Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’
“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
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.
Advent 2nd Sunday: Year C [09DEC12] Theme for week 2—Preparation & Love
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us : in the house of his servant David;
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy Prophets : which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies : and from the hands of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers : and to remember his holy Covenant;
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham : that he would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies : might serve him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before him : all the days of our life.
And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest : for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people : for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God : whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Merciful God, who sent your prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Our Themes for reflection for Advent Week Two:
Love and Preparation
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [08DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13)
The apostle Paul goes on to write about the resurrection of the dead and encourages the living believers that our hope in the resurrection includes being reunited with all believers who have died before us. Therefore, “we should not grieve like people who have no hope.”
For some reason, my spirit wrestles with these words. Paul is not telling his listeners not to grieve; he’s telling them (us) not to grieve like people with no hope. What does that mean? I think I understand, but the difference between what I perceive as hope-filled grieving and hopeless grieving might be somewhat blurry. I believe the point is to always have our eye on the end game, but our feet planted in the present. We have to be conscious and present to both worlds to be any good in either. This is what I tell myself I believe, for now.
The problem, as I see it, is that hope and faith are so nebulous, easily shaped and even malformed from person to person. Fortunately, we have been given a glimpse of our future and our hope. Christ himself dictates to John from the throne (Rev. 21:3-7) the glory of the new heaven and new earth when God will dwell with man for eternity and there will be no more tears or suffering. This is the most tangible version or our hope and it often gets lost in the tyranny of our days. The noises and exceedingly busy pace of life can easily distract our focus from our hope. When this happens, we’re easily misled and prone to react the same as people without hope. What is the solution? We should make the effort to un-busy our lives, intentionally moving in directions that will simplify our existence to the degree we will always be able to focus on our endgame, no matter how loud or frantic life may get.
Today I consider my waiting and recognize giving thanks that it has taught me to slow down and simplify. By simplifying my life in general, I have been able to focus on a future hope that Christ has promised me. I’m less distracted by the things that captivate people with no hope (money, power, possessions, and prestige), and more attracted to Christlike virtues and Jesus-described-kingdom living (The Sermon on the Mount; Matt. 5-7).
Today I reset my hope on these things: I wish to live more like the kingdom citizens Jesus spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount. When my hope starts to tarnish and lose shape, it is always good to have a point to model and reset from.
Grant us a wholesome life, revive our zeal and love, O Father Almighty, through Jesus Christ the Lord, who reigns with you for all time with the Holy Spirit.
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rest my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Correct our eyesight, we pray you Lord, with the gift of faith that as we see you in the baby of Bethlehem so may we see and hear you in those who speak your word, and so may we serve you by serving those in whose distress you are disguised. As at Christmas you came among us to love the unlovable, so teach us to love with the love by which we are loved by you. Amen. Let it be.
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [07DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
For Jerusalem will stumble and Judah will fall, because they speak out against the LORD and refuse to obey him. They provoke him to his face. (Isaiah 3:8)
Maybe there are others who think like me or maybe not, but this passage reminds me of a period in my life when all my actions and the way I lived “spoke out against the LORD.” I lived entirely for myself, refusing to obey the Way of God. The saddest point of all this is that I knew better. I had been taught the Way of God and even believed it to be true, but I wanted to do my own thing. I provoked him to his face.
Today my reflections teeter between solemn and joyous, although more to the joyous because I have clear witness to the work God has done and continues to do in my life. I look back to a time when I did not know how to wait. Impatience, greed, selfish-ambition, and a host of unhealthy attitudes ruled my spirit. Today, I am not free from the temptations of these attitudes, but the Spirit who lives within me helps me to overcome them day by day.
5 LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. 7 I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 11 You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. (Psalm 16)
Today I consider the state of mind of the man I used to be when I did not embrace “waiting” time. I am so grateful to the Lord, my God; I am no longer that man. What I remember of him, he was narcissistic, selfish, relentlessly ambitious, and oblivious to the souls that surrounded him. Blind to the divine, he sought spiritual fulfillment in selfish pleasures—trinkets, toys, food, drink, popularity, and power.
“Not everyone can wait; neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait. The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them and people who look up with reverence to the greatest in the world. Thus Advent can be celebrated only by those whose souls give them no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete, and who sense something of the greatness that I supposed to come, before which they can only bow in humble timidity, waiting until he inclines himself toward us—the Holy One himself, God in the child in the manger. God is coming; the Lord Jesus I coming; Christmas is coming. Rejoice, O Christendom! -Dietrich Bonhoeffer; God is in the Manger
Turning to God changed him (me) and with the change brought the discipline of waiting and savoring the presence of God in each and every moment of life. This is the place where God is always most prominent—in the moment—in the now. Learning to wait is a priceless gift that has taught me more about misplaced priorities and how to reorient them in a God honoring manner than any other exercise or discipline. For this, I am grateful…for the life it has given to me, to my family, to my friends, and to the communities that I serve.
“Be holy. Love one another. Love one another even more. Live quiet lives, mind your own business, and work with your hands, so people will respect the way you live.” (1 Thess. 4:1-12)
Today my hope is active, in part, because of the reflection on my attitudes toward waiting, both the former and the current. I see how far I have traveled by trusting and following my mentor, Jesus. The awareness of how far he has brought me in such a short time brings confidence to me that his promise to “see me through to completion and maturity in Him” is true. No matter how far I have yet to go, my Triune God, is with me—working in me—to see my completion through to the end.
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your righteousness.” (Psalm 17:15)
O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
O eternal Glory of heaven, blessed Hope of mortals, give your right hand to those who are getting up; let the soul arise sober and, ardent in praise, returning thanks to you.
Lord, our eternal God, you alone are worthy of our highest praise. Help us to love you above all things, that we might serve our brothers and sisters with a love that is worthy of you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
Lord, hear my prayer, And let my cry come unto you.
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [05DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
Today, my waiting is a lament. In the past 24 hours I have been overcome with a virus, a cold or flu of some sort. My muscles, bones, head, and lungs all hurt. I have a fever and it is difficult to breath… sinuses plugged, ears plugged, head aching and stuffy; no fun at all. Already, I’ve had to adjust my schedule and cancel meetings and the complications continue to mount. While I know there are people in far worse physical health than I am, I lament the fact that my present condition is not the way that things are supposed to be.
He restores my soul. He guides me along right paths. (Psalm 23:3)
As I take the time to consider my sickness, I realize in this lament is a different kind of waiting… a waiting that says to me; “I will endure and persevere through this season of situations and circumstance that should not be, for the sake of and hope for things that be and are yet to come.” These things that “should not be” certainly extend beyond the situation of my flu bug. We experience all manner of grief, sorrow, and tears while we wait. The scourge of disease, a myriad of health afflictions, and death surround us at every turn. Emotional turmoil, relationship ills, and the inability to experience shalom in our present world are reminders that things are not the way they should be. We are reminded by the circumstances of our waiting that we are meant for something more, so hope blooms and swells waiting to burst forth with the promises of something more, something better, and something eternal.
He restores my soul. He guides me along right paths. (Psalm 23:3)
Richard Beck offers thoughts about Advent as a lament, which I believe adds insight to my own.
Advent is sort of like a lament. Advent is being the slave in Egypt, sitting with the experience of exile. Advent is about looking for God and hoping for God in a situation where God’s promises are outstanding and yet to be fulfilled. So I wonder if our rushing through Advent to the celebration of Christmas might have some spiritual consequences, akin to skipping Lent so we can get to Easter. Might Christmas be too triumphalistic without Advent? Much like Easter Sunday without Good Friday? Waiting for God and enduring the pain of that waiting is a spiritual discipline. Advent is a time to cultivate that discipline. A time to chasten the rush to happy endings in our spiritual lives. We must learn to wait on God. We must learn to celebrate Advent. (from Experimental Theology by Richard Beck)
The more I consider these thoughts, the more I wonder if part of this season of “things that should not be” are part of the sanctifying process brought on by our Lord. Even the oppression and slavery of the people of Israel in Egypt was a season of being set aside for the LORD’s purposes and use—this is the definition of sanctification—being set aside for the purposes of God. Enduring hard places and hard times are quite possibly a means of sanctification for us. We wait in them and through them, trusting God will lead us to what we hope for on the other side—wholeness, health as He intended, and eternal shalom with Him.
When you realize that the only thing worth living for is sanctity. Then you will be satisfied to let God lead you to sanctity by paths that you cannot understand. You will travel in darkness in which you will no longer be concerned with yourself and no longer compare yourself with other men. -Thomas Merton (from New Seeds of Contemplation)
He restores my soul. He guides me along right paths. (Psalm 23:3)
To you, O Christ, King most loving, and to the Father be glory with the Spirit, the Paraclete, for everlasting ages. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you… May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.
The starting point for the early church was this awareness of the abyss of sin inside each person. God, who is all charity and light, wants to make us perfect as he is perfect, shot through with his radiance. The first step in our healing, then, is not being comforted. It is taking a hard look at the cleansing that needs to be done.
Throughout this day, O LORD, I will pause, take a breath, and listen with my heart. I will release my need to know and embrace trust that You have put me on the right path, which will help me to become all that you intend for me to be.
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [03DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul? -Joan Chittister; The Liturgical Year
For the next five days, I will be observing a theme of waiting and hope. I plan to reflect and list one item each day that shares how I “wait upon the Lord” and one way my relationship with Jesus provides me hope. Specifically, I plan to examine how my wait is active—changing and growing…evolving and maturing—affecting my faith. As a result of this active waiting (or inactive should that be the case), I want to better understand how this interaction with Jesus affects my hope. How does hope work in my life and what does tangible hope look like in my daily living.
Today I am meditating upon and grateful for the reality of waiting and how it teaches me to slow down and become aware of my surroundings…taking note of the many places where God is at work and making His presence known all around me.
Today I am feeling a surge in my hope because I am learning to wait attentively. When I wait attentively, I see the hand and purpose of God at work around me…in the lives of others, in creation, and in me. This infuses my hope with anticipation of the kingdom of God bursting forth even in this moment.
“Advent calls us into a state of active waiting: a state that recognizes and embraces the glimmers of God’s presence in the world, that recalls and celebrates God’s historic yet ever present actions, that speaks the truth about the almost-but-not-quite nature of our Christian living, that yearns for but cannot quite achieve divine perfection. Most of all, Advent summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life we live now.” -Paula Gooder; The Meaning is in the Waiting
Lord help me to be fully alive to your presence. Enfold me in your love. Let my heart become one with yours. Father God, help me to be sure I know what I wait for. Blessed Savior Jesus, help me to be sure I know what and in whom my hope is in. Mighty Holy Spirit, help me to know where I am going. O make me, Lord God, deeply aware of the task before me and the need for guidance along the way. Amen.
Book Review: Cross Roads
Author: Wm. Paul Young
Publisher: FaithWords; Hachette Book Group
I don’t read a lot of fiction these days, although I used to read it almost exclusively. I picked up Cross Roads because I enjoyed The Shack, also written by Wm. Paul Young, so much. Let me say from the start, I was not disappointed in the least by Cross Roads and found it to be a wonderfully engaging read. I do not think it fair to judge or compare it to The Shack, so I will do my best to review it on its own merits while trying not to spoil the plot for those who have not read it.
One thing I have loved about both books by Paul Young is his nuanced use of allegory. The imagery and description of his writing draws you into the scene unawares that there is a parallel to the Christian experience being revealed, then suddenly you captured by the “picture behind the picture.” I love this! When this type of revelation/realization occurs, I start to subconsciously layer my own experiences and stories over those I read in this work of fiction. The lines between the stories, real and make believe, begin to blur and I am caught up in the message of the “big story.” This is the gift of Wm. Paul Young.
The strengths of the book, in my opinion, are directly related to imagery and allegory. I think Young is masterful at this without being too obvious or over-the-top. As mentioned earlier, there were several occasions I found myself reading along, being drawn into the moment, and then having a sudden awakening to “Hey! He’s describing something other and deeper than just this scene!” Additionally, I think the characters and their development are very real…they are people we know, people we love, and they are us. I find it easy to follow the characters; to get in step with them…ponder what they may do next and identify with their choices.
I suppose if there is any critique or weakness in the book (again, my own opinion), it might be the abruptness in which the story concludes. At the risk of revealing spoiler info, I will not go further with my reasoning, but will add that this might be intentional. Personally, I wanted the story to continue and I wanted more resolution with some of the other sub-characters…this is probably one of the signs of a good book.
I feel confident sharing this book with anyone and will recommend it with highest regard. I think Cross Roads can be the catalyst for conversations or stimulus for personal reflection; I know it has been this for me. Thank you, Paul Young, for another great read.
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Light: Breaking and Making or Kingdom Expectations (A Pre-Advent Meditation #2) [25NOV12]
Expectancy and arrival… Will I know it when it comes; this Kingdom and the King; the missed and maligned Messiah? I have many thoughts swirling this morning of Christ the King Sunday. This is the day the church celebrates the all-embracing authority of Christ as King and Lord of the cosmos, it is celebrated on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday before Advent.
So many before me missed The Arrival before, even as He stood in their midst. The Light was among them and they knew it not. He told his followers the kingdom was not only near, he told them the kingdom was “here” among you, in your midst; it is within you…even as you wait for it to come. Nervous uncertainty causes my heart to race as I sense my blood pressure rise; my breathing becomes slightly erratic and sweat beads on my forehead. I wonder about my own kingdom lifestyle… Is it? Is my life a kingdom lifestyle? What do I expect in and of this kingdom? How do I “see” Jesus?
My expectation(s) may seem selfish, but I do not think them unreasonable. I want to see Jesus and his accompanying kingdom in the fullness of His Glory. I want to know Him and relate to Him in ways I have not before. I want to see Him and be with Him as the real “flesh-and-blood” friend I have never had. Maybe that sounds petty; maybe it is, but there was something special about the relationship Jesus had with his disciples—when he called them “friends”—when he walked with them and when he reappeared to them in corporeal form.
I know the gifts, promises, and even the “Presence” of God available to me through faith. I receive these gifts and press on in my journey with them embraced. While part of me believes these gifts are more than enough to keep me and provide me with the “fuel” needed to meet the kingdom eternal, I still long to be with my Savior-Creator in a real face-to-face relationship. Fragile and broken creature that I am, I still rely upon the gifts of the senses (touch, hearing, sight, taste, smell) that God has given me to navigate this present existence in the world. I’m limited in my capacity and ability to use my spiritual or glorified navigational aids in this life, since I only “know in part and see through the glass dimly.” Consequently, my real or accurate (fully known) perceptions of God are distorted and incomplete; every idea I have about Him falls short and this saddens me. I long to see Him and to know Him as He really is. As distorted as my knowledge and understanding of union with God might be, I long to realize and experience the Three-in-One unity that Jesus prayed I would experience when he prayed for me in the garden some two-thousand years ago (John 17). Is it too presumptuous of me to think he was referring to me? I assume my inclusion was implied in the prayer as he included all who would follow his disciples and their teaching.
Sometimes the tension seems almost unbearable—almost—but I know God is also in the tension… He might even be the source of it all. As I ponder all this, I realize that my feeling may not be dissatisfaction, but might be better described as deep longing. I long for more; I long for Truth and fullness of experience. Perhaps the greater travesty is not that I long for Truth and fullness of experience, but the reality that I cannot handle the fullness of Truth…my mind, my heart, my body is incapable of realizing it at this stage of my spiritual development. Maybe I can’t handle the Truth, but still, this reality does not prevent me from longing and striving for it.
This is my expectation; it is what I wait for and what I look for. I want Jesus, all of Jesus. I long to dance with God in the eternal perechoretic dance of oneness love. This, I believe, was the dance I was made for; His Word tells me this is true and the Spirit Breath that animates my body affirms that is so… or I am just a delusional fool (I choose to believe the former).
He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there He lets the hungry live… Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD. -Psalm 107:35-36, 43
I said earlier that my expectations may seem selfish, but maybe this type of selfishness isn’t a counterproductive and destructive selfishness at all. If it is God the Holy Spirit who lives within me, compelling me with yearnings for unity with the Godhead, then my current restless hunger is divinely inspired. A proper perspective and ever aware submissive nod to the Spirit’s authority in and over me is necessary to keep this hunger in right alignment; this is true and must be assumed. I can only prayerfully hope that this is true and I move always toward the godly direction. I’m learning to wait with expectation and with hunger building for God’s kingdom in the full, even as it is being made within me now.
Joan Chittister writes the following:
Advent is about learning to wait. It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is, it is of the essence of sanctification for us. Every piece of it, some hard, some uplifting, is sign of the work of God alive in us. We are becoming as we go. We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present well lived can possibly lead us to the fullness of life.
We wait for a King and a Kingdom, but even though we wait—He tells us it is here—not yet, but now. He tells us the kingdom is amongst us and within us; we live as citizens in and of the kingdom while we wait for it. We live as kingdom-makers even as we are being made by the kingdom in us. Do I testify to the Lordship of the King? The answer—my answer—bears witness only if my longing and living proves evidence to my believing. How well do I listen to His Voice, the voice of Truth? O, Lord Jesus, make me your kingdom.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make melody. Awake, my soul! -Psalm 108:1
I pause for a moment and reflect on God’s life-giving presence in every part of my body, in everything around me, in the whole of my life. God is not foreign to my freedom. Instead the Spirit breathes life into my most intimate desires, gently nudging me towards all that is good. I ask for the grace to let myself be enfolded by the Spirit (from Sacred Space).
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Book Review: The Paraclete Book of Hospitality
Author: The Editors of Paraclete Press
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557256652
I have just finished a genuinely heart-warming and seriously challenging book. I found the Paraclete Book of Hospitality a remarkable book considering that it was able to achieve both responses from me; that is “warmed” and “challenged.” I don’t believe those feelings are mutually exclusive, but it is rare that I put down a book feeling as significantly challenged (maybe even spanked a bit) as I did and still have the very real sense that I was loved deeply in the process. I know I sensed a special nearness of the presence of God as I was reading.
This is a small book; at less than 120 pages, it is also short. It is not a difficult read, nor does it take long to read… but I recommend taking time to chew the content slowly. The content is best digested along with thoughtful self-examination or it was for me.
The book is based upon the teachings of hospitality from the Bible; “love your neighbor as yourself.” The inspiration for Benedict’s Rule and the subsequent teaching that focuses on the subject of hospitality (see The Rule of St. Benedict 53:1).
All who arrive as guests are to be welcomed like Christ, for he is going to say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
I found an especially challenging quote in chapter three from Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Dan Homan who reflect in their book Radical Hospitality the following:
“Benedict finds God in people. You can’t ignore people when God is looking out their eyes at you. In the tiresome, the invalid, the rebellious, we are faced with God. It is our own failures to love that we have to deal with when we talk of hospitality.” (pg.41)
Page after page, chapter after chapter, raising-the-bar challenges are seasoned with loving examples and practical suggestions to enter the practice of a life-giving hospitality. There are suggestions for practicing hospitality at home (probably one of the places it might be needed most…), there are creative ways suggested to care for others, and a chapter I especially enjoyed (Chapter Five) teaches ways to celebrate and practice hospitality through the seasons of the year (the Church Calendar).
“Every human encounter I holy.” (page 76)
Chapters Seven and Eight are also full of great suggestions for integrating hospitality into the dailyness of our lives. These are also very challenging chapters as the editors include additional teachings from the Bible and other monastic rules of life. A couple of quotes I will continue to ponder…
“Do not be nowhere in your effort to be everywhere, or attentive to no one simply because you are running after everyone.” And “Welcome God. Unless you are God-filled there will be no sharing and giving, unless he lives in you, you will be unable to welcome people sincerely.” Both quotes from -Jerusalem Community Rule of Life.
This is a delightful little book…and one not to be taken lightly. There is wisdom for the ages found in these pages. We can learn much by putting to practice the words and suggestions from this Paraclete Book of Hospitality.