I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I enjoy watching America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, and the Olympics—winter and summer events whenever they come on and I have the time. I am intrigued and inspired by performers who push their limits to be all they can be: a woman completely deaf but singing in perfect pitch and rhythm; a lone survivor of a fiery plane crash bravely standing before millions in her disfigurement and sharing her gift of song. And break dancing blows me away—the way they defy gravity—spinning on their heads, bouncing on one hand, summersaulting mid-air from the floor. Just to mention a few… As I watch and marvel, I imagine God within me also delighting in these performers breaking through usual limitations to realize their human potential.
But even more, this past week my heart was warmed and inspired by the “Hand in Hand” Hurricane Relief Telethon in which stars and celebrities of every ilk performed and called on everyone to donate to help rebuild and restore Houston, raising over 44 million dollars in one night. There were endless pictures of persons who themselves were losing everything to the flood waters but reaching out to save others—using whatever specific gifts they had to offer. Again, as I watched these, though saddened to see all the destruction and human suffering, a quiet joy welled up within me to see people freed up to be all they (we) can be.
As more hurricanes, storms, floods, fires, oppression, wars, isms, and every kind of disaster continue to leave a path of destruction and suffering, we humans will always be called on to be all we can be for others. “What sets you and me free to be all we can be? and what holds us back?”
As Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates, we challenge each other to be and do what we can to bring healing and peace to the world, empowered by Christ and the Good News, calling forth and activating the gifts we hold individually and communally.
A few weeks ago Jolene Geier OP sent me a link to a YouTube that she received from someone else, saying “Take a look at this video. You’ll be glad you did.” So I watched it,, and I was glad I did. I was humbled and inspired by Chris Koch, from Nanton, Alberta, who spends his spring, summer, and fall working on a farm near Torquay, Saskatchewan.
What’s so inspiring about that? For one thing, he looks like a happy, good natured man not unlike many men I know. But as I watched the video I soon realized Chris is no ordinary person. It became obvious that he grew up armed with something that set him free and unleashed his human potential.
Chris’ life can inspire, challenge, and encourage us to be all we can be, no matter what we see as our limitation. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/
John Lennon’s “Imagine” has always been one of my favorite songs.
For me, the song represents what I have always hoped for — a world where things that divide people do not exist. Like Lennon expresses in the song, I wish for world peace and harmony.
I find it amazing that a song released more than 45 years ago has as much relevance today – when we are surrounded by cruelty, hate, poverty, racism, and fear. The call for peace is needed as much today as it was in 1971, when the song was released.
I was reminded last week of Imagine’s ability to transcend age, culture, religion, race, and other things that keep people apart when a friend shared with me a video of Pentatonix singing Lennon’s Imagine.
In the moving video, the five-member a cappella group shares a message of inclusivity.
Each member holds up a sign with a word that describes her/him personally and then flips it over to show another word that characterizes him/her generally. The words and phrases include “LGBTQ+,” “Man,” “Jewish,” “American,” “Black,” “Christian,” “Latina” and “Woman.”
At the end of the video, each of the five members takes a board and writes a letter on it. When they flip them over in unison, the letters spell out the word: “H-U-M-A-N.”
The powerful video is a beautiful reminder that we should work to realize unity in diversity because – despite all of the labels that can divide us — we’re all human.
John Lennon (and his co-writer wife, Yoko Ono) asked us to consider what the harmony of one humanity would be like:
“Imagine all the people living for today.” “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” “Imagine all the people sharing all the world.”
In 2017, Pentatonix is still asking us to do some intense soul searching to examine the things that divide us. Like Lennon, the group speaks directly to the humanity within each of us with a plea for justice, morality, and unity.
When I was invited to share some reflections with you tonight, I struggled with whether to accept this inaugural preaching moment. Having wrestled with what it means to be a Dominican and an Associate, I questioned what salient words I could offer you. How could I encourage you to continue your journey to walk humbly with God when I struggled to carry out the four Dominican pillars of prayer, ministry, study, and community. Preaching, especially, is the least likely activity that I envisioned myself engaging in. Yet, here I am – called to be the Holy Preaching. May we all be open to those moments when God calls us to be a voice of hope, healing, and compassion to each other.
As we heard in tonight’s opening song, we are invited to be companions on the journey, boldy responding to God’s call to break bread with each other and to share with each other, in true Dominican fashion, the fruits of our contemplation. As companions on the journey, who seek to live a life grounded in truth and faith, let us listen to how God wants to speak to us in this moment.
As I read over the selected Scripture reading for tonight from the Gospel of John, I was immediately comforted about preaching to you by the first words in this reading, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God.” So I am entrusting my reflections to God and trusting that the Spirit will work through me to speak to you, to your heart, and to your circumstance wherever you are on your life’s journey.
Immediately, we hear the words “Trust in God” in this first verse in John’s Gospel reading. These words can elicit many different thoughts and feelings in us, depending on our personal relationship with God and our experiences with others. For some, trust may not come easily because our personal experiences with others may have led to disappointment, humiliation, or regret in entrusting our heartfelt feelings to another person. Or, our trust in God, when in the throes of a crisis, may have left us wondering why suffering happens and wondering why waiting for God’s response seems to take forever. On the other hand, trust may come easily for you because time has taught you that God is always present in our lives and that God can bring about good from difficult situations.
Trust can be a difficult virtue to nurture. It requires letting go and giving over our fears and concerns to a God who asks us to faithfully believe that our prayers and our hopes will be fulfilled. We know though from experience, from living a life of faith, that trust can ask much of us. Trust may call us to be patient with God’s ways, to be open to new possibilities, to accept our limitations and to let God enfold God’s plan in God’s time and to trust in the truth of God’s promise to be with us always in life, in death, and eternally thereafter.
As you reflect on the difficult moments and positive memories from your own life’s experiences, I hope you can see God’s footprints imprinted on your path. We must hold onto this memory of God’s abiding presence in our lives when we hit the inevitable bumps in the road and find it difficult to trust or to believe that God is with us. And, we must be beacons of hope to others, whose trust in God or in others may be clouded by darkness and despair. By sharing the fruits of our prayer and our study with a broken world, we, as Dominican Sisters and Associates, can bring healing and light to others. We need only to trust in God to provide what we need for the ministry we are about and we can find strength for the journey from being in community with each other as we go forth in our call to be disciples of Christ.
In the next verse from the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus declare to his disciples that there are many places where they can live in his Father’s house and that Jesus is preparing a place in his Father’s house for his disciples. Being invited to someone’s dwelling place is a loving gesture that says I want to be with you, to share my life with you. So, we hear in this verse Jesus’ desire to be with his disciples, to be with us, to get to know us and for us to get to know Him. We are invited into a personal relationship with Jesus and told that he is preparing a welcoming place for us in God’s kingdom. Knowing that Jesus is preparing and has prepared a place for us with God should offer us comfort and reassurance that God provides for us. What I hear also in this verse is the voice of hospitality, of being welcome to enter God’s kingdom as we are and no matter who we are. This message of being a welcoming community is certainly one our world needs to hear and where our advocacy for the marginalized is essential. We are all welcome into God’s kingdom; there are no walls, no stipulations or conditions that we must satisfy to live in God’s dwelling place as Jesus tells us there are many places we can live in God’s kingdom. We are blessed again, as Dominican Sisters and Associates of Peace to have a statement in the 2015 Chapter Commitments about “creating welcoming communities, inviting others to join us as vowed members, associates, volunteers, and partners in our mission to be the Holy Preaching.”
The final verse that I want to reflect on briefly is Thomas’ question to Jesus when he asks “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus responds by assuring Thomas that he can always be found by saying, “I am the Way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” We are reminded that when we are struggling to find our way or the truth in life that we can turn to Jesus and through understanding Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that we can know God.
As I end my reflections, I invite you to consider how each of us can continue our journey through the words of this poem from St. Teresa of Avila, entitled Christ Has No Body.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
As Dominican Sisters and Associates of Peace and as followers of Jesus’ teachings, we are called to be Christ’s hands and feet as we pray, study, minister, and live in community. We are here tonight to affirm our commitment or recommitment to preach a message of hope through our words and actions. We are here to proclaim that we are willing to be Christ’s hands and feet, so that all of God’s people may come to know and trust in God’s love for each person and to create a better world for everyone. May God bless our paths as we continue our journey and may we trust in God’s providence to work in and through us for the greater good of all God’s people.
Why do I say that? Is it because I don’t think God is listening? Is it because I don’t think God cares? Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just that praying for peace won’t work because we think that’s all we have to do. We think if we pray long enough and often enough that will do the trick. We believe that God will bring the peace. But peace doesn’t come.
Jesus said: My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John: 14-27)
But we are afraid. We do not behave as those who trust in God. We take a defensive position and arm ourselves both mentally and physically. Jesus said that he bestowed on us His peace. That didn’t mean that he was covering us in an impenetrable Invisibility Cloak like the one Harry Potter had. He meant he was putting his peace in our hearts, but we don’t accept it. We don’t live like people who are at peace. The only way the world will know peace is when those of us who have been given Christ’s peace share it. To do that, we have to nurture that peace within us so that the peaceful response will be automatic.
I don’t have my head buried in the sand. I know how violent this world is, but, I also know that peaceful solutions must be found. Peaceful solutions must be spoken. Take, for example, the issue of refugees. Amid the turmoil caused in Europe of thousands of refugee pouring across borders, Pope Francis said that if every Christian Congregation in the world took in one family, there would be no refugees.
We are not listening. We have allowed the agents of fear and distrust to cloud our vision. When we read scripture, we see that Jesus was a victim of the violence of his world on purpose. He could have avoided it, but he chose not to. Was he naïve, or was he setting an example?
It seems to some of us that we would be more peaceful if we had a gun. Violence is the easy answer. Consider at the time of Jesus’ arrest. Peter, who had walked beside Jesus for three years, tried to fight them off by grabbing a sword and cutting a man’s ear off. Jesus quietly said, “No, Peter” and calmly re-attached the ear. The words, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword” must have rung in Peter’s head the rest of his life.
Don’t get me wrong; I know what courage it takes to be peaceful. Most people inherently know how dangerous the peaceful path is, but it is still the only way.
The Dominican Sisters of Peace, with whom I am honored to be associated, have one message: Be Peace. Pray with them, that God will continually remind you that his Peace is within and you have the power to bring peace.
A few weeks ago, I drove past a church with a sign describing it as “an intentionally welcoming community.” It was not the first time I’ve witnessed the message nor was it the first time my thought response was “Duh! Shouldn’t all churches be intentionally welcoming communities?”
I do understand that the message is intended to cultivate inclusivity by inviting people of every age, economic condition, ethnic and racial background, physical and mental ability, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity into the community.
I thought I had put the idea of “the intentionally welcoming church” out of my mind, until last week, when I heard about the tweet from our Commander in Chief advising that “the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
(Sidebar: Interestingly, the tweet came on the 69th anniversary of President Harry S. Truman’s executive order to desegregate our troops.)
The tweet brought the whole notion of the open and affirming statements of churches of intentional welcome back to the forefront of my mind because those statements tend to focus on extending an invitation to LBGT people, who have experienced exclusion and lack of welcome.
In fact, some branches of our church family have been downright hateful toward LBGT people.
What would Jesus say or do?
I believe Jesus would say let’s meet, greet, welcome, and love everyone. And I believe that Jesus would do just that – meet, greet, welcome, and love everyone.
I felt a need to intentionally repeat those four words – meet, greet, welcome, and love – because I have learned that sometimes “The Church” has selective hearing.
I guess that’s why churches need to say out loud that they are “intentionally welcoming” – to remind itself of the duty to meet, greet, welcome, and love everyone.
I am convinced that if we can bring ourselves to a place where we respect the human dignity of all persons, we can begin to take steps toward a more peaceful world — a world in which labels no longer divide and separate us.
Labels make it easy to view people as different from us. They make it easy to dislike the people we view as different from us. They prevent us from seeing one human family. They prevent us from building relationships. They prevent us from being understanding and compassionate.
I have evolved from my “Duh!” of a few weeks ago to an “Aha!” moment of thinking that the intentional welcome message is as much for the people inside the church as the people outside the church.
Inclusivity and welcome should be hallmarks of “The Church”. But until we truly get there, perhaps reminders are necessary.