Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 10, 2020

A couple of days ago, Regina, one of our longtime parishioners posted these words on her Facebook page following the great storm that caused so much damage and flooding, including at my own home, “There’s something about the light after a storm. Makes me think of rebirth.”

It immediately reminded me of the words of the psalmist, “Clouds and thick darkness surround him…Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles.”  — Psalm 97

We’ve all seen it in a dark, stormy sky, and no matter how many times it makes an appearance, we are usually filled with some degree of amazement. The darkness comes, then the rainbow, but in between are intense and creative flashes, the discharge of potent electrical force we call lightening. These strikes can crack a tree, bring fire to a building, or simply appear like Grace, as a spectacle for the dazzled eye.

If we endure these storms, we, too will see the rainbow and what Regina called, “rebirth”.  If, however, we give up too soon, or retreat in fear, we are only left with the strikes that cripple us and leave us alone to our own human weakness.

This is why worship is so critical to us. In worship, the actual very real and present Spirit of God, distributes God’s great love and will for the human heart to each of us gathered as She moves through the room. When a human heart opens itself to an encounter, the spirit of a person becomes the second front in the sacred sky and the rainbow follows no matter how deep the darkness or fear that once was there.

All that can happen because worship created a unique space, a holy place, for the front of God’s Spirit and our own to meet. Worship is like a storm front; lead from the lightning to God’s bright safe sky again where God lights up the world!

St. Francis once said that it “is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look.”  Perhaps we should all remember how good God feels after the darkness is gone and that rainbow finally appears.

As Pastor Dan Wilt said so well, ‘Give us eyes to see what You are doing, oh God, in our community and in our lives as we worship, and let our own hearts be a storm front today as we do. In Jesus’ awesome, sky-lighting Name.’ 
 
Amen.  May it be so.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 24, 2020

I waited and waited and waited for God.

    At last he looked; finally he listened.

He lifted me out of the ditch,

    pulled me from deep mud.

He stood me up on a solid rock

    to make sure I wouldn’t slip.

He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,

    a praise-song to our God.

More and more people are seeing this:

    they enter the mystery,

    abandoning themselves to God.  

  • Psalm 40:1-3 (The Message)

 

Learning the soul art of patience is a deep work that takes a lifetime, especially I have found for me, but I am sure for all of us. Something within us, from birth, believes we should have the power to trigger action from others, from God, and even from ourselves, simply by exerting our will. We try this through various means like in prayer, in conversation, and in self-talk, and sometimes (as we have watched in horror lately) by force.

But I have learned, as hard as we will, as hard as we wish something into being, (spoiler alert!) we simply do not always get what we want! If we do get what we want, what we want almost never comes when or how we wanted it, or in the package we want it in, and it is almost always different and better when it finally does make its appearance! Unless we learn to “wait patiently,” we are continually mixing the recipe for lifelong disappointment in the face of such constant desire-delays and many missed opportunities we will simply never see. Patience, according to the Scriptures, is the antidote to continual disappointment. And patience – like hope – is a virtue that must be practiced.

Today, there is probably something you want to happen so badly you can taste it, but despite the fantasies your mind has created, there is a high probability that thing won’t happen today; Or, even tomorrow. Or this year, and often maybe never. I’m sorry, but it is the truth and I am in the truth business.

Saint Miriam today is nothing like I ever imagined, dreamed or willed. It is of God’s own making and I have found it to be the moist giving and loving and the most selfish and arrogant, too. We are the best and the worst and somehow, we love and live within something we waited patiently for. Now, it is up to us to see the gift or squander it.

I find that what we have could never have been built by us, just as it could never have been dreamed up by us. And, the things we have because of Saint Miriam are not the things of selfishness or the world. Some will lose the gift in their eagerness for the material that will always disappoint and will always pass away. St. Francis once said, Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give.”

In the battle for patience, remember Psalm 40 above; pray it, say it, sing it! Sing it over and over and over again until the yearning, the longing in your heart, transforms into the virtue of patient trust and you find what you always had all along.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 29, 2020

We opened our parish doors yesterday. Differently, but so wonderfully. They were open wide and welcoming, as usual, but cautious, disinfected and deliberate. It reminded me that this is the way our prayer life should be. Not reactionary but measured and with intent.

That is why when I received a beautiful reminder yesterday from one of our parishioners, I knew what my heart would write today. I share it here: Mahatma Gandhi reminded us that “Prayer is not asking…it is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness…And so, it is  better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

When we come to God in prayer, it matters not the number of words, the lexicon used, or the frequency, but rather the coming at all. When we come to one another the same should be true. Just come. And, to those who someone comes, just be there. Listen. Really listen.

St. Francis once reminded us, too, with these words, “Lord, help me to live this day, quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously. To face tomorrow, confidently, courageously.”

I have been so busy lately; I didn’t post my devotion last week. I felt so badly, but then I realized I have never stopped praying. God has been here all along.

How will you pray today? How do you recognize you need prayer? When was the last time you were the gift of prayer – or prayers answered – to someone else?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 16, 2020

Well, I did it. I took a few days off and visited my family then made my way to our brand-new retreat center in Starlight. It’s true! There is something that happens when you are away from your regular home, allow God to settle inside you, and the Spirit to move and breathe again. Away from the hustle and bustle of my normal life, away from the pandemic and the worries of infection, away from the stress of making good and wise decisions that literally now impact lives of parishioners, students, and staff alike, I found respite and peace. I left as I came in, but there was still something different about me. In my retreat, I found calmness and hope.

Why are retreats important? A retreat refreshes and revitalizes, and it provides the opportunity for more time spent in prayer and contemplation and allows for a rekindling and deepening of one’s relationship with God. I have long forgotten that if you take these rare opportunities to more clearly hear God’s call and to seek God’s healing grace, you attain a degree of spiritual renewal that impacts your normal living.

I guess for some, the purpose of a retreat can often be as an addition to daily spiritual activities; it is a way to temporarily leave behind the usual distractions we all face for a time long enough to allow relaxation and for an inner change to occur: the ongoing conversion of heart that is critical to deepening faith. Retreat comes from the Latin verb “to pull back”,  and  I think for me it was in the ‘pulling back’ that I found God again. So, perhaps that is the image of a retreat I will leave you with: a place where you pull back from the world.

As a continuing way of helping you, our parishioners in your spiritual journey, we will soon begin to offer you the very same opportunity to step out of your structured scheduled day-to-day and step into the beauty of space and time with God so you can breathe life into your life, like I found by sitting with God by the side a waterfall. You will be able to visit our Falls Retreat Center of Saint Miriam and pay only a fraction of what we will request of non-members. You will have the opportunity to join us annually for a “Saint Miriam Day” Retreat and you will have a beautiful place to deepen your relationship with God.

St. Francis once wisely reminded us, “We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather, we must be simple, humble and pure.”  Now you have a place to find your true life in the beauty of God’s creation.
 
How will I take advantage of another way to connect with God? How will I support a parish that gives me and my family so much? How will I come back from this time of pandemic and not lose sight of what is really important? 

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 9, 2020

I hurt my back yesterday. It was after a doctor’s appointment and I was worried, so I left my car without thinking, turned wrong to pet the dogs at my door and out it went. It always happens that way, right? At least for me! As a CrossFit athlete I lift heavy weights, perform functional fitness moves, jump over boxes and under low bars and rarely get hurt. It is always when I am not thinking or planning correctly or when I am distracted that I hurt myself and others, too.

It is that way in life, too. As such an avid CrossFitter, I can tell you that is what happened to founder and CEO of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, who controversially tweeted “It’s Floyd-19” in response to a tweet about racism being a public health issue. (At least we hope that it was just carelessness.) But no matter what, hundreds of CrossFit Boxes have disaffiliated, and major sponsors are history. Even Reebok ended its exclusive ten-year deal as the main CrossFit sponsor and licensee of CrossFit apparel. Professional CrossFit athlete Rich Froning, too, who has won the CrossFit Games four times, criticized Glassman’s comments to his 1.4 million Instagram followers, saying the last few days made it “impossible to stay loyal to leadership who make callous statements that alienate and divide in a time when unity is needed.” That is how someone hurts another, especially when they don’t think.

Even Katelyn and I are going to find a place to work out that isn’t affiliated with Glassman. The hurt is too deep and the pain too much for friends who fight every day for the same rights we enjoy, all because their skin color is a shade or two darker. It is unbelievable. We may be inconvenienced, but at least we are alive. We can walk, jog, and go places and never think about our safety. Many cannot. Glassman made that worse.

Today, as I work from my desk, some pastors are trying to buy new million dollar jets, others want to be ordained for a new big hat,  and others are worrying about their titles and money and what they will buy next all while people die; all the while they lose focus or are blind to think what Jesus would want them to do.

Before Glassman’s tweet, CrossFit overall had stayed noticeably silent on the Black Lives Matter movement as a host of companies publicly took a stand on anti-racism following Floyd’s death. While CrossFit previously pledged public support for the LGBT community, as well as dedicating its “Hero” workouts to fallen soldiers, somehow the lives of those threatened since 1619 seems to be of little value. But not us! We peached and welcomed and stood up. We always will.

St. Francis once said, “No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves.”  I am not so sure many believe that; at least we sure don’t preach it much.

My back is hurting today. My heart is worse. I will survive. As to those who are not in the majority…I am not so sure I can guarantee the same, but I can say that at Saint Miriam we won’t stop working toward that goal. We are all careless from time to time, but this time our carelessness might just cost someone their life.

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 18, 2020

We announced some pretty amazing news today! Not only are we planning to reopen safely over the next two months in stages, we also are in the midst of renovating our sanctuary and adding a new restroom for the school. And, of that weren’t enough, we now own a Retreat Center, too! Yes, we now welcome The Fall Retreat Center to the Saint Miriam family! And, perhaps, with a weekly Franciscan Devotion, we should pause for a mini retreat on what I believe that we have learned lately!

I have found five important lessons learned as we have adjusted our lives as a parish family to Quarantine and anticipated Post-Quarantine planning.

First, God is with us, He always has been and will always ever be. I know we know that theoretically, but it helps to slow down to listen to it, too! Looking back, the first few weeks of quarantine felt manic and confusing. It’s been essential to remember that God is with us and we need to put our devices away and take time to “be still and know”—even when the “be still” part is hard! This is why our earnest planning has brought a sense of calm, and our virtual offerings has continued our life together! Plus, even in the midst of some loss, God has brought us such amazing gifts and opportunities! Are we willing to listen now? To care for God and the church that has proven to be a solid anchor in the winds of this pandemic?

Secondly, we have learned the importance of checking in a lot. As a parish, we’ve tried to share with you from our hearts in word and video. It’s because, as many of you have learned, we need to see and hear from those we love and trust. This is why I call my mom every day! And, judging from how often we see you sharing our posts and words of encouragement from your living rooms and porches, you’ve been doing the same thing!

Thirdly, we can do new things and worship in new ways, even if they’re hard. Like you, our strength has mostly been in being an in-person gathering organization, built around face-to-face worship and gatherings. But, we’ve had to reinvent and create new opportunities virtually and online. We’ve been reminded that we are blessed in being flexible and inventive! Now we have a whole new skill set for guiding and loving and worshipping and learning into the future! God continues to breathe in new ways and old.

Fourthly, we have been practical. I have had to learn it is ok to slow down, not to work out every day, sand some days, to simply do nothing! We have all had to learn to modify work-life, school-life, and even grocery shopping with a constantly shifting focus and changing rules! We’ve all done our best to solve the problems immediately in front of all of us. But it is also time to start thinking deeply about big-pictures issues that will come in time, and how we will allow the good parts of this time to remain. That is the BIG Fifth Lesson! You know the ones: what is now important? The family time, the less stressful and slowing down time, the connecting with others time. The changing in what is truly important time. It doesn’t need to be right now, but we should all begin to rethink what is valuable. I know Saint Miriam will be on your list; it is surely on mine!

We’re all new expressions of the one holy Church now. For 12 years now, Saint Miriam has been guiding people to reimagine how they live and what they value. We have done that by listening, loving and serving, and building community. Now it is more important than ever for us to be committed to something greater.

St. Francis once said, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Thanks for being a part of our impossible journey at Saint Miriam.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 11, 2020

We as a people love to grumble, right? Grumbling seems to be part of us as human beings. We used to grumble about going to work, or having to get a haircut, or even going to church! “Oh, man, do I HAVE to get up to go to Mass today?!” “I want to stay in bed another hour!”

And, how often we took things for granted! A walk in the park, a vacation on the beach, the touch of a hand, the hug from our own mother, an unexpected visit from a friend, a drink together with neighbors on an outdoor deck, running into a store without a facemask on or gloves or anxiety! Now, it has all but been stripped away from us.

Oh, sure, it will make its way into our lives. Work will return, restrictions lifted, and haircuts will come more regularly. Churches will gather and God will be praised in community. We will return to whatever a ‘normal’ life is, but will be changed? Will we appreciate what we have; what we almost lost for good? Will we stop all of our grumblings?

This past week we pushed forward on our planned and discussed Sanctuary renovations. Truth be know, we actually had always planned, since we purchased the property some six years ago, to remove pews and add chairs to allow versatility of space and a liturgy more ‘Saint Miriam’. Now, unexpectedly, we need chairs to permit safe distancing. (It is hard to distance in pews, especially when the center needs to move over the ends!) We had planned to do this at a time of calm, but now we need to do so in the midst of anxiety.

Over this period, as pastor, I have been hard at work to provide us all with a safe worship experiences, despite our not being able to gather in person. We have added countless Virtual Gatherings, Small Groups, Reader and Serving options, and Masses, too. We increased our livestream and even added an FM Broadcast capability. We are hard at work and yet this past week, still more grumbling.

The pews will be removed and stored now onsite at Saint Miriam. Change comes and I recognize that change can cause some anxiety, but some change will be better than we might expect, if we only give it a chance and allow God room to breathe on us. This change was decided long ago after much prayer and discernment and over an extended period of time. The plans were made, the parish board voted, and the ministry team agreed. In fact, over 98% of the parish agreed. But, to be mindful and respectful of those who like the pews, we had always planned a few ways to honor them and to maintain them in some meaningful way as part of what was at our parish.

For instance, the pews in the main hallway will remain, as will the two ‘pew chairs’ in the handicap access hallway. Secondly, the pew on the right side of the back section inside the Sanctuary will also remain. And, the new free-standing Tabernacle will be constructed from the wood of one of the pews. Finally, we are adding a wall of Votive Candles on the rear left side of the Sanctuary and these, too, are being made from the wood of an actual pew! What better way to shed light than to light a candle and say a prayer and remain a hospitable and loving people?

I had the chance to speak to a former pastor at Zion. I was informed that the current pews are not close to the originals and were actually put in during a renovation in the late 1960’s (when all the original and beautiful hardware was stripped away, too)! Sadly, the actual and more valuable and historical pews were not only removed, they were burned in the parking lot! (I am sure there was a lot of grumbling!)

Over the years, I think that we made good decisions; this will be one of those. Some decisions and changes are not always popular, but we always make them with the best interest of others and the community and our future needs, too. I wonder what it says of us if we refuse to help the church because we would rather have a pew, instead of chair?  More deeply, what does it say of us if we refuse to give a chair for a visitor, or burden the minority with added chairs to purchase because we withhold our contribution? I suppose our grumblings and our own self-interest outweigh even the hallmark of the gospel: hospitality.

St. Francis once reminded us, “Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these, they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.”

I wonder if what I asked way back at the original announcement still needs to be asked again?

Is the hardwood of a pew more important that the hardwood of the cross?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 27, 2020

What used to be important for me isn’t so much anymore. Until the pandemic, I was always working against myself. Deadlines that needed to met, and creativity that needed more creative, planning and schedules and meetings, and office time and so forth; the list was endless and exhausting. Then, suddenly, it all stopped. COVID-19 was here and we were in a lock down in one form or another. The major question for me is not whether “normal life” will ever return, but do I want to be that normal again?

Over the weeks of the pandemic and isolation and quarantine, I have found myself slowing down, taking more time, just sitting and listening. I have found days where I would not leave the house, not once and others where I actually heard the stream behind our home. I sat quietly, holding my newborn Son and listened to the creaks of the house, the sound of the wind as it ran up against a window, or a branch suddenly letting go of its tree-holder. I have become more comfortable with myself; all of myself. I also have found that I am kinder, gentler, and more compassionate. No, not to others, I think I have always been that to the others in my life, but more to me. I haven’t been kind to me in a very long time.

This past week I received a note from someone who was angry that I would inform them of our parish being down on donations. It was not meant to be a slight against anyone. Rather, it was to be informative in a way that would allow people to consider, or reconsider, if Saint Miriam was important to them and if they could support us. It was meant to gain an understanding that while closed we literally miss out on Sunday income that normally comes. While we all have issues right now, it would be criminal of me, as a pastor not to inform those who call Saint Miriam home, right? What would they think of me if one day we just closed without an appeal, or a word about our current condition? At any rate, the note came and plunged me into a quick and solid depression. I felt the weight of the world and I was crushed. Now normally I would be in such a state for weeks, even furthering my manic state. But, instead, I prayed, sat quietly, I re-read what was at issue and then said to myself – to ME –  “James, this isn’t about you. You did nothing wrong. Let it go.” And for the first time in a long time, I did just that. I was kind to myself when someone else wasn’t. And healing began. Yes, what used to be important, isn’t anymore, and perhaps, just perhaps, that is a good thing.

Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr. Sherry Turkle, said she’s been struck by the warmth, creativity and thoughtfulness that some people have displayed online during this pandemic. By way of example, she pointed to the renowned cello player Yo Yo Ma, and the award-winning actor Patrick Stewart, who have both broadcast themselves practicing their art. “Every group I’m in is trying to reinvent itself in an online form,” she said. “You see people trying to find something of themselves that they can use as the medium to express themselves.” She wrote something that struck me, it was “Alone Together,” which detailed how technology can isolate and yet still connect people. Social media platforms meant to connect can sometimes cause us to self-isolate, it is true, or even become a virtual world, but perhaps this forced move online could end up changing what it means to beonline. As Dr. Turkle asked, “Will people say, ‘You know, I don’t want to use this screen for nonsense anymore’?”

So, perhaps some good will come from all of this in the end when we are presented with a chance to return to whatever we wish to return to; whatever normal is for us. Maybe instead of going to back to whatever was, we will instead reach for the best of us? Maybe that will be the legacy: we overcame, and we changed, for the better.

St. Francis once tried to get people to see themselves differently when he said, “I am as I am in the eyes of God. Nothing more, nothing less.” May it be so.

Now, you will have to excuse me, I need to pick up a telephone and call my mother.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 20, 2020

Fear, anxiety, trepidation, dread, the unknown, and for some, worse, the known. Even though we are meant to be a people of faith, being constantly bombarded with the awful news about the spread of COVID-19 can strike at the heart of our emotions and make the bravest among us cower now and then in a heap of defeat and fear.  As a new dad, I lay awake at night and wonder if I will catch the virus? I am jolted from a deep sleep by a nightmarish reality of death and loss. I see my wife grieving and my son without a dad. After all, I have an underlying condition with Asthma that makes my  risk greater, and lessens my survival ability. I think, silently where I let few in, will I die alone like so many have in hospitals across the world, or with only a phone pressed against my ear as I gasp my last few breaths? Will I see Jameson grow up, or will he learn of me only from his mom in story form? How will my beautiful wife live without me? Who will care for her with the passion of one like me? I know it isn’t just me, right? We all wonder if someone we love will be the next victim. Will they survive or will grief come our way, too? Will it be me?

I find comfort in knowing I am not alone in my fear. I also take comfort in St. Francis. You see, Francis knew that everything in existence is intended for relationship, and as Franciscans, we are especially should be attuned to our relational nature. This nature is for good as well as bad times. We need one another. We always will need each other. Even in the midst of “social distancing” and self-quarantine for the foreseeable future, we need to come together – if only virtually – to find ways to engage with another to ‘feel’ less alone and less fearful. Yes, during times of crisis, our faith brings us together and we reach out to one another in solidarity and in love.

It is through our relational  love that we have compiled internal resources to help us survive this troubling time. And that is why I love Poet Lynn Unger and her Pandemic poem she posted recently in Chicago. I spoke of it in a sermon and it comes back to me today here, devotionally. Ms. Unger asks us to look at what’s happening in today’s world with a different perspective. She suggests that rather than fear, we might consider this time the same way our Jewish brothers and sisters view the Sabbath with its many restrictions. She invites us to re-think of this time as sacred.  If we do so, willingly and even fearfully, then we find a calling to sing, and to pray, and to extend our hearts in love and relationship to one another. We will find a renewed sense of urgency to reach out to others with compassion, even with our own fear intact. Her poem reminds us that we are all connected, like St. Francis taught, and most importantly, that “our lives are in each other’s hands.” This time, literally.

So, let those who will flock to beaches and shores and protest closures and restrictions. We shall not! Why? Because we know the deeper truth: We are each other’s keeper, protector, friend, companion, and lover. If I fail, we all die.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 13, 2020

I recently wrote in my Easter Message that the devil thought he had won, but the light still came through The Light of the earth! Darkness was overcome by Christ’s resurrection and ushered in an era of joy and hope. Perhaps our own little deaths may be overcome by laughter and joy, too?

In the Middle Ages there was a custom called, “Laughing Monday ” (read as ‘Laughing at death’). This custom was common in central Europe but was gradually suppressed by the holy Church due to the violent attacks against it by the Reformers.

On Easter Sunday afternoon, the people would gather back at the parish for Vespers and Benediction. During the sermon that preceded this solemn service, the presiding priest would entertain his congregation with funny stories, anecdotes, and poems from which he would extract a moral conclusion. The purpose of this event was to “reward” the parishioners with a fun activity after the penitential spirit of the Lenten Season! Peals of laughter and frivolity could be heard in the many little towns and villages that dotted the landscape of central Europe — a happy consequence of the reality that life overcame death through the passion and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

This custom later led to what was known as “Laughing Monday”, a tradition of practical joking that took place on Easter Monday where one would poke fun at the devil’s defeat. The devil thought he had won the battle when Jesus was crucified, but God had the last laugh — Jesus arose from the dead!

So, on this Easter Monday, as we still may not return to the normalcy of routine work and play, we can still return from a season of penance to one of great joy and hope, despite our present circumstances. For you see, Christ is risen! The devil has been defeated. Joy is here. Our life will find its way again post-pandemic. The real question is, will we be a people of joy? Will we allow this present circumstance, terrible as it may be, to rob of us of Easter joy and laughter?

Alleluia! May you have a most blessed Easter Octave! God bless you and know that we are praying daily for you during this time of turmoil and uncertainty. Happy Easter!