A Deeper Walk
Seasons Change and So Is Me
It’s a different season of devotion for me. It seems this is a continuing cycle, but I’m still trying to figure this “season” out… what it is and what it means to me and for me.
Self-awareness plays a big part in this figuring out. I have always been very “Type-A” the way I pursue life. I am goal and task driven. In my past, I’ve been almost fearless, sometimes a bit reckless, in the way I zealously engaged life. I’m a bit more tempered these days, but there are number of hold-over attributes that I tend to wrestle with as I navigate the life Jesus is leading me. One of those attributes is my tendency to lean into performance-based aspects of my devotional practices. Because I am goal and task driven, I like to have metrics to understand my progress. I have been taught that having real goals means they should be attainable and measurable, so I like to consider my devotional practices and spiritual exercises in this light. For the sake of clarity, when I mention spiritual exercises and devotions, I am referring to things like Bible reading, prayer, fasting, solitude, praise, worship, etc.
With my spiritual practices and my propensity to measure them, I am given pause from time to time and wonder what the basis of my measurement truly is… am I measuring my success in the discipline? Or, is the discipline drawing me closer to God, which I believe, is the desired intent. Perhaps an even greater question is, “How do I truly measure my closeness to God?” Is it a feeling or emotion that can be measured? Is my closeness and devotion to God measured by the manifestation of tangible acts? Is my devotion qualified and quantified by my confidence of relationship through faith?
I might mention that my soul “feels” good, but sometimes my measured devotional practices feel a tad abysmal. This feeling is in comparison or measured against some of my previous years “performances” or my numbered achievements in devotional acts (how much Bible I read and how often, how robust “I think” my prayer life is, how many personal retreats I’ve taken… you get the picture). Are these valid assessments? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it depends on a number of factors. What is the intent of the heat? What is the desired outcome? Who is my audience for the disciplines I pursue??? Me? Others? God alone?
“If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant…” (Gal. 1:10)
I was reading from the Letter to the Galatians while some of the aforementioned thoughts were flitting about in my mind. When I sensed the Holy Spirit ministering to me through the words I share from the Apostle Paul (above).
I felt my response rising within me that I should be careful to remember that I am “people” too (if pleasing people…), and I can easily be caught in the trap of pleasing myself or measuring myself against how I feel or measuring me alongside my expectations for me. This can become a form of narcissism and self-worship as I try to please me over pleasing my God. Lesson: Don’t please me – Please God alone.
The other side of this coin is also important for me to remember. While conviction through the internal witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit is real and necessary for my spiritual development, I can be persuaded to use this conviction and guidance in unhealthy ways. In doing this, I can become a slave to self. I want to remain a slave only to Christ. He alone is the fair and just Master and He alone can be trusted with my soul and my developing self.
“No one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law…” (Gal. 2:16)
While conviction to change and become more like Christ is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit, and as a soul in development, I should be ready, surrendered, and obedient to respond rightly to Him, “Being right with God” is found through faith in Christ—and not through the measurements of my spiritual exercises and/or devotional practices. Naturally, tangible fruit (love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc.) is born from this relationship of rightness. The opposite is not true and has a great potential to be my spiritual undoing when I pursue the path of works-based righteousness. So… I’m changing. God is making like Jesus through the coaching of the Holy Spirit. I should not cling relentlessly to other seasons I have received great enjoyment from during the life of my Christian journey. Instead, I should be more open to trust the work God is doing today and measure my development on how faithful I am to respond to Him in each successive moment. He leads me always and never leaves me alone. God is with me. God is within me. May Christ be glorified in my every moment in my every breath.
Book Review: Water to Wine
Author: Brian Zahnd
Publisher: Spello Press ISBN: 9780692569184
This is the first book I’ve read by Brian Zahnd, although I’ve been a follower of his blog for quite some time now. I’ve enjoyed his writing and the theology he embraces, so when I heard him announce he had published a portion of his life’s story, I eagerly ordered the book to learn a bit more about him. I’m glad I did… This book has been one of the more affirming and encouraging books I’ve read in a long time. While it’s not my intent to pontificate about me in this review, I will say without reservation Water to Wine is also some of my story. Even more intriguing than Brian’s story being so uncanny in its similarity to my own, is that this same path traced by Brian Zahnd seems to be a common thread in the journey of so many Protestants.
This portion of Zahnd’s story begins with the desire to truly connect with the deep wisdom and mystery of the center of Christianity, the God-man, Jesus. Brian speaks of his ministry success and expresses his disenchantment with a “paper-thin Christianity propped up by cheap certitude.” He was yearning for something deeper, richer, fuller… What follows is an epic and eye-opening exploration to the ancient paths of the Christian faith and the discovery of traditions of deep-wisdom forged by the original apostles and disciples of Christ and continued by the saints who have followed them through the ages. This is The stuff of true disciples of the Way of Jesus Christ.
Chapter by chapter, Zahnd interweaves some of his story with the history and experiences of those faithful followers through the ages who left the breadcrumbs of faith for us to follow. There is nothing that I do not absolutely love about this book, but there are several chapters that resonate so deeply within that I know it is the affirming nod of the Holy Spirit. One of these affirmations comes from chapters three, four, and five where Brian reflects on his reintroduction to the discipline of prayer…and perhaps even the redefining and rediscovery what prayer truly represents and can be. As I mentioned earlier, so much of what he “found” in this chapter was an echo of my own discovery with fixed-hour prayers, ancient prayer books, contemplative prayer, and more wrapped up in this richness of unity with the Godhead and with the fellowship and communion of the saints.
Another chapter that is among my favorites and maybe my very favorite is chapter seven, Grain and Grape. In this chapter, Brian shares a wonderful exploration and treatment of the Eucharistic celebration that is the Table of the Lord. I love the connection he makes with the Incarnation of the Lord and the sacrament of Communion, the Eucharist. He writes; “The more deeply we are influenced by the sacred mystery of the Incarnation—that God became human—the more seriously we will take the sacraments of Baptism and Communion.” What proceeds for the remainder of this chapter following those words is an exhilarating journey into the realm of sacred mystery and earthbound glory.
Zahnd concludes this portion of his testimony with a bit of an apologetic…not an apology. This is an explanation and invitation to “come and follow” on this incredibly rich ride that is the Christianity that has been born out of those early followers of Jesus. No, this is not a return to the old, but an honoring of the ancient as we stand on the shoulders of those who have faithfully journeyed before us. We walk side-by-side in the age we live, building on the traditions that have been time-honored methods of forming disciples of Jesus.
There is much more that I could detail about this book, but I have been deliberately vague in the specifics of what Brian shares. If you are the slightest bit intrigued, I strongly encourage you to buy the book. If you have felt that following Jesus and the promises of your faith have fallen short of what you have believed it should be, buy the book. You might find a door opening that will set the course for the greatest adventure of your life…and ultimately be the faith that you have always believed was calling to you all along.
I shared this devotional thought a few years back, but as I am about to enter into a new season of forming discipleship groups in my local church, I thought it a timely piece to share again.
The Gift of Community: It’s a Family Sort of Thing
Hey, uummmm… you’ve got a booger hanging from your nose.
I know, I know; “ooooh gross!” But really, who hasn’t heard these words at least once in your life? I know I’ve heard it more than once myself and it is never any less embarrassing than it was the first time I ever heard it, but in the end I’m always thankful (after the initial horrifying embarrassment) I was made aware of my “booger.”
Something I’ve realized about publically exposed boogers, there aren’t lots of people who will tell you about them. Strangers, casual acquaintances, and sometimes even close friends will hardly ever take the time to advise you of your “hanging chad.” There are rare exceptions, but that’s why they are exceptions…they’re rare. Family, on the other hand, will almost always tell you about your “sticky little friend.” I come from a family with brothers and sisters; none of us ever hesitated to share with one another about a potentially vulnerable “exposure.”
This is the gift of true community; family familiar and intimately comfortable community. Speaking generally, family love and family friendship is a working paradox of the exquisitely beautiful and grotesquely messy existing side-by-side and all the time.
We talk much about our Christian experience being one of community, but I think we have lost something in the translation. I read something not too long ago that talked about our lifestyles being overly connected through the advances of technology (email, IM, Facebook, etc.), but we are more disconnected from intimacy than at any point in the history of mankind. My experience in the Christian community has been largely disconnected even though we speak of connection. It’s not often that I have had someone share with me about an exposed booger… and when I’ve pointed out boogers to some of my brothers and sisters in the church, some of them have become offended to the point that it was catastrophic, but enough about boogers…
I am becoming more and more of a believer in very small communities of faith. As well, I think these communities need to live in close proximity to one another and spend much time together… really doing life together; eating, playing, learning, laughing, crying, and praying… all together. This is how families live and this is how we grow comfortable with one another even through the screaming frustration that being in family creates sometime. I know that my biological family had some serious knock-down-drag-out matches, but that never stopped us from being family. Truth be known, it was the laughter and the tears that taught us about unfailing beauty and assurance of unconditional love. There needs to be more of this same experience in the Christian family (in my honest opinion).
I think another illustration might be helpful. We are sometimes stubborn about admission of our faults, especially when we spend so much time making ourselves look and smell good. What do you do when someone tells you that you might be wearing too much perfume or cologne? I know my first response is that it might be that person’s issue. Maybe that person who told me has sensitive smell or doesn’t like my cologne; that is their problem, surely it isn’t mine. Right? Well, in a large family a parent, brother, or sister might come to tell me I’m wearing too much cologne as well. Maybe this happens three or four or eight times (my family might be as big as the Walton Family). Maybe now I am inclined to think the remotest possibility could be a reality; maybe my cologne is on a little heavy. Now, I might be persuaded to ask one of my most trusted family members if they think I’m wearing too much cologne… They, of course, being a brother who has nothing to lose or gain (unconditional love works that way), tells me; “Of course, you’ve got too much cologne on. You didn’t notice people passing out from lack of oxygen whenever you entered a room?” Armed with new information and valuable insight, I am now able to adjust the amount of cologne I use so that it enhances my presence instead of overwhelming everyone who comes in contact with me.
On the other side of this “family coin” is the confidence of privilege a family member has in speaking truthfully to a brother, sister, mother, or father in the family. Consider yourself; how comfortable do you feel about telling someone you randomly pass in the shopping mall their perfume is too strong, or how about someone in your workplace, school, or church? Now, consider the same about a member of your immediate family… If your family is anything like mine, you feel comfortable about saying, “Hey Sis, you need to back off a bit on that Miss Dior Chérie and by the way, you may wanna blow your nose.” This is the value of true family and true Christian Community.
I hope my playful illustrations provide something for us to think about on a much more serious level… and we might just want to check our nose before walking out the door today… just sayin’
Revisiting The “I’m better than I was card”
I originally wrote and posted this a few years back. As I was reading some of my past writing, I thought this an appropriate reflection as I head into a new year. What is it that God is calling me to? What is it that he desires of me? He desires whole-hearted devotion and complete transformation to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ… How often do I drag my feet? How often do I think of myself better than I should?
10 “Son of man, give the people of Israel this message: You are saying, ‘Our sins are heavy upon us; we are wasting away! How can we survive?’ 11 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?
12 “Son of man, give your people this message: The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins. 14 And suppose I tell some wicked people that they will surely die, but then they turn from their sins and do what is just and right. 15 For instance, they might give back a debtor’s security, return what they have stolen, and obey my life-giving laws, no longer doing what is evil. If they do this, then they will surely live and not die. 16 None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.
17 “Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. 18 For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. 19 But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live. 20 O people of Israel, you are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right.’ But I judge each of you according to your deeds.”
I’m still pretty hung up on this passage of Scripture from Ezekiel that I was also considering in yesterday’s meditation and post. While this passage speaks pretty loudly in its entirety, I keep being drawn back to the words shared in verses twelve through sixteen. In these verses, the LORD God Almighty is giving instruction to the prophet Ezekiel to send a wake-up call to a people who have grown complacent in their faith, even taking for granted the mercy and salvation of their God. It seems the people didn’t take seriously the nature of their sin against God. The nation of Israel was rife with idolatry, sexual immorality, greed, oppression of people, and a host of other abominations that were counter character to the nature of God. The end result was that the people were not reflecting the nature of the God who had called them out and made them His own.
Interestingly, it seems as though the people may have had the attitude that they were entitled to God’s goodness in spite of how they behaved. In fact, in verse seventeen, the people actually hold God responsible for their treatment. It doesn’t seem as though they are taking personal responsibility for their sin. Even more interesting, paying attention to the verses twelve through sixteen, it appears there may have been some assumption on the part of Israel that because they were “righteous” at one time in their history (as a nation or group) that God should show them favor in spite of what their hearts revealed in the way of rebellion and disobedience in the present. And, it seems as if the people are completely blinded by their own self-righteousness and pride, because they do not turn from their sin…
“The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.”
Here is where it gets interesting to me. How often do we, as a people, do something similar with our actions and attitudes? I will confess that when I first examine my own heart concerning issues of sin, I am always prone to compare myself to “my best days.” I will think, “Oh, but I’m much better than I was… and God sees how much I have grown since I was the despicable me.” And, I will do this with little intention of changing the things that I still know are unpleasing to God. I will consider those “still to be corrected abominations” something that God forgives because of my “past righteousness.” Wrong. Let’s read that verse thirteen once again. “When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.” We can see this same theme carried over under the dispensation of grace under the blood of Jesus too. Hear the words of James the brother of Jesus as he writes; “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
Funny (in a sad way) how we are so easily ensnared in this twisted deception that the false self would tempt us to believe. We want to place blame on God too. We want to say He isn’t fair… just like the people of Israel. We will lie to ourselves and say it is too hard to change and God’s expectations for us are too difficult, but He tells us otherwise “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deut. 30:11). I think the truth is that we just need to be honest with ourselves… either we want to walk after Jesus or we do not. If we do choose to walk after Jesus there is the way of repentance, dying to self, and the life of service to humanity (Phil. 2:5-7). If we choose otherwise, we have no one to blame for the mess we make for ourselves…but ourselves.
“Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart…” (Hebrews 3:15)
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. The LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor. For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation. Happy are they who trust in the LORD. (Psalm 86:11; Psalm 147:12; Psalm 62:1; Psalm 40:4)
Book Review: The Vinedresser’s Notebook
Author: Judith Sutera
Publisher: Abingdon Press ISBN: 9781426773839
Spiritual wisdom can come from almost anywhere if one takes the time to look closely and listen deeply and this little book is a prime example of the timeless advice to slow down, look closely, and listen with purpose.
“Good growth takes attention, dedication, and time. (p. 46)
Using the example and metaphor of the vineyard and vinedresser (one that is used in the Christian Bible quite often), Judith Sutera, with illustrations by Paul Soupiset, help their reader to see the work of God in spiritual lessons found in the nursing and care of vines and grapes. This is not a difficult book to read and the terms used are not hard to understand. Each devotional thought is only a couple pages long (not counting the illustrations), and a single topic reading will only take a matter of minutes. The beauty of this simplicity is the depth of reflection and personal application that comes from the insight gleaned from the vinedresser’s care and feeding of his vineyard.
“Truly balanced people know that whatever happens to them in the external world cannot ultimately destroy what has come to fruition on the inside. Only their skin comes between them and the eternal truth and beauty of being. Those who encounter them can see in, and what they have can shine out.” (pg. 90)
Wisdom doesn’t always have to be hard-earned. Sometimes it can be received as the gift it is. The Vinedresser’s Notebook is one of those gifts. I think this would be a great devotional read for a great many people. Thanks to Abingdon Press for the opportunity to review this title and thanks to Judith Sutera for sharing the insights of the Vinedresser.
Leaven, Stability, Patience, and Humility [Pt.2]
Readings: Psalm 119:49-72 ◊ Joshua 8:1-35 ◊ Romans 14:1-23 ◊ Matt. 26:36-68
“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong… Let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up” Romans 14:1, 19
Today I am impacted with thoughts surrounding these very rich, deep-meaning words as I am in the throes of discernment and decision-making. There have been a blur of days where the input I’ve received has been very affirming and positive; with the positive input, my receptivity and the consideration of my choices have been heavily weighted in a direction that has minimized my objections. Now, some of my more recent conversations have re-introduced thoughts and circumstances that I’ve pushed against and walked away from. My soul is conflicted.
My last installment in this ongoing series reflected a positive attitude and hopeful look forward, but today I second-guess that hope and positive attitude. In Part One of this series, I was considering what it might look like to be leaven and I considered how leaven interacts with the mix it is introduced. Today, I think I’m being invited to a deep reflection upon the meaning of patience and humility.
The first thought that comes to my mind regarding patience and humility is this: What does it mean to me in the very formation of patience and humility when the first signs of stress and opposition stir feelings in me of resistance or the desire to retreat? Neither resistance nor retreat can coexist with humility and patience…at least not in the sense that I am speaking.
Humility is the glue of our relationships. Humility is the foundation of community and family and friendship and love. Humility comes from understanding my place in the universe. -Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily (p.55).
As I consider these twin pillars of spiritual formation, I realize that neither is formed alone; they are inextricably linked. In order to grow in the way of patience, one must exercise an attitude of humility; likewise, humility cannot manifest without at least a modicum of patience. Neither one can exist without the presence of the other. This strikes me as an interesting dynamic. Scripture, the Saints, and the Fathers and Mothers of the Church teach us that we grow, and are nurtured, best in community. Now, deep in my reflection of some of these godly virtues that lead us in the way of Christ-like formation, I notice even the godly attributes we seek for our spiritual formation exist in community. Saint Benedict, in chapter seven of his rule, makes a codependent link between humility and patience saying, “The fourth degree of humility is that he hold fast to patience with a silent mind when in this obedience he meets with difficulties and contradictions and even any kind of injustice, enduring all without growing weary or running away.” Saint Benedict closes out his thoughts on this fourth degree of humility with these gut-checking words; “Moreover, by their patience those faithful ones fulfill the Lord’s command in adversities and injuries: when struck on one cheek, they offer the other; when deprived of their tunic, they surrender also their cloak; when forced to go a mile, they go two; with the Apostle Paul they bear with false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26) and bless those who curse them (1 Cor. 4:12).”
I sit here this morning pondering these thoughts; in my mind’s eye, I stand sheepishly before the Lord with my head hung looking down at my feet as I shuffle and nervously kick at the ground. I believe I have a reasonably solid understanding of what and where God wants me to exercise my vocation and calling. Part of me says, “yes,” but another part of me is desperately looking for almost any shred of evidence that would help me to justify a “no” answer.
“If it is possible, let this cup be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” -Jesus (Matthew 26:39, 42)
My heart longs to live in communion and fellowship with people who are open and hungry to taste and learn that the Lord is good. I desire to dwell amongst a people who believe there is much to learn from others and people who do not think and worship as we do. I crave community with people who are not indoctrinated and acculturated to the privileges and consumerist worship of the west. I yearn to run alongside fellow disciples who have counted all things as rubbish, leaving them behind, to chase after Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. The problem with all this yearning desire is that I believe God is calling me to a different place to serve…and this “place” conflicts with most of what I long for.
This is part of the reason my soul is in conflict… “I” do not want to be a Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill for eternity. I don’t want to be Ezekiel who was sent to a proud and hard-headed people (Ezekiel 2:3-8); I don’t want to be a Jeremiah, whose message was ridiculed and rejected. I’m also tired of wandering like Abraham and I’m ready to settle in and put down roots… and these are all part of the systemic problem of me, myself, and I. This is part of the reason my soul is in conflict. This is part of the reason God has given me these words: leaven, stability, patience, and humility to ponder. I made a covenant promise to God that I would “deny myself” and follow Him, no matter the where and no matter the cost. I asked God to help me and to shape me in His image…He has been faithful to do these things and so much more.
These are the stages to freedom from self-centeredness, to humility, the centerpiece of life. The first stage of humility is to keep the sacred nature of consciousness and the world in which it exists always alive in us. Everything we think, everything we do, everything we feel, is cast in time forever. Every moment that we live is irreplaceable, therefore each moment is hallowed. We must be on guard against despair, against fear, against bitterness, against self-seeking, and have the tenacity and courage to think optimistically and act affirmatively, and to put the needs of others always before our own. -John McQuiston II, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living (pp.39-40).
At this moment, I know I will say “yes” to where God leads, but my soul is downcast and I want this to go away. This, I believe, is part of the lesson and practical exercise of learning patience and humility. They cannot be learned without testing, application, and practice. Real life and real adversity is my lab practicum. I will surround myself with the Saints of the Church, I will lean on my mentor Saint Benedict, and I will look for living companions to help me in my journey and with days when I suffer with the afflictions of “self.”
I’m sure this reflection has not come to an end. I anticipate more writing and thoughts will be shared in this series, but I will close with thoughts shared from Father Alexander Men who writes the following:
“Patience.” “What is patience or long-suffering? It is not the state of cattle that simply endure everything. It is absolutely not the humiliation of a person. It is certainly not a compromise with evil. Patience is the ability to keep an undisturbed spirit in those situations that otherwise do not allow for such tranquility. Long-suffering is the ability to go for the goal even when you encounter various obstacles along the way. Long-suffering is the ability to maintain a joyful spirit in the midst of great amounts of sadness. Long-suffering is to have victory and to overcome. Real long-suffering is a form of bravery. -Fr Alexander Men, An Inner Step Toward God (p.79)
So, it is with all the thoughts from above I close out my meditation with this prayer:
O Lord and Master of my life, Take from me the spirit of sloth,, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yeah, O Lord and King, Grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, For blessed art Thou, unto ages and ages. Amen. (Prayer of Saint Ephrem of Syria)
Leaven, Stability, Patience, and Humility [Pt.1]
Readings: Psalm 119:105-112 ◊ Hebrews 12:25 ◊ Romans 8:1-11 ◊ Matt. 13:11-12
“I have sworn and am determined to keep your righteous judgments.” Psalm 119:106 NRsV
Leaven, stability, patience, and humility…these are big and deep words—packed with meaning—and they just keep bouncing around my thoughts and digging into my heart.
I actually started this journal entry about three days ago thinking I might be able to work through some of what God could be trying to speak to me through these words that have a long and storied history with me. I think I’m beginning to get something of a clearer picture of where they may be taking me, but I’m sure that I’m only beginning to mine the very surface tip of this iceberg of wisdom.
Leaven : to mingle or permeate with some modifying, alleviating, or vivifying element; An agency or influence that produces a gradual change; to pervade, causing a gradual change, esp with some moderating or enlivening influence. [from Latin levare to raise – via Old French ultimately from Latin levāmen relief (hence, raising agent, leaven) from levāre to raise. (see also lever)]
What does it take to be human leaven or a human leavening agent among people? Considering the definitions I found for leaven, especially in the context I think it applies, I believe it takes heavy portions and exercise of the other words I’m considering these days: Leaven requires—stability, patience, and humility. One of the definitions sounds as if it includes these action words in its description; “An agency of influence that produces a gradual change; to pervade…” I distinctly hear patience and stability in that definition. Whether it is obvious or not, I consider humility assumed when talking about interaction and change among people… where diversity, differing opinions, and competing worldviews are part of the mix.
I further think about leaven and its characteristics and it occurs to me that leaven itself is indifferent. Leaven is leaven and does what leaven does. It has no agenda and suffers no failure if its surrounding ingredients fail to rise. As I consider this very simple thought, a light turns on in my own brain and I remember the teachings of Ignatius in his exercises with the meditation of Principle and Foundation. Basically, the sum of the teaching of Principle and Foundation is this; “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.”
Naturally, this ideology or spiritual philosophy may be expressed according to the uniqueness of each individual. My expression of praise, reverence, and service to God may not be the template that is right for another person, but when each person, specific to their uniquely created order, lives out their God-ordained vocation, joyful fulfillment can be the expected outcome. The underlying foundational attitude to live out this principle and foundation is known as holy indifference. In the Ignatian context we are using this word it does not mean lack of feeling or concern… or apathy. Instead, what we mean is that we hold with sacred trust that God is in control, guiding and gifting us as needed to bring us fully to the maturity of our created place in the image, likeness, and Body of Christ. Indifference in this context can be described as true spiritual freedom. We stand before God with a posture of humility, openness, and trust. We look to welcome Christ in each person we meet with Christ Himself guiding us in every situation we encounter. We are ultimately free to respond, serve, persevere, and love as God desires. We are free to be the person God has created us to be, exactly where we are, in the very present moment. Holy Indifference. “Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me” (SE 23).
I think, as an agent of human leaven, this shall be my attitude. Leaven is leaven; it is 100% as God created it to be and does 100% what God created it to do. In whatever environment I am in and whatever my surroundings I want to be all that God created me to be and do all the God has created me to do.
It is clear, then, that to love others well we must first love the truth. And since love is a matter of practical and concrete human relations, the truth we must love when we love our brothers is not mere abstract speculation: it is the moral truth that is to be embodied and given life in our own destiny and theirs. This truth is more than the cold perception of an obligation, flowing from moral precepts. The truth we must love in loving our brothers is the concrete destiny and sanctity that are willed for them by the love of God. One who really loves another is not merely moved by the desire to see him contented and healthy and prosperous in this world. Love cannot be satisfied with anything so incomplete. If I am to love my brother, I must somehow enter deep into the mystery of God’s love for him. I must be moved not only by human sympathy but by that divine sympathy which is revealed to us in Jesus and which enriches our own lives by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
The truth I love in loving my brother cannot be something merely philosophical and abstract. It must be at the same time supernatural and concrete, practical and alive…and not in a metaphorical sense. The truth I must love in my brother is God Himself, living in him. I must seek the life of the Spirit of God breathing in him. And I can only discern and follow that mysterious life by the action of the same Holy Spirit living and acting in the depths of my own heart. –No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton (pp4-5)
I feel like there is so much more to say about this posture of heart, but I fear I’ve run out of time and energy for this reflection. I plan to explore the meditation and reflection upon these words. I want to ponder them individually and ponder their interactions with one another. I will share these thoughts as time provides me the opportunity to record them.
Your Word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path. I have sworn and am determined to keep your righteous judgments. Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips, and teach me your judgments. Your decrees are my inheritance forever; truly, they are the joy of my heart. I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes for ever and to the end. -Psalm 119:105-112
Day 30 at the Pecos Monastery
Today is my last (partial) day at the Pecos Monastery. These last minutes are always bittersweet for me. I find myself ready to return home with the same level of excitement as a child the night before Christmas. I am about to burst with joy in anticipation of being in the arms of my family. I miss my wife and I miss my sons. Terribly.
At the same time, I feel a sense that I leave a piece of myself behind when I leave this monastery. I will miss the sacred atmosphere. I will miss the liturgy. I will miss the Opus Dei. I miss being around men and women who have totally consecrated themselves to the Lord our God. I will miss being around those souls who realize the Divine is in us, around us, and sustaining all things… these people, who like me, realize that to consider something secular is to believe in the deception… all things are sacred and belong to our God.
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Col. 1:16)
I long for the day when my soul wanders no more. I accept the tension I bear in my spirit for this season. I know God leads me and I do not despise or lament the station of my calling. I will faithfully and joyfully pursue the mission of God that He has commissioned for me. Where He leads, I will follow.
So. My day is filled with joy and filled with tears. I anticipate a return to my cherished soul oasis here in the high desert of New Mexico—it may be next year and it may be sooner—we’ll have to wait and see what God has planned. Until that time, I will continue to pray:
“O Lord, come to my assistance… O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.”
[the photo above is of me and my friend, Fr Bob, a dear and gentle soul who I care for deeply]
Twilight and Beginning Again
Day 29 at the Pecos Monastery
Today is day twenty-nine of my teaching retreat at the Pecos Monastery and the 51st School of Spiritual Direction. I have a very settled spirit about me…a sense of peace and collectedness that has been with me for most of the past two weeks or more. I was hoping that my time here would afford me the opportunity to share my heart, my knowledge, and my passion; this was most definitely achieved in degrees that I could never have planned or imagined. I have been enormously blessed to give back to a community that has given me so much.
Another thing I was hoping to gain was a sense of peace and direction about how, where, and what God might be drawing us (me and Laurie) in our ministry calling. I’m not positive about how this will all resolve, but I have spiritual calm and confidence that is impossible to describe with words. I have had the benefit of a community of spiritual directors to converse with over the past month and I’ve been blessed with the sweet wisdom of my dear friend, Fr Bob, who I’ve met with on numerous occasions since my arrival. These many “conversations of the soul,” with all my new spiritual director friends, have reaped a bountiful harvest of fruit in my soul. I am equally sure that the harvest from my time here in Pecos isn’t over just yet and that God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will continue to minister to my spirit for weeks to come.
I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me.
You brought me up from the grave, O LORD.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.
Sing to the LORD, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.
Your favor, O LORD, makes me as secure as a mountain.
You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have clothed me with joy.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!
I have taken time to reflect over the sum of my life and I am speechless as I consider the grace and blessing God has lavished upon me. There was a season of my life that I was a hollow shell of a man… seeking pleasure to numb the pain of my depravity, self-medicating myself to blur my Ouroborian nightmares and other memories of my “self-devouring” habits. Who would save me from myself? Thank God! The answer is and has been Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25).
Now, as I sit here in these last hours, contemplatively praising God for the gift of his merciful, grace-filled, salvation to me, I look forward with hopeful joy for what tomorrow will bring. I have walked in the Cloud of Unknowing for several years now. I am learning to trust my God who leads me in his holy fog. It is okay now, and it will okay tomorrow. I trust his guidance no matter how blurry the horizon is. I know there is coming a day when all things will be crystal clear and my wandering will cease for eternity. Until that time, all my heart belongs to the LORD who rescued me and to him, my answer will always and forever be… “Yes, and amen, Lord, your servant is waiting on your command. Where you lead, I will follow.” Amen.
Saturday Easter Week—Faithfully Preach the Truth
Readings: Psalm 145 ◊ Isaiah 49:4-7 ◊ 2 Cor. 5:16—6:10 ◊ Mark 12:18-27
I have been following the recommended readings through Easter 2 from the daily readings of the Book of Common Prayer. Today, through a “providentially divine” accident, I was directed to a couple of different passages. As it turns out, the “accidental” readings seem to be perfectly timed and right for me (and my wife).
I think I can quote 2 Cor. 5:17-21 in my sleep; it has been a very important passage of Scripture for me. On the other hand, I cannot say the same for 2 Cor. 6:1-10 and it is a short passage of this text that caught my attention and buried itself in my heart. First, verse seven follows:
We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. (2 Cor. 6:7)
This is an important word to me and I found it very encouraging as well. I feel I have been faithful to live uncompromisingly true to the Word of God and the teaching of Jesus as I know it. I certainly do not get all things right and I do not profess to have the walk of Christ’s disciple perfected, but that is my aim…to walk as faithful to the precepts and Kingdom of God on this earth right now as I possibly can. “Faithfully preach…God’s power is working in us.” The Scripture talks about the use of weapons of righteousness and I think without a right heart, they can easily be misused and in an abusive way. The preceding verse six, gives us the attitude of the prophet’s heart.
We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. (2 Cor. 6:6)
While it is entirely possible to deliver hard truth harshly, the true prophet of God will prove themselves by living pure, being understanding, patient, and kind—filled with the Holy Spirit—and overflowing with sincere love. I want to be that guy.
The other side of this reality is likely the most difficult for me and a place I have found myself time and again. The faithfulness of the prophet is no guarantee that his or her audience (hearers) will respond to their message in kind.
We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest but they call us imposters. We are ignored, even though we are well known. (2 Cor. 6:8-9)
This is a difficult, and often discouraging, reality. I try not to be discouraged, but I care and I build relationships… This is an aspect of purity in motivation and the outworking of sincere love. These cannot exist side-by-side and not make a soul vulnerable. And so, it goes. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” And now the Lord speaks—the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned me…the Lord has honored me, and my God has given me strength. (Isaiah 49:4-7)
Easter Saturday Prayer
We thank thee, heavenly Father, for that thou hast delivered us from the dominion of sin and death and hast brought us into the kingdom of thy Son; and we pray thee that, as by his death he hath recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to joys eternal; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.