Sunday, March 30, 2008

Divine Mercy

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

-- 1 Peter 1:3-9
The words speak to perseverance in the present. They are a collection of words I need to have heard this very day. The various trials at hand—in mind, in body, and in spirit—test me like gold in fire. I must endure these bouts of desolation mixed with the rays of consolation so that my faith may not be poorly rooted in sandy soil but in soil that is both life-giving and life-protecting. If we are not put through sorrows there is no way we are to know the immense joys in our lives. There cannot be an experience of joy without feeling the sorrow that our earthly lives experience on occasion.

I have felt an indescribable and glorious joy, and daily I must call myself to rejoice in it, no matter what the current dissuasion might be. All earthly things will pass. Current dissuasions bring me away from the Truth before me, from His Will calling me to act in accordance to Him.

What I so definitely know is that these things—all of them—are firmly rooted. I know I must realize that I may be the captain of my own ship on the seas of life but that I am also captain of a ship with sails and therefore am bound to the will of the winds before me. I am no master of the universe, just one sailing amid the currents of this sea. Where I am to go, what I am to do is mine to decide, but I ultimately must realize and accept His Divine Mercy in my life and in my decision making. It does not excuse me from my wrongs, but it empowers to move on, to give more completely, to love more fully.

I see before myself the many great gifts the Lord has bestowed on me and might wish for them to remain with me forever more, but I do realize that I must learn to let go and love with an unattached love. I must be forever grateful for the acts of mercy in my life. Thanks be to God for His mercy. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

O Radiant Sun of Piercing Beam

The beauty of last night's Easter Vigil at St. Mary's was amazing, and I felt even before that moving event I had a poem that I had begun weeks ago that I needed to share here. Its opening lines came as I was driving back from Houston from my early vote weekend all the way back in late February, February 24th, and very much of which has been stated here was on my mind.

It was on the drive back that Sunday evening that the opening words came in quiet reflection. I was stuck on the first three stanzas, in various forms and line breaks for these weeks afterward. I even used had a different first line variation, but I knew what the message I wanted to send in putting these words to paper (and here amid the virtual space of this blog). I saw in the dying sun of that day, the beauty contained within—those fingerprints of God over all His creation.

I shared this poem with a friend on Thursday afternoon in a seemingly random encounter, but I know that nothing is of chance. Everything does happen for a reason. Nevertheless, I was at an impasse towards the end of the poem in the fifth stanza. I knew what I wanted to say but could not reach for it. It was when the next two stanzas came to me after she had given me a greater peace to move forward. Most especially among these the lines were the following:
To a love of compassion
Centered on your passion,
To a love that is assuring
And with your glory enduring.
The days have not gotten any easier, as challenges do not take a day off—even for Easter—but I wanted to at least leave with you this day these words that I find so moving. Because of the glory found in Him I find peace—a peace not of this world but a peace that is throughout this world evermore because of His dying and rising once more.
O Radiant Sun of Piercing Beam

O radiant sun of piercing beam,
How far away do thou really seem!

Your colors of orange
And colors of red
Do fill the sky
And so with thee wed

A beauty so mighty,
A beauty so bold,
That no greater beauty
Can ever be told!

Thy warmth, thy brilliance
Are forever transcendent;
Thy majesty, thy greatness
Give the whole world witness

To a love of compassion
Centered on your passion,
To a love that is assuring
And with your glory enduring.

As you set this day,
Like the days before,
I see your greatness
And so must adore.

The further your light descends
The more the reds of dusk blaze
That through your dying this day
You rise the next with glory to stay!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Week in Review

So the past four days have been quite eventful. The house we've worked on is in the Upper Ninth Ward on the corner of North Roman and Gallier. If you aren't familiar with New Orleans neighborhoods, the Upper Ninth is upriver from the Lower Ninth Ward—one of the harder hit areas of the city—by the Industrial Canal. Both are downriver from the French Quarter, separated by the Faubourg Marigny. The Upper Ninth Ward is also called Bywater. In pre-Katrina days the area wasn't the safest area of the city, especially at night. There was just as much violence, especially gang-related in the Lower Ninth, if not more. However, it is just as dangerous at night now in both as thieves run about trying to steal copper wires and other building supplies from those trying to recover from the storm, even two years plus since its fateful landfall to the east of the city. So are the times in post-Katrina New Orleans, very trying times.

In fact, we heard from our neighbor's contractor (who happens to be a Lutheran pastor as well) that he tasered a person trying to enter our house last night. In short, we had good reason to board up the windows each night after finishing work for the day. The neighbors were friendly nevertheless and our co-volunteers and SAFER people were even nicer.

The work was strenuous at times, tedious at others, and nerve-wracking at others. However, in the end of it was a satisfying work that was both manageable and meaningful at the same time. I can see both Wanda and Dorothea, her mother, better for our work these four days.

Monday was a stressful day because of the evening and some severe miscommunication that briefly ruined a blessed day. It was something that will eventually blow over that didn't affect the rest of the trip but drew me closer to my fellow St. Mary's volunteers.

Tuesday became a day of routines but good routines, nevertheless. We had crawfish in the evening and bonded even closer with our reflection times helping a great deal in this area.

On Wednesday we had the University of Miami (FL) join our house and so this made the accommodations a bit more crowded, but by today things were as such that much was accomplished because of the doubled up teamwork of more hands on deck.

If there were to be one thing learned from this trip is flexibility—flexibility in the Lord's plan—that and there's plenty that you can do with some Sheetrock, screws, and a whole lot of friends who want to give back to the community. Slowly but surely, with every screw in place and piece of Sheetrock hung, the city of New Orleans will return, but we should never lose sight of helping our neighbor in need without reserve.

Today I shared something that I had shared previously with my Texas friends while I was essentially exiled from the city and its culture and day-to-day activities especially the year after the storm. As a friend on the trip reminded during our trip to pick up the crawfish on Tuesday, much has changed in the city no matter how much I wish to think otherwise. Well, what I shared today was a taste of the pre-Katrina mess and an attempt to crystallize the goodness of the city despite all said by its detractors (and there were many who wanted it never to return).

I had not intended it to be a public show, except to my fellow volunteers, but in the end it became a public demonstration of my love for the city. I have all along, especially in word here, wished to note my love for the city of my birth. If I fail to do so, I have forsaken my own blood...this is how deep the consciousness of the city runs for me. It deserves its constructive criticisms—like all things it has its flaws—but I do find myself tied to the city, for better or for worse.

No matter what ends up being of that place of my first consciousness, of that Crescent City on the Mighty Mississippi, I hope that you, my dear reader, understand its intrinsic and priceless value it has for the country. I have tried my hardest to impart not only this to my fellow volunteers this week through my small insights on the city but also the value of its residents past and present—that they are of worth and deserve respect which has been lacking for multiple reasons, especially in the face of the tragedy by all levels of government.

In the words of the poet activist Nikki Giovanni of Virginia Tech on their sad tragedy last year of a different sort:
"We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech."
So too can be said of New Orleans, if not in word but deed these very days. I dare say this approach to mourning has been as such in the city's countless jazz funerals before the storm and since where "we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again." We celebrate life as much as we mourn it and as much as we reflect on it. Much is still to be done for this respective tragedy, and much has been done—but only so much, a drop in the proverbial bucket. We must not rest for we are called to help those in need, in distress, and in torment. We must for if we do not, no one shall. We must.

I wanted to come to the city not as a local but as an outsider to give back without reservation or expectation other than to work—and to work with my whole heart. I am happy for the decision, for a productive Spring Break, for an enriching week, and for the love that shone during this trip...what a week!

Praise be to God!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Faith in Action

In going into this week, I find myself at a crossroads both personally and within my hometown. How am I to grow? What is most needed is a heart of unattached love. I go thinking back to what I want and what I actually need, but it does all go back to love: Love of God, Love of Neighbor, and Love of Self.

How are we to love God if we do not first love our neighbor? And if we are to love our neighbor then how can we if we do not first love ourselves as unconditionally as God loves us. For we must first know who we are and what we can give before we can give it away.

I hope that on this journey I can learn what it is that is needed to give a fully unconditional love—an unattached love not only to the neighbor in the faces of the citizens of New Orleans but those of the whole world.

What comes to mind is my previously posted poem, Unattached Love, this time with a new meaning— that of a city calling out:
There are some nights I wonder
And wish all things were clear
And that my heart didn't ponder
On those I love so dear.

I sit amid the darkness and pray
For the burning silence of my heart,
For a quiet desire that won't go away,
One that has been here from the start.

I close my eyes this night
And pray for the strength
To love with an unattached love,
With a heart that can let go...

When dreams that were once reality
Go aimlessly floating away.

Today started out in a refreshingly hectic sort of way. With the time change I was left in a compromised sleeping situation, but it did turn out in spite of all the circumstances into a joyous morning. I have been trying to paint a picture of what I am searching for and for what I am hoping to improve within myself during this journey of service, of compassion, and of love.

This picture was most clearly crystallized in the Sunday Mass at St. Peter Claver in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans.

If you've never been to New Orleans before or have but don't know much of its history, let me fill you in a bit. The city from its beginnings has been a predominantly Catholic faith-filled community. And its individual communities within have traces of this fact, even its African-American ones. From the city's founding the liturgical calendar has traveled right beside the civil one. This fact is a crucial reason for the resonance of the Mardi Gras celebrations over the years—the true one celebrating the joys of life—in this wonderful city.

What I saw this day at St. Peter Claver was something I've never seen firsthand in all my years in New Orleans before. In hearing the words of the story of Lazarus before the Mass and during the Mass from the Deacon, I knew of those words' resonance to the community and its current situation. These words called for a faith in action. What I saw and heard this morning testified to this and to the Truth. The opening hymn was so incredibly moving for I heard, in the voices of the church's Gospel choir, the trust of the community in the Lord, a trust so fully in the Lord. It mattered not the troubles they have already traversed or have yet to traverse because they are the Lord's and, like Lazarus's family, they trusted in Him to show them the Way: that He is the Resurrection.

We spent the remainder of the day seeing the city as I have seen several times before, but through it all and still now I heard those inspiring and comforting words of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection, and saw Him moving through this dark time for the city to bring it into a bright new day. We cannot do anything with regards to the resurrection of this city because it first begins with Him and through Him there is Life.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Now Begins Our Journey

He summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them."

Then they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

-- Luke 9:1-6

We're driving into the city at this point and much—so very much—is on my mind. However, the above passage came to mind while on the drive from College Station to New Orleans. We are now in town for Spring Break to help the city of my birth, my hometown. We're reaching Loyola University where we're staying, and now visible is the view of Audubon Park across the street at sunset. It's such a beautiful view at this time of day. How have I missed all of it so in these many years that have passed.

We're almost to our home for the week; I know for certain we shall not need to shake the dust from our feet.

Now begins our journey; now begins the time of my life.

Monday, March 03, 2008

"...And I Shall Be Healed..."

There has been much movement this past weekend. In spirit, in demeanor, in love... All things have moved in some facet or form. It's unbelievable to speak to because, number one, I was not expecting it; and number two, I felt it so visibly this weekend.

It was my eleventh Aggie Awakening, tenth as a staffer, since coming to Texas A&M and College Station in the Fall of 2003. And the more I staff the retreat, I notice a growing sweetening sorrow, a joyous feeling of sorrow, a wistful sorrow. I can feel the old dying away. I can see the new coming forth, but there is much hope, and as we know, hope does not disappoint. For hope in the Lord is one of the most powerful things in this world.

Hope is seeing the good with the bad and not rejecting the bad things that do happen in one's life but accepting them and thus carrying on in joyful movement. For we cannot live in the past, the past is gone as soon as we experience the present. We are to live for the future, whatever that may be. Living is something to be embraced and not neglected. For we must have a buoyancy to bring to others in our daily lives, a sentiment of hope, a peaceful hope of joy even in the face of sorrow. For if we live only in sorrow and not the joy of the Lord, we are lost to the world around us, a world full of hope.

I've tried to relate this to my retreaters as best I could that each of these Awakenings are different, distinctly different in how they individually touch each retreater and staffer, but in the same breath the same Spirit is moving within all. It is a magnificent sign of God's grace.

There shall always be sadness on this earth until the end of time, but if we are clothed in the Light, if we are Children of the Light, if we become Light to this darkened world, this world of darkness, do we finally see the face of the Lord, our God. Peace be unto you, the saving peace of Christ Jesus.