[11MAY2012] Confession | Square Peg vs Round Hole
I have confessed from time to time on this blog that I go through seasons of being “disturbed.” I get this sense of soul indigestion or something; it’s somewhat difficult to describe or explain. I’ve been in one of these seasons for a couple of weeks now…still somewhat in it, since I’m trying to be transparent about it. I don’t think it is a “bad” thing and it is certainly nothing that erodes or even gnaws at my faith, but I much prefer the placid waters, gentle breezes, and blue sky faith over the choppy sea, misty gale force winds, and stormy-thunder sky faith. The tranquil faith is the kind I can do in my sleep with both hands tied behind my back, while the other entails that I work tenaciously and sometimes round the clock to answer the questions in my heart, chokehold the doubts, and rebuke the fear that would shipwreck my joy.
I think one of the most important lessons about these seasons is to recognize them for what they are; they are messengers of the soul. I’ve often referred to them as “dashboard lights.” Regardless of what the seasons are called, I do not believe they can be ignored, at least not without serious repercussion. David Benner writes about this occurrence in his book Spirituality and the Awakening Self; he writes the following insightful words:
In addition to whatever other functions psychological symptoms may serve, they do bring us information about the state of our inner self. That nagging depression or low-level anxiety, or the case with which we lose our temper or are tempted to despair—these are all messengers from our depths that have been sent into consciousness to tell each of us that all is not well in our soul. However, if we ignore or silence the messenger, or refuse to open the letter they bring and attend to the issue they are point us toward, we are doomed to allow the inner problem to worsen and simply postpone the crisis that is eventually awaiting each of us.
The past couple weeks I’ve spent “opening the letter” and “attending the issues,” at least I have been trying. It takes time and discernment to figure some things out, especially when the message isn’t so obvious. In the end, after all the extraneous indicators have been distilled to their lowest common denominators, the message resolves to learning to trust God, growing in patience as we wait with Him, and acting with faithful obedience to the things we know He desires of us. As simple as all this sounds, our spiritual journeys and the tests that we encounter along the way can become incredibly complex at times…and if that is not enough, the complex situations are sometimes divinely shrouded in discernment evading stealth technology. In other words, God does not make it easy on us to figure out the soul disturbances and/or what we are to do about them, so we wrestle.
What I’ve realized once again is that God has a unique calling on my life, of this I am sure. I continue to find myself the square peg and all my furniture is made with round holes. I keep wanting to rush out and get new furniture, but the Holy Spirit continues to stay my hand. I ask myself and the Spirit, if my edges should be shaved that I might be more comfortably fit to the round holes… to which I sense the Spirit saying “Trust Me. Wait with Me.” So, I’ll stay square… and it ain’t easy when you’re surrounded by round holes, but it is the season I’m in and I’ll trust the God who remains always with me.
I was comforted as I was talking with Jesus today and He replied to me through His Word from Ephesians to remember that I am united with Christ. I am holy and without fault in Christ. I am adopted into the family of God and my sins are forgiven. I am “showered” with wisdom and understanding from God. His (God’s) plans for me will not be thwarted because I am identified as His very own. He also gives to me the Holy Spirit. Nothing can change or take this away because He (Jesus) is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come (Ephesians 1:1-14, 21). And so, square peg is comforted…still a little stormy on the inside, but I’m not dictated by feelings; I am just made aware by them.
[08APRIL2012] Lent | Easter Sunday 2012: Day 47—Reflection and Meditation
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
♦ Psalms 118:1-2, 14-24
“The sun has risen. Seek the Son of Man no more among the dead. He has broken the bonds of death. Alleluia! A fire grows in our hearts. Jesus abides with us. His mystery accompanies us. Death gives way to glory. Alleluia!”
Easter Sunday: He is Risen! “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29)
It’s 11:30pm on Easter Sunday as I put down my closing thoughts on this Resurrection Remembrance. While part of me has celebrated outwardly remembering the significance of what this day represents, I have wrestled with disturbance in my soul for most of the day too. Part of me was sad. Bothered. Bugged. Annoyed.
I tried to ask my soul what the deal was, but it seemed too agitated to respond to me until a few hours ago. Maybe it was simply a matter of selfish immaturity (soul sulking???), but here is what my soul said to me.
I didn’t like rushing through this day. The past forty days I have spent focused on the need for and work of reconciliation that our Savior has provided us. I’ve anticipated this day, looking ahead and waiting specifically for it as I intently scrutinized every dark place within me. I acknowledge the need for the redemptive work of Christ and wanted to enter into this day in celebratory fashion, yes, but I also wanted to soak in reverent adoration at the feet of our Victorious Savior King as well—and not just alone, but with the corporate body…all of us worshiping and adoring our Great Redemptor God. So much of today felt “plastic” and “polished” …several moments felt awkward and out of place for me. I wanted to savor the Bread and Wine of Your Paschal Feast with You…but that was also missed from my day. Perhaps I had unrealized expectations. This day isn’t about me, but I do share with the Body proper as a participant. So, I’ve already repented of my selfish wants and extended forgiveness without condition for whatever offense I had taken earlier. As a crucified member who shares the Cross of Christ, I cannot afford to be downcast or downtrodden. I choose to move on. I, Your soul, am not bummed, bugged, or bothered anymore. Christ has Risen and He is my Victory.
So, I will end this day with my heartfelt prayer to Jesus, the One who has saved me for the joy of Himself and given to me the Victory and Peace this world holds no comparison to—
O Lord, my Lord, thank you for the Victorious Cross. Thank you for the Empty Tomb. Thank you for your unrelenting passion that never failed me and the Mercy of your unceasing Grace that prevented my heart from becoming hardened as Pharaoh’s was. Lord Jesus, when you turned me with prophetic revelation back in the fall of 2001 it was those words that have never escaped me…that encounter with you exceeded any other experience I had previously shared with you. I cannot thank you enough for that supernatural visitation. So tonight, I thank you with the prayer of those words that have spoken life to me and held me close to you for these last eleven years—“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.” (Galatians 2:20). Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be—world without end. Amen.
[29MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 37—Reflection and Meditation
Jesus Christ reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature. Yet he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. Let us acclaim him as our Lord and Savior, as we say: To you be glory forever.
“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Show your goodness, O LORD, to those who are good and to those who are true of heart.”
John 8 54 “You say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you do not know him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.”
I wonder how many of us alive today, professing and claiming “He” is our God, Jesus would say these words to.He was speaking to the religious people of his day… they were familiar with the Torah, familiar with the religious rituals, rites, and traditions of their faith… they were familiar with the teachings of the religious experts and the words of the prophets. He was speaking to people who claimed that YAHWEH was their God. And yet… Jesus called them liars and said, “You don’t know Him.”
So, I wonder how many of us he might direct these words to if he were speaking directly to us today. So many of us are gluttonous consumers… wanting, buying, grabbing way more than we need; we are materialistic, self-serving, and many other things antithetical to the way of Christ and his teaching. Could it be because we don’t really know him? If we knew Him, wouldn’t we be more prone to keeping His word instead of making excuses for the reasons we do not?
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us. God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord. Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord. Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Make our hearts like to yours. Let us pray. Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of your most beloved Son and upon the praises and satisfaction which he offers you in the name of sinners; and to those who implore you mercy, in your great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever. Amen.
28NOV2011—The Challenge in the Wait:
Random thoughts sparked by Amos 2:6-16, my life, modern culture, and a writing by Christoph Blumhardt…
Images of hummingbirds and honey bees flitting from flower to flower fill my mind this morning as I consider the ways in which we “wait” for and “prepare” for the return and coming kingdom of our Lord. I think “busyness” and temporal attractions are like flickering LED’s that keep us distracted from the promise of and waiting for the true Light. We settle for a carnival-like facsimile of God’s grand promise, a scratch-n-sniff scent of excitement that quickly fades to the joyless “no-smell” fake that it is.
Apathy is disturbingly deceptive in its creep. It is something like slowing metabolism. There was a time that I was able to eat almost whatever I wanted in almost any quantity my body would hold. It seemed like I burned ten-thousand calories a day even if I spent that time in a reclining chair. The sneaky creep of advancing years caught me unawares; the lusty appetite of my youth had made a homestead in the neighborhood of my brain where habits reside while my good friend metabolism moved to the countryside of my fond memories for retirement…without announcing the move. One morning I awakened with body aches previously unknown to me. It was as if I had slept for fifteen years and during my sleep someone had put me on a “fat intravenous feed.” What happened? My memory tells me I’m still a lean mean metabolism machine, but a high-intensity workout of forty-five minutes only yields a scant 350 calorie burn. I used to burn 2000 calories with a walk to the mailbox. What happened? The saddest aspect of this whole deception is realized in photos, videos, and the occasional mirror. As long as I don’t see these “reflections of me” I believe the lie of the memory; I’m still young, I still have my hair…and it’s not gray, I’m still thin and muscular, agile and athletic. The reality is none of these are true; all I have to do is take an honest look in the mirror or see myself in photos or videos. Apathy creeps upon us like age and slowing metabolism will; it is relentless and ruthless too.
I don’t want slowed by age, overweight, or apathy to be my normal. I don’t want to settle for less than God has intended. Just as it takes more effort to remain fit with a slowing metabolism, it requires increased diligence to remain alert and ready for God’s coming. It has been almost two-thousand years since he said he was coming again soon. Soon? Really? Our brains tell us it is unlikely it will happen in this lifetime… and so we let our guard down a bit and the creep begins. We console ourselves with shiny toys and creature comforts for knowingly letting our guard down, avoiding “mirrors” and refusing to have our “pictures” taken, so we don’t feel guilty of being stricken with the “creep.” This is our temporal reward for staying alert “back in the day.” Have we prostituted our souls for the momentary gratification of things having the shelf life of a cut flower that have been gained through the expense of another? No… I can’t or don’t want to think about these things; it is best for me to fly off to another flower. I’m busy burning calories and takes lots of fuel to keep up this frenzied pace. Wait…what?
Basically, as soon as it is a matter of putting God’s service into our daily life, we weak human beings don’t really know, or want to know, what is true. We live in a mass of wrongs and untruths, and they surround us as a dark, dark night. Not even in the most flagrant things do we manage to break through. We are hardly repelled anymore by murder, adultery, or theft. We now have customs and laws under whose protection one person can kill another. We have lifestyles of pleasure that poison everything way beyond human help. We have customs of acquisitiveness by which some people live at the expense of others. What can be done to help? So many, many people do all sorts of things that are wrong without having the remotest idea that they are doing so. Good people, many of them highly esteemed, people with good hearts, try to do good and yet they fail to put a stop to the wrongs that confront them, whether in their own lives or in the lives of others. Anyone whose attention is fixed on the coming reign of God and who wants to see a change brought about in God’s house will become more and more aware that a universal wrongness of things is pulled over us like a choking, suffocating blanket. He will know that the thing to do is to take hold of God’s hand so that there is some effect on this night, so that at least a few areas are made receptive to God’s truth and justice and are made ready to receive God himself. But to do this work we have to have a light. With this light we can then illuminate every corner where we have some work to do. Then we will see where the garbage is, where there is work to be done.
This is really very hard work. For when someone holds a light in his hand and shines it here and there, he is immediately asked, “What business have you here?” So gradually many people let their light go out again. It is too awkward, too inconvenient to keep holding up a light and showing people the dirt and saying, “There, clean that up; the way you are doing things now isn’t right in God’s eyes. Cut off your hand! Tear out your eye! Cut off your foot!” – as Jesus says, figuratively, when there is something about the hand or eye or foot that stands in God’s way.
That is what is meant by letting your light shine. A light has a purpose; a light ought to shine into our conditions so that we can see what needs to be done and set our hand to it and clean it up. Jesus, with this light, was not well received, and neither were his apostles. “If only that light weren’t there,” people said. In the times of the early church, the Christians were accused of causing confusion in the world, of undermining law and religion, and they were bitterly persecuted for this. The truth – the fact that people’s lives are not right – is too much for most people to grasp. It seems like a crime to them to think that things they consider quite all right ought to be changed. The sacrifice of Christ, which makes it possible for a new humanity to arise in the resurrection – this sacrifice appears as foolishness. So people turn finally to this Sunday religion. Going to worship is supposed to be enough. God is supposed to be satisfied with it and do without the weekday work. But let us not give the name of worship, or service to God, only to things that benefit us, only to things that soothe our own souls. You are allowed to have much; God is kind. He lets you make many demands on him for your salvation. But then it should also occur to you to let God make demands on you, to let yourself be bound and led to places where you would never go of your own accord. Yes, I will let the light shine for me, but I will do so only to show where there is work to be done for God, where my own happiness does not come into the picture.
Action in Waiting by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt – Download a free copy of the e-book here.
“Copyright 2011 by The Plough Publishing House. Used with permission.”
Lord whose light shines in darkness, Have mercy on us
Christ whose birth gives hope to all creation, Have mercy on us
Lord whose advent brings joy and love, Grant us peace
Routine Buzz Kill: MoJo – No Go
I know I am one of “those people” who can be, and often is, dominated by routine. When my “flow” is interrupted, my day ends up being an unscheduled holiday… that is, for all intents and purposes most everything productive stops because my rhythm or daily MoJo has been broken.
I’m in a rut of broken routine at this very moment… Like a record with a scratch, it seems every time I start to play my song on the “phonograph of life” or begin my normal routine, just as my song begins to play and before the verse reaches its first chorus the needle of life hits a scratch and the verse begins to skip into infinity. Interruption takes over and demands my full attention. Invariably, I find myself stopping, skipping, and scratching my way through each day… beginning with hopeful plans and usually ending with frustrated, partially completed things I had hoped to accomplish.
I know my heavenly Father is aware of this attribute in my character. I also know there is something to learn in this lesson of self-awareness. I wonder sometimes though; will this be a “thorn in my side” or will this trait be something I will overcome and be healed of. I can hope, although I know that even if I am not freed of this “thorn” I can learn to function well with it. Truth be told, I think the nature of this trait is also responsible for the ability I have to engage in deep focus and intense reflection upon life issues as they relate to God’s Word. The “thorn” I call a curse is also a blessing… such might be true for many things and for many people I suppose.
I know that I should endeavor to learn and try to become more flexible…easily adapting to changing situations and circumstances. If I choose otherwise, it can lead to a dangerous place of false dependence and unhealthy addiction. If there is nothing else that my life has taught me, I am susceptible to this type of behavior. Chapter fifty-eight from the Rule of Benedict teaches about stability, obedience, and fidelity; however, in the midst of stability and obedience is interwoven an understanding that we must be willing to change. The heart of this willingness to change is the vow of “Conversion of Life” or Conversatio Morum. Here follow some excerpts from the www.osb.org website that lend more color to my thoughts:
Conversatio is another commitment that is closely allied with stability and unique to Benedictine monastics. This Latin word means a commitment to all practices oriented toward the search for God. By practices we do not mean a rote, rigid adherence to regimen.
Sister Joan Chittister, in her book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, says: “To live community life well is to have all the edges rubbed off, all the rough parts made smooth. There is no need then for disciplines to practice. Life itself is the discipline.” I believe that a community life that is filled with opportunities for mutual mentoring is a life that will truly smooth out our rough edges and bring us closer to Christ.
The commitment to conversatio morum leads us to welcome Christ to turn us in His direction in every situation and to know that His direction for us is the best.
I don’t like it when my routine is broken. I like it even less that I am so adversely affected by broken routine and when my MoJo is No Go. I don’t want to idolize my routine and I don’t want to be ruled by it or paralyzed by obedience to it either. I want to be free to flow where the Holy Spirit would lead and open to His use in whatever circumstance may arise… and then, capable of returning to the work I may have left without disruption or broken stream of thought. I’m fairly certain the Gospels reveal Jesus walking in this way, always surrendered to the movement of the Father through the Spirit. If He walked this way, He has made provision for me and for you to do likewise. May Conversatio Morum and willingness to change be my new MoJo. I will pray and be reminded that when routine gets buzzkilled my response will be turning my heart and my attitude to the will of God as He transforms me into His image for His purposes…. Giving my MoJo GoGo. Amen.
[09SEPT2011] Jeff’s Journal
The past few days have been tough ones. I don’t particularly like writing about this kind of stuff, but transparency and authenticity are friends of the Jesus Way. So, the last few days have been hard… they have been hard because my mentor, Jesus, is answering my prayers. What prayers; you ask? The prayers that matter the most…
Over the last year I have been in a rather intensive study of what it means to spend solitary time with the Triune God. I have been learning what things are important. I have been learning what it means to be stripped down to minimum in most every facet of my life; personally, materially, socially, religiously, and a few other areas that may not have named categories. Oh, I’ve got a ways to go to be completely stripped down, I’m sure, but I’ve definitely been on the way. I’ve described some of this “schooling” in other posts with some of it mentioned under titles of “waiting.”
I had hoped that our waiting might be coming to an end. I felt that God was “releasing” us from the wait following my time at the Pecos Monastery… and maybe He has… or maybe He hasn’t. I don’t know anymore. For the past couple months we (Laurie and I) have been exploring potential ministry opportunities; by this I mean full time positions. Up until recently, we had up to four different possibilities that we were either considering or waiting to see if they might consider us. Slowly, one by one, each of them have fallen off the radar. Now, during this time we have been faithfully praying together that God would only direct us to the place He intended and that we would not be distracted by anything that wasn’t of His orchestration. We have prayed diligently that we only want God’s will completely operating in our lives, no matter the cost. We understand and pray that God sees the intent of our heart and no matter what our flesh cries out, we pray “nevertheless, Your will, O God, be done in our family.” This is a very noble but risky and scary prayer, if it is heartfelt. It can be stratospherically costly too, but there is more…
In, or during, my time of waiting and my “stripping of self” I have come to realize or deeply believe that there is nothing more important than learning who Jesus is in a deeply intimate way. Along the way, I have realized the greatest hindrance to this is… well… me, and life in general. I have had some very somber and quiet moments spent in communion with God during the past year. It has been during these times that I have cried out in my purest words; “I only want You! I only want to be who You want me to be! I don’t care about anything else but You! Lord Jesus help me to become like You and do the things You want to do. Lord, whatever it takes, make me the child you destined before I was created.”
Most recently I have had this prayer ever on my lips. A couple weeks ago I read a chapter on Kenosis (emptying of self) from the book Poustinia by Catherine Doherty. The entire chapter was incredible, but a certain illustration stuck with me and I formed a prayer from it. She writes the following:
Emptiness is one aspect of kenosis. It involves the constant struggle with one’s imagination, one’s dreams, plans, desires, needs. A Russian staretz said that one should be like a rag doll which can be picked up by the hand, foot, or head, now thrown in the bushes, now hugged, now thrown in the toy box.
There is so much more she writes about this and it may difficult to comprehend where I’m coming from having only quoted a small piece from this chapter. She goes on to write; however, about this kenotic work in the spiritual pilgrim taking them to a place of holy indifference, free to be used or not to be used by God in whatever way He decides. I have been praying this as my prayer. The revelation God gave to me that literally changed my life was to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). It is where the name of my website originated. This kenotic prayer has been with me in the teaching of Philippians 2:5-7, the great passage describing the kenosis (emptying) of Christ. The idea is not a new one to me, but for some reason the Spirit has renewed the fervor of my prayers for this work in my life. And, this is why the past week has been painfully difficult for me. As the hope for new work, as the visions for fruitful ministry, and as the dreams for a new chapter of life shared alongside my wife and family have crowded in my heart…the space for God and what He wants has been pushed to the corners. It can be and often is that easy and happens so innocuously. It is all couched in honorable and godly intentions, but it isn’t a holy indifference…and it isn’t self-emptying. If it were holy indifference, open only to the use or non-use of God, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with the results of the past couple weeks.
I sincerely believe God is answering our prayers, by removing ministry options from our reach and our path. These “yes” answers to our prayers (yes, meaning God has done precisely as we have pleaded for Him to do) haven’t been met with true rejoicing from me. My words have said, “Thank You, God,” but my heart has been rather indignant and pouty…and quite honestly even bitter. I didn’t want to share the entries from my journal, but I was led to a quote from an ancient teacher, Mechthild of Magdeburg, today that convicted me of my lack of transparency. Mechthild writes the following:
“What hinders spiritual people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins… I tell you the truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul becomes so dark and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.” -Mechthild of Magdeburg
So, now I’ll share a bit from my journal entries (Sept. 8-9, 2011)—
One begins to wonder how much “self” can a “self” hold. I suppose it is one of the darkest mysteries and curses of Adam’s folly and the fall of man.
“Take up your cross daily” Jesus said. It is no wonder… the “self” is infinitely regenerative without the cross… and even with the blessing of the cross it is only the surrender to “die” daily that keeps us from being overrun by the “self.” It is wanton in its insatiable lust for more of me.
Here I sit, not even five hours into my day and I have already done battle at least a half-dozen times (that I’m aware of) with my “self.” I have battled self-pity, pride, a selfish jealousy for my personal time, gloated over the failure of another, battled impatience, sloth, and criticized the success of another. I make myself sick, and these are only the things I am consciously aware of…and I still have twelve more hours left in the day. “Take up your cross daily,” He said.
I pray fairly regularly about becoming “more like Jesus.” I’m pretty sure I don’t have an accurate idea of what that even means most of the time. More journal writing follows:
I read about Him in the Bible and how He emptied Himself (Phil 2:5-7), and I read how my attitude should be the same as Christ’s. I pray for this attitude and I pray that God would help to train me in the ways of Jesus and when He does, I cry and complain with every drop of “self” that God squeezes from me…reluctant to let go of “self.”
I cry out to God for relief; I think physical pain would be an easier path and can understand why the ascetics chose the path they did to pursue holiness and self-emptying. I think it would be the easier road than this one that seems to tortuously strip the “flesh” off my soul…layer by layer. What an incredible paradox this relationship with self is. I hate to see the grotesque reminder of how far I am from becoming like Christ, but I still love my “self” so much that when pressed, I hate to let it go. …Thank You, Jesus, for the cross, but I never expected that I’d have to wear it for so long.
Even as I read again and write these words for you, I see so much “self love” that it makes my stomach turn. My words are steeped in self-righteous self-pity. Here I pray for God to help me grow into a place of holy indifference and as He begins the work, I sulk and complain as if my life were difficult when it is actually incredibly blessed. I am being tutored personally by the God of all creation. The Spirit of the Most High God has taken residence in my soul and begun the work of transforming my heart! Yet, I complain and lament over the process. Recognizing this helps me to understand the work is far from complete. I am also given a close-up view of the wretch I am, which might help me to be less judgmental of others whom I would like to think that I am better than… but not so much.
I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful that I have practiced spending time alone with God so He can show me these things. No, I don’t like to see the dark places that still inhabit my soul, but I am glad that Jesus believes I am strong enough to deal with them, see them for what they are, and confront them with the strength HE provides for destroying (crucifying) them.
Paul says, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Thus, according to his view, the passion and resurrection of Christ are going on all the time. They are always present and not limited to an historical moment. It was rather an historical moment which introduced the eternal values of the cross and resurrection into the whole of time. We participate in Christ’s divine life through baptism and the other sacraments. As a consequence, we must learn how to express the risen life of Jesus rather than our false selves in our conduct and relationships. To attain this union involves the transformation of our inmost being and all our faculties into the mind of Christ. This is the very fullness of salvation. The chief expression of the mind of Christ is found in the classical text of Philippians… “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…emptied…humbled…obedient…” (Philippians 2:5, 7-8). The Heart of the World -Thomas Keating
I know there is nothing more important than this work of spiritual formation and becoming like Christ. There is nothing more important than to sit at His feet and absorb instruction about the Way, His Way. I know there are people who would disagree with this, but He said “apart from me, you can do nothing.” I think becoming grafted into Christ and growing up into Christ requires more than an intellectual decision. Being with Him reveals the work that is necessary to bearing fruit for Him and His Kingdom. Until we are able to peer into the darkness of our soul and introduce the Light of Christ, we are unable to do real work in His Kingdom. And, so… this is my confession. My desire and prayer is still one thing: to become like Jesus no matter the cost to me… I’m diving back in for more.
Send your Light to guide us, O God, may we follow wherever it leads.
The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded (Psalm 64:6-7). You are the LORD, high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods (Psalm 97:9). I have said to the LORD, “You are my GOD; listen, O LORD, to my supplication” (Psalm 140:6).
We ask you, O LORD, in your compassion to increase your faith in us, because you will not deny the aid of your loving-kindness to those on whom you bestow a steadfast belief in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I woke up this morning with desire to praise God and realize that it is a direct answer to my closing prayers from last night. I am inspired and encouraged. God has breathed on the “spark” of desire for Himself that He has planted within me. That spark has been kindled into a flame and with my partnership with the Holy Spirit within me we shall stir and fan that kindled flame into a roaring fire today! (2 Timothy 1:6)
O LORD, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Give thanks to the LORD, whose mercy endures forever. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen. Give thanks to the LORD, whose mercy endures forever.
Most loving Father, hear our plea! You rule the world with equity, together with your only Son, and with your Spirit, three in one. Amen. Give thanks to the LORD, whose mercy endures forever.
As I spent time this morning in praise, prayer, and Scripture reading, I was comforted in several ways. First, I was comforted in the renewing of the day. Today is a day that I have awakened in the grace and providential care of the Most High God. I choose to rejoice in this knowledge. Second, I am comforted in the prayers and hymns of the Church which declare the majesty, glory, and sovereignty of our great and glorious God and Savior, Jesus Christ. I am saddened to admit that as much as I know this truth, I am quick to forget its meaning to me in this life. I am a man of “wandering” eyes…I see circumstances, situations, and crisis that lead my heart to doubt and desire to take control of my life. I am in a state of continual need to repent of my wandering eyes and wandering heart. The love of my life, King Jesus, deserves my undivided attention…and I cannot afford the strife that comes with wandering eyes. I shall work to discipline my “eyes” and keep them trained on the Prize, the Bridegroom of the Church and my King, Jesus.
I am quick to complain on occasion, if not openly and verbally, I do so in my heart. I lodge my complaint against the Lord; “How long, O Lord, How long must I wait?” I’m not proud of this, but I grow impatient. Realizing this was especially poignant for me with today’s Scripture reading as I was reminded of the plight of the Apostle Paul. In the later chapters of the Book of Acts, the account of Paul’s trial is told. I was reading from chapters twenty four and twenty five this morning and see an incredibly stoic and determined patience exhibited in the apostle. As he goes through and survives death threats and planned assassination attempts, he lands in front of Felix (Roman Procurator of Ceasarea). In my Scripture reading (Acts 24:26-27) I was reminded that Felix “toyed” with Paul for over two years, keeping him in jail under guard mostly with hopes that he (Paul) would offer him a bribe to be released. Talk about waiting without knowing… The context of this particular imprisonment (spanning some writings in the New Testament Epistles and the chronicle of the Acts) teaches us that Paul was all but sure this journey was going to end with his death; however, in the process he would have the opportunity to spread the news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While he waited. For next steps. That would ultimately culminate with his death. Wow. Waiting without knowing when… Reading this and realizing my selfishness and weakness brings me to a place of mourning and repentance. I am comforted that God cares enough for me to send these Scripture reminders my way. If God’s grace were not evident enough in the passage He sent to me from the Book of Acts, His mercy and grace shine evermore brightly in the prayer from the Psalms He gave to me when I was feeling chastised to let me know it was okay to share my troubles with Him…
I cry out to the LORD; I plead for the LORD’s mercy. I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles. When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn… I pray to you, O LORD, I say, “You are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life.” (Psalm 142:1-3, 5)
I close out my morning praise with the following prayer from St. Ignatius of Loyola:
O, Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of your presence, your love, and your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to you, we shall see your hand, your purpose, your will through all things. Amen.
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I realize how little I have grasped this teaching. Sometimes it seems that with each day I awaken, I find a new way to renounce myself…or maybe it is more accurate to say… more of me that is in need of renouncing. I hate that. I think, in a make believe world, a utopian perfect world, the Christian walk would be a “finger snap” and “in the blink of an eye, we’d all be changed.” In the end, I believe this will be true, but until that end… if we plan to follow Jesus, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). As long as we are pilgrims, sojourners on this earth—on this side of eternity, I do not thing that it gets any easier.
The whole process of sanctification is an exploration in irony to me. When we talk about sanctification or maybe I should say; “When I talk about sanctification” instead of generalizing my thoughts…anyway… When “I” speak of sanctification, I most often think of the finalized state of “being sanctified.” I think of being purified and perfected in the nature of Christ. Actually, I even attach a glossy version of that perfection to the process itself, but I think that is glamorization more than what is truth. Jesus says “…if anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself” and “…my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross” these are not glamorous illustrations. These are illustrations of mortification; death, dying, and destruction of the “old self.” We move to the glorious by way of the disastrous or so it would seem.
I’ve committed myself to this process of being Christ’s disciple. It will be the very real death of me. Becoming the ultimate and eternal disciple of Christ will be my death. It is hard to realize those words, but it is true. Little by little, each day it seems, I am invited to “die a little more.” Don’t let me be misunderstood; I do have joy and I have great happiness in certain aspects of my life, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t challenges, doubts, disappointments, and other negative experiences clouding my vision on occasion. Dying to self isn’t easy…and I don’t think there is a “patch” for spiritual “pain-killing.” I think this is what it means to persevere and endure…pressing on in our faith. It makes sense to me that perseverance and endurance aren’t attributes that accompany ecstasy and bliss; I mean, who has to endure bliss? Does one have to persevere through ecstasy? No, I think not; however, I do think it is hard to cast aside our ambitions and surrender all that we hope for and aspire to as we abandon ourselves to the destiny God has for us.
I wonder sometimes if the entirety of my earthly journey with Jesus is the test. What if I spend the remainder of my life waiting? What if I spend the rest of my life preparing? What if I spend the rest of my life as a nomad? What if I spend the remainder of my life seeing dreams, visions, and opportunities…but always just out of reach? What if this is my life? What if this is my test? What if? Will I endure? Will I persevere…will I pass the test? Will I continue to deny self? Will I continue to wake up each day with a surrendered self, if I believe this is my journey…this is the substance of my spiritual walk? Yes. Yes, I will. If this is what God has in store for me, then it will be what is best for me. If the substance of my spiritual development and my journey becomes something worse than I could imagine, it will be for my own mortification and further need for me to renounce myself. The Father knows best.
When we work to surrender our own desires, world view, self-image, and all that goes to make up the false self, we are truly participating in Christ’s emptying of himself, as Paul described it. We are emptying ourselves of the false self so that our true self, which is the Christ-life in us, may express itself in and through our human faculties. And we can do this because he handed over his human life to the Father, and at the same time he handed over the Divine Spirit to the human family. Jesus said, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up is cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). What is this “self”? It is our thoughts, feelings, self-image, and world view. Jesus added, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it” (Matt. 16:25). That is he will find eternal life, the Christ-life, welling up within. The Heart of the World -Thomas Keating
My Prayer Tonight—
Well up in me, O Life of Christ, well up in me. Be strong in me, O God, be my Hope and my strong Tower. Guide me into the great desolation that there might be less of me and more of You. I pray, O Holy Son, that my consolation might be Your Holy Spirit burning the impurities of my faith away from my life. I surrender all: my desires, world view, self-image, and all that goes to make up the false self. I pray only You remain in what is me. Amen.
Monastic Notes (Pt.16) —July 7th 2011
(Pecos: Day 18—July 7th 2011)
This is a difficult post for me to write because it recalls one of the most difficult days I had during my stay at the monastery. I think we all like to present our best face when in the company of people and my blog is no different in that desire to present “my best self.” This is what makes this post difficult. It is an embarrassing confession of sorts, but I have tried to be faithful over the years to be as authentic and transparent with my writing on the icrucified blog (when it did not impugn the rights or privacy of someone else).
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
Today we had a series of lectures concerning the “Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit.” These talks were troubling for me. My understanding, teaching, and general Holy Spirit Doctrine didn’t fully align with the teaching I received today. After a little research and study, I found the teaching predominately in alignment with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and I am at a Benedictine Monastery, so that should not come as a surprise to me. Nonetheless, I didn’t connect with the teaching presented to me today. I have been disturbed. I think one of the bigger disruptions to my soul is the realization that I shouldn’t feel, or don’t want to feel, the discomfort I experienced today. What to do? What to do?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time praying about this “discomfort” and was reminded of a quote I had copied into my journal before leaving for the School of Spiritual Direction. The quote, from St. Augustine, follows:
“God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand, you have failed.”
Hmmm… Interesting reminder for such a time as this, considering the Holy Spirit is one of the Persons of the Triune Godhead. What this means to me is this; my understanding of God is incomplete. My understanding of God is lacking and however I might teach someone about God is most likely flawed in some ways too. This doesn’t mean I don’t try my best to give accurate representation of God, studying Scripture, respecting tradition, and sharing from personal experience, but no matter how accurate I follow those rules my interpretation and presentation of God is still going to be lacking and ultimately flawed. “If I think I fully understand, I have failed in understanding at all…” There was another reminder that came to me during this time of prayer and contrition… As I was agitated by this presentation of Doctrine about the Holy Spirit, I was also reminded of a quote from the book I am currently reading News Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. He writes; “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate those things in yourself, not in another.” Wow. My peace had been disturbed…I was “angry and hating” the one who had disturbed me. Merton calls me to examine these disruptions within me—spiritual pride, arrogance in my own knowledge, presumptuousness, and most likely a host of other deadly sins. This reminder seemed the most helpful of all in overcoming my issues with our lectures today. The lessons about (and from) the Holy Spirit were personal and very enlightening for me in a very real and humbling…and disturbing way today.
God was not finished with my “schooling” today. Following our gathering this evening for Vespers prayers, I was offered another slice of Humble Pie (my second for the day). As we were exiting the chapel, one of the brother monks tapped me on the shoulder to have a word with me. I was pulled to the side of the corridor and the dear brother asked me to “sing” at a lower volume because my voice was over powering the chant of the choir during our praying the Psalms. I felt as though I had been punched in the gut and for a brief moment thought I was going to be sick. I felt a rise of a thousand emotions: anger, defensiveness, offense, embarrassment, aggression, competitiveness, bitterness, and many, many more things stirred within me. I nodded with what must have looked like an ashen-faced, blank-gazed, surrender, but I was in total shock as I walked back to my room instead of proceeding on to the evening meal. By the time I reached my room, I was close to tears; I sat on the edge of my bed and cradled my head in my hands.
I couldn’t understand why this older brother monk was feeling so hostile toward me. For the past two weeks I had thought I was catching on to the rhythm and the melody of our chants during our fixed hours of prayer. I had even had several people tell me, “Jeff, you’re doing great…you sing so well.” Perhaps this was the very problem… Since I was complimented, I would sing and chant as if I were leading…I mean, shouldn’t everyone be inspired by how I praise and pray to God? or is it more accurate to say “praise Jeff.” Ouch. Sitting here on the edge of my bed, feelings crushed, emotionally bruised, and on the verge of deep offense, I remembered several things from my study of Benedicts Rule. One of the predominant aspects of the Rule is teaching on the growth and maturity in the ways of humility. Other aspects of the Rule include obedience to authority and the purging of rebelliousness and stubbornness from our soul. I realized if I were truly living in Benedictine community I would be bound by these vows and would be sworn to live in accordance with the discipline of learning and acquiring these virtues. I would be bound to learning patience, obedience, submission to authority, and humility through living in this community. I tried to will myself and my heart to this “mean old” brother’s wisdom and helpful direction…it wasn’t working so well.
I was at a crossroads. I could choose to remain offended and push through it all and develop a “soul scar” from the cancer of my unrepented attitude or I could repent in full of my attitude and prayerfully ask God for complete cleansing and healing. I chose the latter and spent some time acknowledging my issues, taking responsibility and ownership of my attitude toward everything that had transpired for the entire day. I asked God for healing and forgiveness and then entered into a time of centering prayer. I rested in union with God for about twenty minutes or so and when I completed this time of prayer I felt completely purged of my harsh and hurt feelings. I realized that God had been in the words of this dear brother monk and there was nothing else in them but God. I felt grateful, thankful, and exceedingly blessed for the graces of God through this day. The way God speaks to me and directs me is beyond my comprehension. I know, I will never be the same for the lessons learned today, and this is in a good way that I’ll never be the same.
I thank You, God, I praise You, Lord Jesus, for the promise and reality of Your ever-present Divine Presence in the Person of Your Holy Spirit. Thank You, Almighty God. Amen.
The perfect ending for this day could not have been planned any better. The School convened in the library for a special time of praise, prayer, and worship with the Holy Spirit. I had been asked to lead some worship songs before we invited people to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit—it was a wonderful time and beautiful experience tonight. There was much prayer, praise, and adoration given to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Many people were prayed for and prayed over as the Spirit led us all…some were filled with the Spirit of God and others were re-filled with the blessings and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Personally, I felt as though I received double and triple blessings considering the work that God had been active in my life throughout the day. Ending the day with this service and this sweet outpouring of God’s Spirit could not have been any better or more affirming for me as a testimony to God’s love and grace.
I’m sharing another installment of prose written during the Life Scripts writing workshop while at the School of Spiritual Direction. This particular assignment had us ponder and write about the “things we love…” After a very brief few moments to consider the things we loved and were passionate about, Kenny instructed us to “take a couple of minutes to write these things out.” Here then, are some of the things I love…
Things I Love ©
I love the enormous and infinite depth of the clear night sky viewed from the deck of a ship in the middle of the ocean. I love pondering the mysteries held within the breadth, depth, and width of God’s universe. I love taking huge gulping breaths of air as I consider the miracle by which God creates and recycles oxygen through His process of photosynthesis. I love knowing that every drop of water I drink, bathe in, or use otherwise has been resident on earth since it was first created by God. I love when my thirst has been quenched then remembering these things and realizing I have drunk from the well of the Ancient of Days.
I love my wife and I love how she loves me—even loves me with all my frailty and weaknesses…even loves me with the gore of all my imperfections. I love seeing the love of my wife and my love for her in the visible presence and magnificent wonder that are our sons. I dearly love witnessing the beauty of our individual imperfections as they become perfected in the persons that are our children. Surely, this is evidence proving our negatives can become positives.
I love cogitating and ruminating all these things and coming to an awareness, realizing, how great my love is for my Creator-God. I love walking “hand-in-hand” with Jesus as He reveals the mysteries and secrets of the Kingdom of God to me. I love that all the things I love are some of those secrets of His being revealed to me.
Written at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery