8th Sunday Ordinary Time Mass and Reflections, What, Me Worry ?

Mass readings and various reflections are here.

 First reading. Isaiah 49: 14-15

Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my LORD has forgotten me.”

Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?

Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.

Reading 2 : 1 Corinthians : 4: 1-5

Brothers and sisters:
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Now it is of course required of stewards
that they be found trustworthy.
It does not concern me in the least
that I be judged by you or any human tribunal;
I do not even pass judgment on myself;
I am not conscious of anything against me,
but I do not thereby stand acquitted;
the one who judges me is the Lord.
Therefore do not make any judgment before the appointed time,
until the Lord comes,
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts,
and then everyone will receive praise from God.

Gospel  Matthew 6 : 24-34

Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour
was clothed like one of them.

If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”


I don't find this passage easy  but I'll unwind a few speculative thoughts; no answers !!

This from Inward /Outward:

"When we breathe, we do not stop inhaling because we have taken in all the oxygen we will ever need, but because we have all the oxygen we need for this breath

Then we exhale, release carbon dioxide, and make room for more oxygen. 

Sabbath, like the breath, allows us to imagine we have done enough work for this day.
Do not be anxious about tomorrow, Jesus said again and again. Let the work of this day be sufficient."
Source: Sabbath, Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest

One of the most striking aspects of this gospel  is the way Christ chooses examples from  the natural world and sets them up for us humans to compare ourselves against :
the birds, the wild flowers and the grass of the field.

( Actually I think birds have to work damned hard to get their food and this winter was exceptionally harsh and wiped out a lot of them so I'm not so sure about this one.)

So the only way I can deal with this passage is to think that Jesus was comparing our lives now to the inchoate earlier stage of our history BEFORE that dreaded event,
"The Fall."

In such a perfect world, in Eden's garden playground  God's grace was poured out in less arbitrary ways on his creation than today. 

It was a world that lacked the conspicuous over- consumption and chutzpah of us humans today. I find myself aching with a deep and emotional longing that stretches way back to that Garden of Eden where we ate freely from the tree of life rather than the tree of knowledge and we were happy and without anxiety. 

We actually saw God too which was a big bonus !
and illustrates the scene perfectly :

"In the quiet stillness of doing nothing but pondering the complexity or simplicity of whatever happens to be in front of them,  our ancestors had at their fingertips every day…" , the ability to see and touch without distraction...
…a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

From Auguries of innocence, by William Blake

"For most of our 2 million year evolutionary history, we lived as hunters and gatherers.  We became fully human around 250,000 years ago - give or take 100,000 years. We were nomadic.  We lived in wide open spaces, and in tribes of no more than 150.  Seldom, if ever, would our tribe run into other tribes, and if so we probably just moved on.

What was there to fight for ?

Other humans were few; grazeable land was plentiful.  We gathered nuts and other wild vegetation.  We chased down birds, insects, fish, rodents, and an occasional bear or elk.  And when the food gave out, or some natural catastrophe struck — like a flood, fire, or volcano eruption?   

The survivors ambled on — following their eyes and noses to more ample pastures.  The earth was our oyster.  No pollution, oil spills, trespassing signs, fences, private property, militarized zones, or cars to dodge.

Richard Lee’s work on the !Kung San bushmen of the Kalahari Desert wrote that these hunter-gatherers spend only fifteen hours a week gathering food — the rest is down time.  And this in the desert, no less.  

“A woman gathers on one day enough food to feed her family for three days, and spends the rest of her time resting in camp, doing embroidery, making crafts and jewellery ,painting, making up poetry, visiting other camps, or communicating by entertaining visitors.”

If you can wrap your mind around the thought that humans of 250,000 years ago were not that different emotionally and mentally from humans today, you can imagine how it must have been to have plenty of time to lay back.  (Or can you?) 

A day or two of light work followed by three days off trying to figure what to do with yourself.  Imagine.  No e-mail to check.  No text messages.  No deadlines, traffic jams, jaunts to the gym, mortgage payments, supermarkets, or business lunches. Plenty of time to just stare out into space.  Fool around.  DaydreamPlay.  Mate.  Contemplate. 

This life is our evolutionary heritage.  It’s how we are wired to live.
The demands of modern life have robbed us of our healthy inclination to sit and ponder for hours on end.
We’ve filled ourselves with the self-importance of so much frenetic work-a-day activity.  When we’re not on the move, there’s always the next thing, or that thing undone peering at us through the screen door of our conscious awareness."

I make the observation : When do we allow ourselves to sink into the healing, contemplative joy of doing nothing ? Except for a few weeks of holiday a year, a long weekend here or there, we are trapped on the wheel and even holidays are often sources of more dissatisfaction and anxiety because it takes us so long to unwind. The pressure and expectations to have a good holiday become yet another source of anxiety !

Back to Michael Joseph:

"Our modern age with its artificial light, trains, jetliners, fast food restaurants, tools, plastic containers, guns, bombs, computers, cities of millions — where space per person is measured in feet as opposed to thousands of miles — is less than 1 percent of 1 percent of our time on earth.

Its advantages and conveniences are unparalleled in human history. We don’t die of diseases that would have cut short our lives by decades.  We aren’t eaten by predators, or die too soon from the ravages of some unfortunate fall. We can cross the planet in the time it takes to eat three meals, and not have to take one step outside into the snow, rain, or unbearable heat.

Yet, rates of depression tend to be lowest in hunter-gatherer or purely agricultural societies, higher in industrial societies, and highest in societies in transition.  We are both industrial AND in transition.  (Transition to what, we don’t yet know.)  Our life speed and modern worries are somehow incompatible with the millions of years under which our sensibilities evolved.  Our age has been dubbed the Age of Anxiety for a reason."

Below Sleeping Gypsy by Rousseau

 Fr. John Shea suggests that this Gospel offers two scenarios: 
1. Understand and inhabit your life as an anxious project for future physical survival or 
2. Understand and inhabit your life as a present gift sustained by God prior to any human activity to secure it.”
What happens to the concerns of 1. if you choose 2.?

Isaiah also said:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways  and my thoughts than your thoughts

I'll admit it . 

Sometimes I worry about things too much ....

Sometimes my melancholic temperament gets the upper hand .

This could be due to suppression of my basic wild Celtic nature which is at odds with modern life and other factors (which could take up another whole set of posts to explain so we won't go there .)

I'm probably more likely to err to the Woody Allen School of  life when he said,
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”than the platitudinous  "" Bobby Ferrin brigade of life that sings "Don't Worry be Happy" and sports a t- shirt and badge emblazoned with the slogan.

Depending on our basic personality type we can be attracted to either the Via negativa or Via positiva way of approaching life and God or some synthesis of the two.
The choice can also vary from week to week or at different times and in different circumstances. 

We don't have to be rigid in our ways of getting to know God ! 

When we are young, if we are lucky to have been blessed with a warm and nurturing upbringing with no mishaps then perhaps we enter our adult life full of the promise of halcyon years ahead.

Every doorway is seen as a gateway to infinite possibilities.

The Doorway Of Infinite Possibilities Bruce Shaw

However, somewhere along the way things change for some of us....

Some of us may find ourselves cast adrift
in life's ocean, without a rudder.

We may find ourselves restless, anxious , fearful and questioning.
We ponder fate, destiny, 
freedom and purpose.

When trouble strikes--or even before it strikes--we worry because it feels like we're doing something
We don't like feeling helpless, that our life is out of our control, so stewing and analysing about our problem gives us the false sense that we're somehow helping the situation.
We find it difficult to control runaway thoughts. Our lives may lose that carefree joy we once had.

Above The Worrier Ponders Fate by Bruce Shaw

Below : The Worrier by Peter Underhill from here.  Many thanks to Peter  for his kind 
permission to reproduce this wonderful image  © Pete Underhill

Rationally, we know that worry is not good for us but we still do it.

Humans want to be in control.

The disciples were afraid when a storm overtook their boat whilst Jesus was so unconcerned about it that he was happily snoozing away.

They fretted that there wouldn't be enough to feed the 5,000 and they were so distraught that they'd be arrested after Jesus' crucifixion that they hid in a locked room. 
If anyone should have been able to trust Jesus, these eyewitnesses to his miracles should have. 
Jesus had to constantly tell people not to to be anxious or afraid.
Yet 2,000 years later, we're more apprehensive than ever. 

Even the "father" of archetypal psychology James Hillman write a book title "  We've had over a hundred years of psychotherapy and it's getting worse". 

Our worries weigh us down and we become worn out and drained: Doubt and fear leave us physically, emotionally and spiritually worn out.  We get grumpy !!

Positive Psychology is a relatively new area of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions amongst other areas of research. 
It's research shows that it is possible to be happier, more satisfied, more engaged with life, and have high hopes regardless of one’s circumstances. Most of psychology focuses on life's problems and how to remedy them while positive psychology focuses on the aspects of life that make it worth living.

Happiness is defined as a state of well being or pleasurable experience, and while positive psychology involves the definition of happiness in it's research, it shifts it's main focus to the characteristics that allow individuals and institutions to thrive in any given circumstance.

Positive psychology is not the same as positive thinking or a constant state of optimism, because it allows for negative or realistic emotions when they are appropriate. Denying certain realistic emotions can create more distress than allowing them to be experienced and expressed. 


Today's readings are an early lesson in positive Christology and The Beatitudes are just as good a guide to show us that all those who live through adversities will ultimately be rewarded by God but not necessarily in this life.

When Jesus was about to lose control in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed. The point about the gospel today is that we need to get our priorities right.

Someone once remarked, "Work as if everything depended on you, and pray as if everything depended on God." 

Fine but what happens if we do this and things still don't work out ? !

Well we have to rephrase that because  God's ways are not our ways and Christ said "Let your will be done not mine" and so we have to be prepared for a No !

The world has an endless list of things to worry about; 
family, partners, jobs; finances, health, aging, parents; the environment, war, strife, natural and man made disasters, poverty, injustice etc etc. We could all probably fill pages on the things that worry us on a daily basis!

In the Garden of Eden God's Grace poured out on us until we fell out of grace and went down our own wilful (and to begin with), merry way.

But after the hunter gather phase/planting and agricultural phase as we progressed and multiplied and degraded the land and became competitive and greedy, things changed and we chose Mammon as our God. 

A few thousand years later we are even more deeply mired in our mess and seeing ever more clearly  the consequences of that material path we trod when we left God' s garden ...

From Michael Joseph again :

"It’s a sad fact of life — bad outcomes outnumber good ones. Loss gathers far more of our attention, than success. Our perceptual and emotional circuitry tends more toward fixating on our problems than celebrating our victories.

Our inherent penchant for dissatisfaction is even encoded in our language. There are far more words for negative emotions than for positive ones.

Andrew Solomon wrote in Noonday Demon, “In the wild, animals tend to have momentary awful situations and then to resolve it by surviving or dying.  Except for persistent hunger, there is no chronic stress.  

Wild animals do not take on jobs that they regret;  do not force themselves to interact calmly, year after year, with those they dislike;  do not have child custody battles.” 
Think of these pleasures from our pleistocene past and their capacity to draw our troubles away, if even for an instant:"

A walk in the woods,
Coming upon a vista, or wide opened clearing,
Sitting by a river,
Climbing a tree,
The smell of grass after a summer rain,
Looking up into a starry night,
Staring into a fire,
Napping beneath a tree,
Spotting the track of an animal,
Cupping mud, clay, or fresh soil in the palm of our hands,
Potting, weaving, widdling a stick,
Cracking a nut,
Throwing a rock and watching it sail through the air,
Burying our toes in the sand,
The sight of a wild animal crossing our path,
Suddenly breaking out into a run…
There is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted…

...................                         ...............................              ........................            ......................

Life can be and often is a struggle but I believe that our evolutionary heritage is deep within us and I have an abiding belief that through Christ there is a way through. 

What does separate us from the birds of the air and the flowers and the grass is that we have the capacity to be divinely aware of our creator and God's love for us. 

It's years since I listened to this song Woodstock written by Joni Mitchell and sung  by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and reading the lyrics again after reading this gospel makes me realise just how great a song it is.

I realise how easy it is to romanticize another time, There were troubles then, just as there are now. The nation was divided over many issues, Vietnam was raging on, civil rights hadn't been established, and there was a lot of hatred toward those who were different. Sure,there were plenty of excesses but somehere buried underneath was a genuine longing for simple living. I was 15 years of age when this song came out and I rmember it as a time of optimism !

None of us are any luckier on account of our birth. Every time in our history on this earth has been full of problems and pain - reading the Old and New Testaments tells us a lot about the shadow side of human nature and all we seem to have done is become more sophisticated at displaying it and covering it up.

I have some  problems with this passage because I don't see how modern man can be anything but anxious because of the way we live and drive ourselves and our offspring into the ground. We are anxious and so we should be :

"The problem is the chutzpah of the affluent modern man, that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan." 

I guess it's up to all of us to make our own era worth living in.

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, tell me, where are you going
An' this he told me
Said, I'm going down to Yasgur's farm
Gonna join in a rock and roll band
Got to get back to the land
And set my soul free

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden

Well, then can I walk beside you
I have come to lose the smog
And I feel myself a cog in something turning
And maybe it's the time of year
Yes, and maybe it's the time of man
And I don't know who I am, but life is for learning

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And ev'rywhere was a song and a celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies above our nation

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden

from DeJaVu (1970)

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