Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart

First Sunday of Lent, March 10th, 2019

All life is suffering. The Buddha discovered that suffering comes from our attachments. Jesus said more or less the same thing.

We suffer because we crave; we crave because we want more -- more of everything. And so we stuff ourselves to fill the empty places in our lives.

We cram ourselves with food, with drink, with drugs. We accumulate things. We drive ourselves to achieve, sacrificing real happiness for the sake of temporary satisfaction.

We become workaholics, alcoholics, porn addicts, internet addicts, gamblers, shopaholics, speed fiends, TV addicts, smart phone addicts...

We consume products and people; we devour books and experiences. We acquire for the sake of acquiring-- electronics, jewelry, video games, designer clothing, luxury cars, and even qualifications...

We pursue spiritual experiences as if we can create them, forgetting John of the Cross' warning that a spiritual sweet tooth is a spiritual detriment.

We think "more" means happiness. Mies Van der Rohe said " Less is more." And Jesus said more or less the same thing....

From A Pocketful of Sundays,
Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, 2009

As individuals and as a church, we need to look at what it means to offend God.

Greetings, SBT Readers:

Last week saw the remarkable testimony of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee. No, this isn't going to be a political commentary --there are enough of those online already, written in far greater detail than anything I can provide or am interested in providing. Rather, I want to focus on the public persona of Michael Cohen as someone who is truly sorry for his various misdeeds. No matter how skeptical one might be over his sincerity, he comes across as a broken man who has lost everything, including his reputation, his career, his freedom, and friendships. And no matter how murky his motives, he accepts full blame for his actions, acknowledging that he has been a "fool." In particular, there is one statement worthy of quoting: "I have lied but I am not a liar. And I have done bad things but I'm not a bad man."  

There is something very poignant about these words. We might ask, "How can one lie and not be a liar?" or "How can one do bad things and not be a bad person?" Certainly, Cohen has been ridiculed and vilified both in the media and by members of Congress, but neither the media nor politicians are in the business of caring for souls. If they were, they would be hesitant about casting the first stone (Jn 8:7), or looking for splinters in their neighbor's eyes while ignoring the wooden beams in their own eyes (Lk 6:41-42). Moreover, if they knew more about the spiritual life, they just might have something to say about the mercy of God.

Before we cast that first stone at Michael Cohen or at anyone else, we need to examine our own sinfulness. It is only when we, too, can say, "I have lied but I am not a liar. And I have done bad things but I am not a bad person," that we can throw ourselves on the mercy of God. As long as we have a "holier than though" attitude, we are beyond God's grace. Why? Because we have no sense of guilt, no remorse, no desire to make amends and no conviction of having offended God. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- Michael Cohen is that lost sheep that the Good Shepherd seeks out and longs to bring back home to the fold. And perhaps --just perhaps--there will be more rejoicing at the return of this lost sheep than over the 99 righteous sheep who never strayed! (Lk 15:1-7).

Lenten Blessings!



Then the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to Jesus,
"I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me that I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me."
Jesus said in reply, "It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God; God alone shall you serve."

Lk 4:1-13

The lust for power is one of the vices which keeps us far, far away from God's Heart and from the Kingdom of God; at the root of this vice is nothing less than the desire to set ourselves up as "gods" and to have others worship us while we control them. Dictators, of course, do this all the time. in some cases having themselves declared "divine" during their lifetimes -- Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, and Japanese Emperors were all considered deities by their followers but closer to our own time, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong-Un and others have also enjoyed divine status. In contrast, Jesus was not interested in earthly power and rejected the temptation to seek his glory instead of God's. We not only see this in Lk 4:1-13, but also in scriptural accounts when Jesus hid from the crowds because they wanted to make him king (e.g. Jn 6:15).

But what does worldly power have to do with us? Inheriting kingdoms and being worshiped by loyal subjects is not in the cards for most of us; sadly, however, the desire for power often is. Here are some ordinary applications from daily life which just may "fit":

* Husbands and wives may be locked in a power battle over finances, decision making, child raising, and division of household chores;
* Parents may dominate their children to the point that their emotional growth is stunted, causing them to grow up lacking self-esteem, confidence, and independent thinking;
* In-laws may interfere in their adult children's marriages, trying to influence everything from childcare to where the couple lives or how they celebrate the holidays;
* Teachers may run their classrooms like autocrats instead of fostering a collaborative learning experience built on respect;
* Students may compete to "be the best," bullying others and creating cliques that exclude those who are "different" in any way;
* Members of religious communities may compete for leadership roles, resorting to divisive tactics or passive aggression to attain their goals;
* Employers may treat their employees like personal servants, using their labor and brilliance to make themselves shine;
* and so forth.....

These applications are by no means exhaustive. Gossiping, for example, comes from the desire to be the one who has information to share, or the "scoop" that no one else knows. Conversely, deliberately failing to share information with colleagues is a form of control. Public displays of altruism or generosity, while often innocent, can originate with the desire to be recognized and admired. Similarly, while making comments or asking questions in a public setting may stem from "pure motives," sometimes it is the desire to be visible and impress others that leads one to speak.

The lust for power is both subtle and insidious. Often, we are unaware that we are engaging in a power struggle with others, whether to impress, dominate, intimidate, exploit, disrespect or manipulate. A seemingly harmless phone call might be a ploy for sympathy or for placing a guilt trip on a friend or family member; similarly, a veiled threat such as, "Well, if you can't give me a ride, I'll just have to walk," is a form of coercion.
On this, the First Sunday in Lent, let us pay attention to our own temptations around power and face the truth of how we might be using power over others. We may not like what we find!

  1. What strategies do you use when you want to get your way? When are these strategies appropriate and when are they abusive?
  2. How do you interact with family members and friends? Do you ever try to control those you love and, if so, what impact does this have on your relationships?
  3. Do others ever control you? What does this feel like? How can you regain your own inner power?
This year will mark the 30th Anniversary of my graduation from the Claret Center, Chicago, where I studied the art of Spiritual Direction. My video explains my approach to this ministry, while my website provides further details as well:

Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart | |

All Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart,