“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away… But if I go, I will send him [Holy Spirit] to you.” Jesus (John 16:7, 32-33)
I don’t like writing about the Dark Night. First of all, I feel very uncomfortable equating my experiences with those who have experienced a true absence of God’s presence and extended season of desolation, especially when it is accompanied by persecution, oppression, and other tragic or “dark” encounters during the course of their Christian journey. I often feel like a novice as I read the journals and memoirs of those great saints who have traveled the road of faith before me. I do not feel qualified to talk at length about some of my experiences and when I do, I feel as though they sometimes seem trivial and fall short of a reputable example for the subject that I might be speaking about.
On the other hand, I process my thoughts better when I write and talk about them. It puts me in a vulnerable spot, but I suppose that is the risk and trade-off for trying to figure out my spiritual journey. The end result is that I might not know what I’m talking about at all, but I’m willing to take the chance for the hopeful promise that I might make a step or two forward in my understanding of who God is, who I am, and who we are together. Sometimes the risk is in proportion to the reward, so I write…and I talk…and I think, out loud.
The past few years I have met seasons of loneliness, times when God felt distant, feelings of being misunderstood, times of discontent, days of melancholy, stretches of spiritual grief, attitudes of apathy, and bouts with depression. There are probably a few other “attitudes” I have encountered, but these are some I have most commonly identified. These times are always troublesome for me. I think it goes without saying that one reason would be the overall discomfort they bring. Another reason is the doubt that invariably comes as part of the package. I do not like to feel bad…ever, and I certainly do not like feeling bad within the context of my own spirituality. Moreover, I have an especially strong distaste for these things when they are accompanied with self-doubt.
What goes on during these seasons of the soul? What is it that makes us feel so lonely and lost? Why is it, try as we might, that we cannot seem to go back to a “healthier” time in our walk with Jesus? I do not think I can speak definitively to all these questions, at least in a way that is sufficient to answer the questions for every person who may ask them, but I feel confident in sharing my own experiences and some of what I’ve learned through the process.
Studying and learning from the great spiritual masters has benefited me greatly; in particular to this writing, the journals from St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila have been most helpful. Also, there have been several contemporary sources that have helped my understanding as well: Dr. Gerald May, Dr. Bruce Demarest, Dr. David Benner, and a few others. So, what is it that I have learned or perhaps better asked, what is that I am learning?
God loves me. I love God. These are two guiding principles for my existence. These principles are challenged by issues in remediation. God wants my love to be perfected and is active in leading me in the ways of perfection. I am damaged goods on the path of restoration. While there are a number of issues that challenge me in my Christian journey, there are a few that manifest themselves as “root” causes for most of those challenges. I believe I could narrow them down to pride, independence, and idolatry.
Pride is a serious challenge. I believe the fact that on any particular day I can wake up and feel as though it has been conquered serves me as evidence that it has not… been conquered at all. Pride is a most subversive agent; it often hides in plain sight. It was pride that served as the seed of humankind’s fall; its root runs deep and its fruit is plenty.
Independence is another great challenge. Not only are we hampered by pride in overcoming independence, but we also face the challenge of the great American culture that teaches individualism and independence as virtues for which everyone is to aspire. Independence is antithetical to the very nature of our communing Triune God who is a community Himself. It was God, who when creating humanity, said that it was not good for man to be alone.
Idolatry might be the greatest challenge of them all. I recall a quote by John Calvin, who said; “The human heart is a factory of idols…Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” I am unsure if idolatry gives birth to pride and independence or if it is the other way around. These issues are so closely interrelated it is difficult to determine where the beginning point is.
How do these character challenges affect the “Dark Night” or a sense of God’s absence? What do they have to do with God’s apparent silence?
I believe the Bible teaches us that God desires each of his children (me and you and every other created soul) to be wholly complete, as He first imagined us. This, I believe, is part of the order in God’s plan of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Therefore, God has enacted a means of being reconciled to Him through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, but that redemptive act is just the threshold—a wonderful and mysterious threshold, but a starting point nonetheless.
As we journey with God on the way of restoration and wholeness, being transformed in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, we encounter the challenges and their myriad manifestations I mentioned earlier. I could write and talk at length about so many of these challenges, but I would like to address the connection of “Dark Night” and absence/silence of God with wholeness and restoration.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
I don’t like the idea that I am an idol factory or idolater. However, if I am honest and objective, I am an idol maker…and will likely be until Christ’s return or my life ends on this side of eternity. Perhaps a bit of clarification is in order. While God allows us to know Him, our knowledge is imperfect, although as we seek God with pure hearts in spirit and in truth, He reveals more and more of himself to us. Still, this revelation and knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. This imperfect and incomplete knowledge of God introduces a problem to us; many of us are not satisfied with incomplete pictures/images. The remedy for this problem of incomplete image is to complete it and I believe this is what many people try to do…complete the image of incomplete knowledge. This is a form of idolatry.
No matter how pure my intent and no matter how mature my spirituality is, I form an image of God in my mind and heart based on what I know of Him. I do not necessarily believe this is blatantly wicked, nor do I believe that in itself is separating from God, but it can and does create strain on our relationship with Him which has potential to lead us away from Him.
How it Works…
As I avail myself to God’s Self revealing through His Word, prayer, interacting with other believers, indwelling guidance from Holy Spirit, and many other means of revelation, I am able to form an understanding of who God is…I form an image of God. Now, some of this image may be true, but being incomplete, the best I can do is to create a “wire-frame” image of God. There are elements missing, dots remain unconnected. I have two choices at this juncture; I can continue my journey with a limited and incomplete God based upon my partial image of Him or I can complete the construction of my wire-frame with my own embellishments. Both of these options are not always done intentionally, but the process of completion often takes place nonetheless even despite our best efforts to prevent it. The end result is a god of our making whom we will often project on to others through teaching, witness, or other lifestyle actions.
God’s best is for us to know Him in Spirit and in Truth. The evidence of Scripture and the reality of the Incarnation teach us that God wants human beings to know Him. I think it stands to reason that God desires our knowledge should be true and not manufactured by us, so as we journey with Him along the way of restoration, He leads us into places of wilderness, Gethsemane gardens, and hills of Golgotha. Each of these places are defining moments for us and can be places of barrenness, loneliness, anxiety, doubt, fear, the sense of God’s absence, and places of extreme silence. It is in these places where the student is tested… the Potter beats, moulds, and shapes… the Metal smith fires, forges, hammers, and sharpens… It is in this place where false images are erased and idols are crushed.
It is important to know this defining place is not a place of punishment, but a process of refinement. It is my experience too that it is not a “one and done” visit. It seems with each visit and increasing awareness of God’s character, there is an eventual follow-up encounter for pride smashing and idol crushing. I think the process will continue until… I also believe this is a natural spiritual order.
What has been my greatest understanding as I’ve encountered these seasons of absence and breaking? Probably among the most important things I’ve come to realize is that God loves me so much that He will not leave me with a false image of Himself as long as my heart is pursuing Him. True knowledge of God is conditional; we have to be pursuing Him with humble heart and pure intent. Otherwise, even what we think we know of Him will be taken away and will lead us to our own destruction (Luke 8:18 NLT).
“God who is everywhere never leaves us…Yet he may be more present to us when he is absent than when he is present.” -Thomas Merton
I am also learning that God never, ever, truly departs or is absent from us—what leaves or betrays us is not God, but our [false] images, concepts, and sensations of God. It is here in God’s “silence” or “absence” where He can usually be found speaking His loudest. Here is the time where it behooves us to exercise our best listening skills, here in the quiet of God. In the times where we feel that God is absent, it is the time and place where we often find even greater intimacy with Him. Do not despair in the moments of desolation and loneliness…for it is here that God’s presence is even more manifest.
Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
In the ancient Palestinian wilderness, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Golgotha’s Hill—God spoke with non-words and was present in His absence. As paradoxical as it may seem, I believe there are times when God is even more present in His absence than He is present in His presence.
God is specially present in the hearts of his people by his Holy Spirit. Indeed the hearts of holy men are truly his temples. In type and foreshadow, they are heaven itself. For God reigns in the hearts of his servants. There is his kingdom.” -Jeremy Taylor
Unharden my heart, O Lord
I’m doing a lot of reading these days, even more than my normal heavy appetite. The net result of this is that I have a lot of influences and swirling thoughts. If my writing or thought processes seem disjointed, it might be because they are. Nonetheless, they are good and challenging thoughts—I am motivated and I am inspired.
“Solitude is one way we can imitate Jesus…” Emilie Griffith
As I consider this season of Lent and venturing into the “desert” to be alone with Jesus, there are a number of themes and postures that I intend to assume. One is an attitude of humility and another is repentance; both of these postures are necessary to keep my heart surrendered to the transformation of Christ in me. I’ve written several times in the past week or so about living noisy and distracted lives. This is the thorn in almost every American side. Our daily lives are often too busy with work and sleep getting most of our attention. How often do we make the space to get alone with God-Jesus? How long do we spend with him? Most importantly, what is Jesus telling or teaching me?
Everywhere is the evidence and handiwork of our God. Am I paying homage and tribute to the glory of God in my day? Is my professed relationship manifest in my daily travels?
“The cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy life, but stands rather at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ… Those who are not prepared to take up the cross, those who are not prepared to give their life to suffering and rejection by others, lose community with Christ, and are not disciples. Discipleship is commitment to the suffering Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Discipleship and the Cross from Meditations on the Cross.
Bless YAHWEH, my soul. Never forget all his acts of kindness. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us as befits our offenses. AS the height of heaven above earth, so strong is his faithful love for those fear him. As the distance of east from west, so for from us does he put our faults. As tenderly as a father treats his children, so YAHWEH treats those who fear him.
O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.
O God, help me to never be that man. Help me to cling always to your holy garments. May my love for you always be pure and righteously motivated.
Working it Out
Readings: Philippians 2:12-13 ◊
“So work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for his own purpose, gives you the intention and powers to act.” -Philippians 2:12-13
Life gets busy… there are people to meet, things to do, and places to go. I get it and it’s true. Stuff happens and it seems to be happening at an ever-quickening pace. Today seemed busy for me, but my busy was good… although in the midst of my busy, there were several things that I needed to accomplish that I was unable to attend. What does this all mean?
I’m thinking about how easy it is for me to put things off and play catch up to them later. I realize this is sometimes necessary, but what happens when the things that get put off are the spiritual disciplines and exercises that draw us close and keep us connected to our God. You know, the One we claim “leads, guides, and directs us…” I believe that when we start playing “catch up” to our time lost that should have been spent with God, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Truly, I think in the midst of the fast paced, busy, and often interrupted lives we lead, it is a dangerous thing to lose our time alone with God. Yes, He is always with us, but our ability to “hear” him can become seriously impaired when we start to miss our time in solitude alone with Him. Henri Nouwen reminds us of the following:
“We are responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our secular milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own.” -Henri Nouwen
Even in the middle of our busy-ness and unplanned interruptions (are interruptions ever planned?), we can find ways to unplug from the harried pace we are on in order to reset and replug our hearts and minds back upon the person and presence of our God.
Most gracious and eternal God, in your bounty you have sent us your Holy Spirit. May he teach us to think and do what is right, so that we, who without you cannot exist, may live in loving obedience to your will. Help us to be aware when we walk away from or become distracted from your presence. We ask this as we pray the words Jesus taught us to pray.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Grace in His Presence
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
Today was a day I spent basking in the graces of God’s Presence. In one sense there was nothing special about my day or my schedule, yet in another sense it was divinely special because of the sweet time reflecting on the marvelous, mysterious, bountiful, wonder, and grace of the God who is my Father and my Friend.
Prayerful recollection of the most recent years of my Jesus Journey were stirred today as I counted the many things I am thankful for and identified encounters and experiences that have enriched my soul and my humanity in general. It never ceases to amaze me how intricately involved God is in every area of our lives. I know He is near and I know His Spirit dwells within us and this awareness makes me hunger and strive to become even more aware and attentive to every “breath” of God in my life.
I am just incredibly grateful and overwhelmed with adoration for this omnipotent and transcendent God who cares so much to be imminent and intimate with me. Mind boggling it is.
A Prayer (from Henri Nouwen)
Dear Lord, show me your kindness and your gentleness, you who are meek and humble of heart. So often I say to myself, “The Lord loves me,” but very often this truth does not enter into the center of my heart. Let these weeks become an opportunity for me to let go of all my resistance to you love and an occasion for you to call me closer to you
Putting Jesus in the Friend Zone
Readings: Exodus 12:30—27:21
As I continue reading through the Bible and the Book of Exodus, a picture has emerged in my mind as I reflect and consider the passages I’ve read in parallel with life and culture. I would caution about reading too much into my metaphor of “Friend Zone,” but it seems an accurate assessment if not taken too literally. #enddisclaimer
One theme I know is true, but never seem to remember how boldly it is proclaimed is God’s call for purity, fidelity, focus, and detail with the scope of relationship between God and man. God establishes laws, boundaries, and instructions for every aspect of living in community with Him and even extends the same measure of detail for living and relationships for the community itself. Essentially, after freeing the covenant peoples of Israel, God defines the relationship; He dictates the conditions to Moses and Moses reads them aloud in painstaking detail to the people.
“Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people: and they said, ‘All that the LORD as spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’”(Exodus 24:7)
Even with the oath and proclamation of obedience by the people, God knows in advance they will not “be perfect as He is perfect.” He establishes a means of forgiveness and cleansing for the sins of the people in the system of sacrifices and offerings; therefore, when the people fail to follow the rules of relationship, there is a means of reconciliation in place to prevent fracture and break-up and provide restoration.
As the years pass, so does the honeymoon stage of the relationship between the covenant people and God. The relationship itself is taken for granted by the people and the sacrificial system becomes a justifying means to an end. The attitudes of the people become apathetic, non-committal, and adulterous toward their God. The sacrifices necessary for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of the people mean nothing to those who offer the sacrifices and ultimately mean nothing to God (Isaiah 1:11-12; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21).
I hope I’m not reading too much into what I’ve perceived, but it seems to me that the trajectory of the relationship was something like this: God establishes and defines the relationship between He and the Israelites; the Israelites agree to the lifestyle of purity, civility, and fidelity God defines; God provides a means for the Israelites restoration when they fail their commitment. As the timeline continues and the commitment made by the Israelites is diluted through their generations, the people move from offering sacrifices for their failures to not recognizing their failures at all. In effect, the people, by the association of their actions, redefine the relationship with their God. What God calls sin, the people fail or rarely recognize as such. The people boldly engage in worship of false gods, mistreat their fellow human beings, lie, cheat, and steal from one another…and more, all of which were clearly defined as abhorrent and unacceptable to God. It appears a combination of things occurred in the hearts and minds of this former covenant keeping people; one is that they stopped caring about the Creator God who had rescued and provided for them all the years of their existence, and another is that it appeared they no longer considered many of their actions sin.
Years pass and Jesus steps into the scene. No longer, does man have to live behind the blemished façade of a false self; God comes to dwell amongst men and provide them a means to be wholly reconciled and fully restored to the imago dei (Image of God). Man no longer has to live in sin (hamartia: missing the mark of God), but God in the flesh shows man the way to accurately reflect and embody the divine nature.
Fast Forward Some More
Here we are; today, the world in which we live. It often seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. From ancient middle-eastern culture to modern western society, the attitudes and excuses of living and life seem to spring remarkably from the same headwaters: selfish pride. We enjoy having “God on our side.” We like the benefits of name-dropping; “Yo, me and J.C. are tight.” It is comforting to us to think we have an omnipotent God to turn to when the pressures of life squeeze tight. While we might not say it, we often treat God like our “Ace in the hole” only calling Him out when all our other “cards” fail to produce the winning hand for us. Many of us, calling ourselves Christians, live a dual life—keeping God separate from most of the messier areas of our life—our relationship with God resembles the “pretty room” many of us might remember we or our friends had as kids growing up. You know the one I’m talking about; it’s the room that was perfect that no one was allowed to go in or sit on the furniture and strictly made for looking at…no practical function whatsoever. Yeah, that’s the sum of much Christianity today, except that in reality it is not even pretty to look at if we are truly honest with one another and it certainly doesn’t look like anything passable for the Christianity that is modeled in our Bibles.
What Is Wrong
My opinions are my own, but I would like to offer them for consideration. I think there are several factors that are damaging the cause of spiritual transformation in the image of Christ. The first problem is a theology that has deviated from the Trinitarian example of our Lord Jesus. Many people seem to have abandoned the God of the Old Testament entirely or relegated Him to “mean and angry old God” status, openly thankful that they do not have to deal with that God now that Jesus has “taken over.” This attitude and belief is a form of Marcionism, which was denounced as heresy as early as the mid second century. Interestingly enough, this belief seems as strong and prevalent as it ever may have been if not stronger. Other heresies involving Jesus that have significant impact on how we respond to God and His work of spiritual transformation in us include forms of Docetism and Eutychianism, both of which argue points of Jesus’ nature of being fully man and fully God. The damaging point for us as followers is that embracing these beliefs (even through ignorance) presents challenges that can be almost impossible to overcome. I have heard it said many, many times from believers; “I cannot follow Jesus and be like him. Jesus was God and I am not.” While Jesus is God and I am not is a true statement, the greater truth is that we can follow him. God has imparted the divine nature to be shared in us (2 Peter 1:3-7) for the very reason of walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
I think the bottom line after accounting for the ignorance of our beliefs and heresies, is that many of us have not “died to self,” which is arguably the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ and becoming transformed into the image of God (Luke 14:25-27). Without this critical first step, we remain in charge of ourselves and constantly redefine the relationships (be that as it may) that we have with the Trinitarian God to suit our own needs at the time whatever they may be. This is not Christianity—it is Meianity and it doesn’t fly with the call of Christ to “Follow Me.”
God Almighty came to this earth setting aside his divine right, so we might become one with the Godhead (Philippians 2:5-7; John 17:20-23). It is the desire of God to share intimately His oneness with us, but there are conditions and distinctives He has given us for that level of relationship to be made true in us. We, listen to the words of God who defines the relationship and become dismayed, but we like Jesus…we just don’t want to marry Him. Jesus wants intimacy and monogamy, we do not want that level of commitment and want to be free to do what we want when we want. So, we respond; “Jesus, can’t we just be friends?” I believe the Bible teaches us that proposition is rejected, at least in the sense that we mean it. Being friends with Jesus inside the marriage relationship is good and “yes.” Trying to be friends with Jesus outside of the covenant of marriage with Him is difficult to impossible and in my opinion an emphatic “no.” Truly, we cannot relegate God to the “Friend Zone” and expect to be a part of His Kingdom. The teaching of the Bible does not support that ideology (Matthew 7:21).
Readings: Exodus 7:14—12:30
“…and we will not know what to use to worship the LORD until we arrive there.” (Ex. 10:26)
These words “jumped” out to me this morning during our morning reading. As I was considering them and asking the Lord why they caught my attention, I started to think there are times I get into routines (I like routine) and I believe that I know how God wants me to worship Him. Like, I’m positive that I know what will please Him each and every time, so I only “bring with me” what I know He wants.
O, presumptuous me.
I think, what I take away from these words today, is that I should bring all of me each time I come to worship the LORD. If God determines it is praise He desires from me, I will have it. If He desires my tears or my laughs, I will have them too. If He wants my adoration or my silence, those I will have brought as well. I bring everything when I bring all of me…all that I have and all that I am.
I’m sensing the point of this Word to me is this: I am all too often caught up in myself, my agendas, and my routines, such that I presume to know all that is in my heart and exactly how God wants me to worship Him with it. I hear God speaking to my spirit today that there are areas of my heart that need uncovered still. He wants those things uncovered and brought into the light as my acceptable worship. I can only presume to know what these things are and how God intends to have me use them as sacrifice and worship before Him. I will; however, know for sure when I “arrive there” with all of me in tow.
“If you want to live a devout life, you are not only required to stop sinning but also to lose your appetite for it.” -Francis de Sales
I am still working on finalizing my personal rule of life for 2013. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I do not feel the need to rush it. I will do my best to remain faithful in the areas I sense the Spirit leading me in now. At the moment, I have shifted my focus and devoting more attention on developing healthy habits—a new diet, exercise, and attention to a few other mind and body details. As a result of this new focus and initiatives, my blogging, reading, and writing habits have been lacking in regularity. I believe this is okay for now, especially while I form new habits and make adjustments to my lifestyle that will reap healthy benefits in my future, God willing and helping me.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world. A light no darkness can extinguish. In You, O LORD, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. In Your justice, set me free, hear me and speedily rescue me. Be a rock and a refuge for me, a mighty stronghold to save me, for You are my rock, my stronghold. For Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me that my actions might bring glory and honor to You, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who reign eternally together. Amen.
An Epiphany Reflection
“Among you stands one whom you do not know…” (John 18:26)
“In the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.” (James 1:11)
My reflections during this season of Epiphany have been spent on much personal examination. As I practice spiritual disciplines, there is the expectation that measured growth should be manifest from them. While I do these types of examinations throughout the year, the year’s end and the early New Year are times when this examination is much deeper. I am in the process of finalizing my updated Personal Rule of Life; at least what will begin as my rule of life for the 2013 year. This personal rule of mine is not chiseled in stone, but serves as a guide and is subject to change as God’s Spirit would lead and I would obey.
One of the points of my rule for 2013 is my Bible reading. One reading plan I am engaging in is a morning devotional my family is participating in together (The NRSV Devotional Bible). We have just finished reading the Genesis narrative and I have been captivated once again by the incredible relational nature of our Eternal God.
Understanding the great attributes of God, and I use that term “understanding” loosely, it seems that God could have used any number of means to effect His great plan of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration… any of which did not have to include the weak link that is humankind. But He chose to partner with humanity anyway at incredible risk to His Name, His purposes, and the general nature of His plan. Adam, Noah, Abraham…Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were all frail and imperfect role models, but God chooses to partner with them for the sake of His plan and for the sake of you and of me.
This is one of the primary thoughts that has been camping out in my brain. The “relational” part of our relationship with God is one thing I believe we often take for granted. I believe it is easy to assume much of the responsibility of our discipleship and restoration as images of God is placed upon God. Many us will assume any transformation we experience in our lives that resembles Jesus Christ is the work of God—and I believe that is true, but we also bear a certain amount of responsibility in the process of this transformation. We surrender to the work of God in us as we engage in the process ourselves.
Partners with God
Part-ners: Each “ner” has their respective part in the outworking of God’s grand narrative.
“A child that does not grow bigger is pathetic. Soil that does not produce vegetation is sterile. The tree that is barren is cut down. Unless we go forward, we slip backward.” -John Jewell
We cannot afford to take our “parts” and our roles lightly. As we journey with Jesus on the path of spiritual formation and Imago Dei transformation, we share in the process and responsibility of our discipleship. It is not all the responsibility of God; He enables, empowers, and provides as we surrender, submit, obey, and engage. Hear again, it is God who empowers and enables; it is the Holy Spirit who guides and comforts; it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ who walks alongside us in the process. It is the believer-disciple who bears the yoke of obedient surrender and engages joyfully in the process—making plans, strategizing, and taking the appropriate steps to become more like Christ. Restoration and transformation to the image of God does not just happen. The transforming journey of sanctification is lifelong and often fraught with difficult challenges. We engage and we fall down…we get up to engage again. It is through the surrendered looping process that we eventually and ultimately succeed. We celebrate our victories along the way as God celebrates with us and we begin again
If you have lived far from God, you may think you are very near him when you finally start a life with him. The peasant thinks he has been to court because he saw the king pass by one day. New Christians give up their worst sins and beak fewer laws than they once did, but they are still attached to the world. Instead of judging themselves by the gospel, they merely compare themselves with their former lives. If today is better than yesterday, they think this is enough to make them saints. If they can tell you the time and place of their salvation, they probably see nothing remaining to be done. Such people have a long way to go. -Francois de Fenelon
I pause and reflect on God’s life-giving presence in every part of my body, in everything around me, in the whole of my life. The world I charged with the grandeur of God. I dwell for a moment in His presence, all around me and within me as well. The Holy Spirit is deep within my being. I remind myself that there are many things God has to teach me yet, and ask for the grace to hear them and let them change me.
To You, O God, our praise is due. To You we pay our vows, You who hears our prayers. To You all flesh will come with its burden of sin. Too heavy for us, our offenses, but You wipe them away.
My soul yearns for You, O God. My soul thirsts for You, O God; when can I enter and see the face of God? O God, You are my God, for you I long and only you alone. Glory to you, Source of all being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
An Epiphany Reflection: Christ in me–Christ in you
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. (Isaiah 60:1-2)
Today the Church recognizes the Epiphany of Jesus; “Christ, brought to light.” Epiphany is the season of enlightenment, which we focus our attention on Jesus and the unfolding manifestation of his glory. There are four core events at the heart of Epiphany relative to the observance of the Church; these events are the birth of Christ (although this event has been removed since the fourth century), the visit of the Magi from the East, Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, and Jesus turning the water into wine at the Cana wedding. The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek verb phainein, which means to “cause to appear” or “to bring to light.”
I am thinking about what this season means to me. As we process the season of Advent and we “wait expectantly for the Light,” now the Light has appeared. Christ has come. In what ways do I see Him and what difference does this make in my life. The challenge I have extended to myself during this season is to make every opportunity a manifestation of the Light. I want to be able to “see” Jesus in every human encounter—to see Christ in others, no matter who they are—we are; after all, created as imago dei, the image of God. I want to be a conduit for Christ as well; this means I am a manifestation of Light too. As a Christ follower, people should be able to witness Christ in me. This will be my practice and goal for the next five weeks.
The Rule of Benedict reminds us that we should make every effort to receive guests (others) as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those “of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10) and to wayfarers. These will serve as strong reminders and encouragement to me during these days of Epiphany along with the very words of Jesus, also from Matthew’s gospel; “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Finding Christ in the other and exhibiting Christ to the other are moments of Epiphany.
If you love God, you will do everything possible to serve and please him. Love is impatient to do good. It is also quick and active and observant. Faith will encourage you. Hope will set you spinning like the spring in a watch. Reverence for God will rouse you out of your sleepiness. Enthusiasm for spiritual things will set you on fire. The more aware you are of God, the more involved you will be in working for him. Those who trifle lose their labor. -Richard Baxter
I think…Epiphany finds us most profoundly when we practice one thing, to love God will all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength.
Almighty and ever-living God, we confidently call you Father as well as Lord. Renew your Spirit in us to make us more perfectly your Light, shining and illuminating the darkness around us. May you be ever present and complete in us, so we might be the Light of your holy city on a hill.
If indeed I am to radiate your light to the world, Lord Christ, then let that light burn within me to purge and purify until I know only you and seek only you and, finding you in everyone I meet, enable them to find you even in me.
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns and lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Advent 4th Sunday: Year C [23DEC12] Theme for week 4—Expectancy & Incarnation
This week, with only two days remaining until Christmas, I will focus my reflections on what God “in the flesh” means to me. What does the little Hebrew baby born in a lowly manger two-thousand years ago really mean to my life? How does this reality translate to the life I live out daily? How does this translation of God in the flesh, living in me, create anticipation and expectancy for his coming again.
Canticle 3 — Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55)
46 ”Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
“Every situation in our lives has a ‘high cross’ somewhere within it. Day after day, over and over, we find ourselves sensing that unease inside which warns us we are not living true to the core of our being. But just as certainly, day by day we will find, if we keep our eyes open, the traces of ‘forever moments.’” -Margaret Silf
O Emmanuel (Is. 7:14) : “O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”
Lord God and merciful father, you stand by your people on whom you have bestowed the gift of faith. Grant them your sure presence in this world, and their eternal heritage in the world to come.
The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock
Purify our conscience, Almighty God by your daily visitation, that your Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who live and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Advent 3nd Sunday: Year C [22DEC12] Theme for week 3—Joy & Peace
The LORD will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever. (Psalm 138:8)
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24)
In that day the LORD will end the bondage of his people. He will break the yoke of slavery and lift it from their shoulders. (Isaiah 10:27)
But you dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. (Jude 20-21)
Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. (Luke 3:9)
Contemplation of Christ does not mean an emotional sort of pious daydream; it means entering by a deliberate, self-oblivious and humble attention into the tremendous mysteries of His Life—mysteries which each give us some deep truth about the life and Will of God and the power and vocation of a soul that is given to God—mysteries which each one of us in particular is called to make part of our very lives. They will break up, into colors we can deal with, that white light of God’s Holiness at which we cannot look. -Evelyn Underhill
“God is specially present in the hearts of his people by his Holy Spirit. Indeed the hearts of holy men are truly his temples. In type and foreshadow, they are heaven itself. For God reigns in the hearts of his servants. There is his kingdom.” -Jeremy Taylor
O Rex Gentium (Is. 2:4; 9:5): “O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.”
Holy God, Infinite Mystery, source of all life and light and love, let me walk with you in my daily life, let me come toward you in my prayer, let me know you in your holy word, let me receive you at your altar, and let me live only in you both now and always.
O Lord, I long to be fruitful, to know myself growing in likeness to you. Often I feel sterile, not fertile. I need your living water, the sun of your blessing, the wind of your Spirit, the grace of your presence. I yearn to recognize your likeness in my mirror, a reflection that will come only from the daily awareness of “God with me.”
Almighty God our heavenly Father, whose grace here on earth brings us the gifts of heaven, guide us in this present life, and so lad us now, that we might dwell in the light of your eternal love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.