Christian Spirituality for the Final Third of Life

Shame and the Cross

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12, NIV.

Since returning to the Catholic Faith of my youth a few years ago, I have been looking for a good Cross with the body on it. I have Crosses without the body, and I have an Ignatian Cross that was given me at my Commissioning Mass after receiving a degree from Spring Hill College as a Spiritual Director. I am pretty picky about getting a realistic Cross. I don’t want an emaciated weak looking Jesus. I don’t want Jesus to be too “white.” I want the nails to be through his wrists, not his hands. I am also aware Jesus was in almost all probability crucified naked. I really have not found what I want, but the picture you are looking at is as close as I can get to being what I would like.

While there may not be any inherent shame in being naked in some cultures, In Jesus’ day being naked on the cross was the ultimate indignity often reserved for slaves while stoning and beheading were viewed as more “dignified.” The Scripture above, from Hebrews 12, speaks to the shame of the Cross, which Jesus endured for us.  It is not my purpose at this time to write a scholarly treatise, but I have included some valuable links in case one might be inclined to do some independent research on the matter of Shame and the Cross at the end of this document.

So, what have I done? I have purchased a realistic Picture of Jesus on the Cross, with nails through his wrists, being fairly muscular, with a Crown of thorns, in the darkness of the day where the Sun retreated from the land, and yes, naked, with his private parts showing, just as I imagine they would have been. I had it framed, and draped a nice piece of cloth over the private parts in one of my downstairs offices and I intend to take the cloth off the picture on Good Fridays, AND also take it off when I sin and ask God’s forgiveness so I can sense the shame I caused Jesus and experience my own shame for missing the mark. I know Jesus sees me and loves me and forgives me and has endured the Shame of the Cross for my benefit and that of the whole world.

Just to let you know, that is what I have done.

I love you, Jesus, please forgive me of my shame.

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

Useful Links below:

https://catholicproductions.com/blogs/blog/crucifixion-the-shame-of-the-cross

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/freeman/an_atonement_of_shame

https://catholicexchange.com/how-jesus-can-heal-your-shame/

Christian Spirituality for the Final Third of Life: a Small Group Course

Oh Jesus!

Oh Jesus, the One who can walk through closed doors, yet you knock, that we may open our doors to you and choose you of our own free will, thus participating in your love and grace!

I am the Possum you Killed

It was an invigorating Spring day, and I had just crawled up from the creek between the 20-acre and 15-acre McCulley fields where I saw you last Fall, hand picking the outside rows of corn to make way for the John Deere corn picker. You were working with your Uncle Bill last Fall. I have good hearing, and I heard you coming. Stepping in the crisp leaves, your feet crunched along the path leading to the larger creek. You often went this way, crossing the creek to reach the lower fields for hunting.   I could smell you. Humans have an odd smell to possums like me.

I saw your 22-caliber semi-automatic rifle and recalled that many times you shot sparrows on the electric high wire, “just for the fun of it.” Oh no! I didn’t have time to crawl back to safety. At least rabbits have a chance. They can run fast and jump and dart around, but my only defense was to lie there, helpless, playing dead among the fallen leaves.

But you saw me and decided it would be “fun.” I heard a “crack” and instantly felt searing pain engulf my body. I think you thought I would just die instantly, like on Gunsmoke, like when Matt Dillon shot the “bad” men. Pain seared through my body, pain like I had never felt before, even birthing my new litter, my eight joeys, hidden in my pouch.  What would happen to them?  I realized they will die too, after suckling the last of the milk from my dead body.  Please take care of my babies!

I was still playing dead when you poked my hairless stomach with the barrel of your rifle. I squirmed with the intense pain. You shot me again, you evil monster, with your weapon of destruction, towering over me with your testosterone-laden teenage body. Your power was absolute. As life seeped from my body, my spirit rose, and, for an instant, hovered over my lifeless body, and over you~~you heartless boy.  Don’t you know that creatures suffer too?   What have I ever done to you?  Why? I have always done my duty in life, eating ants and ticks and taking care to offer balance to the environment.

As I watched you from above, I saw that you had tears in your eyes. You had seen my babies when you poked me in the stomach. I could see guilt and remorse on your face as you realized that they would die too, from starvation or prey to another of God’s creatures. I heard you moan, “Oh, no! What have I done?”  I believe that you felt badly for taking my life for no good reason. But, why didn’t you bury me? You just left me to rot… I hope that my death will influence you to put away your rifle and live peacefully in this world with all of God’s creatures, and that we will meet again someday.

God told me I will be resurrected when you are, just at the right time, the same time as you, and I will be your pet possum, with my little babies again too, and with Pal, your boyhood dog, and Ossie, the cat you loved, and all your ancestors, your father and your mother, your brothers and sisters who have died, Faith, Hope, Paul, David, all of them, and we will live in peace in a Peaceable Kingdom, for evermore.

In Love,

Your possum, Mercy

p.s. Don’t think yourself better, dear Reader, you who pay other people to do your killing for you.  You who go to Church and pray to your God. Your God is my God.  He is in you, Brother or Sister just as God is in all things, and in me too.

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I was that teenager who thought shooting animals was “fun,”  whose  life changed forever that Fall day, as I stood over Mercy’s lifeless body and heard her pups mewling for milk. I have confessed my sin to others. Mercy was one of my greatest influences. I am thankful that Mercy had some little part in my putting my gun up for good.  Mercy had a little part in my becoming a Conscientious Objector to killing and war. I am satisfied Mercy had some influence in changing my life. Thank you, Mercy, for all you have done for me. I think of you often and will always remember you, Mercy!

In Love and Mercy,

John Cooper

Contemplation on the Mystical Roots of Unconscious Prejudice

(Pix: John Cooper)

(A Spiritual Exercise)

  1. I make a gesture of reverence like a bow, folded hands in prayer, or the Sign of the Cross.

2. I enter a two minute period of silence and meditation.

3. I think about what I desire, that I desire to discover and be healed of prejudice.

4. I take an item or symbol of my ancestors and hold it in my hands.

5. I enter into silent meditation for two minutes, holding the item and if I am in a group, sharing the item I am holding with others.

6. I read the Prayer Texts below:

Gen 1:31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (NRSV)

Gal 3:28 So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. (GNBDK)

1 Cor 12:12 Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. 13 In the same way, all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, have been baptized into the one body by the same Spirit, and we have all been given the one Spirit to drink. (GNBDK)

Lev 19:32 “Show respect for old people and honour them. Reverently obey me; I am the LORD.

33 “Do not ill-treat foreigners who are living in your land. 34 Treat them as you would a fellow-Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (GNBDK)

Deut 5: 9 I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. 10 But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws. (GNBDK)

“…so much is hidden in the unconscious…Below all this is the vast unknown world of corporate memories inherited from our families, our culture and our race…However there is a time for amassing information and a time for letting it go into the hands of God to allow him to illuminate, draw out and bind together what we already know…the works of the memory become in some way divine if they are controlled by the Holy Spirit.” (Door Through Darkness: John of the Cross and mysticism in everyday life, pp. 104-105, 133, Sister Eileen Lyddon, New City Press).

7. I meditate in silence, thinking about the prayer texts above.

8. If doing this exercise in a group, I gently share my thoughts in confidence and confess my sins of prejudice and unconscious inheritances I may have received of which I am now aware.  I speak aloud my pain, my grief, how I have been hurt and how I have hurt others.  If I am privileged, I resolve to give something back, love, prayers, money, or what I may be inspired to pay forward for my future generations.  If I am exercising privately, I write these matters down in my Journal when I am finished for future reflection and action.

9. I am silent for two more minutes, this time hoping to enter a state of thoughtless contemplation, allowing God to do His work silently and passively in my heart and mind.

10. I and others, if I am in a group, moan as if we were dying, perhaps even crying out loudly, AGHH! I grieve. I moan…

11. I recite the Lord’s Prayer myself or in my group together in communion with others.

12. I enter silence for 3 minutes and 29 more seconds, making a total of 9 minutes and 29 seconds of silence and resolve to pray in silence about these matters at other times and the exercise ends without comments or additional discussion, but I will discuss what I have experienced with my Spiritual Director, Pastor, or counselor or friends and I resolve to take this exercise again as often as needed. I also resolve to share this exercise with others as appropriate.

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

Breath of Life

Our prayer is living our lives in your Presence, oh Lord, every breath in, every breath out, given in all places and at all times for Your praise and glory. Breathe on us, holy Spirit; ignite our hearts with Your love, grace, and mercy that we may be  one with You!

John Cooper

Cats Go To Heaven

Cats go to Heaven!

This short essay is inspired by my friend, Rennie Jones’ post where he shared a link, https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/do-dogs-go-to-heaven.html about dogs going to Heaven.

Some know of my fondness of St. Francis, who urged nonviolence and the love of all of creation, and that I am a Spiritual Director and promote Ignatian Spirituality, one of whose core tenants is “finding God in all things.” See: https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/ignatian-spirituality/finding-god-in-all-things.

Recently our beloved cat, Ossie, passed away. He had quit eating and we took him to the Vet after he had not eaten much for several days. It was found he had a problem in his gall bladder the Vet thought was gall stones, but when we took him to the animal hospital in Starkville, MS, he ended up having E-coli in his gall bladder. For three days he was on intravenous IV and seemed to be doing better and one time seemed to be his old self again and he was released after three days and sent home with plenty of medicine to continue his recovery. We began giving him the medicine but in about a week or so he lost his appetite again. I thought I knew what was happening and begin to make a cat casket for him, although I did not tell Wink until after he died what I was making.

 

We took him to the Vet again and the Vet worked with him and gave him more medicine and we ordered more from the Mississippi hospital for his little gall bladder, but it was too late for him. His time had come to die. When he got home from the Vet, he was so weak. I took him out on our deck where he used to love to be, but he wanted to come back in the house and lay behind one of our sofas. When he came out to go down the hall, he was so weak he walked a little then sat down to rest. He ended up under my Great-Great Grandfather’s chest of drawers which he had made during the civil war period. It came time to give him his medicine and while Wink was preparing the medicine, I went in to get him out from under the chest of drawers. He groaned and rolled over when I awakened him and rolled over again and groaned. I knew he was dying. I called Wink in and I gently slid Ossie out from under the chest and Wink and I watched him die, both of us crying. I told Wink he is dying, but she held out hope to the end. “Watch out.” I said, “Sometimes a dying animal will bite you.” But little Ossie was always so gentle. “He is still breathing,” Wink said. “He is dying,” I said. Ossie let out one last “Ahhh?” as loud as he could and groaned loudly and his little spirit went to heaven. “His eyes are still open,” Wink said. “That’s the way it is after one dies,” I said.

We are still grieving, especially Wink, and we have not yet put his ashes in his casket. Bill Remmert is to come and bless him and the casket when we are ready to experience more closure. Here is a link to where he will rest:

Notice the oil painting of Ossie Janelle Avery did before Janelle died. Both Janelle and Ossie are gone way too soon, but I believe God knows every sparrow which falls to the ground and he can do all things, including reuniting all our loved ones in Heaven.

Rest in Peace,

John Cooper

Let God In: One Ignatian Journey

My book, Let God In: One Ignatian Journey, is to be printed on October 30th.  If you are wondering about the afterlife, Ignatian Spirituality, or the Spirituality of inner peace, consider reading my book.

It may be ordered at: Amazon

Or from the publisher: Austin Macauley

Thanks!

John Cooper

We are Not Alone

We are Not Alone

I went to Mass today, Wednesday before Psalm Sunday, 2019 and experienced what I believe to be a consolation without prior cause.  As a little background, I pray with the daily readings each morning (See: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041019.cfm) and condense what I think is most important to me for this day into a short phrase to remember throughout the day and try to live out in daily life.  My condensations for the last three days are:

I am not alone!

Again, I AM, is in ME, I am not alone.

I am not alone in fiery trials!

            These phrases stem from parts of the readings from April 8th, 9th, and 10th, 2019,

“And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid,
because I am not alone,
but it is I and the Father who sent me.” [1]

“”When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,”[2]

“”Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?”
“Assuredly, O king,” they answered.
“But,” he replied, “I see four men unfettered and unhurt,
walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.””[3]

 

We often feel alone, even in our own families which may be experiencing times of alienation and stress.  We often feel alone in our national identities when rampant unchristian injustices like racism, nationalism, prejudice against immigrants and asylum seekers and peoples of other faiths, such as the Muslims, which desolations rear their ugly heads against our deep desires for peace and harmony and our deepest desire for God.  We can feel all alone in our own church groups, even with hundreds of people surrounding us, some of whom we know by name but with whom we may have only a superficial spiritual relationship.  We can feel alone when vices of financial or health difficulties tighten around us.

I wanted to tell someone at church today about this matter, to go out to eat with someone and to just talk about spiritual matters, but the occasion did not arise so I thought I would come in and tell you, the reader, about this matter:

We are NOT all alone!

We may be facing religious Pharisees, who want to judge and condemn us, but God is with us, and in us. Even if we face our death, our little daily dying’s, or walk in fiery trials, we are not alone!  To begin with, God is in everything, we can find Him in all things, so we are never far from God in whom we live and breathe and have our being.[4]  If we are Roman Catholic we may believe God is in the Eucharist in a special way, so God is with us and is in us in that way also, as well as in all in the congregation and in the Communion of Saints with whom we are also joined in a special and mysterious way. We are NOT alone!

I am a Spiritual Director in the Jesuit tradition and it is my job to help others connect directly to the Creator, who will work directly with the Creature, you, that is.  A big part of being a Spiritual Director is to listen, not just to the directee, but to listen to God too.  Let us listen for God in each other, in the wind, in the trees, in the birds, in animals, in children, in those we have been told are our enemies, in those of other Faiths, and in refugees and asylum seekers, in the poor, and in those of other races besides our own.  There are plenty of places NOT to be alone if one can listen like this.  Listen and silence are spelled with the same letters.  Maybe a little silent reflection on the daily readings will help us to listen to God speaking to us, to hear His voice, His call and His cry from the Cross where even the human side of Jesus thought he was all alone and forsaken, but it turned out He was not all alone, at least not for long.  No man is an island.  No man is all alone.

 

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

[1] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040819.cfm

[2] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040919.cfm

[3] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041019.cfm

[4] 1 Cor 8:6; Acts 17: 28-30