Friday, January 11, 2019

do not despise small beginnings

Do not despise small beginnings. A single seed became a verdant orchard. Every human life gestates and must pass through infancy before it can reach maturity. Relationship is built on simple, intent listening—a generous gesture that often goes unnoticed because it begins with a commitment to silence our own thoughts and words.

Respect small things. Don’t underestimate the potential inherent in hidden faithfulness or the kind word spoken to someone you may never see again. Patience compounds interest. Relatively speaking, a hug is only momentary but to the runaway who returns home and is embraced by her family again, it means eternal welcome. How refreshing it feels when we make a habit of saying to ourselves each day, “What new small thing can I learn today?” How often I forget to just keep learning, to stay open—yet, how good it is to do so! An apology can be short and sweet, but how hard it is for us to do just that small thing sometimes—yet what a difference it makes.

You never know what wondrous music might break forth by just starting with a few notes. Play the notes you can and trust that, when the time comes, you’ll know what to play next as you open yourself…to play—such a small beginning, such a small grace, the soul’s way of smiling.


…………..


do not despise small beginnings
by troy cady


*photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Thursday, January 10, 2019

my prayer for today

Father,
I don’t know what tomorrow holds
but I know your grace is enough
to carry me through today.

So, today I let go of fear
and ask you to strengthen me
with the assurance of
your good intentions for all.

Today, I let go of the hurts
that angered me yesterday;
help me to forgive and
nurse no malice towards anyone.

Today, let no bitter root grow;
let no despair be grounded in doubt.
Instead, let hope, praise,
and gratitude flourish.

By your grace,
I say no to confusion.
Jesus, center me.
Spirit of God, make me simple;
captivate my heart with your singular love;
saturate my mind with wonder for your truth;
direct my words and actions
to reflect your beauty.

Make me happy
to do even a small good today.
Show me how even the most mundane task
is infused with your glorious delight.

This day, I dedicate all my doing,
thinking, and speaking to you,
moment by moment—
let my every breath
be a gift I give back to you.
Help me seek first
not my own way but
your rule in my life—
and, as I do so,
provide just what I need for today
and protect me from harm
both from within and
from without.

Make me strong
in gentleness and humility.
Help me be willing and glad
to be that servant
who goes unnoticed,
who serves not for recognition,
but just for the privilege of serving.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds,
but I pray you grant me these graces
just for today.

………………….

my prayer for today
by troy cady

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Peter, on the twelfth day of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love said to me,

“Do you love me?
I know you believe in me—
but do you love me?
That’s all I want,
all I’ve ever wanted.
Listen: I see the many things
you do for me—all that work
borne of good intentions—
but I’m not asking you
to do more for me;
I just want to be with you—
I love you.
If you really need
to do something for me
to show me your love,
just do this:
notice me.
Look for me in others,
and when you see me there,
notice inside yourself
the thrill of recognition—
as if you’ve just found me
playing hide-and-seek
like a childhood friend.
Then, just tell others
how you see me in them—
because when you tell them,
you’re really telling me.
So, I ask again,
‘Do you love me?’”

My true love asked this
three times,
far fewer than the counting
of my countless denials,
but more than the
single measureless life
he gave for me.
Do I love him?
Yes, I do—
but I’m still learning
and I need help, so—
will you love him with me?

………………………….


Peter, on the twelfth day of Christmas
by troy cady
after John 21:15-19

January 5, 2019

Thursday, January 3, 2019

fractured beauty

when the moonlight
shattered on the
lake’s black ink,
stirred ripples
thickened
till crests multiplied;
countless tiny
waves shimmered
on the surface

it’s a wonder
what wind,
water and
attraction
can manufacture
but nothing
can match
the fractured
beauty
I behold
drowning
in you

……………………….

fractured beauty
by troy cady


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

the doorway

I am standing now
in your doorway,
wondering what will happen next.

These few brief moments of waiting
seem enough to hold
a lifetime’s worth of hope.

And I hope to encounter
just one thing—
your everything:
the sight of your friendly face,
and the signs of your welcome—
which I can hear now
are the sounds
of the forgiven company you keep.
I love your warm music
and bright laughter,
the way you listen with love.
The gentle grace
and understanding in your eyes
captivate me.
You know me already—
my failures and fears,
my doubts, insecurities
and all the tears I’ve shed.
You know every sleepless night
I’ve had—that’s when I
come calling, asking for help,
or just wanting to be held, and—

There you are!
It’s so good to see you!—

But, now that the door is open,
I must confess
I’m a little confused.
did I open it or did you—
and are you coming in to be with me
or am I going out to be with you?

…………………

the doorway
by troy cady
on new year’s day 2019





Monday, December 31, 2018

thresholds

Thresholds
by Troy Cady

I made my first conscious connection about the importance of thresholds in my early thirties when I worked with children from time to time. I was fascinated how the simple act of inviting a child to “get ready” for what they were about to experience in the next room had an incredible effect on the quality of their experience during the hour in question.

Yesterday, in fact, I had the privilege of being with a group of eight children between the ages of four and twelve. The focus of our time was to hear a Scripture story and “wonder” about it—or rather, to wonder about our place in it. Really, the whole time together is to be characterized by wonder. Because this posture of wondering is so all-encompassing, preparing to wonder is crucial. We call it “getting ready” and yesterday the children got “ready” before they even entered the room. Standing in the hallway outside the room, a helper blessed them with the gift of peace through saying, “The peace of Christ be with you.” Then, the helper asked each one, “Are you ready?”

When the child is “ready”, they enter one at a time and form a circle. Each one waits until the entire circle is formed as the others enter and eventually we hear the story in a spirit of wonder.

Some people think of this process as just another way to get children to behave, but we really do it as a way to honor the child’s own agency. Nobody can be forced to be “ready.” It is something only one can do for one’s own self, not for somebody else. Asking the question whether a child is ready gives the child a chance to be in touch with their own thoughts and feelings, to really consider: “Am I ready?”

Sometimes, the child knows they are not ready, so they answer, “No.” Then, they are given time, the grace and space to “get ready.”

In all my years (about 15 years now) of practicing this readiness ritual, I have yet to meet a child who did NOT want to “get ready.” Anticipation seems to be built-in to us, at least when we are young. Perhaps that is something we lose as we get older, if we get set in our ways and become suspicious of new experiences.

……………………

More than simply cutting us off from the old, “being ready” to cross the various thresholds of our lives helps us consider how the spaces from which we’ve come factor into the new spaces we’re entering.

It’s a mystery. One does not simply leave one’s old self behind when entering a new space, but nor is one chained to one’s old way of being when entering the new space. If we continue to practice this kind of ready openness, we are always at one and the same time who we’ve always been (the same) and new, changed, different. I like to think of it as a process of becoming more truly yourself.

………………………

Photo by Ronaldo de Oliveira on Unsplash
Openness is a good word to describe what it means to be ready to cross thresholds and inhabit any given space in a spirit of wonder. Indeed, those who regularly practice mindfulness or meditation as a conscious discipline will tell you that their spiritual and emotional exercise is predicated on one’s openness to be open.

It just so happens that as we cross the threshold into a new year, Christians are in the midst of the observance of the twelve days of Christmas—another threshold event that is all about openness. I marvel at how open-hearted God showed himself to be by becoming an infant. It’s a mystery how God chose to be acted upon, put himself at the mercy of our mercy.

To be open is to be moldable, shapeable. By becoming a child, God made himself available to be molded and shaped by people—parents and neighbors, teachers and laborers, friends and enemies. Jesus was no static individual. As he aged, he changed. There was both give and take in the relationships he shared. He inherited the traditions of his people, and we can be sure those traditions shaped who he was. And those traditions had even evolved over the years. In Jesus’ lifetime there was no small measure of religious creativity and spiritual flux to be found as different schools of thought rubbed up against each other and responded in kind. We tend to think of the religious environment of Jesus’ day as too fixed, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was a time of dynamic theological questioning.

And it was the radical openness of the nativity that inaugurated God’s new process of “becoming.” During Christmas we remember that God crossed the threshold between heaven and earth to inhabit the spaces of our world in a new way. The divine became human and “made his dwelling among us” by making the greatest crossing of all time. In so doing, he invites us to wonder whether the line between heaven and earth is not as big as we previously imagined. Indeed, the more we are in touch with the real world in which we live, the more we realize how thin the line is between the so-called “sacred” and “secular.” Because of this, Christmas is more than a time when we remember a historical event; it is an invitation to us, in fact, to make the same crossing he did. It is the past made present—and it is a present creativity that makes for a hopeful future.

Openness is a posture of childhood. It is a mindset that knows intuitively we have not arrived, there is still much to become. It is a looking, an anticipation, an enduring hope. During the Christmas season, as we cross the threshold into a new year, there is one gift we are all invited to open that will keep on giving: it is the gift of openness.

………………………….

When you enter a new space the only light you have is the light you have been given. Sometimes that light feels a little less than the light from the space you’ve left and sometimes that light feels a little more.

I have a confession to make: I often look around at others and envy the light they have. I know this is foolish, but I do it anyway.

When I compare my light to the light of others, I grow restless and inevitably try to twist myself into a shape that does not suit me. I want to become like that other person, instead of wanting to become more like myself.

When I consider this propensity more closely, I see that what I really want is not so much the light the other person has but the popularity and success they have. I make the mistake of equating light with fame, fortune and accomplishment.

But someone can be famous, wealthy and powerful…and still not be in touch with their own light. Indeed: fame, wealth and power are often…quite dark.

The light that is given to you, if it is your light and not someone else’s, can never be anything else to you but light. Even if it feels hard, even if it feels dim to you…if it’s you and yours, it’s light.

Being faithful to the light you’ve been given is an incredibly underrated virtue in our culture. We’re always comparing our story to another’s. We often wish we had the life of another. There’s a reason this saying is familiar to us: “The grass is always greener on the other side.” And all it takes is a little taste of what it’s like “on the other side” to discover that the light that is truly yours is the best light you can ever have. Just be faithful—for in faithfulness we reveal what the world needs more than anything else: our deepest, truest beauty.

…………………………..

Threshold events can be transformative. We often dismiss the power of short moments in the everyday and even when it comes to big thresholds (like the passage of one year into the next) we marvel at how quickly it passes. It all happens so quickly, we scarcely realize how much has changed. We quickly settle into a “new normal,” even when that “new normal” does not suit us or is not good for us sometimes.

The late psychologist and rabbi Edwin Friedman observed the effects of life cycle rituals in family systems: a baptism at the birth of a baby, a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah at the onset of adolescence, birthdays, graduations, wedding ceremonies, and funerals are just a sampling of the ways we mark thresholds in our lives.

Each of these thresholds spell change not only for the individual concerned but also for the entire family system of that individual. “Differentiation” is the term given to describe the change process. This change often leaves others who know you well feeling unsettled, and sometimes they will (consciously or unconsciously) respond in ways that try to get you to be your old self.

It’s tempting when this happens to return to your old self, but it is neither healthy for you nor them. Cultivating non-anxious presence is key to staying the course because it puts others at ease (everything is going to be okay) and because it puts you at ease. It’s fascinating that Friedman identifies playfulness as the single best sure-fire way to practice non-anxiety.

Thresholds are bigger spaces than they seem. Each one is big enough to hold an entire playground. In each one, we are able to stay connected, yet we are free to roam. Thresholds don’t have to be lonely places. Even death, as lonely as it is, can become a space of companionship. Hospice workers know this mystery very well.

The wonder of a threshold is that it is your threshold but you don’t always have to go through it alone. I wonder: as you contemplate the threshold of a new year…who might be a good companion for you?

……………………….

In Celtic spirituality there is a custom of blessing entryways. I think it is a lovely custom! Every home has many entryways, in fact. There is the entryway between the outside and the inside, but that is just the start. Within the home, there are also entryways for places that are used to rest, cook, eat, clean, befriend, learn and listen.

If you leave home and go to a place of work, there are still more thresholds to be honored. In cities, simply crossing a street can represent a profound threshold, a move from one space into an entirely different space.

Our lives are a series of thresholds. It is good to notice them and honor them because on the other side of each threshold are people who are going through their own spiritual, emotional and physical thresholds. Most people you know are just trying to find their own way with the light that has been given to them. To bless these thresholds is to try to understand the people who inhabit the different spaces around us.

I wonder how much change we’d see in this world and in ourselves if we adopted the practice of blessing every threshold we encounter? I think we’d understand what it means to live a life of prayer, that’s for sure! I’m convinced there is deep and ancient wisdom in the custom of hanging a mezuzah in the doorway.

As you consider the doorway of one year to the next, I wonder: what’s your blessing, what’s your prayer? Thresholds are good places for both prayer and play. They are good places to ask: “Who am I and how can I just be more…myself? How can I be true to who I’ve been and how can I be open to renewal, revision? What light has been given to me, how can I be faithful to it, and who could accompany me on this journey?”

I pray you enjoy the journey that the year to come holds. I pray you experience this threshold as a place of hope.

Happy New Year!    

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Suffering, Evil and the Nativity

Suffering, Evil and the Nativity
commentary on
the massacre of the Innocents

by Troy Cady

.....................................

“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those
on whom his favor rests.”
-Luke 2:14

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
-Matthew 2:18

There are two accounts of the life of Jesus in the Bible that describe the time of his infancy. The first is found in Matthew’s Gospel and the second is found in Luke’s. Mark’s biography begins when Jesus is an adult and John’s begins with a theological interpretation of Jesus’ life.
Each of the four biographers had different reasons for writing, so they highlight different aspects of Jesus’ life. In Luke, for example, we read of Caesar Augustus who had already been propagating his own “good news” for many years by the time the angels announced to shepherds a different “good news” message about the birth of Jesus.
Augustus’ good news claimed to be the salvation of the world but to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, and especially the poor and marginalized, it was oppressive. So, it’s significant that the angels (literally, “messengers”) give their news to a group of Jewish shepherds—a group regarded both by the Romans and their fellow Jewish citizens as “less than.”
Matthew’s account focuses on Jesus’ genesis in three stages through the figures of Joseph, Mary, Herod and a group of “Magi from the east.” The first stage tells of his birth and its basic meaning: his name will be Deliverer and he will be God-with-us.
Photo by Kat J on Unsplash
The second stage happens after Jesus’ birth when the Magi from the east have arrived to pay their respects to the newborn King. Herod tries to use them to get to the baby so he can put the child to death and preserve his own pre-eminence. When he discovers the Magi will not cooperate with him, he decides to kill all the infants in Bethlehem and its vicinity. In the middle of this second part, Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt with Mary and the child.  
The third stage portrays the return of the holy family to Nazareth, a small town in the northern province of Galilee in Israel, once Herod has died and the danger has passed. In Matthew’s biography, the next chapter flashes ahead to where Mark begins his account (with the scene of Jesus as a full grown adult on the verge of commencing his public ministry).

The Practice of Remembrance
Yesterday (December 28th) was a day when many Christian traditions solemnly remember the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. This is somewhat surprising since the day of remembrance always occurs in the midst of the twelve days of the Christmas feasting season. Having spent four weeks of Advent in a state of longing, lamenting the darkness all around and crying out for God’s light to break forth, Christians are relieved when Christmas day comes because it means that, at long last, they can break their spiritual (and, perhaps, physical) fast with an extended time of rejoicing.
The twelve days of feasting between Christmas and January 6 (Epiphany) thus hold an important place in the annual rhythm of spiritually re-enacting the entire story of Jesus (birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised coming again). This re-enactment is important because, for centuries now, it is the primary way Christians have “made disciples” of Jesus. That is to say, such a re-enactment is how Christians pass on and embody Christ from one generation to the next. More than a set of doctrines, Christianity claims to be a true, timeless and timely story around which one wraps their life and within which one’s life is wrapped. It’s a story that has happened, is happening still today and has yet to reach its complete consummation. It’s more than a history; it’s a present living orientation—an enduring reality for the Christ-follower—and a directive hope.
So, again, it is somewhat strange that, during this time of feasting, Christians would remember something so horrific as the slaughter of the Innocents. Why? Why remember such a thing during such a happy time?
Some might assert we remember it because it’s what happened; it’s part of the story of Jesus’ infancy—and, therefore, it’s part of our ongoing story. From that vantage, a closer look at the flow of Matthew’s account bears out some interesting and important perspectives concerning the gospel Christians proclaim.

How Matthew Tells the Story
Textually, the entire birth narrative in Matthew forms a chiastic literary structure, where the mass murder serves as a narrative fulcrum. Part 1 of the chiasm relates the redemptive significance of Jesus’ birth: his deliverance and immanence. Part 2 relates our response and the consequences that follow from such a response. Part 3 relates the return of the Deliverer from exile—a type of restored immanence.
Visually, we could lay the text out like so:

A- Good News
                   B- Bad News
A’- Good News

These three parts parallel three dreams that Joseph has.

In the first dream, the angel tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife: the child is God’s Son, he is to be named Deliverer, and he will be called The Nearby God.

In the second dream, the angel warns Joseph to “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt” in order to preserve the child’s life from the mass infanticide Herod is about to commit.

In the third dream, the angel tells Joseph to “take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel” now that “those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

The Magi and Herod only appear in the middle of this narrative arc. Like Herod, the Magi are wealthy and powerful, but that is where the resemblance ends. Everything else about them serves as a contrast to Herod; thus, Matthew uses this part of the story to establish the Magi as a literary foil for Herod. Herod has been in the midst of Jesus’ arrival all along, but the Magi have come from far away. Herod has missed the clues about the origin of the Messiah, but the Magi are wise. The Magi come bearing gifts for the child to honor him, but Herod wants to put the child to death—he seeks only his own glorification.
What’s more, the scene with the Magi parallels what Joseph experiences, thus tying the Magi to the redemptive thread that runs through the entire story. All told, there are five dreams, four of which are dreams of Joseph. Notice in the diagram below that the dream of the Magi occurs in the verse immediately preceding the second dream of Joseph. The dreams build, then resolve.
Structurally, the entire pericope looks like this:

Part 1 focus: the holy family
J’s dream to wed Mary
          Name the child “Deliverer”
          He will save us from sin
          He will be God-with-us

Part 2 focus: Magi and Herod, honor and attack
Part 2a: Magi guided by the star to Jerusalem
Part 2b: Magi meet with Herod
Part 2c: Magi follow the star to Bethlehem
Part 2d: Magi present gifts to the child
Part 2e: Magi dream not to return to Herod
Part 2f: J’s dream to flee to Egypt
Part 2g: Herod kills the innocent children

Part 3 focus: the holy family
J’s dream; family returns to Israel
J’s dream; family settles in Galilee

It is significant that the presentation of gifts by the Magi (gifts most people still recall today) occurs right before the Magi and Joseph flee from Herod. Scholars often note the significance of gold, frankincense and myrrh as it pertains to Jesus: 1) gold for a king, 2) frankincense for a priest and 3) myrrh as an embalming agent when preparing a body for burial.
But what is interesting is that the placement of these gifts at this point in the narrative suggests that the gifts also apply to the tragedy that immediately follows in the story. All three gifts, like the Magi, serve as a foil to Herod’s action. The gold would help them move and settle in Egypt. The frankincense represents the prayers that rise to the ears of God—in this case, the “voice” that is heard: “Rachel weeping for her children.” Finally, the myrrh is for all the children whom the Child held close to his heart when he gave up his own life for them. He chased after them all the way to the grave, to share with them everything he has.

Concluding Thoughts
The slaughter of the innocents is far from an inconvenient diversion when considering what kind of gospel Christians are called to embody and proclaim. Indeed, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, the tragedy occurs right at the heart of the story. Everything leads up to it and Jesus’ homecoming after it serves as a narrative resolution.
          Remembrance of the atrocity is important because it tells us that Jesus came right into the heart of the darkest places of our world. Though Luke proclaims “peace on earth,” Matthew portrays the need for peace through showing us the horrors we’re capable of committing. Matthew describes in vivid detail what Luke only hints at by referencing Caesar Augustus. Matthew tells us that Herod, placed into power by Augustus, showed us the true nature of Augustus—but Jesus (the Deliverer, God-at-hand) shows us the true nature of God.
          Matthew’s account presents no placid picture of redemption. On the contrary, he raises a theological problem that stretches faith to the breaking point: the good news contains the mystery of suffering—and this mystery unsettles us, causes us to doubt. Namely, we struggle to understand why the Father would deliver the Deliverer from the massacre, but not the other children. Surely, if God could speak to Joseph in a dream, he could have spoken to all the other families, too.
          “Why, God?” we ask—and in the asking, we begin to understand why the mothers (represented by Rachel in the text) weep ceaselessly, “refusing to be comforted.”
          I suppose the comfort takes some time to begin to settle in and this is alluded to by the fact that Jesus is no longer an infant when the holy family returns from Egypt. Still, he refuses to lay hold of comfort. We see this both in his exile and in the scenes that immediately follow (in which Jesus is baptized to face the trial of the desert).
          Though Jesus was delivered earlier, what makes him the Deliverer for others is his refusal to be “delivered” so easily. He faces what we face head-on. He knows hunger and thirst. He knows the desire for power (like Herod). He knows evil first-hand. And this is comforting to us, in the end, because it means he is not exempt from the kind of suffering perpetrated by Herod. He joined us in it; he chose it. Thus, he can, as Matthew records, “save us from our sins” and the effects of our sins.
         The Christian who would “remember” the story classically (by participation) is thus someone who sees the suffering of the world and enters into it because of love. The Christian who primarily thinks of their faith as a separation from the world would do well to reconsider it more as an expression of solidarity with the world. While it is true that such a faith is risky and can even put one’s life in danger, we can trust there is a Deliverer who has been delivered to us and for us. Having been delivered, it is this same Deliverer who calls us to join him in delivering the oppressed, threatened and helpless--to put our lives on the line because of love. My prayer after reflecting on this text is that we would keep the true spirit of Christmas, though it is far from easy to do so.