Derailing Providence

Jn 6:23-24 Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. [1]

How does God direct Providence if He has made manipulating the will of humankind off limits? After all, I am able to choose whether or not I wish to go along with His plan right here, right now…If I choose not to obey, why doesn’t that derail Providence.

I’ve been a little blind…a little, try totally! It has been staring me in the face all the time, but I wasn’t paying attention, or perhaps I wasn’t ready to see it to believe it. Whatever the cause, I now see that God uses all the things, all thoughts, all impressions, all senses, everything around me to encourage, reason, persuade, push, admonish, and otherwise tell us to carry out His will, that it is the best choice for me, that it will lead me to my greatest happiness.

But that final step, that ultimate choice He leaves totally, solely up to me. I can choose to go along with His will or I can, and sorrowfully often do, choose to think that I know better and, instead of seeing the apple for what it is, a temptation against which He lovingly, Fatherly, Motherly warned us…the burner on the stove that I can’t seem to appreciate will burn me until I get burned, I crunch down, know good and evil, and toddle on after the evil Piper.

The evidence was when Abraham sadly trudged to Moriah to sacrifice Isaac, it was there in the plagues that Pharaoh chose to ignore, it was there when Job, stripped of every one and every thing, including even his health, chose God, it was there when Mary took on the consequences of being an unwed mother, it was there in the Garden when Jesus ultimately accepted the cup of the Father, and it is right here, right now, in this room at this time…the outward contingencies of life, of providence, of God, calling to me, beckoning me, encouraging me to make the next choice, to choose God, not myself.

These choices come fast and furious: say this, do that, go here, look there…the soul’s GPS [God’s Providential System], my conscience, tries to direct me to where I am suppose to go, to what is truly home, to the eternal happiness God destined me before the foundation of the world [Eph 1:4] to achieve, if I don’t ignore it and head off for destinations conjured up by my own lust for power, honor, wealth, control, sex, drugs, revenge, whatever is my current opiate of the day.

Very interesting, a small choice for “my way or the highway” right at this moment may be destined to bring me to another crossroads where a slightly more impactful temptation looms and must be dealt with, for or against, and so on to the next and the next and the next.

No wonder Paul almost despaired: I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? [Rom 7:23-24]

All three of the Synoptics were reminded by the Spirit to include Jesus’ encouraging answer to escaping this vortex of sin: For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible. [Mt 19:26; Mk 10:27; Lk 18:27] I suspect Spirit really wanted to make sure I got the message. Duh!

When is this ongoing dilemma, this constant barrage, this incessant stream of choices ever going to stop? I think that’s why I thank God for death, when He puts an end to all this and says, “Let’s see how you did.”

In the meantime, I can give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord [Rom 7:24a], Paul’s answer and mine to this wretchedness, this mortal conflict. Only through faith in You, Jesus, can I hope to come out of this labyrinthian way[2] alive forever.

In the meantime, I, like Paul, continue to labor under the two minds, the burden of the tares and the wheat of life: with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin. [Rom 7:24b].

I bet you wondered what this has to do with the other boats…..T’was their choice: they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] See the magnificent poem, “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson

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Keepin’ Track!!!

John 6:22 The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left. [1] [2]

A new day. Each new day. Another gift from You, God. Thank You.

Keepin’ track…Jesus seems to the crowd to be rather elusive, almost like His description of one born of the Spirit: The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. [Jn 3:8]

I suppose it is not as important that we know where Jesus is as it is that He knows where we are. Knowing where He is is another thinly veiled ploy to try to control Him, my life, my security, my God, my future, my, my, my…my goodness, so many my’s. One would think that I was a bit ego-centric, solipsistic, self-absorbed…pshaw!

It is fascinating that I work so hard at firming up the future, planning every little detail, making sure everything is in order. Little do I heed Jesus parable about the rich man who plans out new barns and storehouses for his abundant crop: You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? [Lk 12:20] I rarely get my priorities straight: seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. [Lk 12:31]

As to where Jesus is, He has answered that question: I am with you always, until the end of the age. [Mt 28:20] It is very simple: Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. [Jn 14:23]…

Now, Lord, about keeping Your word… Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Interesting verse: The crowd sees only one boat and surmises that Jesus has not gone with the disciples, but only they had left. Is this Jesus’ boat? Or are the two things not directly related, i.e. the extra boat and the knowledge that Jesus had not accompanied his disciples… another of those enigmas that will have to be clarified by John in heaven.

Cramping my style!

Jn 6:21 They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading. [1]

God, I’m right there with the Apostles,…You’re here, let’s get You into the boat, then we’ll continue on to shore. You are here, this is what I plan to do, You’ll come with me. An instance of making You laugh by telling You my plans.

Getting use to having You call all the shots is not only difficult but aggravating, frustrating, irritating. It cramps my style.

I guess that’s the point…I am fixated on “my style,” not Your will. Not really seeking first the Kingdom of God and letting the rest of the chips fall where You want them, not where I “would prefer” them. [Mt 6:33]

Now, if I really take this verse into account, it would seem that following Your will, i.e. that the boat immediately arrives at the shore where we are headed, is a lot easier than having to row all the rest of the way, about three or four more miles.

I tend to be very stubborn,…my way or the highway. I don’t really care if my way takes three times as long and is exhausting, I wanta do it my way. Indeed, in perspective, I remind myself of a stubborn, spoiled little child, stamping my foot and throwing a tantrum. Silliness!

Help me, Lord, to truly do Your will here on earth as it is in heaven, [Mt 6:10] not just mouth the words. They become so rote, so routine, so backgroundish, that I pay little or no attention to them as I babble on like the pagans You warned me about. [Mt 6:7].

I am sorry…that really doesn’t cut it, but it’s all I have right now. I can promise to do better, to pay attention to what I am saying, but without Your help, based on my past experience, that won’t do a hill of beans.

When it comes down to it, this whole thing is faith, because for human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible. [Mt 19:26] Faith in prayer, faith in living, faith in action, faith that what I do in the normal course of my daily life is what You have placed before me as Your will and that, in doing it for You and not for myself, not as a way to gain the attention or compliments of others, not as a way to manipulate others, not as my will, I offer You what You want, obedience to Your will. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Tampering with Freedom

20 But he said to them, “It is I.[1] Do not be afraid.” [2]

The two most difficult things opposites…one to comprehend and the other to do. Jesus, God, the Almighty, the All-Powerful, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Being of all beings, the Light from light, True God from True God, right here in front of me, standing on the water, and He’s tell me not to be afraid. When God tells you something, its somewhere on the spectrum of encouragement to command. When God speaks anything other than my free will, it is, it becomes, it is done…storms cease, fig trees wither, illness vanishes, water becomes wine, bread and wine become Body and Blood.

The one thing You never tamper with is our freedom to choose You or not, my freedom,…something You could so easily do…something I would do in a heartbeat if I were God. I mean, think of it….turn murderers into guardian angels, turn the greedy into philanthropists, turn liars into Truth sayers, turn Atheists into believers, turn Pagans into Christians, turn enemies into allies, turn ISIS into UNESCO, turn Republicans into Democrats,…whoa, whoa, whoa…shades of my version of 1984, Brave New World, of Mr. Blue’s parable…of forcing all the people, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to be given a stamped image on their right hands or their foreheads. [Rev 13:16]

I thank You, God, You don’t work that way. In Your wisdom and mercy, You established the inviolable law of Truth, that “the truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.”[3]

Yes, You Yourself have  “made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve…[You], and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness…[Yes,] on their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns…[You and Your] Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it. [Yes,] the Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force.” [4]

[But also, like the God who started it, the God who guides it, the God who cares for it every moment of its existence, the Catholic Church believes, states, and defends every person’s] “religious freedom,…which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, [and which] has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. It leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ,…[but upholds and defends] the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society.” [5]

Thank you, God, for my freedom to believe. Help me to use that freedom as You intended.

[1] This could also be translated “I am,” an Old Testament self-designation of Yahweh (Is 43:3, etc.); cf. Jn 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5–6, 8. NABRE note on Jn 4:6.

[2] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[3] Vatican II, Declaration On Religious Freedom: On The Right Of The Person And Of Communities To Social And Civil Freedom In Matters Religious, Para. 1

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

I’m Afraid of You, Jesus

Jn 6:19b They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. [1]

This fascinates me…We see Jesus and we’re afraid. We see Jesus and we’re afraid? [2] John is very subtle about this. These hardened fishermen were use to rough seas, waves and wind. They do not frighten easily. But seeing Jesus, a human being, a man, walk on the sea and not only that, but coming toward them, they began to be afraid. Not quite the terror of Matthew nor the crying out in fright of Mark. Just an inkling of fear, thank you. Maybe John was a bit ashamed that he did not recognize the Lord as he later does after the resurrection[Jn 21:7]…this was a learning experience, what can I tell you.

How often am I terrified when Jesus, in the person of one of these, the least of my brethren, [Mt 25:40,45] walks toward me, encounters me, confronts me. While I refrain from the crying out bit, the rest is very real. What do you want of me? How do you expect me to help you? I can barely help myself. In fact, I can’t truly, really help myself at all,…I only fake it, fumbling around, and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. [Mt 12:45; Lk 11:26] I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I’m busy…can’t you see I’m busy. I don’t care if its jigsaw puzzles or FreeCell or Tetris or fill in the blank on the computer…I’m busy. I don’t care if you’re waiting; I’m busy texting, tweeting, blogging, rummaging through the caverns of life, not certain where I am going or what I am doing…but whatever it is, it is more important than you,…or you…or You…oh, I’m sorry Jesus, I didn’t recognize You…for You I have time…I’ll be right with You…just have to finish this text, email, puzzle, game, letter, memo, whatever.

Jesus, You warn us that You will be coming, that you will be knocking at my door, that you will be persistent, patiently standing, waiting for me to answer: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. [Rev 3:20a] My response: ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ [Lk 11:7]

I really, in my heart of hearts, don’t want to miss you. I don’t want to not have you come to me and make Your dwelling in me. [Jn 14:23b] But I have to let in the rest along with You… You warned me: what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. [Mt 25:45] You commanded me to love one another. [Jn 13:24] You point out who’s our neighbor, that derelict, that busy-body, that persistent 3-year-old, that nudgy boss, that bore, that hussy, that Koch brother, that ISIS executioner, that Muslim, that Jew, that African/Native/Hispanic American, that illegal, that homosexual, that abortionist, that politician, that…that…that[Lk 10: 25-37]. YIKES!!! If I ignore them, revile them, slander them, even in my mind [Mt 5:28], You see through my pretense, You knock me off my high horse and scream in agony: Why are you persecuting me? [Acts 9:4;22:7]

You are the ultimate nudgy neighbor: I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. [Lk 11:8] For this I thank you. No matter how many times I push You away in others, You keep sending them back. Please keep sending them back. Please help me to open myself, to allow them in, to love them as You did, to risk the possibility of hurt, picking up our cross and follow you amid the taunts and jeers.

But keep me open, help me to hear you in them, help me to open the door. Then, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. [Rev 3:20b] Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Matthew and Mark try to put this in context; they clarify that the Apostles thought they saw a ghost. [Mt 14:26; Mk 6:49].

On second thought…

Jn 6:19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. [1]

A lot happens in this verse, rowing, walking, coming, and being afraid.

Rowing….Lord, I often feel that I am rowing across a stormy sea and You are not there…everything, even nature is against me. Even if I am with others, we are alone against the elements. We’ve been in this situation before, we don’t flinch, we charge on, oblivious of our peril…we’ve gotten so use to our world and its sin, we don’t even register that we are part of it. We aren’t even afraid at this point, we’re at home on this sea of life…we aren’t afraid until we see You appearing miraculously on our horizon. You introduce an element we try to forget, we try to ignore, we try to live as if it doesn’t exist…You represent a scary aspect of reality with which we don’t want to cope, because we can’t cope, we can’t control it, we can’t even schedule it, it just happens, it is, and there is nothing that we can do about it. Wish we could, wish we could just amortize it over the course of a couple of centuries, taking death/eternity/Truth/ Reality/God/Jesus/Judgment in little chunks might not be so bad…I could ignore them under the illusion that I would live forever right here on earth, right in my “cozy little home” living my “cozy little life,” oblivious of the horror, the carnage, the destruction, the avarice, the lust for domination, power, control which, bestial with its seven heads and ten horns [Rev 13:1], ravages the world. Unfortunately, both death/eternity/Truth/Reality/God/ Jesus/Judgment and the ten horned monster exist in our temporal time zone, evolve in our ever ticking world. Why do You invade my serenity, my “security,” my “comfort zone,” and shake me up, shake me to my very boot-straps, my very soul. I was so complacently blazé about the world, my neighbor, my soul until You came traipsing across the waters of my world, holding up Truth in all its gory glory, bloody brilliance, ravaged radiance. I don’t care to see that, thank You very much! Why can’t You just “walk on by” [Mk 6:48] and we’ll survive somehow.

On second thought….

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Because! What foolishness!

18 The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. [1]

Why was the sea stirred up?…because a strong wind was blowing. Why was a strong wind blowing?…Because atmospheric conditions required it. Why…?…Because! As a parent, sometimes we are tempted, or even do answer our three year old: “Because!” Or “Because I’m the parent, that’s why!” At that moment, we cannot come up with a better answer. So we resort to our role in our child’s life as the ultimate answer, the ultimate reason this is the way it is. Objectively, with reference to other possibilities, or in the judgment of other experts or rational observers, it may not be so. But for the time being, in this moment, here and now, it is.

God, You have shown from the very beginning, from Garden to Garden, that this is not Your style, not Your modus operandi. You have a distinctive approach to all things created, i.e. You have a purpose, a reason for things being the way they are. And not just any old reason, but a personal, a paternal, a caring, a loving reason it is that way.

I admit, I often do not see Your reasoning behind what happens to me. I would even go further and say that I usually, or even almost always, do not see Your reasoning behind what happens to me…what You do “unto” me according to Your word.

For example, why do You place me in this beautiful setting in Vermont, looking out my window at the hills and trees, the fields and farms, while others are eking out their very existence on the trash heaps of Buenos Aires or Calcutta, fearing for their lives against ISIS in Iraq or Syria, lying in a bed of pain dying of Ebola in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone? Or from the global and critical to the mundane and personal: why do I have a touch of sciatica now when a couple of days ago I was fine?

One answer is certainly Isaiah’s observation: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts. [Is 55:8-9]

But I like Paul’s answer better:…in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom [1Cor 1:21]. Oh, in God’s providence, in His plan, we can only come to know God partially, for what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. [Rom 1:19-20]

However, that didn’t work so well: although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. [Rom 1:21-22] [If we substitute “we” for “they”, we get the picture…]

Fortunately, Your ways, God, are not my ways…You did show me that my wisdom is foolishness and Your “foolishness,” the foolishness of the proclamation, [was] to save those who have faith. [1Cor 1:21] This was Your will…for Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but…[You] proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…for [Your] foolishness…,God, is wiser than human wisdom, and [Your] weakness…is stronger than human strength.

Now, I guess if, in sending Your Son to the cross as the way You enable me through Your Son to conquer sin and death, you baffle and bewilder me with Your wisdom, I would be foolish to question Your wisdom in what You have put into or left out of my life. Perhaps it is in foolishness that You ask me to follow You, in trust, in faith, in relying on You, Jesus, who are infinite and finite, Wisdom and Foolishness, God and Man. Maybe it’s ok when God says to His Children: “Because!”  May Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen. [Rev 7:12]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.