Bearing Fruit

– Br. Michael, ofm

 

Nine months ago, I became part of an ecumenical prayer group. Our group of four meets online several times a week to pray together. Each gathering is a unique experience and expression of faith. The four of us come from four different Christian denominations and vary in age. This has enhanced our gatherings and the diversity of what it means to be Christian and Church. I think the four of us would each identify as seekers building on ancient traditions, practices and relying upon mystics both near and far, current and of history. We each bring a healthy curiosity to our prayer and dialogue. We also bring favorite authors and theologians who inspire the situations from which we come to prayer. One member is inquisitive, another reminds us of gratitude, and another helps us to linger in the sacred moments of silence. It is indeed rich and bearing fruit.

Nine months in we may not be birthing an ecumenical document or a guide to prayer, but we are birthing a common home for Christians from four walks of life. Together we tune into the Divine Love of our Creator God, the anchoring of our savior Jesus Christ and the continual promptings and nudges of the Holy Spirit.

I have been thinking about this gift of prayer in this group as we begin Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year the theme is “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (John 15.5-9).

This theme for Christian Unity is manifested in our prayer group. We abide in the love of Jesus Christ by trusting each other with our stories and inviting him as our common anchor. We abide in love as we voice prayers and concerns not just for each other but for our families, our communities, and our countries. We abide in love as the words of the prayers become balm for our weary hearts and inspiration for the work which is ours to do. When we abide in love, we then indeed bear fruit in the communities in which we live. We bear the fruit of open hearts for those we encounter. We bear the fruit of welcome and hospitality because we have offered it to each other. We bear the fruit of mystical hearts being transformed because the Spirit is binding us together as we bear witness to the divine love of our God at work and present in our lives.

These simple weekly gatherings of prayer are indeed a witness of God’s abiding love, bearing fruit for the kingdom. It also brings to mind the words of Jesus, “that all may be one” (John 17.21). Here we are four people from four different Christian heritages and we our bound together as one. Our common anchor of Jesus Christ makes us one. We don’t see the division of denominations as a hinderance. In fact, our differences have been one of the riches and is where the seed is being planted for more fruit bearing. I can’t help but wonder if this would not be the way to move forward with Christian Unity.

These prayer gatherings have also reminded me of my small rural town where I grew up. Ninety-eight percent of the community was Christian while I was growing up. In my hometown there are three Christian Churches and yes, we all went (and still do) into our own buildings to pray in certain ways on Sundays but yet were able to come together as a community to support each other. During feasts and festivals, burying the dead, supporting the needy, encouraging the youth and value the contributions of each towards the community and coming together at times to pray, mourn and celebrate. Is this not abiding in love? Is this not bearing fruit? If this not being one?

Too often we use Jesus as the dividing factor instead of the common anchor. Jesus isn’t just for me or just for you or just for them. When we do this, we divide Christ instead of building up his body. When we fail to acknowledge this and push our own agenda we fail to abide in love and bear fruit. It is time for us as Christians to appreciate our diverse heritages, to accept what we offer to the encompassing title of Christianity and to build the kingdom together as one with Christ Jesus as our cornerstone (Ephesians 2.20-21). This is the work of abiding in love and the benefits are fruit which will last, will be shared, and will be sustained. It is time… let us be united in the abiding love of Christ Jesus as our world continues to struggle, so together we all “shall bear much fruit.”

Photo credits:

Jose Alfonso Sierra

Maja Petric

Ben White

Mateus Campos Felipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baptism: The Treasure of the Beloved

– Br. Michael, ofm

 

Before and for ever after

Enduring presence is

Love’s gift to each of us

Offering assurance and dignity

Vast in generosity

Ensuring that each of us are

Declared as “Beloved Child of God”

At the baptism of Jesus, the voice of God states, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1. 11).  This affirmation by God of Jesus is an affirmation that we in turn all receive for Jesus as “God with us” embodies our life. Our story is part of his story and his story is part of our story. Being declared beloved is a bold statement. It looks beyond our pettiness and struggles, it looks beyond our sinfulness and selfishness, it looks beyond our failings and shortcomings; looking directly at our inherent goodness. The goodness that we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1.27) is a gift for each of us. This gift declares we are imitators of God (Ephesians 5.1) through the actions of loving one another as Christ has loved us (John 13.34) and in being a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6.19). Here we find ourselves at the centre of the lavish love of the Trinity. Yes, beloved indeed! Each one of us, not just Jesus but because of Jesus.

As Christmas fades to a memory and the New Year musters up speed and courage, we carry forth this gift of being beloved children of God. Christmas awakens us to the promise of God dwelling with us. This dwelling among us is not just for a day or a season but in the living out of our baptismal promises and life. We are the followers of the One born among us, born for us, living in the new kingdom where the cross and resurrection awaken us to the belovedness of each person. We are the followers of the One who loved, welcomed and healed and continues this today through us. We are the followers of the One who trusted, who bolded declared mercy and who we are sealed with in baptism. This can’t just be for a day or a season or in the best intentions as year begins but in the everyday and ordinary.

New Year resolutions come and go, well thought out plans seem to gather dust and our attempts to rise above the mundane seem to stumble. Regardless of all of this still our God remains with us and simply says, “Come and follow me, my beloved child.” As we lean into our belovedness and experience the generosity of our God, we in turn share this generosity – declaring how others too are beloved and valued. It does not matter where we come from, how big or little the bank accounts are, what the color of our skin is, the thrill or disappoint of leadership and governments or the skills and talents we have: beloved is beloved. In being beloved we too help others declare they are beloved. We must look at each other with the eyes of God, the heart of Christ and the openness of the Holy Spirit. This is the treasure (and dare I say responsibility) we carry, ponder and live because of our baptism.

Image: MRJN Photography

 

 

 

 

Epiphany: A Great Start to the New Year

– Br. Michael, ofm

Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6, however various Christian sects celebrate it anywhere between January 3 and 19. This feast sometimes known as “Little Christmas” is a beautiful reminder of Christ – our Emmanuel – being made known to the world, through the visit of the magi. It also ushers in the dignity of our baptism and our call to be messengers of peace, hope and light. Both great reasons to continue to celebrate Christmas time!

 

Isaiah 60:1-6 is one of the scriptures ascribed to Epiphany. It is a rich text and reminds us of the light given to us in Christ and the light which we have been entrusted to carry. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” is how this text begins! What a great reminder as we begin this New Year. What a great reminder as we claim again who we are as God’s beloved children. What a great reminder that our God is indeed with us in the chapters of this year just unfolding.

365 opportunities, I was reminded on December 31, to share in God’s love and build the kingdom. Epiphany calls us to see that each one of us hold a treasure. The start of a New Year, even the start of every month is an opportunity for us to evaluate how much we have encountered God’s love and how we have shared the treasure of our light. May we, this year focus on our treasure-light bearing moments as our first reflections each day and each night instead of what was not or the burdens which we face. “Our light has come.” Let us walk in this light today (just as the magi did) and each day of 2021.

 

In closing for this first reflection of 2021, I share with you the heart-felt prayer of my dear friend and prayer companion Melita. Melita is an amazing child-care provider and continually allows herself to be in wonder and awe of God present. She crafted this prayer in the early part of New Year’s Day, it spoke to me and were the words I was looking for, I know they will be a blessing for you as well.

A Prayer of Reflection and Gratitude

 

Heavenly Creator,

I offer this heart song to you.

Hello New Day! Hello New Year! We’ve been expecting you … waiting for you. We wonder what you might have in store for us. Will you bring more of the same? Suffering, unrest, division, anger, fear? Yes, surely that is to be expected. The world we fell asleep in last night, is the same world that we woke up in this morning.

This morning we are still in a global pandemic. There is suffering due to natural disasters, racial and social injustice, and political corruption abounds … there is evil, violence, prejudice, and hatred throughout the world. Yes, same world … same burdens.

But what you offer, 2021, is a new hope. An opportunity to look at things with a fresh set of eyes, an open heart and helping hands … a new perspective. You offer a promise that as long as there is a new day, we have a chance to begin again.

So, on this New Year morning (in these early days of this New Year) that welcomed me with a spectacular sunrise, urging me to step out and forward into the day, on this glorious morning, I say Thank You!

Thank you, Divine Love, for the year that was …

– For the drive and motivation

– For the Divine Light that led me

– For the upset, pain, stress, that continues to strengthen bonds and carries us forward into new, loving ways of being

– For the incomprehensible, amazing, life changing, enriching spiritual movements that propelled me throughout this year

– For the technology that has kept us all connected during lockdowns

– For front line workers who have sacrificed and endured, and continue to do so, caring for the sick during the pandemic.

– For God’s Divine Love and Presence, ever strengthening, always enduring, and guiding

Thank you 2020, for the Holy Darkness that came and magnified the Light. It brought Love and the hope of a new day. Thank you, for the enduring, everlasting light that continues to bring promise and hope of a new day, into this New Year.

Let us not forget 2020. May we hold in reverence the pain and darkness that was encountered this past year and offer gratitude for the gifts of blessings and goodness that came into light.

Thank you, Glorious God – Loving Creator, Nurturing Mother.

In the name of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, I pray.

Amen

 

Happy New Year!

May we be brave enough to let the light fill all our days in 2021!

Happy Epiphany!

May the star also lead us to the crib of Christ and beyond, enlightening our steps forward.