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.
Holy Saturday: A God-Forsaken Silence of the Lamb
(My rambling thoughts on this holy reflection day…)
Holy Saturday. It’s a quandary for me. First, it’s not a day that I usually observed in the scope and sequence of my Protestant Evangelical upbringing. For that matter, neither was Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, or any other traditional observance of the Christian Calendar. We covered Christmas Day (more Santa than Jesus) and Easter (more new Spring clothes and candies than a resurrected Savior). Fast forward… Over the last decade of my life, I’ve become more aware and studied in the traditions of the Church and found that my faith and my daily experience with the Godhead and the people of God have been enriched in ways that words cannot describe. As much as I enjoy this aspect of my spirituality, I often get caught between the tensions of intellectual understanding and the mysterious unknowing. Reflections during the Holy Triduum (evening of Maundy Thursday thru evening prayers of Easter Sunday), cause me great tension as I wonder and wander in my mind over the events that span these days… Here follow some of my thoughts over the past couple days, a Midrash of sorts maybe:
The crucifixion of Jesus and the subsequent events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus are a profound mystery to me. I say I understand, but it’s more some measure of assent of agreement to what theologians say it is and what it represents or does for humanity. Honestly, there is far more I do not understand than what I truthfully do understand. The gaps in the Holy Triduum narrative lead us to much conjecture and likely much misunderstanding, but still, I think the tension has healthy benefits…or it can have healthy benefits.
There are some aspects of these “things unknown” that I struggle with more than others. One thing in particular is the reasoning of God for choosing the instrument used in the killing of Jesus (the cross and the subsequent act of crucifixion). Yes, I’ve heard and studied much of the ideas, thoughts, metaphors, allegories, and like that gives us plausible reasoning for the cross, but all of it still falls short of registering in my simple little mind. I don’t get it. Why the cross? Why crucifixion? I simply do not know. Though speculation and theories abound, none of them satisfactorily answer the questions I have, nor do they sufficiently purpose this means of death over and above the sacrificial death of any other holy person—there have been other martyrs, there have been other gruesome, tortuous deaths, and others have given their lives as a ransom for others. We respond, saying, “Yes, but Jesus was the Son of God” and this sets apart the crucifixion as a singular event in the history of humanity. At this juncture, most Christian believers just mute up and solemnly nod in agreement and smother their questions. I do not. As I said, I give affirmation of belief, but that doesn’t mean I understand. I can parrot all the theories and doctrinal statements of belief, but I still don’t understand. For me, it begins to boil down to whether or not the cross is truly the seminal event of the Christian faith. Most of my Christian upbringing leads me to say it was what I was taught; “It’s all about the cross” “It’s all about Jesus suffering in my place” “It’s all about the blood” “There had to be a price for sin…and Jesus paid the price.” I honestly have a tough time nodding my head in agreement that these are the seminal events of the faith I profess. Don’t misunderstand my thoughts, I do think these are pieces of the whole, but the seminal event??? No. I don’t believe that.
Am I saying the cross is not central to the Christian faith? I don’t think I would actually say those words, but I don’t believe I place the same level of importance on this event as what I was lead to believe. The death of Christ is central to the faith…but the instrument of death, I’m not so convinced other than it is associated with Jesus. In other words, had it been a poison lance or a hangman’s noose, either of these might be the little golden charms we hang on our walls or around our necks.
What then, is the critical event of the Christian faith? I say it is the resurrection (The apostle Paul seems to affirm this in his 1 Corinthians discourse chapter fifteen). This begins one of my main points of contention. Many Protestants, especially in the circles that I have traveled, focus almost entirely on the cross, suffering, and death of Christ. All of these are not as much about Christ as they are about Jesus taking “my” place. He suffered for “me.” He died in “my” place. In effect, a translation of this focus can become so “me” centered it loses the focus of redemption and reconciliation entirely. This is not true of the resurrection. The resurrection remains “we” centered. Perhaps that is why so many humans lose focus on the resurrected Christ and want to keep their eyes fixated on the suffering Christ. Again, I don’t know, but I wonder. Regardless, hyper-focalization on the death of Christ inadvertently minimizes the most important aspect of the Christian faith, the resurrection.
But what about those days in-between the death and resurrection of Christ, that Holy, Silent, despondent day when Christ was silent, dead, and buried.
The historical teaching of the Church proclaims Jesus descended into the underworld or place of the dead (the Harrowing of Hell) and defeated the captor of humanity. Exactly how this played out, I am unsure, but we profess similar in our confessions and creeds within the Christian Church. I have my own theory and piecemeal understanding—speculative I am sure—nonetheless, it is what I think I think for this season of my understanding.
In his death, Christ identified with humanity more intimately than at any point previously in his life. How? I think he identified with humanity more closely through his forsaken separation from God (the Godhead: oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Because Jesus was incarnate (born and lived as human flesh), because he agreed to become human and empty himself of his Divinity (Phil. 2:5-11), he was able to fully experience, understand, and identify with humanity what separation from God was truly like. Before this moment in time, God had never been separated from God. God agreed to break unity with himself for the sake of saving humanity. All his mortal life (Jesus) was readying him for this separation and preparing him for the moment it would take place. The tragedy and heartbreak of the Gethsemane prayers, pleading for the cup of sacrifice to be removed, all leading to this point. The travesty of separation was agreed to and accepted for the sole purpose of saving souls, the most wonderful creation of all of God’s created things, humanity. It’s all about the we…not the me.
This moment of “death” precipitated by the narrative of the cross, God-Forsaking-God, led to the Silence of the Lamb (Holy Saturday), but only in temporal time…only in what we could see and hear with our physically limited eyes and ears. In eternal time, happening at the same instance of death that Silenced the Lamb, eternity heard a roar from the Lion of Judah being born gloriously for all eternity, triumphantly redeeming and reconciling God’s greatest creation, human souls.
And thus… The God-Forsaken silence of the Lamb was eternity’s greatest triumph. This is why resurrection matters. It is why I adhere to proclaiming Christus Victor (Irenaeus) opposing a hyper-exaltation of Penal Substitution (Augustine). Christus Victor is all about the “we” while Penal Substitution can easily deteriorate into the age-old trappings of “me.” I have been crucified with Christ, so I might live eternally with Christ.
Saturday: Day 4 of Lent
Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God
I don’t know where the Spirit is leading me this Lent, but it is starting out with a very serious departure from my previous seasons of penance, contrition, and somberness. I have several devotional books that have been labeled specifically for Lent and I’m following the Daily Scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer, providing evidence to me that I have not subconsciously planned or contrived the direction my heart is drawn. I will continue my practices and devotion, and follow where God leads.
I began my morning with reflection on Psalm 30 and 32. I came away from that reflection with the following as my prayer:
I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me—you restored my health, and brought me up from the grave. O LORD, you have kept me from falling into the pit of death. Weeping and my tears may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. You are the morning, my LORD, You are the Bright and Morning Star! You are my Joy! The Bringer of Light and the Giver of Life! You have turned my mourning into a morning of joy-filled dancing! I will sing joyful praises to you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 30)
My disobedience is forgiven. My sin is put out of sight. The LORD has cleared my guilt. He forgave me! All my guilt is gone! I will give thanks to you, My God and King, I will praise you forever! (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 32)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything… God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)
The past three days, the Gospel reading has come from John 17. This passage of Scripture is among the most influential passages found in the whole Bible for the context of my spiritual development and continues to be one of the most formative passages of Scripture no matter how many times that I read it. There is something mysterious and divine about the energy that soaks into my soul each time I encounter Christ Jesus, the Living God, through this text. It is the prayer of Jesus, perhaps that is part of its mystery. I find this prayer always challenging and always inspiring. The promise and intercessory petition of God (Jesus) for us, his disciples, is mind-blowing.
Excerpted from John 17:9-26
My prayer is for those you have given me… Protect them, so they will be united just as we are… Keep them safe from the evil one. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message—I have given them the glory you gave me. I pray they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. I am in them and you are in me…May the world know you love them as much as you love me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…
Simply an amazing passage of Scripture. This, prayer of Jesus, is this God praying to God… himself? And praying for humanity, not only for his immediate disciples, but all those who will believe in him/Jesus through their message. Yes, that will make me inclusive in that prayer!!! One of the things that I find so moving about this prayer is how it reveals the heart of God in it. Jesus says as much; “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…” (John 17:26). It seems safe, then, to me, to assume that what is happening in this narrative account of Jesus in the Garden is Jesus revealing God the Father, his heart for us, the loved ones who will follow him and believe in him.
I am so grateful for this “reveal” of God to me… it seems fitting for this season of my life. The “Type-A” personality I am, I can often be tempted to guilt over performance issues where I feel I am not ready, studying, writing, or praying enough (as far as Christian disciplines go). I sometimes feel my thoughts are dark, evil, and unholy… There is no shortage of stuff that can bring me down and I can be tempted by the darkness and doubt to accept a false image of God—not unlike the false image that was offered to Adam and Eve during their Garden Temptation, which they ultimately accepted. I can see where that has brought us. I don’t want that image or the catastrophe it brings; no thanks!
What I continue to learn and constantly affirmed is that the Father is far more loving that I can ever imagine. And this loving Father, according to the prayer of Jesus, loves me as much as he loves the Only Begotten Son (John 17:23). Out of this world AMAZING. How can I not praise HIM!!! How can my heart not be joy-dancing-Glad!??!
Here is what my heart sings today:
I am flesh, but I am Divine because Christ is in me.
I am mortal, but my soul is immortal, promised by God to be with Him forever.
I am broken, but in the process of being restored.
I was the son of Adam, but now am the adopted son of God through the Son of God
Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
My Daily Bread: Scripture Meditations
The following is an extended meditation that began with my practice of engaging God’s Word through lectio divina (divine reading). The process follows a few basic steps: (1) quiet, slow, and attentive reading of a short passage of Scripture (2) “listening” in a meditative posture for God’s Word to be “spoken” – a word, phrase or other mental image coming from the selected text (3) focus on the highlighted word or image, praying God will provide clarity on His Word to me/you (4) prayerfully responding to God with gratitude and surrendered obedience to follow His guidance through the Word given for the day. This is the most basic approach in this style of reading, although there are a number of variations. I’ve found this engagement with God’s Word one of the most rich and personally meaningful ways of reading Scripture. Additionally, I enjoy reading in this style with small groups and have found it to be one of the more spiritually insightful ways of listening to God in the current spiritual exercises and devotion that I practice.
5 “Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy.6 Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ 7 For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? 8 And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?
9 “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Deuteronomy 4:5-9 New Living Translation (NLT)
Concerning the decrees and regulations of God:
- Obey them completely
- They display wisdom and intelligence
- They are righteous and fair
- We are to pass them on to each generation (children and grandchildren)
“The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him”
It is my desire to make all of the precepts of God my centerpiece of life—they will keep Him at my center and me at His center. The precepts of God are full of wisdom and intelligence…righteous and fair. It seems then, only a fool and a selfish cheat would seek to avoid God and His decrees. They are intended for the flourishing of all humanity.
Without a focus and intentional connection with God through the Holy Spirit, it is easy for our attentions to stray and easy to forget our commitment to His decrees and regulations. We are prone to seek our own precepts and path…, which often lead in dangerous directions away from “flourishing.”
“But watch out! Be careful never to forget!”
W I S E • P R U D E N T • R I G H T E O U S • F A I R
“The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him”
The person who follows the commands and decrees of God exhibits wisdom and intelligence.
“Obey them completely…”
The command to “obey them completely” implies that I must know them well and they have been taught to me “just as the LORD commanded” or as God intended them to be lived out. This further infers that individual interpretations of God’s commandments may not be the essence of obeying them completely. Discernment empowered through the Holy Spirit and the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit-filled people is a necessary component to help insure successful following of God’s decrees. Wisdom dictates that my care is needed in interpretation so I do not infer or impose my own desires or culturally nurtured thinking into God’s commands. I am reminded that I can ask God for wisdom and He will guide me into truth using His Word (Scripture), His People (Tradition), God-centered thinking (Reason), and my own experience in the process of interpretation.
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.
Book Review: Exploring Christian Doctrine
Author: Tony Lane
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
I am always on the lookout for teaching tools that will help me to share What Christians Believe. InterVarsity Press and Tony Lane have worked together to produce what is, in my opinion, an extraordinary systematic study in basic Christian doctrine.
Tony Lane (DD, University of Oxford) is professor of historical theology at the London School of Theology. One might suspect that systematic studies of Christian doctrine can be rather dry and academic, but Tony Lane has broken that stuffy stereotype and written a work that is interesting, edifying, and understandable across a broad range of learning styles and levels of Christian maturity.
One of the many things I appreciated about this compelling study was the theological stance of Tony Lane. He is self-described as “‘eclectic’ rather than ‘confessional,’ writing as an Evangelical Christian, but drawing upon a wide range of Christian traditions—Reformed, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, etc.—without being tied to any specific one.” This attitude is pervasive throughout the study, from cover to cover; Lane shares insight and knowledge without bias and presents information as objectively and evenly represented between the Christian traditions as any resource I’ve ever come across.
The introduction sets stage for the purpose and format of the book. Lane writes; “This book originated as a series of Lectures for a first-year undergraduate Christian Doctrine Survey module. It is designed to be used by students at that level, either on their own or as a textbook for a whole cohort. It is also written to be accessible to the educated lay person who has no formal theological training.”
The format follows this basic pattern: (1) Chapter—the basic belief found in the doctrinal subject; brief historical account of the doctrine; important texts supporting the doctrine and any creedal support; differences over doctrine between groups and interconnections of doctrine between groups; relationship of doctrine to the contemporary scene in both Church and culture (2) Interactive questions are sprinkled throughout each chapter with “What do you think?” invitations. Lane provides resources for the reader-student to engage and also includes his personal opinion on the subject. (3) Skeptic’s objections are discussed (4) Creedal and Confessional statements related to the doctrine (5) Errors to avoid regarding the doctrine (6) Issues creating tension and speculation are presented (7) Inclusion of aspects of participation in or with worship (hymn, liturgy, ritual) and prayer.
At the end of each chapter study, Lane includes a notes section and resources section that contains bibliographies for further study. Likewise, he provides a “question to answer” and suggests answers be limited to 100-words or less. He makes this recommendation to prepare the student to have a ready answer for man-on-the-street type questions where the listener may not be prepared or willing to listen to an essay styled response.
I have really enjoyed my reading through this presentation of Christian Doctrine. I do not exaggerate when I state it might be one of the finest I have come across in all my studies…especially, when I consider the range, depth, and diversity of presentation that it encompasses. I will likely be using this as a primary textbook for catechism with new disciples and likely engaging “old” disciples as well. As always, I continue to praise the work of InterVarsity Press with their tireless efforts to the ministry and education of God’s people.
Leaven, Stability, Patience, and Humility [Pt.2]
Readings: Psalm 119:49-72 ◊ Joshua 8:1-35 ◊ Romans 14:1-23 ◊ Matt. 26:36-68
“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong… Let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up” Romans 14:1, 19
Today I am impacted with thoughts surrounding these very rich, deep-meaning words as I am in the throes of discernment and decision-making. There have been a blur of days where the input I’ve received has been very affirming and positive; with the positive input, my receptivity and the consideration of my choices have been heavily weighted in a direction that has minimized my objections. Now, some of my more recent conversations have re-introduced thoughts and circumstances that I’ve pushed against and walked away from. My soul is conflicted.
My last installment in this ongoing series reflected a positive attitude and hopeful look forward, but today I second-guess that hope and positive attitude. In Part One of this series, I was considering what it might look like to be leaven and I considered how leaven interacts with the mix it is introduced. Today, I think I’m being invited to a deep reflection upon the meaning of patience and humility.
The first thought that comes to my mind regarding patience and humility is this: What does it mean to me in the very formation of patience and humility when the first signs of stress and opposition stir feelings in me of resistance or the desire to retreat? Neither resistance nor retreat can coexist with humility and patience…at least not in the sense that I am speaking.
Humility is the glue of our relationships. Humility is the foundation of community and family and friendship and love. Humility comes from understanding my place in the universe. -Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily (p.55).
As I consider these twin pillars of spiritual formation, I realize that neither is formed alone; they are inextricably linked. In order to grow in the way of patience, one must exercise an attitude of humility; likewise, humility cannot manifest without at least a modicum of patience. Neither one can exist without the presence of the other. This strikes me as an interesting dynamic. Scripture, the Saints, and the Fathers and Mothers of the Church teach us that we grow, and are nurtured, best in community. Now, deep in my reflection of some of these godly virtues that lead us in the way of Christ-like formation, I notice even the godly attributes we seek for our spiritual formation exist in community. Saint Benedict, in chapter seven of his rule, makes a codependent link between humility and patience saying, “The fourth degree of humility is that he hold fast to patience with a silent mind when in this obedience he meets with difficulties and contradictions and even any kind of injustice, enduring all without growing weary or running away.” Saint Benedict closes out his thoughts on this fourth degree of humility with these gut-checking words; “Moreover, by their patience those faithful ones fulfill the Lord’s command in adversities and injuries: when struck on one cheek, they offer the other; when deprived of their tunic, they surrender also their cloak; when forced to go a mile, they go two; with the Apostle Paul they bear with false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26) and bless those who curse them (1 Cor. 4:12).”
I sit here this morning pondering these thoughts; in my mind’s eye, I stand sheepishly before the Lord with my head hung looking down at my feet as I shuffle and nervously kick at the ground. I believe I have a reasonably solid understanding of what and where God wants me to exercise my vocation and calling. Part of me says, “yes,” but another part of me is desperately looking for almost any shred of evidence that would help me to justify a “no” answer.
“If it is possible, let this cup be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” -Jesus (Matthew 26:39, 42)
My heart longs to live in communion and fellowship with people who are open and hungry to taste and learn that the Lord is good. I desire to dwell amongst a people who believe there is much to learn from others and people who do not think and worship as we do. I crave community with people who are not indoctrinated and acculturated to the privileges and consumerist worship of the west. I yearn to run alongside fellow disciples who have counted all things as rubbish, leaving them behind, to chase after Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. The problem with all this yearning desire is that I believe God is calling me to a different place to serve…and this “place” conflicts with most of what I long for.
This is part of the reason my soul is in conflict… “I” do not want to be a Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill for eternity. I don’t want to be Ezekiel who was sent to a proud and hard-headed people (Ezekiel 2:3-8); I don’t want to be a Jeremiah, whose message was ridiculed and rejected. I’m also tired of wandering like Abraham and I’m ready to settle in and put down roots… and these are all part of the systemic problem of me, myself, and I. This is part of the reason my soul is in conflict. This is part of the reason God has given me these words: leaven, stability, patience, and humility to ponder. I made a covenant promise to God that I would “deny myself” and follow Him, no matter the where and no matter the cost. I asked God to help me and to shape me in His image…He has been faithful to do these things and so much more.
These are the stages to freedom from self-centeredness, to humility, the centerpiece of life. The first stage of humility is to keep the sacred nature of consciousness and the world in which it exists always alive in us. Everything we think, everything we do, everything we feel, is cast in time forever. Every moment that we live is irreplaceable, therefore each moment is hallowed. We must be on guard against despair, against fear, against bitterness, against self-seeking, and have the tenacity and courage to think optimistically and act affirmatively, and to put the needs of others always before our own. -John McQuiston II, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living (pp.39-40).
At this moment, I know I will say “yes” to where God leads, but my soul is downcast and I want this to go away. This, I believe, is part of the lesson and practical exercise of learning patience and humility. They cannot be learned without testing, application, and practice. Real life and real adversity is my lab practicum. I will surround myself with the Saints of the Church, I will lean on my mentor Saint Benedict, and I will look for living companions to help me in my journey and with days when I suffer with the afflictions of “self.”
I’m sure this reflection has not come to an end. I anticipate more writing and thoughts will be shared in this series, but I will close with thoughts shared from Father Alexander Men who writes the following:
“Patience.” “What is patience or long-suffering? It is not the state of cattle that simply endure everything. It is absolutely not the humiliation of a person. It is certainly not a compromise with evil. Patience is the ability to keep an undisturbed spirit in those situations that otherwise do not allow for such tranquility. Long-suffering is the ability to go for the goal even when you encounter various obstacles along the way. Long-suffering is the ability to maintain a joyful spirit in the midst of great amounts of sadness. Long-suffering is to have victory and to overcome. Real long-suffering is a form of bravery. -Fr Alexander Men, An Inner Step Toward God (p.79)
So, it is with all the thoughts from above I close out my meditation with this prayer:
O Lord and Master of my life, Take from me the spirit of sloth,, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yeah, O Lord and King, Grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, For blessed art Thou, unto ages and ages. Amen. (Prayer of Saint Ephrem of Syria)
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.
Eastertide Week 2—True Disciple
Readings: Psalm 16, 17 ◊ Exodus 16:23-36 ◊ 1 Peter 3:13—4:6 ◊ John16:1-15
I’ve had several ideas churning from a number of sources the past few days coming from Scripture, devotional writings, conversations, and other miscellaneous venues. It’s hard for me to say if there is a single unifying thought at this point…I keep thinking and more ideas keep getting added to the mix.
First up, a quote from Simon Weil who writes the following:
“He [God] created beings capable of love from all possible distances.” -From Waiting for God by Simone Weil
This quote has instigated quite a few questions and even more pondering moments as I consider what “possible distances” might really mean even in my life. Have I been or am I capable of love no matter the “distance” between another and me? Is there any possible act that another can perpetrate that could prevent me from loving? How much love am I truly capable of? Can the love that God has made me capable of be realized to the full on this side of eternity?
Secondly, I’m spending time meditating very slowly and deeply on the prayerful words of Psalm 16. During my first reading a few days ago, a couple of phrases reached out to me. Now, a few days later, most (almost all) of the Psalm has captured my heart and mind and I do not feel that God the Holy Spirit is done with me yet. I plan to share more of my thoughts, but at present verses 5-8 are really singing in my soul.
LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance. I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night, my heart instructs me. I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. (Psalm 16:5-8)
I want to live like these words are mine. Really mine. I think that I can say that I am presently living with this attitude of heart, but I’m not sure if that has really been tested. The LORD alone is my inheritance and blessing. I think I am fully satisfied with the “land” that God has given me, but there are things that disturb me and cause me frustration. There are circumstances and “calling” that compels me to action. I don’t know if satisfaction and unction are mutually exclusive emotions. It’s something I’m considering…among many. No matter my reflection and no matter where it may take me, I am deeply comforted to know that the LORD is always with me—right beside me.
Another “one line” thought was thrown into the mix today when I was reading about the journey of the Hebrew people in the Exodus. It is easy to point fingers of disapproving accusation to those wanderers, but too often their actions are simply reflections of our own distrusting and rebellious hearts. The LORD asked Moses,
“How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions?” (Exodus 16:28)
The question cannot be dismissed from being presented to me. I’m forced to ask myself, “Is there anything I am withholding or arguing with God over?” I want to be confident that I am “yes” and “amen” to every word and direction that I receive from God. I must continually check my motive and my choices. Today, I believe I am in agreement and obeying all that God has given to me. I want to keep my life in that posture of obedience.
Finally, I cannot think about any of the above-mentioned points without considering how I’m following Jesus or what it means to be his disciple… what makes a real disciple of Jesus Christ. As I was thinking about Jesus, something I’m trying to really focus on these days post-resurrection and pre-Pentecost, I’m considering him as the true model for my own discipleship. Today, I thought, Jesus lived almost the entirety of his earthly life in complete anonymity. “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5).
The life of humility begins first with the willingness to obediently lay aside one’s own rights and agenda. This crucial first step is the liminal act of discipleship; without it, becoming a follower of Jesus is an impossible and hopeless act of futility. Believe we are disciples of Christ and not having crucified the self is the most insidious of lies and the ultimate self-delusion.
Almighty God, you who have sent Jesus into the world to suffer, die, and rise again for our sake, help us to experience your transforming resurrection power within our lives and ministry. We offer our prayers in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Saturday Easter Week—Faithfully Preach the Truth
Readings: Psalm 145 ◊ Isaiah 49:4-7 ◊ 2 Cor. 5:16—6:10 ◊ Mark 12:18-27
I have been following the recommended readings through Easter 2 from the daily readings of the Book of Common Prayer. Today, through a “providentially divine” accident, I was directed to a couple of different passages. As it turns out, the “accidental” readings seem to be perfectly timed and right for me (and my wife).
I think I can quote 2 Cor. 5:17-21 in my sleep; it has been a very important passage of Scripture for me. On the other hand, I cannot say the same for 2 Cor. 6:1-10 and it is a short passage of this text that caught my attention and buried itself in my heart. First, verse seven follows:
We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. (2 Cor. 6:7)
This is an important word to me and I found it very encouraging as well. I feel I have been faithful to live uncompromisingly true to the Word of God and the teaching of Jesus as I know it. I certainly do not get all things right and I do not profess to have the walk of Christ’s disciple perfected, but that is my aim…to walk as faithful to the precepts and Kingdom of God on this earth right now as I possibly can. “Faithfully preach…God’s power is working in us.” The Scripture talks about the use of weapons of righteousness and I think without a right heart, they can easily be misused and in an abusive way. The preceding verse six, gives us the attitude of the prophet’s heart.
We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. (2 Cor. 6:6)
While it is entirely possible to deliver hard truth harshly, the true prophet of God will prove themselves by living pure, being understanding, patient, and kind—filled with the Holy Spirit—and overflowing with sincere love. I want to be that guy.
The other side of this reality is likely the most difficult for me and a place I have found myself time and again. The faithfulness of the prophet is no guarantee that his or her audience (hearers) will respond to their message in kind.
We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest but they call us imposters. We are ignored, even though we are well known. (2 Cor. 6:8-9)
This is a difficult, and often discouraging, reality. I try not to be discouraged, but I care and I build relationships… This is an aspect of purity in motivation and the outworking of sincere love. These cannot exist side-by-side and not make a soul vulnerable. And so, it goes. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” And now the Lord speaks—the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned me…the Lord has honored me, and my God has given me strength. (Isaiah 49:4-7)
Easter Saturday Prayer
We thank thee, heavenly Father, for that thou hast delivered us from the dominion of sin and death and hast brought us into the kingdom of thy Son; and we pray thee that, as by his death he hath recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to joys eternal; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.