Slingshot in Hand

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Photo by Felix Russell-Saw on Unsplash

We all know the story told in today's first reading: that of a boy named David who, armed with nothing but a slingshot and a stone, shoots down a giant Philistine named Goliath. It's a pretty impressive feat, and one that's called upon often to encourage us to fight in the face of impossible odds.

Well, I don't know about you... but if someone sent me into battle in David's day with only a slingshot and a stone, I'd probably say, "Um. Aren't you forgetting something?" I'd think about all of the other soldiers who have ever gone off to fight, donning protective armor and sporting swords. I'd think of how much more experienced than me they all were. I'd think of how much taller and more muscular than me they all were. If I were going to have any chance to succeed, I'd have to be like them, I'd think.

Then I'd probably cry.

Most definitely, I would run.

So you can see how this scenario would not have had the same inspiring end if it were me.

Fortunately, David doesn't indulge in the comparison game, even though Saul tempts him to: "You cannot go up against this Philistine and fight with him, for you are only a youth, while he has been a warrior from his youth." (1 Sm 17:33, NAB) You'll never compete, kid. Might as well give up now.

But David insists the Lord will keep him safe, and Saul relents: "Go! The Lord will be with you." (1 Sm 17:37, NAB)

And David goes and shoots Goliath right between the eyes with one of his stones: "Thus David triumphed over the Philistine with sling and stone; he struck the Philistine dead, and did it without a sword in his hand." (1 Sm 17:50, NAB)

Mic drop.

But this isn't just a story for young, small, or weak people who need to know they can stand up against giants. This is a story for all of us who might feel we don't have enough to complete the mission God has set before us -- a mission that nobody else can fulfill.

Henri Nouwen writes, "We are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can... We will never find our vocations by trying to figure out whether we are better or worse than others. We are good enough to do what we are called to do." (Bread for the Journey, January 17 reflection)

We are good enough to do what we are called to do.

Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it this way: "There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that."

So, friends: be brave today. And don't worry about whether or not someone is stronger or faster or more experienced than you. Or has more followers on social media. Or has a more impressive resume, or the kind of job you want, or the family you wish you had, or (fill in the blank with your own answer). 

Just bring your slingshot and take your giant down anyway. "Be who you are, and be that well," as St. Francis de Sales once said.

You are good enough to do what you are called to do.

Now get out there.  

Not Today, Satan.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Photo by Chad Greiter on Unsplash

For Christmas this year, I received a proper grown-up alarm clock, and the excitement I've been feeling about it is indicative, I think, of the degree to which I've "arrived" at adulthood. But before you go on thinking that I whooped and hollered over a dinky little digital clock, let me tell you about the beautiful contraption known as a "wake-up light". Designed to slowly gradually introduce you to increasingly intensified light during the last thirty minutes of sleep, it supposedly primes you to wake up more refreshed when the alarm does at last go off and the lamp is at its brightest. And get this: you can even choose to awaken to the soft sound of birds chirping, instead of a grating buzzer.

I know. I basically feel like a Disney princess when I wake up in the morning.

But what this means is that I can now leave my phone happily charging in the living room every night when I go to bed. And I no longer feel tempted to look at it first thing in the morning, which usually puts me on the wrong side of the bed before I even get out of it.

Instead, I've been waking up with my journal and Henri Nouwen's devotional, Bread for the Journey. With a short meditation prepared for each day of the year, the book gives me a chance to ground my thoughts in God's truth before being bombarded with all of the other extraneous noise of my day, which fights to pull me, harried, in a hundred other directions.

Yesterday, I penned the following words in my journal after reading them: "The temptation is to get stuck in our negative emotions, poking around in them as if we belong there..." As if we belong there. Meaning: our natural state is one of not belonging to negativity.

In today's reflection (January 10) Nouwen prescribes the solution for the self-criticism and "self-rejection" born from negativity: humility. Humility, as he defines it, is not self-deprecation, or the desire to minimize our gifts so as to please everyone or seek approval. It is not acting "less than" or trapping ourselves in debilitating thought patterns for the sake of not appearing proud. Rather, it is "the grateful recognition that we are precious in God's eyes and that all we are is pure gift. To grow beyond self-rejection we must have the courage to listen to the voice calling us God's beloved sons and daughters, and the determination always to live our lives according to this truth."

I mulled these over with yesterday's potent Gospel reading from Mark, in which Jesus casts out a demon in the synagogue. The man possessed has just spoken some rather hostile words to Jesus, who responds by calling out the demon directly: "Quiet! Come out of him" (Mk 1:25, NAB).

I am imagining the power Jesus exhibited in that moment. I am envisioning how the whole room must have fallen silent enough to hear the rustling of Jesus' robes as He moved toward this man. I am trying to feel for myself how awestruck and dumfounded (and maybe even frightened!) they must have been to witness the Son of God's incredible ability to drive out the demon in His presence. Can you imagine standing by while this happened?

The craziest part of all of this is that we actually have this power, too.

Say what?! 

Yep. We, endowed with the Holy Spirit, get to call on that very power of God to expel the demons in our own lives.

For me -- and probably, for you, too -- Satan's envoys take the belligerent shape of negative self-talk, just as Nouwen highlights in his devotional. You're not ____ enough. You can't do this. The voices in our heads can be so mean, and for whatever reason, we indulge them!

Can we make a pact to end that now? Because let me tell you something. Those voices? They definitely don't come from God. The "truth", as Henri Nouwen so comfortingly reminds us, is that we are God's beloved.

We are God's beloved. 

We are God's beloved. So much so that He gives us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist at every Mass.

And you know what that means.

It means our bodies are living tabernacles, filled with the actual Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ Himself, of this Person who drove out demons. We can call upon the full power of God, literally present in our very selves, to drive out Satan when the Enemy's criticisms pummel us once again. We can return to the truth of our belovedness in God's eyes, and begin walking toward a fuller understanding of our truth.

Quiet, Satan. Not today.

Come out of me.