Seasons Change and So Is Me
It’s a different season of devotion for me. It seems this is a continuing cycle, but I’m still trying to figure this “season” out… what it is and what it means to me and for me.
Self-awareness plays a big part in this figuring out. I have always been very “Type-A” the way I pursue life. I am goal and task driven. In my past, I’ve been almost fearless, sometimes a bit reckless, in the way I zealously engaged life. I’m a bit more tempered these days, but there are number of hold-over attributes that I tend to wrestle with as I navigate the life Jesus is leading me. One of those attributes is my tendency to lean into performance-based aspects of my devotional practices. Because I am goal and task driven, I like to have metrics to understand my progress. I have been taught that having real goals means they should be attainable and measurable, so I like to consider my devotional practices and spiritual exercises in this light. For the sake of clarity, when I mention spiritual exercises and devotions, I am referring to things like Bible reading, prayer, fasting, solitude, praise, worship, etc.
With my spiritual practices and my propensity to measure them, I am given pause from time to time and wonder what the basis of my measurement truly is… am I measuring my success in the discipline? Or, is the discipline drawing me closer to God, which I believe, is the desired intent. Perhaps an even greater question is, “How do I truly measure my closeness to God?” Is it a feeling or emotion that can be measured? Is my closeness and devotion to God measured by the manifestation of tangible acts? Is my devotion qualified and quantified by my confidence of relationship through faith?
I might mention that my soul “feels” good, but sometimes my measured devotional practices feel a tad abysmal. This feeling is in comparison or measured against some of my previous years “performances” or my numbered achievements in devotional acts (how much Bible I read and how often, how robust “I think” my prayer life is, how many personal retreats I’ve taken… you get the picture). Are these valid assessments? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it depends on a number of factors. What is the intent of the heat? What is the desired outcome? Who is my audience for the disciplines I pursue??? Me? Others? God alone?
“If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant…” (Gal. 1:10)
I was reading from the Letter to the Galatians while some of the aforementioned thoughts were flitting about in my mind. When I sensed the Holy Spirit ministering to me through the words I share from the Apostle Paul (above).
I felt my response rising within me that I should be careful to remember that I am “people” too (if pleasing people…), and I can easily be caught in the trap of pleasing myself or measuring myself against how I feel or measuring me alongside my expectations for me. This can become a form of narcissism and self-worship as I try to please me over pleasing my God. Lesson: Don’t please me – Please God alone.
The other side of this coin is also important for me to remember. While conviction through the internal witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit is real and necessary for my spiritual development, I can be persuaded to use this conviction and guidance in unhealthy ways. In doing this, I can become a slave to self. I want to remain a slave only to Christ. He alone is the fair and just Master and He alone can be trusted with my soul and my developing self.
“No one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law…” (Gal. 2:16)
While conviction to change and become more like Christ is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit, and as a soul in development, I should be ready, surrendered, and obedient to respond rightly to Him, “Being right with God” is found through faith in Christ—and not through the measurements of my spiritual exercises and/or devotional practices. Naturally, tangible fruit (love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc.) is born from this relationship of rightness. The opposite is not true and has a great potential to be my spiritual undoing when I pursue the path of works-based righteousness. So… I’m changing. God is making like Jesus through the coaching of the Holy Spirit. I should not cling relentlessly to other seasons I have received great enjoyment from during the life of my Christian journey. Instead, I should be more open to trust the work God is doing today and measure my development on how faithful I am to respond to Him in each successive moment. He leads me always and never leaves me alone. God is with me. God is within me. May Christ be glorified in my every moment in my every breath.
It’s Been Awhile
The ether of this world is affecting…
Were it not for the flesh-God, Jesus, I would certainly be lost.
I am thankful that he speaks to me through written words as well as through the pages of my life. God is near, God is here, and God is within me.
I have been absent from my blog for quite some time now. The seasons of life change, moods change, desires change…I could go on, but suffice it to say there has been an unrelenting shift in my psyche and psoule over the past couple years that I have struggled to understand. In fact, I still do not. Understand. There are some things that remain constant in the shifting sands of me, my love for my Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), my longing for His Kingdom Come, my love for my wife and children, and now their children…, my love for learning, my love for God’s Church. These passions and these ever-present foundations of my being are likely the anchors that keep me from coming apart at the seams. Sounds rather dramatic, right? Perhaps it is not dramatic at all, but a reality that reveals the tension I have experienced in my soul this past couple years.
Both are in exile.
The isolation, the alienation,
Create a tension that is real.
I long for my spirit to soar,
My soul eternally set free.
The tensions of my mortality
Contort my being and warp my perspective.
O Incarnate Christ, rescue me by your
Empowering Spirit as I await your return.
As I was writing this soulful expression of my being this morning (above), I was reminded of things I had been previously taught (further affirmation of God’s Spirit in me as this reminder is a promised ministry of the Holy Spirit to “filled” believers). The reminders consisted of the following three ideas:
- God has planted eternity in my soul (Ecc. 3:11 NLT). Because of this eternity in me, I long for eternal union with Him. Consequently, nothing else satisfies me…not even the things that give me the greatest satisfaction on this side of eternity (not life, not wife, not vocation, not anything…). These life-loves can be temporary satisfactions, but the longing of my soul always returns to that which it does not fully experience—Eternal Union with the Godhead. It is good to recognize the source of discontent. It helps me to make sense of my feelings, so I don’t drift into depression and discouragement. This is why spiritual exercises like the Ignatian Examen can be helpful. The examen teaches us to factor in our feelings and emotions as we process the state of our soul as we engage God’s Spirit in us.
- This side of life is tough and might not get easier… I don’t mean for my words to sound nihilistic of fatalistic, but they can be the reality for some people. Still, the reality of a “tough life” doesn’t mean that God is not with us, nor does it mean our hope for our promised Eternal Union with God is lessened by what we experience in our day-to-day living in the here and now. It helps to have an understanding of our circumstances and perspective that keeps us looking forward while faced with opposition that reeks turmoil in all our being. The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth these following words:
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Cor. 4:8-18 NLT)
- While faith and the real Presence of God through His indwelling Spirit are real and sustaining, I want more and this is okay. I was reminded of a passage that really ministered to my soul about a year and a half ago when my mind and spirit were discouraged. Like I said, this has been going on in me for awhile… The words came from the Book of Numbers (Numbers 24:17). I realize there is context that I am not including in this writing, but the relevance of the words were, I believe, a direct ministry from the Holy Spirit to the needs of my soul…both then and even now.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future.” (Num. 24:17 NLT)
So I wait.
“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress…” –Thomas Edison
I endeavor with grace provided by the Spirit of God in me to endure the suffering of soul in tension awaiting its Eternal Lover. I am ever grateful for the blessings and gifts God has provided me today. I am deeply and desperately in love with my wife. I am ever blessed with the children God has provided me. I am surrounded by faithful friends who support, affirm, and encourage me always. I have the privilege of expressing my faith and the Word of God in my life’s vocation. On the one side, there is nothing more I could imagine to ask for in this life…and still, it is God himself who has ensured this life will never satisfy me. Tension. It is working through this that helps me to avoid the guilt the enemy of my soul would foist upon me. I am not ungrateful. My discontent is not born of sin. Quite the contrary. My discontent is a product of the Woo and Romance of a God who desires me far more than I’ll ever be able to comprehend during my mortal life. This, yes this, brings a smile of delight to my soul…and I feel it creeping all over my face as I end this entry. I say, “To God be the glory!” Maranatha. Amen.
Awake, O Sleeper © 05/25/2015
I am in one of two states,
God is speaking. Always.
His presence is evident;
His Voice is evident;
In all things—In all places,
If I fail to hear, If I fail to see,
I am asleep.
I want to have eyes that see
And ears that hear;
“Pay attention to how you listen…”
Am I awake?
Am I asleep?
I am awake,
Because I AM is awake within me.
For me, there is no silence;
For me, there is no blindness,
As either pertain to the Divine.
In the silence is God;
The Silence is not quiet;
The Silence is not lonely;
The Silence is nothing to fear.
In the silence is God.
This space is un-silence;
This Space is Mystery;
This Space is Divine.
The un-silence is peaceful;
The un-silence brings comfort;
The un-silent silence of God is never
Noisy, distracting, or confusing.
The un-silent silence is respite
And refuge; It is the place of God.
“Pay attention to how you hear…”
I listen; I hear.
I watch; I see.
I AM is here.
I am not asleep;
This sleeper has awakened.
I see the Divine; I see God.
I hear the Divine; I hear God.
I AM – in me;
I am – in Him.
…paying attention to how I listen and hear.
I was gathered yesterday with my faith community. At one point during our worship, we were guided in prayer and I heard the words proclaimed, “In a world where nothing seems right…” And my heart and my mind were gripped in pause. Now, I should confess that I too have spoken those words and likely on more than one occasion, but this time my soul was arrested with these words ringing in my ears.
“Nothing seems right?”
The context of these words was in proclamation of a world disordered around us. It is true; all around us there are swaths of chaos, turbulent waves of discontent, poverty, famine, pestilence, pollution, dread, and dis-ease. All this is true, but even in the midst of this broad brushed generalization, can we say with certainty… should we say with certainty “nothing seems right?” I question if this is a true statement.
I think and believe there are many things, perhaps most things that are truly right. I’m afraid we miss the deep truth as a result of our blurry, self-absorbed, and shallow perspectives. When we view the world, the cosmos, and all of creation through the narrow experience of our own self-realized being, we inevitably see all things tarnished by our own frailty and brokenness. Does our brokenness though, translate to all things being broken? Does our inability to be what we were created to be translate to “nothing seems right?”
There are many things right; in fact, most things are right.
Rocks are right. Gravity is right. Osmosis is right. Photosynthesis is right. Stars, suns, planets, and galaxies are right. Plants, animals, insects, fish, and fowl, all express perfect being. They are all complete expressions of what they were created to be. Not one is outside of its origin as God intended. A rock rocks as a rock was created to rock. Birds bird as they were intended. And so on. None of these created entities are in rebellion to their created being. Counting all created things, only man rebels against his created essence. Because of this rebellion, nothing seems right…
I wonder…I contemplate the possibilities and consider, what if man submitted to the order of his creation—surrendered to the command to reflect his Creator—would it be possible for us to see and even realize how much is right? Amidst the chaos and dis-ease, might we see the hallelujahs sung by the waves, might we hear the crescendos of the rising and setting sun? Is it plausible that we might witness the incomprehensible Divinity that sustains each atom that binds this universe together? I think we might. I’m sure we can.
It was narcissistic coordinates that landed us on planet ME and self-centered perspective leads me to see the world through my own corrupt lens. Jesus Christ prescribes the course correction: “Pilot, adjust your coordinates 180° and set your course for Deny Self.” Herein we are privileged to take in scenery that assumes the likeness of its Creator and suddenly…everything seems and looks right.
Things that go plop (polyp) in the night… or silent, debilitating, cumulative scariness.
Anyone that follows my blog knows that my posting has been sporadic (at the very best) for the past year or so. I have had occasional bursts of regularity, especially posting around the high seasons of the Church Calendar during Advent and Lent in particular, but outside of those special times, my writing has been very sparse.
What’s been up?
I’ve been reluctant to write about myself these past months, mostly because I didn’t understand what was happening with me…and well, I just didn’t feel like it.
I first started to notice I was having some problems a little over three years ago. I think I really pinned it down to the time of my first visit to the Pecos Monastery in June of 2011. It was at that time I remember having a sinus infection that never really went away. Having a sinus infection is no new thing for me, I’ve been subject to sinus issues, infections, allergies, and the like for most of my life, but they’ve always cleared up and I’ve had seasons of respite. Like I said, this 2011 infection/allergy was a bit different. It never went away; of course, I didn’t and wouldn’t have known that at the time, but I digress.
So, 2011 turned to 2012 and I returned to the monastery again. This time I recognized that I could no longer sleep turned on my right side as my sinus passages would become completely blocked. My fix to this problem was learning to sleep on my left side, which was no small feat, but learn I did and my sleeping habits returned to a version of normal where I’d get a somewhat cumulative amount of nightly sleep, but interrupted over the course of the night with frequent wake ups.
2012 turned to 2013 and new health problems emerging in my life. Most of these I attributed to genetics and the aging process and a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. My sinus issues continued right alongside my new health headaches and my sleep patterns continued to worsen with time. At some point, I was asked by one of my physicians how my sleep was. I said with a nervous chuckle; “I don’t sleep, I nap throughout the night and during the day.” He asked me why that was and I responded, “I can’t breathe.” This was the first time I really opened a conversation about my sinus problems. I always thought it was just something one had to deal with… “Allergies were normal” and antihistamines never really did much for me, so I just learned to deal with it. My Doc took a scope of sorts and looked into my nose and said, “You have nasal polyps” very matter-of-factly. I asked what that meant and didn’t get much of an answer other than “it’s no big deal…”
This brings us up to the current year (2014) and my continued struggle with breathing, sleep, and a host of maladies that joined the party. I started doing some reading about my newly acquired health problems and found many (maybe most or all) were related to “Sleep deprivation, which has been shown to alter the balance of hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that regulate appetite, leading to overeating, higher glucose levels and insulin resistance, all of which are risk factors for type II diabetes. It is thought that, without enough sleep, our bodies may get ‘stuck’ in a state of alertness, leading to an increase in the production of stress hormones, which increases blood pressure.” I was experiencing these very problems along with lack of energy, loss of focus, and generally feeling tired most of the time. This brings us up to present day. It was about four months ago that things started to get so bad that I was unable to sleep much more than an hour at a stretch during the night. This progressed until a few weeks ago when my “sinus infection” hit new heights and my “nasal polyps” started commanding front stage attention. No longer was just my evening life affected, my daytime life was becoming intruded upon in a major way. My face and eyes were swelling with sinus congestion and infection, I couldn’t talk well at all, and my personal health seemed to be causing people to be noticeably uncomfortable when I would be in their presence. I had to do something.
In the span of two short weeks, I made the rounds from PCP to Specialist to Surgery. I’m still in recovery mode as my surgery was less than a week ago, but so far my outcome is nothing less than spectacular. The post-op discomfort is certainly present, but the ability to breathe again outweighs those irritations by far. I’m hoping for a big (if not full) comeback. I want to see my overall health rebound with the expectation that my sleep patterns will also return to something resembling normal. I don’t know if it’s just adrenaline or giddy hope, but I think I feel an increase in energy already…time will tell.
I’ve noticed something else during this frustrating chapter of life, this season of declining health and all that it has brought with it has been deceptive and patient in its attack on my physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual state of being. I think there is a deeper and much more sobering spiritual truth with this revelation and awareness. This temporal, physical, and broken existence we live in subjects each of us to the insidious onslaught of wave after wave of attacks upon our very being. Nothing that happens to us affects us in a void. Every action, every experience, every bite and breath of life contain inertia and energy that reverberates in us and through us, tickling and tumbling internal latches and locks that release doorways of life and/or windows of death. No one escapes, and everyone is subject. This is the nature of the world we inherited post-Adam. The scarier aspect of this reality is the stealthy and relentlessly cumulative nature of this attack upon us. Left unawares of how we are being affected, we wake up one day and realize something or many things are broken, some irreparably.
We are multi-faceted creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made…incredibly resilient, but dangerously fragile too. We are told to love our God with “all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.” This should be a clue to us that we are inextricably linked through all these aspects of our being. One doesn’t come under attack without the others becoming influenced or affected. Many times, because we are so wonderfully made, we don’t notice the auto compensating nature that our bodies function under. Something begins to fail or falter and another organ or aspect of our being jumps up to get “its back.” Amazing stuff we humans are. The wonderful nature I point to though, doesn’t come free, there is always a cumulative effect and left alone and unattended, it can be our demise. The spiritual truth here is rich and shouldn’t be glossed over. Paying attention to our souls is an important task and much more complex than what many of us might give deep thought to—there might be risks far greater than some of us are willing or capable of paying for this kind of neglect.
Jesus and the Church have left us a great legacy and means of taking good care of ourselves so we might be ready and “healthy” for the Bridal Feast of our Lord. None of us should be so foolish that a “sinus allergy” would be our eternal undoing.
Return to my Senses
Readings: Psalm 137, 144 ◊ Numbers 24:12-25 ◊ Romans 8:18-25 ◊ Matthew 22:23-40
It’s coming close to a full week that I’ve been back from my month away at the monastery in Pecos, NM. I have already experienced a range of emotions from ecstasy at being home with my family all the way to “emptiness” and “dryness” feeling hollow in my soul… and many points in-between those extremes. Yes, it hasn’t even been a week yet.
I think there is a reason for some of what I’m feeling and sensing. I’ve just come off a pretty incredible month. There were many highs and I was very active intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. All or much of my faculties were laser-focused on the presence and working of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… even the seeming mundane was flooded with the Divine. This is not to say that the same cannot be true here at home in my daily routine; it often is, but for now, and while getting readjusted to my normal routines, I am a little bit spiritually discombobulated.
I also have some unknowns in my immediate future that add to my discombobulation. These unknowns can be a source of confusion for me at times and are difficult to get a solid read. The unknowns can sometimes feel like “silence” and “emptiness” to me. These feelings and senses prompt me to inner questions and soul examinations…sometimes it is likely that I read too much into them. I am an introvert and can be prone to a lot of inner dialogue …and not all of it healthy I’m sure. Just this morning I was feeling a bit down in the swirl of all these thoughts and questions of the soul. I wrote the following in my journal as I was praying and preparing for my morning readings:
“Sometimes the quiet in my soul bothers me…”
Even as I was writing out this thought (above), I remembered a word from Fr Thomas Dubay in his book Seeking Spiritual Direction where he writes; “Healthy and apparent ’emptiness’ is a blessing…” (p.57). Of course, this assumes the “healthy” emptiness is discerned and distinguished from “real emptiness due to selfish clingings which is a cause for alarm.” So, I was awash in thoughts and questions attempting to discern my “emptiness” from the healthy or unhealthy variety. (sigh)
As I was considering these thoughts, I reminded myself to go back and read again some of the writings from St. John of the Cross and his teaching about the dark night of the senses. While I do not consider myself in this place, it might be helpful to read it again for perspective. I do have a sense of God’s nearness. I feel my challenge is something a bit different…something I find difficult to put into words. With these final thoughts, I began my morning readings from the Daily Office Year 2 in the Book of Common Prayer. And this happened.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future.” (Numbers 24:17)
Lacking contextual application or not, I had some of the hairs raise on the back of my neck when I read these words. I felt as though this somewhat described what I was feeling in my spirit. Seriously, I walk by faith and not by sight. I know that my emotions are not the dictator or discerner of my spiritual state of well-being. I often ignore how I “feel” and bring doubts into submission to the order of Christ. I get this, but these words rang true and they uncovered a deeper emotion that had remained buried. I want the fullness of Jesus now. Sometimes I get tired of waiting. I know I’m supposed to practice faithfulness to the moment and feeling impatient sends me into guilt convulsions and spiritual embarrassment. I pushed my guilt aside and paged over to my next reading…
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.
We believers groan,
Even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory…
For we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We wait with eager hope. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.” (Romans 8:18-19, 23, 25)
Wow. This was just the reminder that I needed. I’ve read this passage many, many times…even have it memorized, but it struck a chord in me in a very special way today.
It never ceases to amaze or surprise me when God steps into my small little world. No matter how often I confess and profess the things I “know” based on my intellectual knowledge, there are still those things my soul longs for experientially…those things that still exist only in our future eternal. The Apostle writes and reminds us this is a normal longing. The Teacher also reminds us that God Himself has seeded the soul of man with a taste of eternity (Ecc. 3:11), it is only normal then that man would long for it. I think God does not want us satisfied with the echoes and shadows of the eternal future… those things we experience today are mere facsimiles of the eternal realities God has waiting for those who will persevere to the end. And so we groan (Romans 8:23) and we wait… waiting for something we don’t understand and we cannot see. It is no wonder some people go mad. Without the direct and mysterious, intervening Voice of God who does speak to us, we might doubt to our own destruction and death. It is for this reason, I thank God with all my heart for His wonderful and life-giving Word to me today.
My prayer from Psalm 144
Praise the LORD, who is my rock.
He is my loving ally and my fortress, my tower of safety, my Rescuer.
He is my Shield, and I take refuge in him.
Open the heavens, LORD, and come down.
Reach down from heaven and rescue me;
Rescue me from deep waters.
I will sing a new song to you, O God!
Joyful are those whose God is the LORD.
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.
Feeling the Love
Day 12 at the Pecos Monastery
Relationships and the bonding of community have really become evident in the past few days. Today marks twelve days of “living together” for the school. I realize that twelve days are not enough to necessarily manifest the discomfort and strains of community (people showing their shadow sides); however, the beauty of togetherness, sharing, and Christian love is evident and it is truly a divine experience.
It occurs to me that some of you might be wondering what the noticeable manifestations of this transformation are. I think one of the first things I noticed is that people start to take a patient and genuine interest in one another. A question might be asked; “How are you?” or “Could you tell me a bit about your life and Christian journey?” The questioner then waits (with relaxed body language evident) to patiently listen to the words of the one questioned…no matter how long the response. I’ve witnessed a number of times and watched closely the body language of people in our classes and in our small group gatherings. I see the physical manifestations of patience, gentleness, kindness, selflessness, compassion, goodness, and care for the other. These are among the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25) and some of the primary characteristics of agape love (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
This transformation into community and this experience of divine love is a wonderful thing to embrace and be embraced by. An example of its life-giving fruit showed itself last night in an evening of healing prayer for one another. Our director gathered us together and paired us into couples; once we were paired together as a “praying couple” we listened for the other to share their need or request. The pray-er then “listened” for the guiding voice of Holy Spirit to lead the prayer. It was an amazing and deeply mysterious moment as our souls listened and responded under the unction of God’s divine leading. It was a very sacred and moving experience as I “heard” the words in my innermost being to pray for my prayer partner. Following a period of 20-30 minutes of my praying for my friend, the roles were reversed and I was prayed for and prayed over. There is no doubt in my mind or in my heart that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were present in and among us.
We ended our prayer evening by pronouncing blessings over one another. I’m not sure if the order of this part of our service was especially planned the way it worked out, but it was among the most moving experiences I’ve ever played a part in. I’m normally not much at a loss for words, but I find it difficult to describe the “Blessing Service” and almost feel if I do I might sully or disrespect its moment in some way. It was that special…and I think I want it to remain that way.
I will be interested to hear from my new friends how God will continue to work through what we shared last night. I hope I get the privilege to listen to many follow up stories how God has worked through what we encountered among one another last night.
The Divine Love of our amazing God is a wonderful, sacred, overflowing, and permeating energy that is unlike anything else that exists in this known universe. I’m feeling that love. Praise and Glory to God; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Catching my Breath…
I’m on day ten of my month-long teaching retreat at the Pecos Monastery. I was reading over some of my journal notes from the past few days and I lingered over and held these words… “Our schedule started off at full speed and quickly took my spiritual breath away.” It seems a bit ironic that the pace of life at a monastery might be a bit tiring and spiritually exhausting for me, but such is the case. I remind myself that my role is more volunteer and service directed on this visit and I maintain perspective, but I’m making a few changes in how I approach my daily schedule in order that I safeguard my margin and maintain an attitude that is largely fixated on my awareness of God in the present moment. This is not always the easy task.
I have been blessed in recent years to have an expansive space to meditate, reflect, and bask in uninterrupted company of God. I shared the image with my small group that featured a large multi-acre pasture with the best grazing grasses and the sweetest water…and I’m the lone sheep grazing in the presence of the Shepherd. This has been my daily routine most weeks, so even in the wonderful space of my beloved Pecos Monastery I miss my pasture.
As I mentioned, I’ve made a few changes to my schedule and I’m finding a new rhythm to accommodate the demands for my time… the guidance of the Holy Spirit has helped me figure it out and I’m feeling better the past couple of days. I’m catching my breath and I believe the next twenty days remaining on my teaching retreat might be even better than my last ten. Praise and glory to God.
We had a group exercise yesterday with a reflection on an image. I’ve been familiar with the practice of Visio Divina, but it has not been a regular practice in my current spiritual exercises. I really enjoyed the experience and thought I’d share the image and my poem of reflection.
I am cloud; I am mist. My purpose is part of the cycle of life, but I am often misunderstood as a cause of obscurity or being in the way. I like that I am free and easy to move wherever I want and wherever the air and wind may take me. I dislike that I am often misunderstood and underappreciated for all that I have to bring to life and relationships. I fear most; the life I offer will be rejected or not received for the benefit of others. I desire above all things to fulfill all that my Creator has designed for my part in His cycle of life.
Jeff’s Journal 18JAN2014
Readings: Psalm 20, 21 ◊ Gen. 6:9-22 ◊ Heb. 4:1-13 ◊ John 2:13-22
I have been reading from the Book of Hebrews for the past several days and this morning while reading, the following words caught my attention:
“Today when you hear his voice, don’t’ harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.” (Heb. 3:7-8, 15; Heb. 4:7 NLT)
You will notice that I listed three references for this text. Yes, that’s right; there are three times the writer brings attention to these words. Naturally, having the benefit of context is helpful with our interpretation and understanding of these words. You can find the story behind the story in the Old Testament Scriptures from the Book of Exodus, but today I simply wish to share the short version of what I am “hearing” from this reading.
Everywhere—in every place and in every circumstance—God is. And, he is speaking. He speaks to us, waking us and calling us to rise up from the slumber of separation and death. Too many times, we hear “something” and too often, we are prone to ignore that which we hear. The first stage of rebellion is ignorance and ignorance leads to disbelief and disbelief leads to hardening of the heart. Truthfully, we cannot hide or ignore God. All things are naked and exposed before him.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (Heb. 4:13 NLT)
O, Wonder of wonders, O merciful God, who is patient and calls us to “Wake up! O sleeper, and enter my rest.”
Nathanael: “How do you know about me?”
Jesus: “I could see you.” (John 1:48 NLT)
Another thought came to me while reading from the Gospel of John. Jesus’ words as he was overturning tables in the temple follow: “Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace” (John 2:16 NLT).
Once again, I understand that context is important and the circumstances of this incident are different than the thoughts that occurred to me; however, I can’t help but ask the question to myself if we are not guilty of turning many of our churches into marketplaces. It seems to me that if we cater to the consumer mindset or create an environment of consumerism, we have committed the same act that infuriated Jesus as written in John’s gospel. We are turning the Father’s house into a marketplace. There is a lot that could be said about this phenomenon, but for now, I will continue to reflect and pray.
“i”dolatry: What’s a False God?
I was reading from the writings of the prophet Hosea today. It’s pretty interesting that I was directed to this passage of text (Lectionary Readings Cycle C—Proper 12—for Sunday July 27). The past few days I’ve found myself in various conversations discussing the topic of idolatry. It’s curious to me that our definition of idolatry is often very narrow; it is almost comical too that when we think of or discuss idolatry we hardly ever consider ourselves as idolaters or lovers of false gods.
When I revisit the Decalogue or Ten Commandments as given by God through Moses, I notice a founding premise that helps broaden my understanding of what idolatry is. Paraphrasing Exodus 20:1-6, I read the following words:
I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself anything that you can imagine that will capture your attention and energy over what is deserved of me. I the LORD your God am a jealous God.
I don’t believe I am subverting the understanding of the original text by assuming this to mean that anything that comes between me and the relationship I have with God is idolatry. Subsequently, I think this expanded understanding of idolatry means many things that I formerly assumed were harmless distractions most likely qualify as idolatry.
I think… we don’t like this quantification. Just like we prefer safe stereotypes (think devil in red tights with tiny horns and pointed tail rather than an “angel of light”), we like to assume false gods (idols) are little statues that we would literally bow before. If I do not do this, I’m not an idolater and do not worship false gods. Right?
Another of the primary precepts and directives from God to humankind reads as follows:
Now this is the commandment— The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deut. 6:1-6
While I think it may seem obvious, anything less than complete and utter devotion to our God is some form of idolatry. This may sound distorted and harsh, but the reality is that “anything less than” clearly assumes there is something that is getting more attention than the God who has created us. Look again at the foundational commandments and precepts for living in relationship with God… Remember, it is He, who has established the conditions of the relationship, and it is He, who has given the definition through this clarification for what is construed as idolatry. After all, anything not God is a false god, if we elevate it to a position of importance over Him.
There are ways in which we worship false gods. It is possible to be so attached to a thing or a person as to turn it into an idol. Even though you don’t say it with your mouth, you have an object of worship that is not God.
Another way to have a false god is to put your confidence in anything other than God. If you wish you were rich or desire to have a certain friend or supporter, and think that this will bring you happiness and security, you may have taken a false god. The Lord is God alone. Our confidence is to be anchored in him alone.
Think about these false gods as weeds in your garden. Pull them out by the root. Set your heart on nothing that is not God. Love God with your whole heart. Do everything for his sake. And above all, obey God. For if we merely revere, love, and trust—but do not obey—God, we are making God into what we want; we are making him into a false god.
Some greatly fear and believe in the conjunctions and influences of the heavenly planets and bodies in the sky. Others stand in awe of tyrants. Some put their trust in money, and they scratch everywhere for money, not regarding whether they get it by right or by wrong.
There are those who are overly self-confident. They have their merits and good deeds to rely on instead of relying on God. This is the greatest idolatry of all.
Others are servants to their own bellies, forgetting God while they eat and drink. Their stomach is their god.
Some are even able to make an idol of the true and living God. When we imagine the form and shape of God, we have missed God. Be careful not to create an idol in your heart.
–Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556); Catechismus
All of the above should serve as a warning to us. We should be ever mindful of how creative we are in fashioning idols for ourselves. John Calvin is credited with saying, “The human heart is an idol factory…” We should remember this. We are fond of ourselves and would much rather consider that we are more the suffering saint in the company of Hosea rather than a straying harlot like Gomer. We are not only easily deceived, but we are expert deceivers of ourselves. How often and tragic it is that we convince ourselves that we are given in allegiance to God, but the truth is we are more closely aligned with a god we have fashioned in our own imaginations. We have imagined something we call “God,” but the truth is that we have created a false god. And this might be the most vile and treacherous form of idolatry…When we fashion idols for ourselves out of God Almighty.
We use the Creator of all things as a template to create a god of our own imaginations. It is here that we invariably fashion ourselves as the object of our affections and worship. We make a god we can imagine…and like…and successfully serve on our terms. A god fashioned from our imaginations is akin to the original sin. It is akin to me shaking a fist in defiance at the One True God to say, “I will be like the Most High God!” I say this because a god fashioned from my imagination is ultimately the god of “me.” If we deceive ourselves into believing we understand God well enough to “create” a version of him in our mind—then he is no god at all—He has merely become me and I have appeased my ignorance and curiosity by calling him “god.” Beware. Beware indeed.