yet, even though there has been a recent gradual easing, in some places anger is breaking out, protests are vociferously expressed and I ask myself, what people are raging against. Against a virus? Against »the powers that be«, who placed such rigid restrictions on us? Against their own feeling of powerlessness? Against some perceived enemy?

And I return to the psalms, those ancient songs and prayers, addressed the divine counterpart in all situations of life, known by people 3000 years ago and known by us today. Words of praise and jubilation, words of lamentation in difficult times, words of yearning, words of fear and desperation, and, repeatedly, words of thanksgiving. The one who prays knows himself vis-à-vis the mysterious, eternal creator, who sees the person, trust him, think highly of him and loves him. Nothing is too insignificant or too dark that the human being cannot speak of it to God. Thus, the biblical person of prayer entrusts himself to HIM: For he is filled by this faith:

Lord You searched me and You know, It is You Who know when I sit and I rise, You fathom my thoughts from afar. My path and my lair You winnow, and with all my ways are familiar. For there is no word on my tongue but that you, O Lord, wholly know it. From behind and in front You shaped me, and You set your palm upon me. Knowledge is too wondrous for me, high above – I cannot attain it.

 (Ps 139, 1-5)

When I repeat and pray these swords today, I feel a tremendous relief and sense something of the liberating trust of the one who prays in this God, who knows him completely. How often do I suffer as a result of being unable to explain my thoughts in their depths to the people that I love; always there remains a touch of foreignness? So, too, are my ways: I often have to take paths that are mine alone, that familiar to no one else. I want to practice the attitude: » and with all my ways you are familiar «and walk without worry.

Our God is extraordinary. Thus, in another place the Psalmist can almost challengingly ask: Where is a God as great as our God? (Ps 77,14)  And he ponders God’s deed, his earlier wonders; he weighs all this and contemplates the history of God with his people.

I can entrust myself to the psalms, because they all speak of abandonment, because they leave nothing out, because in them everything is said to this near and distant God. Here it is brought to expression how the human being walks his path through the ups and downs of life in a living relationship to the Lord of his life.

At the end of Psalm 139 he can also ask God:

Search me, God, and know my heart, probe me and know my mind. And see if a vexing way be in me,

and lead me on the eternal way

 

What a petition! May I not pray tot eh idols of my own omnipotence, the arrogance that must have everything under control. May I also not turn other people into idols and transfer all responsibility to them. This inevitably leads to what we presently experience on the streets.

No, on the eternal way I would walk and recognise and love ever more clearly what is essential.

Do you have an inkling, why I love the psalms?

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 12th, 2020 

 

 

»We have a story for that« III

 

Warm Hearts and Eyes that See

 

Several weeks ago, in the midst of prespring the Easter feast, we went into crisis, all if us, the Disciples of Christ and the entire people.

 

It was triggered by a virus that can affect any of us. Since then, we have made a great number if experiences in a very short time.

 

I have the impression that for some people the positive experiences were surprising. In these days I hear statements such as: “I never knew what wonderful neighbours I have”, as one elderly man living alone said. “You bring meals and care for me”. “I am not forgotten and that does me so good”, someone told me. “I cannot believe what you are doing for me, and how can I ever repay you?”, said an elderly lady. “It is comforting to be seen, that is so good in these times”. And this message reached me as well: “Because of the Corona-Virus I had very special Good Friday experiences and experienced a unique and very moving Easter Vigil”. I had a very fulling Easter and I am very grateful for it”. I hear these and similar joyous and encouraging words repeatedly in this Easter season. They go hand in hand with the painful experiences of loneliness, the fear of the future, the overwhelming demands, the isolation…

 

We have a biblical story (Lk 24, 13-35), that speaks of this crisis situation and these new experiences: Two friends are on the way to the village of Emmaus. They see no future in Jerusalem any longer after their teacher and friend Jesus das died. Although he said to them that he would die and rise again, although women excitedly reported on the empty tomb, they do not understand; their hearts are full of suffering and pain. And they give up, distance themselves from the place of new life. This, too, we experience during our days.

 

On the road, they encounter the one whom they so painfully miss, who was torn from their midst. Their hearts overflow with what is within them: disappointment, frustration and grief. They remain blind and cannot recognise him.

 

However, apparently the closeness of the stranger does them good. They gladly listen to him and feel something they cannot name. It is so powerful in them that they invite him to stay the night.

 

And then the eyes of their hearts open as he is sitting at table with them and breaks the bread. Now they recognise who it is that journeys with them. And in the very next moment their physical eyes can no longer see him.

 

Do you know this? This one moment in which the “eyes of your heart” open and recognition falls deep within you?

 

And then you notice this warm feeling, that has accompanied you over a period of time, and that you always feel with someone else shares a piece of life, a piece of bread, with you?

 

For us Christians Easter came this year without our being able to communally attend a service and many of us missed it painfully. This, too is part of our new experiences.

 

At the same time, I feel and experience how many Eucharistic experiences people had in this time: Blessings through shared life, through weekly Sunday letters, through conversations on the telephone, Easter greetings in the form of blessed Palm branches, Easter candles and warm words on the day of the feast…

 

What touches the heart is the message: “I belong. I am not forgotten, I am seen and treasured. I am of importance to others”.

 

Afterwards the two disciples perceive that their hearts gradually warmed as Jesus opened to them the meaning of the Scriptures. Jesus opens it up and lets them take part, lets them look deep into the meaning of the Word of God. They have an experience that they will never forget, of which they will always be able to tell when, where and how they encountered Jesus. We know this as well. This Easter will remain in the people’s memory.

 

Jesus’ words warm the hearts of both disciples. In his action he shares life with them and they recognise the one, whom God has raised back to life.

 

It is not the ceremoniously sung Alleluia in which we recognise Jesus. In no Easter story does an Alleluia appear; the stories tell of fear and closed doors. It is the breaking of the bread, the sharing of life, wherever it may occur, in which we recognise who and what comes from God.

 

The two disciples do not recognise Jesus in a synagogue and also not in the Temple of Jerusalem. En route, so to say while fleeing, their hearts begin to warm as Jesus speaks with them. And when they are home, sitting together at table and eating together, there their eyes are opened.

 

And another thing is of significance in this story: There are only two of the many friends of Jesus journeying here. Not all are present when they have this experience with the Risen One. We would have gladly celebrated the Easter liturgies together with all those from our parish, but it was not possible in this year. Nonetheless, we could experience Jesus, in twos, in threes, in the family, together with the children, as couples, in partnerships and as singles.

 

Warm hearts and eyes that see give witness to LIFE – give witness to God! In these days of crisis, let us preserve our warm hearts and eyes that see, so that they are not lost to us for the times that are awaiting us after this passes.

Sr. M. Josefa, Datteln, April 25th, 2020                                                  published on May 11th, 2020

 

 

5. Sunday of Easter 2020

 

After all this talk about the house of the father, a place for life and of rooms being prepared, it is easy to overlook what Jesus actual concern is. »Let not your hearts be troubled«. To avoid precisely this troubling, Jesus peaks of the house of his Father.

 

Ironically, however, it is this house with its many rooms that is often the occasion for the troubled heart. For although Jesus speaks of the house, he does so that we might keep an eye open for the way.

 

John works here with two great images, namely, the house and the way. The house is the image of our future, for the goal of our lives, the place at the end of days where we will find consolation and home. The way, by contrast, is the image of our lives, here and now.

 

Jesus wants to talk about this life, our life, for he fears that through an overemphasis on the image of the house of the Father (future and goal), we will be distracted from life here and now. That, in turn will lead to our hearts being troubled.

 

His language about the house of his Father is supposed to create a two-fold liberation.

 

  1. Freedom from the fixation on the goal. This leads either to
    1. fear or
    2. paralysing fascination.
  2. Freedom for the concentration on the path (life). This means, to be free for
    1. the tasks of life as well as
    2. the joys of living.

 

What happens when we are fixated on the goal (the house)? We become so fixated on heaven we have not yet entered that we ignore the earth on which we walk. It is like taking a sudden journey. We set out, have a goal in mind, but have not prepared a reservation for an overnight stay. Because we are uncertain what will happen when we arrive, we are distracted from the journey and the way. For the entire time we are occupied with the concerns about the future. »What happens when we arrive? Will we have to stay outside? Will we be left out in the cold? Will we be left outside in the dark? Will we remain, uncared for, exposed, or without a roof over our heads?«

 

The message of Jesus is simple. We should not be worrying our heads about this. We will have a home, there is room and space for us in the house of our God. This promise should preserve us from an exaggerated concern about our future, which distracts us from the path (life). Our future life has been prepared.

 

The task of life is the way. The concerned questions about what we will find at the end of days should not be projected into the future. The questions apply to the way of life. We should be asking these questions and giving answer to them here and now.

 

»What happens on the path when people want to arrive? Who will have to stay outside? How many will be left out in the cold? How many must remain in the dark? How many will remain uncared for, exposed, or without a roof over their heads?«

 

That is why Jesus says about the house: »And you know the way to where I am going.« He would have us concentrate on life, on the way. If we do that, we will assuredly come to the house of the Father, because that is where this way leads.

 

The fixation on the house also leads to a fascination that paralyses. Then we only speak and thing of a future that will surely be better than our present. How lovely, comforting, spacious, liberating, unburdening and quiet it will be when we finally arrive.

 

Hat distracts us from the way, in this case, from the joy of living and taking pleasure in life. That troubles the heart. That is what Jesus is trying to prevent.

 

All newspapers, news reports and talk shows are preoccupied with the new future after Corona. It is a preoccupation with rebuilding our house, our wealth and our economy. We are so worried about where we are heading, that we lose sight of where many are right now: in camps, fleeing warzones, in places of starvation, abandoned without protection to pestilence and disease.

 

On the way, we should be learning. We should be learning to love justice and let it roll like a river. In life we should learn to relish and appreciate everything that has to do with love, to value our relationships higher than the economy, and to discover the comforting joy of mercy. On the way, we should be gathering good and restorative experiences of service and feel the deep satisfaction of consoling others. On the way, we should taste the fullness of the hoy of sharing.

 

Should none of this be our thing on the way of life, then the arrival in the house of the Father will trouble our hearts. Then the house of the Father will a hell for us. It will be a hell with many rooms, but it will be a hell nonetheless. For these rooms were created spacious and wide in the first place, because they make room for justice, love, relationship, mercy, service, consolation and sharing. If we did not learn to love them all on the path, the house will be our hell.

 

God is taking care that all this will have plenty of room when we reach our goal. We need only be concerned that they have plenty of room on the way, in our lives. The house was always the responsibility of God. The path is our homework.

 

Erik Riechers SAC, May 10th, 2020

 

 

Biblical vaccination against resignation

 

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  But Peter began and explained it to them in order: I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 1And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11, 1-18)

 

Peter returns from a trip but has no chance to enjoy the new experience he just had, to celebrate it and to relish it. Right way, the next confrontation takes place, the next task. Then come the accusations.

 

I experience that at the moment. We are just undergoing the first lightening of the lock down, but the tone is not getting lighter, but harder and more accusatory. Hardly have we begun to feel the first relief that we so longed for, and already people are complaining that it is not enough, not sufficient, that it does not go far enough. We do not take pleasure in what we have attained, but throw ourselves into the next phase of confrontation.

 

Then as now we should pose the question: Why start with accusations? Why not start by asking questions, by inquiring about what happened and how it went? Why not start with the question as to what this means instead of encountering it right away with the presumption that is was something bad?

 

Peter’s attitude can be a great help to us. He receives no advance of trust. He stands ready to give an account. He addresses everything, step by step, in order, without skipping anything.

 

He does not hide the fact of where he was (Joppe), of whom he was with (Cornelius), or what he did (baptise). He speaks openly of his own personal vision, which greatly challenged him, which made him question his own convictions and with which he had to wrestle.

 

He does this in an atmosphere of aggressive confrontation and accusation. Nevertheless, he does not allow this atmosphere to determine whereof he speaks. He does not allow it to distract him from the concerns of his heart. He speaks of what is his.

 

That will be a great task for us. At the moment I am dealing with many accusations and complaints about the manner in which I have accompanied the crisis with the Word, stories and reflections. Some complain that it was not enough, other think it was too much and yet others think that it should have been distributed in way other than our website. That is not just happening to me. The question is: Will people like this determine what we speak of? Will the accusations and dissatisfaction of such people distract us from our heart’s purpose and desire? Or will we speak of what is ours, of the renewal, the joy, the wisdom which we have experienced, even in this time of crisis? Like Peter, we could tell the stories of where we were in these days, of the people with whom we went through them, of what we did, of the deepest things we experienced, which challenged us and made us question our previous convictions. We could also tell the tale of what we are wrestling with long beyond the days of the crisis.

 

I can neither control nor determine the atmosphere of accusation, but I refuse to serve it. The accusers will not determine the stories I tell, how I live or whom and how I will serve. At the end of my reflection offer you one last consideration. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the accusations of those who did not take part in any of it. They stayed at home. No journey, hardship, work, adventure or risk for them. How would Cornelius and his whole household tell us their story? To be honest, these stories interest me far more than the eternal accusations of the fence sitters of life.

Erik Riechers SAC, May 9th, 2020

 

 

Experiences and Thoughts of a Teacher

 

May 4th – First Day of School during the Corona Crisis - Back to School

 

I wake up. The moon is to blame. It catches my face directly. I lay awake. How is this supposed to work? I still do not know. Perhaps the moon is only partially to blame. There they are again, these thoughts not thought through to the end, which wash up during the day, remain unnoted and then become intrusive by night. How is this supposed to work?

 

In two days there will be instruction for the first time after seven weeks. Obligatory masks and hygiene plans. My English class, numerically too large, is divided in two because of the times of Corona, in neighboring classrooms. How is this supposed to work? To teach the same thing in two rooms simultaneously. “Make sure that they are well aired. You decide whether the students also keep their masks on during the instruction. If you give them permission to eat during class and if someone need to use the bathroom, remember that we now have introduced a washroom supervision.” Alright. But where do I start? How is this supposed to work, the instruction, the resumption of classes?

 

In March we covered the American dream. At the start of May we trusted our eyes less and less when we hear or see the news from the other side of the Atlantic: there is talk of mass graves in the vicinity of New York, of black people who do not dare to wear protection over mouth and nose, because many white people would then be even more afraid of them. Images flash across the screen of an enraged crowd without masks who demand the lifting of contact prohibitions, the opening of restaurants and the return to their jobs.  Long lines of cars develop in front of food banks, the complementary food distribution. Demonstrators are armed, because their president encouraged them to make use of their constitutional right to bear arms. The USA. What was the American dream again?

 

March was lightyears ago. Utterly indifferent and uninvolved, I recorded in the class register that we apparently discussed at the time that all people are ‘created equal’. - A platitude. – Everyone assiduously records it, just like the accomplishments of the freedom of the press, speech and religion. Anchored in the constitution. – Hardly worth mentioning. Self-evident fact that surround us. –

 

Thus, how, dear moon, is this supposed to work? Restlessly I roll forth and back with my circling pesky nuisances. Let me sleep. How should I know how things are supposed to work?

 

Today the moment has arrived. First of all, I pick the students up, as directed, in the schoolyard. All are sitting or standing together there, scattered in small groups. I beckon them and recognise their eyes. Then they follow me in single file, 1.5 meters apart, into the classrooms.  The newly plastered one way system of the corridors is still unfamiliar. Two of the youths walk next to each other. I remind them of the commandment of the hour: distance and walking in a row. They obey precisely.

 

“Masks off or not?”, one of them asks me, having arrived in the classroom. I look around. Each one sits alone at a table. The distance to the desk is great. I barely can breathe under the cloth mask: “Take it off”. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. “Open the windows” – already cool air flows in. Circulation arises, which should diminish the danger of infection.

 

They also remove the masks in the neighbouring room. And now? How is this supposed to work????

 

I begin quietly and greet them. It is 3.30 pm. The ninth class period. Who has already been in school since 8 am?  - I do not know.

 

I ask all of them to fill out the questionnaire that I distribute. “How did you experience the crisis? What emotions did you feel for the first time? What helped you during the last weeks? From where did you get support? Were there also positive moments? Some claim that crises can also be educational – did you learn something new?”

 

They take their pens out. “Take your time and answer the questions in peace and quiet. If you need more space, continue writing on an extra sheet of paper. I will go next door shortly, to the others. They will receive the same questions.”

 

Then it is very quiet. Concentration lingers. We have all the time in the world. I go through the attendance list in my mind. Remind myself of their names and habits. Rejoice to finally see them again. Think of Hertha, who remains at home because she belongs to a high risk group – with pre-existing illness. My nervousness subsides. It will be alright – even today.

 

“Are you finished?”. The first pipe up. Tell of their adventures and experiences: - ‘My family helped me to get through it’, one recounts. ‘And because I see my older sister so seldom and she suddenly moved back into house, I was so happy. I bet along well with my family and I know, that it is not so for everyone.’

-‘If I had not been able to be outside for at one hour a day, I do not know what would have happened’, says another.

-‘I was also outside every day with our dogs. We have three. But for homework, to be honest, for homework for school I could not motivate myself. But I helped out at home. Everywhere.’

- ‘I learned, that everyone basically thinks of themselves. When there was the shortage of toilet paper, everyone simply thought of themselves. Before this, I would not have thought it possible.’

- ‘We have relatives in France. In Germany we did not have a crisis. We just need to think about the people in other countries’.

 

“It was difficult for me. I was so unproductive. I don’t know myself that way”, Sabine remarks quietly. ‘I thought, now you can learn a language or do a lot of sports, learn vocabulary, read – but I did not feel like doing anything. I had no energy. I was a stranger to myself and started to hate myself for it… later it gradually got better. I forced myself. My parents watched me. So much time at home. Normally, being at home is linked to leisure. But suddenly I had school at home. It was horrible. And then I started to write everything down. When I read it afterwards, I was astonished that I had written the text myself…But I thought to myself, keep writing, write everything down, before you forget it.“

 

Everyone listens. They know, every word is voluntary. We know each other – trust.

 

When it grows quiet, I inquire further, for whom it was a learning experience. All of them respond. They look around and at each other. The silence does us good. We are together again.

 

„And why do you think, we begin our instruction today with these questions?”

- “Because of the vocabulary? “

- “So that we think about it?”

 

I look into the round.

Feli speaks up. „I do not know why we start with this. You are the first to ask me such questions and it was the first time I had the chance to think about it. In the other classes we started directly with the material. Because of the exams that are now coming up. But the questions…somehow that was good right now…”

 

“We started with the questions, because I would like that we all get something of this time. The Corona Crisis will not be the last crisis that you undergo. That is how life is. And I know that for some of you it was not the first crisis. We are in a maelstrom that is tossing our daily life about.. And we let ourselves be tossed about. We are carried along, whether we want to or not. But we can also take a step aside, look at it from above, so to speak, and pause for a moment. We can try to understand what is happening with us and in us.”

 

“Do you believe, that we are then better equipped for the next crisis?”, Leon reflectively asks.

 

“Yes, I hope so.- … - And now out with you. Time to go home. Put the masks back on and please close the windows. See you tomorrow. “

 

That is how it was.

Tonight I will surely sleep well.

And the moon can quietly watch.

 

Heartful thanks to Christiane Bals, May 8th, 2020

 

 

 

»We have a story for that« II

 

»Relational Ways«

 “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.

And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.

And she had a sister called Mary,

who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.

But Martha was distracted with much serving.

And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha,

you are anxious and troubled about many things,

but one thing is necessary.

Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

Do I dare address the Lord in my fragility?

 

“Lord, do you not care

that my sister has left me to serve alone?

Tell her then to help me.”

 

This sentence of Martha, who is entirely preoccupied with the care of Jesus while her sister sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to his words,

touches me deeply within my heart.

For she dares to name her crisis.

She does not swallow it, keep it under wraps and she wants help.

She turns to Jesus, whom she has taken into her home, and wants him to help.

In this moment, that which connects her sister to Jesus shows her very clearly,

what she is painfully missing and her heart is nourished by envy and comparison.

I often ask myself, what would have happened if Martha had kept silent.

I believe, that she would have squandered an opportunity, necessary for her, to make a connection again;

squandered the opportunity to merge from her crisis.

Do we not know this when we are fully preoccupied with our own concerns, expectations and ambitious goals. The danger then exists that we lose the connection to reality and project our own weaknesses, worries and our helplessness onto our fellow human beings.

Cross your heart! Who finds loving and suitable words in such moments?

The great chance lays in this moment when Martha seeks out a wise conversational partner,

a friend who she has taken into her home.

One who present always and at every moment and takes a stand for life, come what may.

Jesus is the unifying factor in this story and Martha has recognised this.

Even though she certainly was hoping for another answer, she trusts Jesus.

Thus, Martha can experience healing, for she has dared to hold out her fragility, her crisis, to Jesus, the Son of God, who, like his Father, desires nothing more than salvation and life for his people.

How difficult it is us for us human beings to hold out our fragility to God so that healing might be possible. For God, like Jesus, wants to share the center of life with us, be we often forget it.

Much like Martha, who takes Jesus into her home in a friendly manner, but then remains in her thought-construct about Jesus and, figuratively speaking, leaves him standing in the hall.

But let us not underestimate that he is in the house. Jesus is there.

He is also there in the Corona crisis!

The question for us: How do we dare to bring our fragility to God so that he can commend the truly unifying to us and we can live out of his promise, especially in our crisis?

I believe that it is not enough to know that there is a promise, even though this is already a great deal in our world. Rather, my question is whether we trust ourselves to wager close contact, with and through the stories of God, to really feel how serious God is about us. To this end, we should not leave Jesus standing outside in the halls of our houses.

 

Thus, I hear Jesus speaking to us in the text of Paul Weismantel,

to Martha, Mary and to us all in the crisis:

 

I am there

 

In the darkness of your past and

in the uncertainty of your future,

in the blessing of your helping and

in the misery of your helplessness

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

In the play of your emotions and

in the seriousness of your thoughts,

in the richness of your silence and

in the poverty of your speech

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

In the fullness of your tasks and

in the emptiness of your bustle,

in the variety if your abilities and

in the limitations of your gifts

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

In the success of your conversations and

in the boredom of your praying,

in the joy of your success and

in the pain of your failure,

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

In the straits of your daily life and

in the breadth of your dreams,

in the weakness of your mind and

in the strengths of your heart

I place my promise:

I am there.

 

Sylvia Ditt, Koblenz, May 7th, 2020

 

 

The Long Path and Wisdom

 

In the middle of March, as the state of emergency created by the virus was still in its beginnings, we tried to get a picture of the impact, to learn new rules and follow them. Many of us could adapt to the many changes to our daily lives for a manageable period of time. This reminds me of Bilbo Baggins, the »Hobbit«, who gets involved in the adventure with Gandalf and the dwarves, but never gave a thought to how long this would take.

Now we already must, on top of everything else, wear our protective masks for a second week whenever we go shopping. I observe daily how difficult it is for us to deal with this in a wise and relaxed fashion. We do not to drive or  take a walk with the mask, we can continue to reduce our  shopping to a minimum; even if there are regulations for our conduct that are unpleasant, there is much we can arrange ourselves many free spaces and  times are left open to us.

On the adventurous path through life, paths will constantly become small and dangerous and sometimes these stretches are long. Bilbo Baggins shows us step by step how this works: , sometimes, when it grew very difficult, he went along reluctantly and felt like a victim who had been dragged along; yet, increasingly, he fashioned the path within the framework of his possibilities and was even to relish many moments. Only decades later does he see the great connections and the sense in much of it.

No one on earth knows what will grow out of this, our long and difficult time. Whether virologists or economic experts, doctors or politicians – each is working, planning and counseling in their field with that which is available to them. So, we too, in inner freedom, do what is asked, necessary and possible.

Let us take Solomon’s prayer for wisdom to heart. There we read:

»For who can learn the counsel of God?

Or who can discern what the Lord wills?

For the reasoning of mortals is worthless,

and our designs are likely to fail;

for a perishable body weighs down the soul,

and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful[a] mind.

We can hardly guess at what is on earth,

and what is at hand we find with labor;

but who has traced out what is in the heavens?

Who has learned your counsel,

unless you have given wisdom

and sent your holy spirit from on high?

And thus the paths of those on earth were set right,

and people were taught what pleases you,

and were saved by wisdom.« (Wisdom 9, 13-18)

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, May 6th, 2020

 

»We have a story for that« I

 

The Search for God’s Word within me

It is God who sees us and wishes to be there for us, even when we may find ourselves in the greatest seclusion and isolation. So that this Good News of the eternal God who loves his people is not lost precisely in this time of the pronation of religious services and of withdrawal from contact, religious services and reflections being supplied through the media. Here and there home services are being encouraged in the family. Yet all that is unfamiliar is difficult. How many trust themselves, and be it only within their own four walls, to read God’s Word aloud, to take it on

During these days, a word of the Old Testament, the Book of Deuteronomy, encouraged me. To this end. The basic storyline is, that Moses is holding his great farewell discourse to the people before he dies, and they, after forty years of wandering the desert, will take the Promised Land without him. He was their leader and the mediator of God’s word. Now he asks them to take to heart, that even if he goes, God himself, his Word and his presence remains.  (Dt 30,11-14):

For this commandment that I command you today

is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.

 It is not in heaven, that you should say,

‘Who will ascend to heaven for us

 and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’

Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say,

‘Who will go over the sea for us

 and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’

But the word is very near you.

 It is in your mouth and in your heart,

so that you can do it.

 

On the way to a personal conversation with God, this is an equally comforting and challenging word. It is not unavoidably necessary to have a mediator, an expert who knows more about God and the Bible, and one does not have to set out on long paths. Yet, how much is concealed within this reality, that God’s word is very near when I would like to approach it:

For one thing, I am accustomed that others, with much better existing knowledge, “bring” God’s word. How much instruction and practice do I have, for example, in reading the Sunday Gospels and track down what they have to say to my life today? Before Corona, it was never expected of me to celebrate a religious service at home.

- However: When, if not now, do I have the chance to practice this?

Yet, even if I have the good fortune to meet priests who encourage and animate our own reading of the Scriptures and our own domestic church: Why is it still difficult for me to get up and try? They and God himself obviously trust me to do so! The thought quickly arises: “Others bubble over. In me, the reading of the Bible brings forth – nothing”. Equally swift comes the conclusion: „I suppose there is nothing within me“.  Add convenience or lack of time or priority to this and – presto- this attitude is left to stand unchallenged and we prefer to remain with the reflections of others.

- However: Who actually says that this all happens to quickly and simply for “the others”. Do I sit with them at home and see how the “produce” one homily after the other? And even if I did: God is much greater than habits and self-doubt. When he says: “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart”, then I want to trust it and try to also find it unmediated in myself.

Thus, I read God’s word. But if I take it serious for my life, I am confronted with the places where I have not lived by it so far. And I am confronted with where I must change, let something go or face a conflict, because it stands in the way of faith in him or of following his commands. In regard to being in a personal conversation with God, these are, for example, the aforementioned self-doubts and feelings of inferiority. They can be so familiar and often so “nurtured” that stripping them away can feel like dying. In addition, there is the fear that God might want to punish me and I develop mistrust toward him: ‘Is God perhaps not good after all? Does he not want to save, or even want to kill?!’

That is how it was for the People of Israel and Moses reminds 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.

  1. Select a reaction, question or need that you are presently experience in the people around you. 
  1. Choose a biblical story that you would like to give as a response to his under the motto: »We have a story for that«. 
  1. Then work on the text applying the narrative Method. 
  1. 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:

 

Lilacs

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.

  

III

judge not

the lovers

their togetherness

shatters

 

where birds of sorrow

build their nests

in the mouths

of the weeping

 

be song

comfort

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,
more accessible;
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.«

Dawna Markova

 

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

II

build an ark

from the dirges

of the voiceless

 

until the pain

flushes his children

into words

 

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

I

don’t conform     

dare to go

if you

go

 

take nothing along

save for one

piece of bread

one sip

of wine

 

and

a handful

of reconciliation

                              from Wilhelm Bruners, »ZUHAUSE IN ZWEI ZELTEN«, P. 42

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn, April 27th, 2020

 

Nächster Abschnitt

»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:

Warning

Do not initially expect

that your prayers

will be heard

 

rather, listen

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.

Fear!

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:

 

paschally

 

secured tombs

but he leaves behind

traces in the dust

that show the path

into the open

 

the broken bread

tastes like

decampment

even when his appearance

 

remains in check

                              (W.Bruners 2011)

 

 

And we?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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

My pain

nowhere safer

than at the tomb

 

And pondering

What could have been

 

In hindsight

the gardener and

the memory of

the time of singing

immortal beloved

 

flowers

 

Mirjam

Instead

with dark eyes

rolling aside

the stone

 

baffled men

even more

confused

 

leading

a conversation of grief

with the Unknown

 

having sussed out

the gardener

 

surprised afterward

about so much

life

 

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,

Dear Salome.

 

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.

 

Sincerely yours,

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.

 

For later:

»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

 

Nächster Abschnitt

Easter Sunday

 

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.

At first.

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.

And yet:

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)

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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?

Burdened God, 

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 stories, 

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?

Veronica,

your story is doubted,

but valuable.

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

and falling,

like you, 

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 

you held 

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, 

making meaning 

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, 

because 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)

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Palm Sunday

 

Prayer

Humble Jesus,

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.

Amen.

                                 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.

 

 

For Suffering

 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.

                                                              John O'Donohue

 

Erik Riechers SAC, Vallendar, April 5th, 2020

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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

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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

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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

 

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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

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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:

  1. We remember the fascinating encounters with him, the places and times that stirred the original fascination in us.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

 

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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:

 

Counsel

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

the newspaper

heed the sequence

if you wish to maintain

the strength

to change the circumstances

 

pray against the

five star nothingness

that blares forth at you

from every channel.

                                                 Wilhelm Bruners

 

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

 

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5. Sunday of Lent: » Hither, outside!«

 

Prayer

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.

Amen.

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

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»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

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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

 

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In Trust

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.« *

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn

March 26th, 2020

                              *Manfred Büsing from: Lectio divina, Bd. 22, 2020

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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.                 

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn

March 25th, 2020

 

                                       *from: Roger Willemsen, Musik! Über ein Lebensgefühl, 2018

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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

Nächster Abschnitt

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!

 

Rosemarie Monnerjahn

March 23rd,  2020

Nächster Abschnitt

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