I was painting at a watercolor event in Australia’s National Gallery of Art. The guests of honor were descendants of Albert Namatjira, well-known Aboriginal watercolorist who walked on in 1955.
They were 3 beautiful older women with sun-bronzed skin. They sat quietly and painted, not really talking at all. The rest of us were dying for some direction. Should we just stand and watch them paint? Should we start painting? What should we paint? Our minds were active, nervous, excited…
Suddenly one of the women, whose culture has survived for over 60,000 years, called out sharply: “Pay Attention!!” We stopped and then truly started to listen.
We have plenty to pay attention to: racism, sexism, Covid-19, ecological destruction, immigration, homophobia, the killing of Trans people, the proliferation of guns and violence, armed and active hate groups. We recognize that we are not just observers but we too participate in these systematic failures. This causes us great sadness, depression, and grief.
As persons of faith, how can we live like Jesus and walk faithfully in difficult and fearful circumstances?
In today’s Gospel, the disciples spent 4 nights in a boat on watch in turbulent waters; they were sick, tired, and cold. Suddenly they see Jesus walking toward them on the water. Peter was exuberant and impulsive and asks Jesus if he too could walk on water, because he wants OUT of the boat and the tumult within. But when he jumped out and starting walking toward Jesus, he faltered. He felt how strong the winds were, became frightened, and began to sink. “Lord save me.” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter.
As thinkers and feelers, as professors and preachers, as healers and givers, mothers and daughters, the urgent and life-threatening issues surrounding us can cause us to become overwhelmed and begin to sink, just as doubt and fear overcame Peter.
Indeed, if we don’t live from within our own centers of connection and communion with God, we’ll go spinning along with the circumstances of our lives. And we start sinking.
How can we hear the voice of God and be centered in love and renewed in spirit?
In the first reading, God was not found in the thunder, winds, or fire.
“After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak” 1Kings
I am talking about the Speech of God that is paradoxically found in the tiny whispering sound, the whispering that can only be heard when we are quiet.
The first moment of silence is to Pay Attention. Pay attention to what is happening around us, and, equally important, pay attention to the restful and rejuvenating quiet space within our hearts and souls.
We can focus on the most beautiful gift of our breathing and listen. In these quiet moments, we make ourselves available and totally open to the very ground of our being. Quieting the mind shows us that we are part of the Horizon of God’s love, that the very root of our being lies in God’s loving Being. Our imaginations help us create those God images. A few weeks ago, Sr. Christine Burke preached on this platform and painted the beautiful image of Jesus as our companion, sharing our burden. It is a profoundly comforting image, to walk with Jesus and know he helps carry our burden. It is an image we can strive to maintain.
In silence with the Being of God, we experience our divine identity as delightfully loved by God, unconditionally and eternally. The truth is that you are a chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace. Hence we are renewed and energized again to be sent off to recreate the world. The only way to be “woke” is first to pay attention and then be quiet.
Simply pull your thoughts away from the world at least once a day and pay attention to the quiet within. Have the eyes to find the gates of heaven everywhere. Silence helps us see those gates. There is a promise here.
That still point, that everyone has within, helps us see that every moment of our lives is reverent. Resting in the love of God not only changes us but also invites us to take on the injustices and systematic oppression in the world. It gives us the spirit and courage to Show Up.
This is not an easy time and many of us are going through painful cognitive dissonance and trauma from the virus. We strive to let go of untruths and unlearn destructive beliefs. We have to live through the ravages of the virus and the unknown. But God is the Ultimate Paradox: as counter-cultural, as wounded healer, the Great Includer of all. There is a promise here.
May our hearts be infused with tenderness and kindness toward ourselves. Then we learn how to be with the poor, powerless, despised, beaten, and demoralized. Kinship is the community of love, in unity with God and the world. This kinship has necessary outcomes: support of the poor, pay attention to the sick, and work for the dignity and freedom of the oppressed.
Quiet prayer is to sit and look at God while God looks at us with love. Here can we find the centered courage to speak the truth. What happens next is up to us. The possibilities are endless: volunteering, playing music, political revolt, writing, art, speaking the truth, sharing our wealth, working for justice and peace, truly living life!
Let us allow our silence to show us the gates of heaven everywhere in life. And then we can be like our martyred little brother Elijah McClain, to whom many pray as an angel and a saint, who was inspired by everything in life.*
Let us Pay Attention in our stillness, to the world, to the recreation of kinship and love. Let us Pay Attention so we can we can BE the promise we’ve been given.
*Elijah McClain died after the Aurora, Colo., police restrained him with a now-banned carotid hold in August.
Emily R. John, Ph.D.
Emily R. John, Ph.D.
Emily John currently lives in Milwaukee, WI. Throughout her career, she has striven to use her talents best to serve the poor. Initially, she served as Co-Director of the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She received her MA and PhD from St. Michael’s College, Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto. Her master’s thesis was on Karl Rahner, SJ and her dissertation was a feminist analysis of the theological anthropology of Langdon Gilkey. After briefly teaching, Emily moved gratefully instead into administration and directed Camillus House, the largest homeless shelter in Miami. After this, she became head of Institutional Advancement at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Upon returning to Milwaukee, Emily directed Outreach and Development at St. John’s Cathedral, where she raised money for and directed the Open Cafe, providing daily meals for the homeless and working poor. Since 1990, Emily continues to work for the Cardinal Felix Foundation, raising funds for the poor on the Caribbean islands of St. Lucia and Dominica. Emily also enjoys playing piano and watercolor painting, having had two successful one-woman shows. At 63 years of age, distance biking has morphed into electric biking and racquetball has moved into throwing the ball for her dog, Brady Street. More peaceful now, Emily has slowed down from her A-type personality to one who spends more time in the stillness.
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