Home -- A Mystical Space Where Strangers Become Neighbors
I was moved by the readings this past Sunday (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time) in light of the theme about home (Oikos of God) of the 2021 Season of Creation. Each of these passages from Scripture spoke to me about what a true home is but also how we need to be responding to the many activities -- big and small -- that are degrading and destabilizing our home.
Saint Teresa of Ávila's Vision of the Holy Spirit is a 1612-1614 painting by Peter Paul Rubens
And don't forget about joy from my last blog -- a way that we can experience a real and intimate and yet partial and fleeting, understanding of God who is Love. The mystics were those who spent their lives in search of the thin areas between heaven and earth -- the moment of intense intimacy between God and creation. Mystics like St. Hildegarde of Bingen, St Catherine of Sienna, St. Theresa of Avila, or St John of the Cross have guided many a weary traveler to a more intimate encounter with God ... our ultimate home. Could we not experience an intimacy with God in our Earthly homes? These spaces can be where the veil between the transcendent and our world becomes ever so thin.
Take a moment to reflect -- breath deeply -- find a place of solitude -- slow your thoughts...
Who crosses the threshold of your home? Who do you invite to join you for coffee or lunch? Who do you invite to babysit your children or help you create a garden in your backyard? Who do you permit to see your sanctuary inside your front door or perhaps office door? Who do you allow in? Who is worthy? Why? Who do you keep out? Why?
Those who I let into my home are those who I feel a kinship for -- people I trust because I have come to know them and want to share my life with them. Other cross into my home because I want to know them better. We have experienced something together (softball games or church life or work) and I feel a call to get to know them. Their existence offers me a glimpse of a treasure I lack or have yet to experience. They seem to animate a part of me and bring me joy. They often become a mirror for me to see who I am and add nuance to my identity as a mother, a executive director, dog-mom, professor, ecotheologian, and band mom. These encounters in our homes allow us to know ourselves better and know others better.
But I believe that encounters with others within our planetary home allows us to get to know God better since everything we see, touch, smell, and breathe is a gift from God. There is something fundamentally missing from a Christian life of faith if our actions are degrading the gift God offered: the sacred, ancient universe. Our ignorance of our many planetary neighbors -- who they are, what they need -- diminishes who we are and how we go about our vocation as humans living within creation. But most importantly, our actions that are destabilizing of Earth's life systems narrows our understanding the God we profess and worship on Sunday.
Let's now reflect prayerfully on the first reading from Isaiah (Is 35:4-7a). Read this over several times and see what echoes in your Christian imaginations... also reflect on the painting of Isaiah by Isaiah Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891) (The Wallace Collection)
Thus says the LORD:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.
As I meditate on the message of the prophet Isaiah, what echoed in my imagination was that God knew so many of the neighbors we either take for granted or ignore. God knew who they were and what their calling was: the stag leaps; streams burst forth; sand thirsts for water. God knows and loves these particular neighbors of ours. We however, see them as strangers to be feared, ignored, commodified, or destroyed. Their innate worth is invisible to us.
The wonder and awe of a stag is lost on a world where there are no stags nor habitat left for them to freely roam. And what about our children who will never encounter them other than in the zoo?
Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever ...Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right." Pope Francis in Laudato Si'
Do we consider water our neighbor ... without water we die but we are estranged from our planetary family and blinded to the worth of water. We allow (and often encourage in our desire for more natural gas) energy companies to leach toxic chemicals into groundwater in order to harvest natural gas. The devastation left in the wake of this unsustainable human activity is shouldered by the birds of the air, beasts in the fields, and our human brothers and sisters.
Could prophet Isaiah's message be that our eyes will be opened to the presence of God when we treat our fellow planetary inhabitants as neighbors -- not objects to use. Would you treat a guest in your home like we are treating our groundwater? What if we were as grateful for the omnipresence of water in our taps as when a trusted friend darkened our door? Would we consumer and use water differently? Would it cease to be a commodity to sell but rather a trusted ally in our pilgrimage to know and befriend God?
Take a moment to now meditate on the Responsorial Psalm: Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10. Let it roll across your tongue and let the Spirit be your guide, revealing what you may have missed or what is urgently needed in your journey.
Praise the Lord, my soul!
The God of Jacob keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
The LORD gives sight to the blind;
the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.
The LORD loves the just;
the LORD protects strangers.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
The fatherless and the widow the LORD sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
What words or phrases resonated with you?
For me, the idea of justice resonated so loudly ... and how justice today requires a broader vision of what justice is and how to promote it.
What I admitted to myself was that often justice is just an abstract idea or another buzz word that lacks depth ... perhaps this word hung in my mind because of a conversation I had recently.
Jesus the Homeless, is a bronze sculpture by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz depicting Jesus as a homeless person
I was asked what an ideal creation care team does in a parish. I thought for a moment and responded -- I said ideally they listen to the Spirit at work in them, the parish and the community, and work to reconnect all three areas with God's great gift, creation. I was asked what this looked like and I talked about so many manifestations in the parishes I have heard about or worked with. Most activities or events stemmed from the passion (joy!!) of the members of the Creation Care Team. Their hearts were on fire for justice:
Pantry stocked with fresh food from Community Gardens (would Jesus really want the most vulnerable to have salt and fat laden foods like cream of mushroom soup?)
Letter writing campaigns to advocating for green energy
Joining in Ecumenical Days of Prayer for Creation
Education programs (speakers, narthex tables, posters, bookmarks) that connect creation care with Catholic theology
Supporting horticulture and literacy programs for inmates
Clothing ministries that not only repurposed clothing (diminishing landfill) and promoted dignity by having shopping days with neighbors (rather than handing out random bags to strangers)
Creating a Creation Care Corner in weekly Bulletins (Thank you St Elizabeth Seton Creation Care Ministry for this example)
Installing solar panels, motion sensor lights, and low flow toilets
Connecting youth ministry outreach and seniors for prom nights, movie events, and technology tips
Committing to buy all compostable materials and avoiding Styrofoam and single use plastics (e.g., no water bottles or straws)
Joining forces with law enforcement and schools to host events that promote physical activity and good nutrition
My list from the conversation seemed to come into more and more focus as I contemplated the Psalmists...
Justice for the hungry ... by offering good, nutritious foods to sustain bodies, minds and spirits and the wisdom to till the soil
Justice for the oppressed ... by diminishing CO2 in the atmosphere to address habitat loss, sea level rise, asthma, climate refugees
Justice for the fatherless and widows ... by promoting intergenerational programing that teaches the worth of the 'other' and stranger beyond what they can produce and consume
Justice for those bowed down and for strangers ... by creating opportunities for those in need to experience shopping with their family rather than being seen as a faceless object not worthy of the dignity of caring for their family
Justice for captives ... by offering alternative paths to thrive via horticulture and other skills while incarcerated.
The way of the wicked God thwarts. The planet is telling us our ways of living and loving has been wicked. We are unjust and wicked when we blind ourselves to the intrinsic value and worth of those we deem 'other' ... we deceive or mislead ourselves with many excuses...
the hungry (they are lazy)
the oppressed (they should have planned better)
the widows (they are a burden, too slow ... my life is too busy)
the stranger (they might take something that is rightfully mine)
the captives (they lost their rights when they broke the law)
So creation care teams, each in their own way, remind parishes of the corporal works of mercy. Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, clothing the naked, etc... But what each of these works looks like in light of our climate crisis will be different than what generations of Catholics before us would have envisioned (or maybe not!).
Feeding the hungry must include pantries and donated thanksgiving meals but it also means taking care of neighbors (do you know yours?), sharing knowledge about growing food (empowerment model rather than donations), reflecting on industrialized farming and the costs of this way of feeding, considering our food expectations (should mangos be available all year round? Should we eat meat every day?) and exploring our shopping habits... But it cannot stop at reflection - considering - exploring. Loving your neighbor through corporal (embodied) works (action) of mercy means making changes. This is the conversion asked by Pope Francis in Laudato Si' and by the Season of Creation.
This holy noticing and focus on inherent dignity of those we see as 'other' or less worthy was captured beautifully in the second reading Jas 2:1-5 ... do you see it? Feel it?
Take a moment to reflect as you read this several times ...
My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please, ” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?
The Oikos of God is filled with many strangers and those we perceive to be less ... the poor, the elderly, animals, water, soil. I am not comparing the worth of a widow with a grain of sand but remember God who is Love created both. Thus, they are indeed good and worthy of respect. What this respect entails depends on the creature and what they need to reach their potential.
So what does the Gospel of Mark offer this understanding of home and neighbors?
Quiet your mind again and let the Spirit guide your reflection of Mk 7:31-37.
Again Jesus left the district of Tyr nd went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Mark is notorious for succinctness and being direct to the point. The message I read is just as direct -- people brought someone who was blind and deaf to God so that when they encounter the healing Earth (finger and spittle), they can be healed. When people understand at a deeply personal level how the home God gifted us is in trouble, they can be healed and "speak plainly." They will see how they personally can act differently and make a difference. The deaf man was alienated from society because of his inability to connect via speech -- much like how we are alienated from creation and we are deaf to the cries of the Earth and the poor.
But did the Spirit reveal the phrase to you "he took him off by himself..."
What do you think this means?
For me it was a sign of intimacy -- a conversion or transformation away from the public eye. I love the Season of Creation because it is so public, so widespread, but is this the only way?
Oikos -- home is a sacred, private space and perhaps God is calling to us in our homes to change the way we live in our homes and within our planetary home.
My blogs this Season of Creation will be looking at our home -- and these private moments, intimately personal choices as a way of promoting justice for all and rebuilding (with the grace of God), God's Oikos. Perhaps the ways of the mystics can lead us once more to an intimacy with God that is the core of what 'home' is -- and could be.