“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
Book Review: Pilgrim Road
Author: Albert Holtz, O.S.B.
Publisher: Morehouse Publishing ISBN: 9780819222510
This was not the typical devotional piece that I am accustomed to; actually, it was for this reason that I purchased it. I think I would best describe Pilgrim Road as the sum of many parts: personal journal, Christian devotional, monastic rule, spiritual discipline, liturgical calendar, and artistic creation. In some ways it almost bordered sensory overload for me, and in other ways it was a very refreshing change of pace.
There is a lot of “movement” in Pilgrim Road…much is happening. Maybe it is my personality type, but I felt as though I really needed to pay attention to keep the “dots connected” through the journey. This is not to say the book was difficult to follow, it was not; I simply did not want to miss anything and there seemed a lot was going on. I should explain what I mean with a little more detail about the premise of the book.
The author, Albert Holtz, is a Benedictine monk and structures this book, Pilgrim Road, around four different journeys. The first journey is Christian Pilgrimage, the second is the Lenten Journey/Experience, the third is the Inward or Spiritual Journey, and the fourth is a Sabbatical Holiday/Trip. Brother Albert describes the convergence of these journeys in the following words:
This book weaves the threads of four journeys into a single spiritual travelogue: Lent’s journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter serves as the spiritual framework, my sabbatical trip provides a geographical locale for each meditation, the medieval pilgrimage provides the unifying theme, and the journey into my inner self with Christ gives the whole enterprise its ultimate meaning. (From the introduction—p.vii)
I should point out that I counted another thread in this tapestry of journeys as Brother Albert weaves in an element of the Rule of Benedict with each meditation. He might be counting as part of his inner Christian journey (he is after all a Benedictine monk), but seems valid to me that is a thread its own—part of the overall tapestry, but a thread its own nonetheless. Credit is due as Brother Albert does a remarkable job of keeping the weave tight in this tapestry of journeys and stories. The unity of the storyline remains almost seamless as he stitches location to location, reflection to insight, and insight to theme; the integrity of continuity remains throughout.
The structure of the daily devotional writings is well done. Each day’s writing is approximately four pages long. The day begins with a new location; for instance Arles, France, Assisi, Italy or another site along the way of the Brother’s pilgrimage. A brief narrative sharing the day’s observation from that locale is followed by a spiritual reflection connecting the day’s events with the inner journey. The reflection is completed with a Scripture reading and an excerpt from the Rule of Benedict.
My overall impression is lacking a bit and this is my fault. My reading list was somewhat heavy during this Lenten season and was the cause of distraction while reading the Pilgrim Road. I intend to go back and read it again with less distraction. I think it deserves more attention from me. This was a different style of devotional reading than I am used to, but I found great enjoyment in it. I think after another more intentional reading, I will have an even deeper appreciation and respect for the artistry of Brother Albert as he shares his journey and his wisdom.
Book Review: Show Me the Way
Author: Henri Nouwen
Publisher: Crossroad Publishing Co. ISBN: 9780824513535
Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings
Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite spiritual writers; I have no less than nine of his works in my personal library, so I was looking forward to spending time with this collection of writings during Lent. I was not disappointed as my expectations were met in abundance.
The book is arranged for daily readings beginning on Ash Wednesday and running through Easter Sunday. The days are arranged in themed weeks; for instance, Week One is titled Only in God and features the topics of hospitality, prayer, forgiveness, and love as the subjects of the meditation. The following weeks have similar themes leading up to Passion Week, Holy Week, and Easter Day.
I particularly enjoyed the structure of this devotional guide. Each day’s reading begins with a Scripture verse followed with a thoughtfully probing devotional from Henri Nouwen and concludes with a prayer. I do not recall any day that exceeded four pages in length, so I feel confident in saying the time commitment for these readings is minimal. This is not to say more time cannot be devoted to them, but for those persons whose schedules are busy, this might be a worthy consideration.
Perhaps another reader might see something different, but I noticed a recurring theme or maybe it was THE theme for the devotional. I think that that theme was attentiveness to God. One particular day seemed to capture this idea very well for me. (Other samples can be found here)
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Through the practice of a spiritual discipline we become attentive to that small voice and willing to respond when we hear it.
Jesus’ life was a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to his voice, always alert for his directions. Jesus was “all ear.” That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.
A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of god to pray in us. (pp. 94-95)
I make no apologies for my bias and favor toward Henri Nouwen, but bias and favor aside, this was one of my favorite devotional books for this season. If you have never experienced the gentle and pastoral writing of Henri Nouwen, I recommend this book for a first experience. I don’t think it necessary to wait for Lent to pick it up for reading. I know that I will be returning to it again regardless of the season, I was and will be inspired by it over and over again… of this, I am sure.
Book Review: Bread and Wine
Author: Collected Writings
Publisher: Orbis Books ISBN: 9781570755729
I have been fortunate this Lenten season to have a very deep and very broad selection of writings and devotional materials to inspire my meditations. Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter has been one of the very rich pools that I have been dipping into.
There are several things that I like about this collection of readings. First, out of all the devotional reading I have been involved with this season, Bread and Wine is by far the most intellectually stimulating. The second thing that has been very enjoyable to me is the great diversity of authors included in this collection. The diversity is not limited in any way; there are both men and women writers spanning the entire two millennia of the Church and from every tradition of the Christian faith, truly a spiritual cornucopia of devotional writing. Despite these things being a couple of my favorite features of this book, these points also produced the most uncomfortable tension for me.
Some of the writings really pushed my thinking. The level of writing and degree of intelligence of the original author was at the very limit of my ability to comprehend. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but there were days that I left the reading more exasperated and frustrated than inspired. I realize this point is entirely subjective and the experience of other people might be completely different with these same writings to which I refer, but I think it is a point worth mentioning nonetheless. Also worth mentioning is the other side of the diversity point. Some of the ideas presented in these writings are very different from what I have been exposed to; consequently, my thinking and my theology has been challenged. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but there were many days that my doctrinal precepts were drawn into wrestling matches. I believe the point here is that Bread and Wine is not for the passive reader, it is a challenging and engaging read no matter your background and no matter intellectual level.
The format of the book is thematic, following the Lenten movement from Ash Wednesday and into Eastertide. There are approximately two weeks’ worth of writing for each of the movements which follow: Section One – Invitation, Section Two – Temptation, Section Three – Passion, Section Four – Crucifixion, Section Five – Resurrection, and Section Six – New Life.
Bread and Wine also includes a very detailed list of sources and a very brief biographical index of authors found at the end of the book. Personally, I find this an important inclusion and very helpful to me should I desire to dig deeper with my own studies.
Publishers Weekly writes about Bread and Wine saying, “Hardhitting and beautifully written [featuring] Christendom’s most celebrated masters.” I absolutely agree with this assessment. While I might not consider this my favorite reading for this season, I’m sure it will grow on me as one that will become one of my favorites and will likely become a resource I go to repeatedly for inspiration and challenge. There is much to like about this collection of writings, but as I have mentioned, it is not for the faint of heart. Prepare to be challenged and prepare to grow spiritually; that is… if you engage the challenge.
Book Review: Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods
Author: Rick Warren
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 9780310495932
I was in a conversation recently with my brother-in-law who told me about the great experience he had with leading a small group through Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods. Having taught Bible study classes for a number of years now, I’m always interested in learning new methods and experimenting with various resources that might help my own teaching efforts, so I bought myself a copy. I can honestly report that I am glad I did!
What makes me glad…
First of all, most of my teaching with regard to study is focused almost exclusively on the inductive method of Bible study. While Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods include systematic inductive methods, they are not exclusive to the book; there are, after all, twelve ways you can unlock God’s word included in its pages. I do believe true inductive Bible study will yield the richest results over most other styles of study, but realistically not every person has an affinity for that sort of Bible study. There are different styles of learner, so it helps to have alternate methods that will draw people into the Bible story and Rick Warren provides some of these alternatives in his twelve ways presentation.
Contents and Structure
The structure and contents of the book is straightforward; there is a preface, an introduction, twelve chapters detailing the twelve Bible study methods, and a very comprehensive appendices section. I was duly impressed with the introduction where Warren quickly establishes the reason for and principles of the various Bible study methods. He also includes a very detailed list of study reference tools. In this list he covers specific details and examples for each of the reference categories (study Bibles and translations, concordances, encyclopedias, dictionaries, Bible handbooks, word and language helps, commentaries and more). He goes on to provide recommendations for beginning and advanced study libraries. Personally, I think the introduction along with the appendix references are worth the cost of the book alone.
Following the introduction, Warren provides a preview of the twelve study methods. I thought this overview was very helpful for the reason that is stated in the preface; “…each chapter is independent of the others, you may skip around in reading the book, choosing to learn first the methods that interest you most. However, with the exception of the last one, these methods are presented in order of their difficulty. There is a logical progression through the book. As you move from chapter to chapter, you will be introduced to additional Bible study skills.” Armed with the basic knowledge of each chapter-method, the reader can start where they feel comfortable and skip ahead as they deem necessary.
Each chapter-method is structured with the same basic components: (1) a condensed outline of the method (2) a short definition of the method (3) a rationale for the method (4) the procedure of the method (5) an example of the method—completed illustration (6) a blank form for copy to use in your study (7) suggested passages and/or subjects to get you started in your study (8) suggestions for further reading related to the particular method. For a closer look, you can check out the entire Table of Contents and some media samples from the Zondervan website here.
This book is very intuitive and easy to follow. There is a Bible study method for every learning style and intellectual ability. I think if there was one “How To” Bible study book I would recommend, it would be Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods for this very reason; it will appeal to a larger and varied demographic because of the many options available. If you are interested in studying the Bible and enriching your knowledge and experience with it, you should really consider giving this book a try.
Book Review: The Bible Study Handbook
Author: Lindsay Olesberg
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830810499
I teach classes on how to study the Bible, so I’m always interested in reviewing tools and helps that might facilitate my teaching and communicate methods for effectively understanding the holy Scriptures. Consequently, it was with great excitement that I got my hands on Lindsay Olesberg’s The Bible Study Handbook.
I took my first inductive Bible study class in 1988 and I have been collecting resources as well as taking additional how-to-study-the-Bible classes ever since. Needless to say, I have a nice collection of resources and methods at my disposal. It is with this awareness that I am confident to report that The Bible Study Handbook ranks among the highest rated of my resources for teaching the inductive methods of study. I will share my reasons.
The book weighs in just over two hundred fifty pages, not exhaustive, but it does stand up to its claim of being comprehensive. These pages are broken into three primary sections—Part 1: Foundations, Part 2: Building Blocks, and Part 3: Tool Box. In Foundations, Olesberg shares some of the influences and philosophy behind her passion and belief in the process of inductive Bible study. The next section of the book moves into the Building Blocks of inductive study method. Here, Olesberg introduces and teaches basic hermeneutical tools needed for accurate and effective interpretation of the Scriptures. Some of the major points in Building Blocks include contextual respect and understanding, which includes authorship (who wrote it, to whom was it written, why was it written) and narrative details (genre, cultural influences, socio-political, and economic circumstances to name a few). Moving to Part 3: Tool Box, is where Olesberg outlines helpful resources and practices necessary for effective Bible study.
The book is well annotated with a number of illustrations, tables, and graphs; all of these are very nice additions, especially for visual learners. Additionally, there is a collection of summary helps included in the appendices at the end of the book.
Things I really like
As I mentioned earlier in my review, I have been practicing and teaching inductive Bible study for many years. I can say with confidence that, for most people, Bible study is not easy and good Bible study is not quick. Inductive Bible study takes time, is detail oriented, requires good resources, and a very systematic approach. It is to these ends that I really appreciated the way that Lindsey Olesberg presented her methods and approach to Bible study. Her writing was reader friendly and her passion for Bible study was evident, which often becomes contagious for the reader. I also found an appreciation for the interactive exercises included at the end of each chapter. I think Olesberg made a practiced effort to include all of the primary learning styles in her handbook; at least as much as an author can accomplish this in a written form.
I don’t have any serious criticism for The Bible Study Handbook. I wish the resources section in the appendices would have been a little more comprehensive, but some of that detail is covered in the Tool Box section of the book. I am always grateful for the wonderful resources that InterVarsity Press brings to the Christian community and I believe this contribution from Lindsey Olesberg is another great gift. I will be including it in my recommended resources to my students as well as returning to it again and again for my own benefit.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from InterVarsity Press to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Book Review: Catholic Spiritual Practices
Edited By: Colleen Griffith & Thomas Groome
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781612612461
I love the format of this little book.
Catholic Spiritual Practices is a collection of essays describing various spiritual disciplines and practices, which can be helpful with a person’s development in the Christian faith. The format of the book is very easy to follow with the assorted disciplines grouped into three primary categories: prayer, care, and spiritual growth. The essays themselves are concise, but provide an understandable overview of each practice, their expected outcomes, and a high-level introduction or “how-to” so the reader can have an idea of how to participate in the practice. I believe the essayists and the editors have done an exemplary job of presenting such a rich collection of spiritual practices in a manageable and practical form.
If I were to offer any criticism of the book, it would be regarding the title. Not all of the practices included in the book are exclusive to the Catholic faith. Unfortunate as it may be, titling the book as it has been titled will exclude a significant number of people who could benefit from these spiritual practices.
Title aside, I would recommend this book for anyone. Admittedly, there are some disciplines included in the collections that are not fully embraced by all faith traditions; this should not be considered an insurmountable obstacle. My recommendation is to experiment with the practices that do not conflict with or compromise your tradition and allow yourself and your soul to be enriched by the results.
I am delighted to have come across this gem of a book. I have found new ways to present some of these ancient practices to others seeking to grow more deeply in their faith. I look forward to sharing them and I look forward to growing with them myself.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Paraclete Press to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Prayer: Henri Nouwen — Tuesday of the First Week in Lent
This found its way to me this morning. It is too good not to share. I am so grateful I was awakened several years ago to this greater understanding and dimension to prayer. It has changed my life, spirituality, and greater relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit completely. To God be the glory.
In your prayers do not babble as the gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matt. 6:7-8
For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God. This idea is enough to create great frustrations. If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect an answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response. And when it seems, increasingly, that I am talking into the dark, it is not so strange that I soon begin to suspect that my dialogue with God is in fact a monologue. Then I may begin to ask myself: to whom am I really speaking, God or myself? . . .
The crisis of our prayer life is that our mind may be filled with ideas of God while our heart remains far from him.
Listen to your heart. It’s there that Jesus speaks most intimately to you. Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t trust himself upon you. His voice is an unassuming voice, very nearly a whisper, the voice of a gentle love. Whatever you do with your life, go on listening to the voice of Jesus in your heart. This listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world God’s so loving voice is easily drowned out. You need to set aside some time every day for this active listening to God if only for ten minutes. Ten minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in your life.
You’ll find that it isn’t easy to be still for ten minutes at a time. You’ll discover straightaway that many other voices, voices that are very noisy and distracting, voices that do not come from God, demand your attention. But if you stick to your daily prayer time, then slowly but surely you’ll come to hear the gentle voice of love and will long more and more to listen to it.
Deep silence leads us to suspect that, in the first place, prayer is acceptance. People who pray stand with their hands open to the world. They know that God will show himself in the nature that surrounds them, in the people they meet, in the situations they run into. They trust that the world holds God’s secret within it, and they expect that secret to be shown to them. Prayer creates that openness where God can give himself to us. Indeed, God wants to give himself; he wants to surrender himself to the person he has created; God even begs to be admitted into the human heart.
Why, O Lord, is it so hard for me to keep my heart directed toward you? Why does my mind wander off in so many directions, and why does my heart desire the things that lead me astray? Let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil. Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest — simple, quiet rest.
The Above Posting has been excerpted from:
Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings by Henri Nouwen; Crossroad Publishing Company, copyright 1992, 2011.
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
Desolation and Purgation in the Wilderness
“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)
It is easy for me to think more highly of myself than I should. I need not look far to make comparisons to my former self and see that I am not the man I once was. I am leaps and bounds a better man than I was. This truth is affirmed from the lips and words of others too…I do not lie. I am a better man than I used to be. There are a couple problems with this.
Problem number one is the comparison I make is an invalid comparison; it might be an accurate comparison, but it is an invalid one. The way of the Christian journey is not one looking back at my former self, but it is a journey looking forward and following the Christ who is now my model and the image I seek to become more like. In the case of this example, I am no longer a better man. I am a man marked by humility, frail in comparison to the Christ I follow and endeavor to be made like.
The second problem with thinking more highly of myself is in the self-righteous attitude that I am a “good” Christian…or that I have attained a level of maturity. This too might be true, but at the point that I begin to think this of myself, I am in danger of being fed lies from the false self. It is comforting and satisfying to think I have arrived at a destination or reached a new plateau in my Christian journey. It can be an exhilarating and self-important to think I know more than others…maybe even to the point that I don’t have to do certain exercises or participate in certain disciplines. This is a dangerous place to be spiritually and exactly the reason an excursion exercise that takes me into the “desert” with Jesus is a good thing for me.
Reading again today from the Book of Deuteronomy revealed how resolute God was in his instruction about “purging” the evil from amongst the people of Israel. The following references seem only to scratch the surface of the point I make:
*Deut. 17:7 So you shall purge the evil from your midst…
*Deut. 17:12 So you shall purge the evil from Israel…
*Deut. 19:13 You shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel…
*Deut. 19:19 You shall purge the evil from your midst…
The same is true for me as was true for Israel; of this I am sure. God is just as resolute about “purging the evil from me” as He is/was about Israel. Where there are vestiges of the old man, the false self in me, God desires to make it known so it can be dealt with and purged from my midst. This type of purgation can take place in the solitary and desolate place—being alone with God—tuning out the noises of the world and its busy-ness. The problem we often have with this line of thinking is the point I was trying to shed light on earlier. We do not like inconvenience or sacrifice. We like comfort, warm-fuzzies, and hearing affirmation from people as well as God. The truth; however, might be more difficult for us to come to terms with. Hear the words of Kathleen Norris:
“If grace is so wonderful, why do we have such difficulty recognizing and accepting it? Maybe it’s because grace is not gentle or made-to-order. It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.”
Those words smart, probably because they are full of truth. If I accept the notion that I need purging of evil, that means I have not arrived. I might not be who I think I am. I might not be the image I have created for everyone to see. A trip into the “desert” may involve elements of change that I do not want to incorporate into my life. These are some of the means by which God pours out His grace to me; they are definitive places God has ordained to meet with me. It is needful for me and good for me to accept His invitation. My backpack is ready. Into the desert we go.
A Prayer for the 1st Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.