Episode 8 of "Encourage Each Other", a weekly encouragement from Willwoods Community and Dumb Ox Ministries.
It seems to me that for some reason, our culture today is especially anxious about the future, often day-dreaming and dwelling in never-ending “what if” scenarios. I know I’ve been stuck in these loops. So how do we get out? Well, I think typical conventional wisdom would go something like “take it one day at a time,” which can certainly be a healthy way to slow down and process things. I think the Church would say, “pray about it.” As cliché as these answers are, I think they’re both right. Let’s consider some practical advice from Scripture and from some of our great saints.
Episode 7 of "Encourage Each Other", a weekly encouragement from Willwoods Community and Dumb Ox Ministries.
(Sr. Eden Marie wrote the following letter upon receiving her habit and new name as a Sister of Life in July 2019. We are sharing it with her full permission.)
This name was first spoken to me a year and a half ago, and since then, it has continued to bloom and take on ever newer and deeper meaning in my own heart. Therefore, I feel very poor in being able to explain it to you…mainly because it is still much of a mystery to me, since within Eden Marie lies the mystery of who I am, the “great idea” that prompted my life to be created by God, which is ever unfolding!
First of all, a religious name speaks of a person’s identity…it touches on who someone is as a unique and unrepeatable human person. Therefore, Eden Marie is not the negation or end of who I was; rather, it speaks of the deepening of my identity. This new name is simply a flourishing of my baptismal name: Sharon Marie. In Hebrew, “Sharon” means fertile field, so literally “Eden” is the blossoming of this fertile field! It is His promise that He is indeed making me a new creation…that He will “make [my] wilderness like Eden.” (Isaiah 51:3)
Also, a religious name speaks of one’s mission - the unique way that God will use me to transform and heal the world. This is where the mystery of Eden Marie begins to baffle me, so I will do my best! I’ll first share what it means theologically, and then what He’s revealed to me personally.
Swaddle and Shroud - The Life & Death of Jesus, Amy Heyse
Robots are taking over the world. This is what certain filmmakers and businessmen would have you believe. Is it true? Is this possibility a legitimate source of fear?
Artificial intelligence is all around us. It's easy to take it for granted. There are simple ubiquitous forms like Siri and Alexa. There are more extravagant forms like IBM's Watson computer which competed in "Jeopardy!"... and beat some of their strongest former champions! Recently I was getting some tech support from my internet provider via text message. I'm still not sure if it was a real human texting me or just an automated Artificial Intelligence program.
I have a student in one of my advanced high school Computer Science courses, and in his spare time he writes a program that appears to "learn" and refine its own strategy for playing games like checkers and chess. Pretty impressive for a high school student! As a teacher I get overly excited when it comes time to teach my students how they can program a computer to "make a decision." Without this capability, computer programs would either be: (1) a lot less interesting, or (2) a lot more difficult to create.
Episode 6 of "Encourage Each Other", a weekly encouragement from Willwoods Community and Dumb Ox Ministries.
The Good Shepherd, Henry Ossawa Tanner, c. 1914
John 10: 1-10
“Do you despise the fact that you’re a creature?”
Many of us when faced with this question might quickly answer, “no, of course not. I know I’m a creature.” Hold on for a moment and let the question sink in. Let’s dig a little deeper. I had to face this question a few years ago at a retreat and I ended up spending the entire retreat wrestling with it. When I confronted the question and was in place to be brutally honest with myself, I had to answer “yes.” I despise my own creatureliness.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and many of us might be tempted to stay on the surface as we consider what this means for us. We might be tempted to remain on the pastoral imagery…the grass, the water, or the rolling hills. If this is where the Lord has you in your prayer, then stay there. However, I want to challenge us to go a little bit deeper. When the Lord compares us, his followers, to sheep, I think he was being more literal than we sometimes give him credit for.
You and I are creatures…we are literally made to follow another. In our hyper-individualistic society that prides itself on being self-made and independent men and women, this is a hard pill to swallow. We actually sometimes believe that we can live by the mantra of “you do you, and I’ll do me.” The irony is this is pretty much impossible for us. We may claim to be free of the tyranny of others’ ideas and influences, but we will ultimately end up following something or someone: a new philosophy, self-help guru, political or social ideology, religion…you name it. Just look at social media, which many see as the “great medium” through which we can be whoever we want to be, the space of self-expression. Yes, even here, we “follow” one another: the profiles and posts of friends, pages, groups, politicians, religious figures, and yes, maybe even Dumb Ox Ministries. I’m not passing judgement on the fact that we are followers, my point is that we follow because it’s built into the very fabric of our being. We can’t escape it, and if we dig deeply, we’ll realize that sometimes we don’t like it. Just like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we have a tendency to rebel against it. We want to grasp at power that isn’t ours to possess, and power that we cannot handle.
What does it mean to be a creature? It means that you and I have been created a certain way, with a certain purpose, for a particular end…and you and I don’t have the power to define these things for ourselves. We can definitely try, but when we rebel against our own creatureliness, we end up at odds with our very nature…at odds with ourselves. Coming to terms with this is a difficult process for all of us, regardless of where we find ourselves on the spectrum of faith. Here’s the GREAT NEWS: in light of the Gospel, embracing our creatureliness in no way inhibits our freedom. Our God is not a tyrant who lords his power over us and forces us into servitude. Our God is good, who promises that if we follow the way marked out for us, it will lead us to the fullness of human flourishing. In other words, we will be full to our capacity and happy beyond our wildest imaginations. Embracing our creatureliness makes us free. Perhaps we're in need of a paradigm shift, and some images can help.
Following Christ is less like this:
...and more like this:
I don’t know about you, but I find tremendous freedom in knowing that there is already a path marked out for me. I don’t have to wander around on an endless search for what will lead to happiness. I’m not left to figure out the meaning of life on my own. I don’t have to feel the pressure to figure out who I am because that was determined long ago when God chose me from all eternity to exist. I find tremendous freedom even in the boundaries set for me because my good God knows what is best for me and what will lead me to authentic happiness…and when I do fall and step out of the boundaries marked out for me, I find tremendous freedom in knowing that I am not powerful enough to mess things up that much. Neither I, nor my sin, have that much power and I thank God for that.
“You do you, and I’ll do me”… that’s way too much pressure. If we try to live by that mantra, we'll end up getting crushed by the weight of it. We run the risk of being unhappy, bitter, and incapable of joy. We’ll end up chained within the prison of our own ideas and the ideas of whomever we end up following that day. Let’s drop the yoke of self-reliance and self-determination, friends, and let’s put on a new one: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11: 29-30). Let’s surrender to the fact that we are creatures, followers by nature, and let’s not just accept it, but embrace it. Let’s embrace our Creator and the path already marked out for us by Christ. Let’s be sheep, and all will be well.
We are beyond blessed with an amazing community of teens, young adults, priests, consecrated men and women, and families who are striving to live out Christ's invitation to authentic love and who have gifts to share their journeys through writing.