Monday, June 18, 2012

Blog # 254 Hot dogs and holiness

Blog # 254 Hot Dogs and Holiness

Most likely many or at least some of you reading this blog have heard of Coney Island. Some of you may have been there. If  you ever lived in New York City as a kid I would feel fairly sure you also heard of Rockaway Beach. Each year the Pastor of our parish back home treated the whole squad of altar boys to an all-day outing at Coney Island. That was just once a year. But we went often as a family to Rockaway Beach. In addition to swimming in the ocean and building castles in the sand we always enjoyed the hot dogs at either place.
Just for a moment think of what comes to your mind when you read that first
paragraph. There are no tough words in it and I don't think there are any tough
thoughts to grasp. Yet there are special words, names of places, and the
designation of a famous American food, the hot dog.

I thought of how different my writing and reading of that paragraph must be, from someone who never heard of Coney Island or Rockaway Beach, or might have heard of these places but never went there, and also for someone who never had a hot dog at all and most especially not at Coney Island or Rockaway Beach.

Coney Island and Rockaway Beach are the primary places where I learned the power of the sun. I had not yet heard as a ten-year-old boy the distance to the sun was ninety three million miles, but I knew from experience it was hot enough to put
blisters on my back and sun burned skin really hurt almost all night and itched
like crazy when it began to heal the week after we went swimming. And I knew
there were no hot dogs like the hot dogs we had at the beach.  Hot, freshly
grilled, and covered with Coney Island relish and mustard, they had no equal
for flavor. If I tried to describe them in words, I don't think you could
understand what I would say unless you had been there at the beach, tired
yourself out with hours of bucking the waves of the ocean and building your
castles in the sand as a preparation for the wonderful unique experience of a
fifteen cent hot dog at Rockaway Beach or Coney Island.

I think it is something like this for us when it comes to our relationship with
God. Psalm 34 verse 9 says it clearly: "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Happy the person who takes refuge in Him." The stages we can think of in
our relationship to the hot dogs at Rockaway Beach run parallel to the
stages we might experience in our relationship with God.

Some people never heard of Rockaway Beach, or, having heard of it once or a long
time ago no longer think of it day by day. In the experience of some people we
could substitute the word God in that sentence for Rockaway Beach. Some people
may have heard the word God and can recall an image of God from years ago, but
do not know the Triune God of Father Son and Holy Spirit from an adult or current
point of view. They might be compared to someone who went to a beach,
somewhere, but not to Coney Island or Rockaway. We might very well find
ourselves unwittingly talking to one another about different hot dogs. And a
different God.

Some people may have gone to Rockaway and having heard from friends or people
 like me who tell them great things about it they buy a hot dog. A problem is they
are there in winter, and in winter it is not what I experienced or described. Or
maybe they have a case of ulcers of the stomach, and that makes a difference
as well. Or maybe they just had a full course meal in Chinatown before driving
over to the beach and they have no appetite for any further food. Their hot dog
that day would not be the same as the hot dogs I enjoyed!

And maybe they do go to Rockaway in summer and the hot dogs are really great,
 but they do not have the money it takes to buy one, or they do not know
how to eat one without getting sand on it while sitting on the beach. I
see the possibility of experiencing conditions similar to these  on a
spiritual plane when it comes to our relationship with God. For example, the
ulcers might be interpreted as sin. The full meal in Chinatown which takes
away the appetite can be identified with a life that is so full of the desires
and distractions that come from our seeking and possession of this world's
temporary values and treasures there is little room left for the time or
 energy it takes to cultivate and experience a desire and an appetite for God.

A genuine relationship with God is always identified with love. That involves a
preference for God over all that interferes with our love. Choices must be made.
There is a price to be paid for love. A good hot dog is worth something. God is
worth our all.

If ever you have dropped a hot dog in the sand you know how that goes! Without
going so far as to drop the hot dog in the sand, sometimes there is sand on your
fingers and even a little sand interferes with the pleasure of eating a hot dog.
One of the ways I interpreted sand on my hot dog as it might relate to my
relationship with God is to see the sand as whatever it is that would tempt me
away from God, make me lose confidence in God, or love God less. St.Paul
enumerated such experiences in his life as persecution, distress, hunger, etc.
borne for the sake of and in the name of his faith. (Rom 8: 35 - 38). Then he
asks the question whether any one or all of these would cause him to
cut back on his love and service of God.  His answer was no.

Applied to the hot dog at the beach, this would go like saying: " Will I give
up eating hot dogs just because I am on the beach and there is so much
sand there?  Rockaway and Coney Island is where the best hot dogs I
have ever found are available. So what, if there is sand all around? Does
that mean I have to get it on my hot dog? Of course not."  Just so, on the
spiritual plane,  I  have to be aware  there are temptations around and
within me, and I have to address them just as I have to address the
 presence of sand at the beach.  Here is an opportunity for me to be like
 St. Paul.

Any conditions we place or experience in our love when it comes to our
relationship with God places us in danger of losing an opportunity of
finding obeying and loving the One Single True God. A god that is
conditioned in any way is limited by those conditions and as a result is
not the God Whom Jesus revealed to us in His unconditional
obedience and total  love  for the Father throughout His entire life
on earth and in His death on the cross.  That is the love He invites us to
share in our quest for the happiness that can be found only in a genuine
love for God, through, with, and in Jesus.

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