Posted by: goodmorningmystic | September 23, 2021

Angels Among Us…

Angels Among Us…

Chubby babies? Ethereal women in gossamer gowns? Warriors in Chariots of Fire? What are angels and what are they for?

I confess that I don’t know much about angels.  I’ve never thought about them very much.  They’re not on my radar.  But maybe they should be…

Why?

The story of Elisha in 2 Kings 6: 8-17 is a good place to begin in order to answer this simple question.

*Before we begin, let’s get to know Elisha.  He was a young protégé of Elijah, who was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Old Testament prophets.  When Elijah died he gave Elisha a double portion of his power and Elisha went on to perform twice as many miracles as his mentor.  Elisha held the office of Prophet of Israel for 60 yrs.  We see him in his role as advisor to the King in the biblical account below.

I note that I was going to paraphrase this story but on second thought, the Word itself has tremendous value so I’ve presented it as written.  Here goes:

Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”

The man of God (Elisha) sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.”

 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God.  Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.

11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”

12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”

13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.”  The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.

15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.

19 Elisha told them, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria.

20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria.

21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?”

22 “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow?  Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” 23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.

This story of Elisha and his servant and the deadly threat from the enemy Arameans is about the ability to know the difference between illusion and truth; and it’s about fear and courage.

Elisha’s servant is petrified at the sight of the Aramean army at the door.  Horses and chariots, oh no.  Death was imminent.  How on earth would they survive?

We know what happens when you act out of fear.  The outcome is generally not good. 

Elisha was concerned for his servant.  It was important that the servant “see” the truth, that they were safe and protected; it was a matter of life and death.  The servant’s fear and lack of courage would have betrayed Elisha to the enemy.  His fear would most certainly have endangered his own life. So Elisha prayed that the servant’s eyes be opened and he saw their salvation…the army of angels.

And as the Arameans advance toward Elisha he prays to God to strike them blind. 

Blind. 

Now, were they literally sightless?  I don’t think so.  It would have been pure chaos, right; blind guys at the reins of horse and chariot.  I believe the “blindness” was a mask to the truth.

We know what happens when we are led unawares, blinded by a lie.  The outcome is rarely good.

But in this case, Elisha spared the Arameans. Why did he do this? He says the the Arameans had been delivered to Israel by a spiritual force and not by the sword of the King of Israel.  It was for God to determine their fate. I note that even though the Arameans ceased to harass the Israelites for awhile, they returned and laid siege to Samaria which resulted in a great famine. Anyone who says that the Bible is boring has not read the book.

Anyway, this particular story in 2 Kings is about faith.  With faith we can see.  Without faith we are blind.  When we walk with God, we see the Truth.  When we don’t walk with God, we are blinded by lies. 

And the angels in this story?  They are there to protect.  They bolster confidence.  They move us to trust.  They inspire faith.  Their message…be not afraid. 

Fear is a powerful force.  It keeps you from God.  You look inward and not upward.  Elisha told his servant, “Don’t be afraid.”  And then Elisha prayed and the Lord opened the servant’s eyes.  He saw the Lord’s protectors standing at the ready and his fear dissipated.  Everything changed.

There is an element of fear at play when you don’t want to open your eyes, when you don’t want to see.  It takes a willingness to trust and a bit of faith to let go and perceive the truth.  When God opens your eyes, there’s no going back.  You can’t “unknow” what you know.  Everything is changed. 

Elisha already saw the angels; it’s why he wasn’t afraid.  But the servant didn’t see them and Elisha knew that the servant needed to see them in order to conquer his fear.  Elisha prayed that the servant “see” the truth of their situation.  The Lord had sent his angels to help.  God was on their side. 

He’s on our side, too.

We can live fearlessly in faith – not recklessly – because we are protected.  

I should probably pay more attention to angels…and the One who sent them to me.

***

*I note that Ancient Aram was a historical region located in/around present-day Syria, Southeastern Turkey and parts of Lebanon and Iraq.

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | September 17, 2021

Perpetua

We’re back in Africa; this time in 3rd century Carthage (located near modern day Tunis in Tunisia).   And we’re going to dig into the life and heroic example of a 22 year old martyr who died on March 7 in the year 203 A.D.   Her name was Perpetua.

Let’s briefly examine her story.

Perpetua was a well-born, educated and respectfully married Roman woman who had just given birth and was breast-feeding her infant son.  She is targeted by the authorities who know she’s a catechumen.  *I note that at the time of Perpetua’s arrest she was not yet baptized. 

Perpetua refuses to denounce her Christianity.  Her influential father throws himself at her feet.  “Perform the sacrifice,” he pleads.  “Have pity on your child!”  Perpetua can’t do it.  And so she is condemned to death.  After several weeks in prison, Perpetua is finally sent into the arena where she is tortured, trampled by animals, and eventually has her throat cut to end her life. 

Perpetua recorded the experience of her imprisonment, along with her powerful visions, in an autobiography known as the Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas. Who is Felicitas?  While in prison Perpetua met a pregnant slave who was also a condemned Christian.  They became united in their suffering and their faith; thus the inclusion of Felicitas in the account of Perpetua’s story.  A redactor (an editor of sorts) finished Perpetua’s journal after her death.    

So…why meditate on the life of Perpetua? 

I want to understand why someone so young and with so much ahead of them decided to give it all up for God.

Now, we all know what a martyr is and we’re familiar with the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire which began in the 1st century AD and continued, on and off, until the year 380 when Christianity was made the state religion.  I note that modern day martyrs abound; 2019 was one of the bloodiest years for Christian martyrdom thus far.   

Back then as is true today, martyrs were, and continue to be, a curiosity.  It’s difficult to imagine the sacrifice that these people made (and continue to make)…and for what?  What is so important that one is willing to suffer?  Why don’t these principled people just do what their oppressors want of them and live to fight for their cause? 

Those who want the martyrs to just “go along to get along” don’t understand the resistance, the wholehearted conviction that cannot be ignored…or denied.  You know what they say, “once you know the truth, you can’t unknow the truth.”

When you read Perpetua’s journal you feel her conviction.  Her strength.  Her faith.  Her trust in God.  Perpetua is not just another Christian woman who was arrested and then dragged into the arena to be tortured to death as a strong warning to anyone considering a conversion to Christianity.  She was a woman who understood the Truth. 

We know the “hill” that Perpetua chose to die on.  It was Truth – with a capital “T”.

And I ask myself…could I do what Perpetua did?

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | September 11, 2021

St. Thaïs…Pioneer Mystic

In the course of doing some research on reclusion in the Middle Ages, I came across a 4th century Egyptian woman named St. Thaïs (pronounced “thigh-ees”).  She is considered to be the first know female Christian anchorite. I dug a little deeper and found that, like most saints, Thaïs had a checkered past and a conversion experience.  Don’t we all. 

Here’s her story:

Thaïs was a successful and well-known prostitute/consort/courtesan/concubine (take your pick, no one knows for sure).    Her uncle, St. Paphnutius (Paf-noo-tious), goes to Thaïs and talks to her about God.   She repents, gathers everything she has earned through her sins and burns it all in the marketplace as a very public token of her break with her wicked past.   She asks Uncle Paphnutius to lock her up in a “cell” so she can live her life as a recluse.

*I note that a “cell” can be a little house or other dwelling, usually with a window through which the recluse would communicate.  The point of a recluse, back then as is true today, is that the recluse did not leave their “cell” however communication occurred quite often.

On with the story. 

St. Paphnutius wants to be sure that he’s done the best thing for Thaïs so he consults with his friend, St. Anthony of Egypt, another famous recluse, about his penitent niece.   St. Anthony, along with a few of his fellow desert monks, go to Thaïs and together they pray to God for enlightenment.  These men were not afraid of being connected with Thaïs.  They wanted to help her.  One of the monks receives a vision and it is decided that they should support Thaïs in pursuit of her desire to withdraw from the world in order to seek God.

Thaïs stays in her cell for three years. For some unknown reason, St. Paphnutius sets her free from her reclusion.   St. Thaïs does not want to leave her cell but is obedient.   She goes to live with other women who have consecrated their lives to God (these days we call then nuns).    

Thaïs dies in peace two weeks later. Yes. Two weeks later.  Everyone believes her death is a sacred sign that God has forgiven her sins and has eagerly welcomed her to her heavenly home.  This is the end of Thaïs but not of her story.

It turns out that Thaïs the anchorite was a bit of a superstar in her day.  Over the centuries there have been numerous stories written about her, including a novel or two, and even an opera.   

Today our modern day superstars can be found on Instagram or a sports field or other such public places.  They are famous for being extroverts, people very much “in” the world and “of” the world.  But St. Thaïs was different.  She gained her status by rejecting the world.  She was once very much “in” this world…and then she was not.   

We know that things get off balance when we are too much “in” the world.  We know this because we know the Truth.   

In the Gospel of John 17: 14-21, Jesus says this to his Father about his disciples:

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I am not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them away from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  Just as You sent Me into the world, I also sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, so that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”

This is not just about his disciples…it’s for us, too. Jesus continues.

 “I am not asking on behalf of these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

I guess this is just another way to say…we’re all in this together.

Back in the 4th century it was considered an act of extraordinary spiritual strength to live the life of a recluse.  I think this is true today as well.  It’s easy to be led.  It’s dangerous to be distracted.  Sometimes, as with St. Thaïs, we need to step back – way back – and seek solitude.  Like St. Thaïs, we may be called to be a recluse, of sorts.  And as previously stated in Scripture above, people will think you’re strange if you withdraw from the world in search of Truth. 

Remember, Jesus often sought solitude.  It seems as if the apostles were always looking for him.  He went “away” from others to pray.  He got up early and went to the mountain to be alone with God.   He went out into the desert – alone – for 40 days.

So, do you want to seek the Truth?  Do you want to be a mystic? 

Then turn off the electronics, separate yourself from others, and get with God. 

I’m not endorsing extreme solitude or asceticism which can be dangerous.  Today as in the Middle Ages, and all the way back to 4th century Egypt, it was never advised that the recluse be left alone.  Someone was always supervising to ensure that things didn’t get too out of control.   

Just know that like the apostles and saints, you can be “in” the world but not “of” the world.  You can seek the existence of realities beyond human comprehension and be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

*St. Thaïs is venerated in both the Roman and the Eastern Orthodox Church.   Her feast day is October 8.

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | August 31, 2021

Judith…

How do you know God’s will?  Is it the same as your will?  What if God’s will is not your will?  So, who’s in charge?  Are you in command of your life or is God a puppet master pulling your strings?  And can you make a deal with God to change things in your life?  Can you give God an ultimatum?

When these types of questions wedge themselves in your mind, I encourage you to read the Book of Judith.  It offers one of the best lessons in the Bible on how to view the will of God in the context of our individual lives and in course of salvation history.

So, who was Judith?  Was she a real person?  Did a Jewess (the meaning of the name Judith) really decapitate the fierce Assyrian General Holofernes and bring peace to the Israelite people for one hundred years? 

Scholars have concluded that the story of Judith is not historical.  Rather, it serves as a spiritual teaching to remind the Jewish people that God had not forgotten them and that He would continue to intervene in salvation history for the preservation of Jerusalem. 

The story takes place during the post-Babylonian Exile period.  Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (605 BC to 562 BC), had conquered Jerusalem.  He took many Jews captive.  Some Jews stayed behind in Jerusalem.  These Jews rebelled and did not support the Babylonian King in his war against the King of Media (ancient Iran).  Nebuchadnezzar decided to punish the Jews for their infidelity to him by sending the powerful and fierce Assyrian General Holofernes to crush them. 

Holofernes surrounded the town of Bethulia and cut off their water supply.  The people lost their faith that God would save them and demanded that the Jewish rulers, led by Uzziah, surrender to Holofernes.  Uzziah told the people that he would give God five days to help them, and if God didn’t step up , Uzziah would do as the people ask; Israel would surrender to the enemy.

Enter Judith, devout widow, whose fidelity to God makes her a greater warrior against the Assyrians than any Jewish man in Bethulia.  Judith tells Uzziah that it is wrong to “put God to the test, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs.”  Read Judith 8: 12-27 and she will teach you what it means to trust in God and remain faithful.  “It is not for you to make the Lord our God give surety for his plans.  God is not man that he should be moved by threats, … that he may be given an ultimatum,” she says in verse 16.  “He will hear our cry if it is his good pleasure,” she says in verse 17.  If it is His good pleasure…if it is His will.

The rest of the story shows us what it takes to participate in salvation history.  We need to recognize what needs to be done.  And if the job requires sacrifice, then so be it.  Brave Judith (and her faithful maid) walked into the enemy camp.  They were captured and then, after just a few days, the beautiful Judith tricked General Holofernes into a drunken stupor.  She cut off his head and brought it back to the people of Bethulia.  They hung the head of Holofernes on the wall of the town.  The Assyrian army were overcome with fear and trembling.  They scattered in all directions.  The Israelite warriors overwhelmed them and defeated their enemy. 

Judith lived to be 105 years of age.  The book ends with this verse.  “During the life of Judith and for a long time after her death, no one again disturbed the Israelites.”   

Judith’s spiritual lesson: employ unswerving trust in God and remain faithful to His holy will.  What is His holy will? 

It’s what happens.  And if you don’t like it or if it hurts, understand that it’s not personal.  It’s salvation history and you are a part of it.   

*Note:  You’ll need a Catholic Bible to read Judith.  Protestant Bibles do not include the Book of Judith (or Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Tobit and Wisdom).  

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | August 25, 2021

Ruth

Naomi lost everything; her husband and then her two sons. She knows that she must also suffer the loss of her two daughters-in-law.

She tells Orpha (not Oprah) and Ruth to return to their families.  They are young and they can marry, they can have children, sons of their own.  They protest.  They don’t want to leave.   Naomi tells them that she is too old to marry and bear children. As such, she cannot provide these women with sons to marry.  She cannot be a mother to them any longer.  She blesses her beloved daughters and kisses them.  They “lift up their voices” together and weep.  Naomi tearfully sends them on their way.

Orpha leaves.  Ruth stays. 

Naomi counsels Ruth to look after herself, to go and have a life.  Ruth refuses.  She says,

“Do not press me to leave you
    or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
    and your God my God.
 Where you die, I will die—
    there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
    and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

I am moved to my core every time I read these two verses (Ruth 1:16,17).  To be so loved…

In the midst of Naomi’s unfathomable loss, God blessed her with Ruth, a woman who would not live her life without Naomi or her people or her God.  Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, not a Jew but a Moabitess, clung fast to Naomi.  There was no place else for her to be…in life and in death. 

The story of Ruth is one of true love, of commitment, dedication, and loyalty.  I am humbled to be reminded that God’s love is this love as well.  He is with me all my days, in all ways, unto death and beyond.

*Historical Note:  The Moabite were a tribe of people descended from Moab, one of two sons of Lot, the nephew of Abraham.  Lot’s daughters helped their father to become drunk and then had children through him, seeing him as their only option to bear children.

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | January 10, 2014

Darkness Into Light…

It’s been a long night.  I’ve been sitting here on the east porch waiting for what seems likes hours for the day to break.  Finally…the sky begins to change.   I watch the sun push its way up and over the horizon.   Slowly, surely, a bright white orb elbows the grey out of the sky and shines like a spotlight through the trees.  I squint and turn from the light.  It takes a moment or two for the sun to warm to the sky but then, there it is…the familiar, brilliantly golden comfort.  My eyes have adjusted to the light and I turn to face the new day.

Waiting, watching, hoping in the stillness…this is the first hour for me, a divine hour.  It’s no mystery why the sacred pre-dawn darkness is a prime time to pray.   This canonical hour is technically called “Prime” and was added to the Liturgy of the Hours by St. Benedict in the 5th-6th century.  Surely the urge to pray at this special time of day is far more ancient than St. Benedict’s time.

I wonder how many women through the centuries have sat in the dark to await the arrival of the sun…just like me?  I’m a twenty-first century woman.  I’m well aware of the earth’s rotation around the sun and yet, I’m relieved to see the new day.  I’m privileged to add my own daily sigh of relief to see darkness into light to the collective, to contribute my own prayer of thanksgiving for the feel the warmth of the sun on my skin once again and the comfort of knowing the day has begun.

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | November 16, 2012

The Well Women

My dear friend, Ladine Householder, will soon “birth” a book titled The Well Women, Crossing the Boundaries.

I’m always looking for examples of women who’ve fought the good fight.  Ladine’s book contains the fictionalized stories of nine contemporary women whose lives reflect the pain of loss and the possibility of healing via an honest spiritual life.  As Ladine says, all we need do is respond to the healing power of Living Water from Jesus.

The publication due date for this project is sometime in December.   Please go to her website at http://www.copperteapotpub.com/ and take a look.  I’m sure you will be inspired to become one of the Well Women, too!

 

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | March 5, 2012

The Witching Hour

Four-thirty a.m.  Why did I get up at such an ungodly hour?  Didn’t I know that if I got up at 4:30am I would surely suffer the torture of gravely eyes and groggy brain and groaning muscles by 7:00am? 

Wait a minute.  Did I say 4:30am was an ungodly time of day?  You know, there are those who claim that 4:30am is a perfectly normal and quite natural time of the day for women to rise and shine.  Really.  Four-thirty in the morning is called the “witching hour.”  Yes, that’s right.  Back in the day women would roll out of bed and stumble to the fire/hearth/whatever.  They’d light the fire and then sit around stirring the pot, round and round.  Stirring, getting warm, chatting – or not.  I suspect they’d have a warm cup of something to start the day.  How did a simple and necessary, everyday activity like women sitting around a cauldron in the pre-dawn darkness to make breakfast became a Halloween caricature? 

I imagine (isn’t too hard to do) that men who were not included in the chit-chat and whispers and laughter and prayer shared among the women at the fire were suspicious of this strange nocturnal activity.  What on earth were those women doing, those men wondered.  It’s the pre-crack of dawn and those women appear to be enjoying themselves!  They must be up to no good.  Up to something evil, those crazy women.

Did I say that 4:30am is an “ungodly” hour?  Silly me. The witching hour has come!  Get me to my cauldron!  Time to get to work!

 

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | January 11, 2012

Happy 600th Birthday, Joan!

Warrior, mystic, martyr.

It’s really difficult for a 21st century woman to understand how a young 17 year old peasant woman could have convinced the then uncrowned Charles VII, one of the claimants for the throne of France, to allow her to lead his army against the English.  She served in the French army for less than two years, just long enough to prevail on the battlefield and win Charles VII the French Crown.  Yes, things must have been very, very bad in France in 1429.  They needed a miracle.  They got one in Joan.

Born on Epiphany circa 1412 (or somewhere thereabouts, they didn’t keep birth records for non-nobles at this time in France), this 15th century woman received a message from St. Michael instructing her to go to the aid of France against the English during the later part of the Hundred Years War.   And so, after much effort to insert herself into the machinations of the French military leadership, Joan led several swift victories against the English which ultimately resulted in Charles VII’s coronation.  The matter of the disputed succession to the throne of France was finally settled.  You can imagine the enemies Joan made along the way, on both sides of the battle lines.  It was a mere matter of days after Charles VII’s coronation that Joan met her downfall. 

And so it was that Joan, or Jehanne as she signed her name, was captured on May 23, 1430, by members of the Burgundian camp during a minor skirmish.  I note that the Burgundian’s did not support Charles VII’s claim to the crown.  And so, since Charles VII did not provide ransom for the return of Joan, she was sold to the English government.  She was kept a prisoner in the men’s prison for nearly a year until she was tried for heresy and on May 30, 1431, burned as a heretic at Rouen, the seat of the English government.  Her crime had nothing to do with God or her claim to hear voices from the saints.  Her crime was a violation of papal law.  She had worn men’s clothes and armor on the battlefield. 

You see, warrior nuns posed such a problem in the fifteenth century that various popes established decrees against women engaging in martial combat in an attempt to weaken the power of the sisterhood.  It was a papal ban against women wearing armor that proved to be a technicality on which Joan was sentenced and burned to death when she was only 19 years of age.

Posted by: goodmorningmystic | January 10, 2012

Monastic Murmur

I just read a little blurb in a magazine where a woman stated that her worst habit was interrupting people.  She followed that little ditty by saying that her best quality was being a good listener. 

I laughed.  Really, this poor woman is so confused.  She can’t possibly be both a serial interrupter and a good listener.  It could be that she’s interrupting people because she’s clairvoyant and already knows what they’re going to say.   Probably not.  

No, I think she’s just trying to make herself look good by throwing in the listening part.  I know this to be true because I, too, am guilty of the terrible habit of interrupting people.  Admittedly, this interrupting behavior is immature but I would never admit that I was a good listener.   That’s the reason I interrupt.  I don’t want to listen.  Geez. 

I used to try and excuse the behavior as just one more loveable little quirk of mine.  I used to think I interrupted people because I was so engaged and so excited about the conversation at hand.  In reality I couldn’t help but butt in and cut the other person off.  Okay, I may be rude but at least I’m honest.  I find myself so bored with another person’s thought process – not to mention their inability to – spit it out – that I just cut them off.  Unable to endure one more round of bush beating I interrupt the other person’s train of thought because, simply put, I want them to stop talking and listen to ME!

 This is an annoying habit I would really, really like to change.   

What I would like to achieve is patience.  I want to maintain the staying power of your most attentive fan.  Hang on your every word.  I’ll soak up your wonderful way of putting ideas together and applaud your unique and creative mind.  My actual listening would sound like a quiet murmur, a hum of understanding and encouragement.   I would pay attention to you with a oneness that comes from living in the moment we share together.  I would find serenity in the moment. 

 It would be like a prayer.

 Don’t think I can do it???

 Libertas spiritus.

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