Wednesday’s Word

Be inspired and encouraged with a weekly reflection on God’s Word and every day life.


So I Just Listened

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Recently, the grounds men who mow our lawn noticed the sound of a new bird song.  They could not identify it but we all enjoyed listening to it. There are many birds in our yard and I have written about them a few times. So I went looking on YouTube to try and identify the bird and also found a Mary Oliver poem that I had tucked away.  I love her poems and she asks: is not the sound of a bird a prayer? Is not my listening, a prayer? Just for fun, listen to the bird song of a wren here.

Mary Oliver’s poems inspire me very often. This image of just listening, of holding her pen in the air is as if she is suspended in belief. Belief that the world is capable of goodness; belief that God’s Word is always being spoken.  A favorite scripture passage is Isaiah 55: 10-12.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

After learning this so many times, I realize once again that prayer is listening.  Some days it’s listening to a bird’s song. Some days it’s listening to a person share a story.  Some days it’s watching the news and hoping I do not despair of a better world.

Mary Oliver and the unidentified bird reminded me that God’s Word is always being spoken, all around me in every sight and sound. So sometimes I just listen.

Here is Mary Oliver’s poem:

I happened to be standing

Mary Oliver

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Darkness Filled the Sky

Sr. Pat Thomas, OP
Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

So, where were you and what were you doing on Monday, August 21, from noon until around 3, depending on your time zone?

Some people paid thousands of dollars to be in planes 35,000 feet in the air; some planned their whole vacation around it and went to  Oregon or Missouri or Kentucky or South Carolina and gave a great boost to the economies of some small rural towns most had  never heard of before; some paid hundreds of dollars for a pair of special glasses, and some, like me, paid $6.99 and prayed the glasses were the right kind; some climbed mountains or went to the deserts and prayed to the gods for protection as the sky darkened more and more, and some hid as the birds stopped singing and animals became a bit confused—was it night already?

Yes, nature gave us quite a show (really awesome in “the path of totality”) and reminded us that we are such silly humans if we thought we could control all of creation. This was another reminder that we exist in nature, we do not own it. There have been total eclipses many times in history and salvation history, we just might not have been alive or in the right place to see them, but that does nothing to diminish the mystery of how it happens and why. A lot of us see nature, in all its forms, as one of God’s greatest mysteries. Many of us do try to harness her energy or divert her rivers for our own convenience, when will we ever learn….it just can’t be done. Most of us have been feeling overwhelmed by anger, sadness, frustration and disappointment over the events of the last few weeks, but Nature has given us something to revel in, to marvel in, and to be humbled by, all in of  about 2 minutes.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Charlottesville: It Is Time to Disempower and Defeat White Supremacy

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

I had prepared a different blog this month, ready to hit the send button, but the events in Charlottesville, VA, this past weekend made me rethink it.

The death and injuries in Charlottesville were a direct result of white supremacists, a.k.a. domestic terrorists. No mistaking it as anything else. The legal protest was called because of the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a hero to the supremacists, and an open threat and reminder of brutality to so many others. The march was clearly a conspicuous display of white supremacy aimed at demonstrating unfettered racism and an in-your-face attack on blacks, Jews, and other minorities.

The person who drove a car that pushed another car through a crowd of counter protesters was no accident; it was a deliberate act of murder.  At least 34 people were hurt, Heather D. Heyer, 32, was killed and two Virginia State Troopers, H. Jay Cullen, 48,  and Berke Bates, 40, died in a helicopter crash while on duty that day.

So much of the race problem in America was laid bare in Charlottesville. It may be legal to publicly express your views in this country, but as so many political leaders and commentators expressed it, it is unacceptable to be a white supremacist, Neo-nazi in America. This could not be more clear and I could not agree more. You should too.

Under the banner of free speech, hate speech is nothing more than hate and it not American. It is against everything we value as Americans, whether Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or atheist and President Trump should be saying just that, clearly, and unequivocally. He is not.

White supremacy is white privilege on steroids. We need to call it for what it is and recognize that different forms of white supremacy have led to a perpetuation of inequality economically, socially, politically, in education, in health care, and under the law for African Americans since 1619.

White supremacy, a perceived entitlement, led to the violence in Charlottesville, a supremacy that the KKK uses to perpetrate violence against blacks. Fueled by an irrational fear of being overwhelmed by people who do not look like them, the KKK has been emboldened by the rise of the Alt-right, empowered by the silence of the Republican Party and by the flaccid leadership of Mr. Trump, who has said nothing to disavow the actions of the Klan in Charlottesville. These are the people who helped get Mr. Trump elected.

As people who embrace nonviolence and the pursuit of peace, we must find ways to disempower and defeat thugs who are clearly engaging in domestic terrorism. We have to treat it as a threat to national security and an assault on the fundamental values we hold of human dignity, freedom, and security.

How do we do this? I suggest two ways. First, remind yourself of the values we stand on by listening to this excerpt from the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech of Dr. Martin Luther King. You will surely remember and be inspired.

Secondly, speak up. Call, write, email your elected leaders to publicly condemn white supremacy as a hate crime and thank them if they have already made a public statement. It is time to call it like it is and prosecute the KKK and other hate groups as domestic terrorists. Urge your representatives to push for prosecution.

Being people of peace, we espouse non-violence. But nonviolence is not weakness.  It takes great courage to denounce hate and the rise of hate demands a strong clear voice that stands up for everyone who lives here no matter how they came here.

Can you sense that I am angry? Yes, I am. Today I contacted my congressional representatives and governor’s offices to thank them for speaking out against this violence (which they all have done clearly and without hesitation). I encourage you to do the same wherever you live and make the voices of peace and nonviolence heard.

Nonviolent responses to evil are not easy or swift, and we need to be in this for the long haul to disempower hate.

Posted in Wednesday's Word

What’s in your backyard?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Have you ever found money in a pocket that you forgot was there?  Didn’t you feel great?  Even if it was just a little bit, it still felt like a windfall.  That’s the feeling I pick up in today’s gospel with the buried treasure and the pearl of great price. There’s an excitement and anticipation of wonderful things to come.  I felt like that recently when I read this quote by St. Thomas Aquinas from his Summa Contra Gentiles, “The role of the wise person is to meditate on the truth, especially the truth regarding the first principle and to discuss it with others.”  Does it sound familiar?

Later in the Summa Theologiae, Thomas would apply this concept to religious life saying, “the contemplative life is, absolutely speaking, more perfect than the active life, because the latter is taken up with bodily actions: yet that form of active life in which a [person], by preaching and teaching, delivers to others the fruits of his/[her] contemplation, is more perfect than the life that stops at contemplation, because such a life is built on an abundance of contemplation, and consequently such was the life chosen by Christ.” Thomas makes a case for the importance of contemplation but also how one should share the insights with others. “Contemplare et contemplata aliis trader” – to contemplate and hand on to others the fruits of contemplation.

I think of contemplation a little like searching for buried treasure. Most of the time when we meditate, nothing happens – there’s no treasure in the field. But every so often, we experience the gold of understanding, a pearl of wisdom or a diamond (with it’s many facts) of new insight.  Even if we don’t find anything, we empty our minds of our own thoughts and expectations and make it ready for God.  This openness may lead to a revelation when we least expect it.  When we do come across it, it’s marvelous, exciting, divine.

The importance of contemplation cannot be underestimated. In an address to the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2012, Archbishop Rowan Williams stated “[Contemplation] is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom…it is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world…To learn contemplative prayer is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly.” (Richard Rohr Meditation: Revolutionary Contemplation. July 11, 2017)

We are invited by our generous God to participate in this essential prayer and, as Dominicans, to share the fruits of that prayer with the world.  The Dominican charism compels us to share our fruits, which our ‘unreal and insane’ world desperately needs.

Mysterious yet generous God, lead us to your buried treasure. Give us the patience to wait and the tenacity to keep going.  Reward us with fruits of our contemplation and courage to share with others those fruits.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Everybody Lies

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Recently, I happen to be shopping in a Kohl’s Department Store and was standing within ear shot of a woman whose cell phone was ringing. She rummaged through her purse, found the phone, and said: “I’m in the doctor’s office.”

George W. Bush lied when he claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bill Clinton lied when he said he did not have “sexual relations with that woman”. Then there was Bernie Madoff who hoodwinked billions of dollars from innocent believers in a Ponzi scheme. (Come to think of it —Ponzi was a liar too.)

The 1919 Chicago White Sox deliberately threw the World Series for money.  If you ever watched the TV series “House”, you know that “everybody lies” is the protagonist’s modus operandi. The apostle Peter lied when he told the woman in the courtyard he did not know Jesus. So lying goes way back.

The June 2017 issue of National Geographic did a cover story on “Why We Lie.” Although I wondered why National Geographic would write this kind of story, I found the research fascinating. It explored the landscape of human motivations for lying.

We lie for many reasons: to cover up a personal transgression, to avoid people, to gain financially or for personal advantage, to give someone a positive impression, to make people laugh. But there is nothing funny about our lying —we get good at it by the time we are eight years old.  It’s a complicated aspect of being human.

Robert Feldman, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, said, “People are not expecting lies, people are not searching for lies and a lot of the time people want to hear what they are hearing.” We tend to accept lies that affirm our world view. Until something strong enough comes around to convince you otherwise, it’s really hard to change your mind once it’s made up.

According to the National Geographic story, we do not recognize lies when we hear them for the simple reason that we expect people to tell the truth.For example, the article notes, if someone claiming to be from the IRS called you on the phone, you would likely believe that the person on the phone was from the IRS if your Caller ID said it was the IRS. This is true, even though Caller ID can be manipulated.

If information does not fit your worldview you tend to ignore it or avoid exploring it. Add social media to the mix and we arrive at the notion of alternative facts, fake news. This is what makes today’s world so challenging. Much of the reason for alternative facts and fake news is money. People may not realize it, but if you click on that sensational headline, someone out there is getting paid.

So what are we to do? We Dominicans, who profess to pursue the Truth, preach the Truth, are particularly sensitive to this issue of what is Truth. Ahh, that’s the kicker, big Truth and little truth, big Lies and little lies. The Truth, the absolutes we all depend on, are being buried under an avalanche of fake facts, schemes and ulterior motives.

Matthew 7:20 “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” This text seems to offer some light to me.  Does the story or statement you hear lead you to a greater good? Or are you left confused by the information?  We should be able to trust our instinctive judgments about the truth or falsehood of an idea.  But today, that’s getting harder to do. I did feel quite confident that I was not in the doctor’s office when that woman in Kohl’s answered the phone.

Sometimes a lie is obvious. At other times, we have to work harder to distinguish a lie from a falsehood. This makes all the more necessary our pursuit of the truth on so many levels.

(Please note: On the July 27, 2017 Leadership Webcast we will use zoom technology to interact with each other on the topic of fake news. Be sure to tune in at 7:00pm and read the suggested “Seven Tips to Spot Fake News”.)

Here’s a prayer that might help:

Dear God, Source of Truth, help me to be discerning in all that I read and hear and please remind me to listen for the deeper truth, one that elevates the common good,  the greater good. Remind me to ask questions of my sources, and not simply accept ideas that confirm what I already believe. Stretch my willingness to evaluate what I read and recognize when it leads to deeper truth in me and a greater good for the world.   Amen.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word