In the gospel reading for Catholics on the last Sunday of January 2014, Jesus asks us to repent and announces that the kingdom of God is at hand. If we take time to really look around at the world we can see God all around us. Look at a beautiful sunset. Hear the cry of a baby. See the gaze of a loved one.
When you get used to looking for God all around, it becomes hard not to see and feel God’s presence. I believe that is what Jesus is trying to tell us in the gospel. Pope Francis echoes Jesus words when he spoke of not just trying to find God in the future or the past, but to encounter the living God right now. In the gospel of Thomas, Jesus is reported saying, “Split wood, I am there; lift up a rock, you will find me there”. The kingdom of God is at hand.
How do we find this kingdom? Jesus tells us to repent. This does not just mean to get on our knees and confess our sins. This is something deeper. Jesus is asking us to change our lives - our ways of thinking - our ways of viewing the world. A changed mind is essential. Jesus’ conception of kingdom is quite different than what we typically conceive. Look at the cross and see that Jesus is talking about something very different. In order to find this kingdom we must open ourselves up and make some
choices in our lives that will bring us closer to the kingdom. It is somewhat like grocery shopping. You enter a store and see all of the choices. You can choose to fill your cart with things like fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat or you can buy things like fatty meats, frozen pizza, sugar filled beverages and candy. When we look at our lives, we can make choices about how we spend our time. It may feel good to attain things in life like money, knowledge and prestige, but these things may not always serve us well. We build ourselves up and our lives become so much about us there is no room for God.
So the spiritual life seems to be more about letting things go than it is about building things up. When we let go of ourselves we leave more room for God.
This is not an easy task.
Thankfully, God is patient.
People are in different places on the journey and wherever you are God is there – waiting and loving us into real transformation. Maybe Jesus is asking us today - what do we need to leave behind so we can better know God? How can we better open ourselves to the presence of God all around us?
Can we trust God enough to let ourselves go and make room for God in our lives?
Well, it's over. The shopping, the visiting, the eating and the season that we prepared for is now about to be history. How was it? Has the preparation been fruitful? How did you do at getting to the true meaning of Christmas? Are you ready to let go of 2013 and move into 2014? And what about those resolutions?
I invite you to take a minute to reflect on the passing of the Christmas holiday and the greeting of the New Year.
Meister Eckhart, the great 14th century mystic once said, "What good is it if the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ 1400 years ago if I do not give birth to him today?" Have we given birth to Christ this Christmas season? Are we truly living the message of Christmas each day of our lives? But what is that message of Christmas? Is it a new car with a big red ribbon in our driveway? Is it a new phone for one of our children? Probably not. Would it be fair to say that we have strayed from the real meaning of the season? Probably. The meaning of Christmas is love. God cares for us so much that God comes as a human being in the person of Jesus. You know Jesus, the one who said love your neighbor as yourself, forgive seventy times seven times, blessed are the peace makers and care for the poor.
Yes, Christ's life is the message of Christmas and if we want to continue to celebrate that then we must learn how to follow him. How are we doing at loving the outcast? Caring for the poor? Forgiving those who have hurt us? Forgiving ourselves? If a war on Christmas has been waged it has been waged on the gospel message of Jesus. Selling Christmas right after Halloween? When I was a young boy, the Christmas merchandise and displays didn't come out until after Thanksgiving. Where are we going with this and is it making our world any better?
Thank God for new years. It gives us a chance to start over and to renew ourselves and renew our commitment to developing a deepening relationship with our God. Maybe some resolutions like this may help:
These are a few ways we may change our lives and give birth to Christ in our world today. This can be done no matter what religion we profess because the Cosmic Christ transcends belief structures and transforms the human heart. Remember that in the gospels Jesus asks us to follow Him. That's the hard part. But it can be done and I believe that when it is done our lives once again become meaningful and joyous. Happy New Year and may you be open in every moment to God's presence in your life!!!
"Work hard and you’ll get ahead."
"Save some money for a rainy day."
"You can be whatever you want."
These common phrases provide some practical advice for a person - especially a person beginning their adult life. They are also phrases that may encourage us to hold onto things preventing us from living in a way that is more centered and connected to reality.
Here is a fact to ponder: there are many things we must let go of in life. At some point, we will be called on to let go of everything. In our final death everything must go.
Is there a way to learn how to let go of the things we hold on so tightly? Can we learn how to die while we are still alive? Many times we are forced to let go of things – we may lose a loved one or a job or we may go through a painful divorce. Being forced to let go of things does not necessarily mean that we learn the lesson that presents itself in those moments. We seem to spend most of our formative years learning how to build our lives and how to hang on to what we have built. As we grow older the things that we have built usually fall apart in some way. We are forced to let go of much of what defined us in our formative years. It is in this process of letting go that we most often learn life’s most valuable lessons. Learning to let go is not something that can be taught in a classroom. The pain of the experience must be taken in and internalized then transformed. It is never an easy process to let go of something you are attached to or something you love.
In music, one must spend hours practicing technique and learning theory only to let go of all that knowledge and become a conduit to communicate the raw emotion of the music. It is really all about communicating feeling to the listener which requires technique and theory, but if one is too focused on technique and theory, the feeling will never come out.
So one must let go of something they worked so hard on to give birth to something else. Letting go is a birthing process that is often painful, but worth the pain. This is how we grow.
In the spiritual life we must let go of many things that we have learned in order to better understand our relationship with God. Our relationship must evolve or it will just become a way to satisfy our ego. I believe that this is the lesson we learn from Jesus when he speaks of putting old wine into new wineskins. It is the paschal mystery – the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is something that happens often in our lives if we are open to it. It is also something that prepares us for the final death. If we can truly learn to let go now, I believe we will have a better sense of how to let go, and to look forward to, the end.
As the New Year approaches, I invite you to pay attention to the moments in your life that force you to let go of something to which you are attached. Be patient with the suffering that may ensue and trust that God will transform you into a person that has grown in wisdom and love.
Life in the spirit
John is a professional musician and a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. His blog will center around the arts in spirituality and how spirituality applies to everyday life.
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