The Christian Walk
“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
Abandoning the LORD and idol or idle worship
…The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and worshiped the Baals; and they abandoned the LORD (Judges 2:11). …The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, forgetting the LORD their God, and worshiping the Baals and Asherahs (Judges 3:7). …As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites relapsed and prostituted themselves with the Baals… The Israelites did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hand of all their enemies on every side (Judges 8:33-34).
…The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, worshiping the Baals and Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. Thus they abandoned the LORD, and did not worship him (Judges 10: 6).
…In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).
I think it is easy for us to hold this narrative at arms distance. We might be quick to say; “I don’t worship idols,” or “I do not forget or abandon the LORD.” I’m not entirely sure those arguments would be true for all of us.
It is rather easy to make the ancient Israelites the bad guys of this story, but is not the story ours too? We distance ourselves from the offenses of the Israelites making distinctions between their ancient idols and our contemporary lifestyles. We might not see ourselves worshiping the god Baal, but during the time of the Judges, Baal was known as the god of nature. More particularly, Baal was the rain god, and subsequently the god of fertility since water was the source of life not only for humanity, but crops and livestock as well.
Asherah aka Astartes, was considered the mate of Baal and the highest-ranking female god. Known as the moon-goddess, she was also considered the god of love and war. The practice of Asherah worship was very sensual in nature and often consisted of ritual prostitution.
Personally, I don’t think it is too far of a reach to connect the idolatry of these ancient peoples to twenty-first century citizens. Nature worship, the War Machines and military complex, Sex Industry, Fertility gods (Wall Street, Financial Investment vehicles, Lottery, Gambling, and other get-rich opportunities), and a host of lesser gods (Entertainment industry, sports industry, and other personal hobbies) exist all around us. I think the reality of our situation is that we have not named these other gods of ours and personalized them.
We will push back against this indictment of idolatry saying, “But we have not abandoned the LORD!” Generally speaking, the ancient Israelites did not abandon the LORD either. In every instance that God turned them over to the care of their idols, when the Israelites were distressed enough, they would cry out for relief to the LORD, so they did remember Him. I think; once again, we are not different from those primitive worshipers who knew the LORD Almighty as their God, but chose to add a host of lesser gods to their collection.
What does it look like to us that we would abandon the LORD for other gods? What is the context of this in our contemporary lives? How often are we guilty of not remembering the LORD our God? I think that for many of us, at least those of us who profess Christianity as our faith, the moment we walk out of our local church we forget the LORD. Others of us might keep God in the forefront of our minds even in the context of our home life, but the moment we walk out of the bubble of our homes each day we “forget” Him. Our attentions become directed elsewhere and our focus is realigned on the business of the day…often on the gods of happiness and personal survival who are often disguised versions of those ancient Baals and Asherahs.
The primary covenant command of our God was that we are to love him with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our strength. There was to be “no other god” but the LORD Almighty who is One God. Our attention and efforts are to always be “set aside” or sanctified holy unto the LORD our God. While many of us will agree to these covenant stipulations (Israel did too) and believe we are currently living in agreement with them, we will make the distinction that we live in a world that is both secular and sacred. How can this be? We will profess that we embody the Living Spirit of God—the Spirit of God indwells the heart/life of the disciple-believer of Christ. We profess that where God is, that is sacred or holy ground. If then, we embody the Spirit of God, wherever we go and whatever we do as Spirit-filled people, the place we are and the “thing we do” is sacred… or it should be… if we are living as God intended.
Have we become idle worshipers? Is our faith so passive and fragile that we succumb to the lesser gods that society surrounds us with? I think a sad truth is that we have bought into the self-deception that many of these lesser gods are not so bad. As long as we talk with more passion about the LORD that will mean we keep these lesser gods in check. Unfortunately, as is the case with radiation, small doses are just as lethal as the massive doses… one just takes longer to kill than the other.
Another story included in the Book of Judges is the life of a man named Samson (Judges 13:1—16:31). Samson, like us, became an idle worshiper and took his position and his relationship with God for granted. He assumed all was well because he “knew” the LORD. He gambled his very life on this relationship, but he did very little to maintain the health of it. Near the end of Samson’s life a tragic thing happened; he presumed one too many times that God would be with him in spite of his passive relationship (idle worship) with God. What happened follows:
When he [Samson] awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him (Judges 16:20).
What a tragic statement; “He did not know that the LORD had left him.” Do we deceive ourselves as Samson did? Do we make assumptions about our relationship with God thinking it is healthy when we surround ourselves with lesser gods…even if telling ourselves we do not? How high is the LORD in my priority list of life? Do I truly love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength or do I excuse myself by proclaiming “I’m trying to get there…”? The choices I make each day express my trust and my understanding of God. My faith and what I base my faith in, is made manifest by how I live out my days.
I, Yahweh, search the heart, test the motives, to give each person what his conduct and his actions deserve. (Jer. 17:10)
“I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matt. 21:43)
The Lenten season is a time to take real inventory of my life and relationship with God. It is a time to turn fully in the direction that takes me toward Him alone. Now is not the time to be an idol worshiper or an idle worshiper. He calls. We answer. What will our answer be?
Yahweh, you examine me and know me, you know when I sit, when I rise, you understand my thoughts from afar. You watch when I walk or lie down, you know every detail of my conduct. God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity. (Psalm 139:1-3, 23-24)
Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto you.
Lent 2013: By Faith
I’m thinking about faith. More to come…
Light and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! O let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleading. My soul is waiting for the LORD. I count on God’s word. My soul is longing for the Lord… Merciful God, we are baptized into the depth of your dear Son. May we die to all sin and selfishness and eagerly await the dawning of our joyful resurrection; by the merits of the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
O LORD, open my lips ~ and my mouth shall declare your praise. Blest be the LORD our God, ruler of the universe ~ Now and always for ever and ever.
Delight in the Lord’s teaching and study it night and day ~ Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
My heart and flesh cry out for the living God! O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you… Sanctify yourselves. There are devoted things among you; you will be unable to stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” -Joshua 7:12-13 NRSV
I suppose there is a need for context here. The story that takes place in this account from Joshua is this; Israel had crossed over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. God had instructed them to take over by force the towns and nations of the people who occupy the land. One of the instructions to Israel had been to keep the gold and silver for the treasury of God and to destroy (burn up) all other things.
The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction… As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord. -Joshua 6:17-19 NRSV
Achan, one of the fighters for Israel, kept some of the booty from the battle of Jericho.
But the Israelites broke faith in regard to the devoted things: Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things; and the anger of the Lord burned against the Israelites. -Joshua 7:1 NRSV
Now, in this case, I believe the devoted things were the items that had either been set aside for destruction or set aside for the LORD’s treasury—this is how the narrative reads. There is obvious application for us even if we stop here. God had given instruction and there was willful disobedience. Achan had been deceived by the lust of his own eyes and the greed that burned within him led him to succumb to an act that sinned against God. Achan’s sin against God had repercussions that extended beyond just himself; his sin affected the lives of his household and the lives of the people of his entire nation. And there are more applications I’m sure with a literal interpretation, but there were some ideas that came to me beyond a “first look” at Achan’s sin and this is where I started to fixate a bit on the word “devotion.”
When I started doing some exploration into the root meaning and eytomology of the word devotion, I found that it was steeped in pious or religious application. Regarding the use of the word in the original language, Hebrew, (charam) is associated with many religious uses; devotion, ban, exterminate, dedication, consecration, sacred, sanctuary, and temple are just a few of the mentioned applications (click the link for more examples).
Devoted / ha·che·rem from charem / (Hebrew) Strongs 2764a ::: definition—devoted thing; devotion; ban
Early 13c., from Old French devocion ”devotion, piety,” from Latin devotionem (nominative devotio), noun of action from pp. stem of devovere ”dedicate by a vow, sacrifice oneself, promise solemnly,” from de-”down, away” (see de-) + vovere ”to vow,” from votum ”vow” (see vow).
In ancient Latin, “act of consecrating by a vow,” also “loyalty, fealty, allegiance;” in Church Latin, “devotion to God, piety.” This was the original sense in English; the etymological sense, including secular situations, returned 16c. via Italian and French.
Perhaps it is just the way my mind works or maybe it has to do with the way we have incorporated the word (devotion) into our language today, but I started to think about how easily we are distracted by our devotions… And, I’m not talking about those devotions where you sit down for a few minutes to pray or read a short passage of Bible verse. I am considering the other things in our lives that consume our energy and attention, the things and activities that steal our devotion from God. So much of our time, energy, resources, and attention is devoted to making money, purchasing objects, pursuing activities that steal us away from the real object of our devotion, God. We pay homage to Him; perhaps we offer Him a tithe (tenth) of our income (after tax of course) and we give Him a couple of hours on Sunday of our undivided attention (it is undivided isn’t it?), and occasionally we’ll participate in one of the annual community outreach thingies. This counts as devotion doesn’t it? By comparison, a car, house, or credit card payment gets far more devotion from us than does our God… in many case.
The question that I think I’ve been fixated on today is, “Where is my devotion or what is my devotion?” I think we can take a closer look at the first-person application with Achan’s sin and make a comparison that strikes a little closer to home for us. In the case of Achan, he took things that were supposed to be set aside for the use of God and perhaps extended to the community of God’s people. He thought only of his own selfish desire. By thinking only about himself, his actions isolated and excommunicated him from the community… ultimately to the point that it caused his death. Are we guilty of this? Maybe I haven’t stolen God’s gold… or have I? Am I enamored by the “purple robes” I see others wearing? What might those “robes” look like in our contemporary society? I think the application really isn’t as far removed from us as I might have originally thought. Perhaps my fixation is not such an extrapolation or reach after all. I wonder how much we might be devoted to ourselves instead of devoted to God.
When the sin of Achan affected the community, Joshua, as their leader, went before God and fell prostrate before Him. He began to cry out and plead for God’s assistance and mercy. God responded by telling him to “Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face?” and instructed Joshua to tell the people to “Sanctify yourselves” (Joshua 7:6-12). Perhaps in the midst of our misguided devotions today we need to take a step back from the harried lives we lead and “set ourselves apart” by renewing and realigning our devotion. Sanctify yourselves and your devotion for you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Devotion.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you… Sanctify yourselves. There are devoted things among you; you will be unable to stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” -Joshua 7:12-13 NRSV
The only “devoted thing” that belongs in my life is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Any other “devoted thing” will cause Him to be with me no more. Sanctify yourself. Yeah. That’s what he said.
Working it Out
Readings: Philippians 2:12-13 ◊
“So work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for his own purpose, gives you the intention and powers to act.” -Philippians 2:12-13
Life gets busy… there are people to meet, things to do, and places to go. I get it and it’s true. Stuff happens and it seems to be happening at an ever-quickening pace. Today seemed busy for me, but my busy was good… although in the midst of my busy, there were several things that I needed to accomplish that I was unable to attend. What does this all mean?
I’m thinking about how easy it is for me to put things off and play catch up to them later. I realize this is sometimes necessary, but what happens when the things that get put off are the spiritual disciplines and exercises that draw us close and keep us connected to our God. You know, the One we claim “leads, guides, and directs us…” I believe that when we start playing “catch up” to our time lost that should have been spent with God, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Truly, I think in the midst of the fast paced, busy, and often interrupted lives we lead, it is a dangerous thing to lose our time alone with God. Yes, He is always with us, but our ability to “hear” him can become seriously impaired when we start to miss our time in solitude alone with Him. Henri Nouwen reminds us of the following:
“We are responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our secular milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own.” -Henri Nouwen
Even in the middle of our busy-ness and unplanned interruptions (are interruptions ever planned?), we can find ways to unplug from the harried pace we are on in order to reset and replug our hearts and minds back upon the person and presence of our God.
Most gracious and eternal God, in your bounty you have sent us your Holy Spirit. May he teach us to think and do what is right, so that we, who without you cannot exist, may live in loving obedience to your will. Help us to be aware when we walk away from or become distracted from your presence. We ask this as we pray the words Jesus taught us to pray.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
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.
Questions for the 1st Sunday of Lent
“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)
- 21:9—purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst
- 21:18—purge the evil from your midst
- 22:21—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:22—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:24—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
Not to make the obvious trite, but it seems that God wants to make it abundantly clear that His people are intended to be holy, pure, undefiled. I think the reasons are far more reaching than for this to be for a single purpose, and that primarily for show. While the visible example of purity and holiness is likely one of the purposes, I think an extended reason for this purity is that we need it. We are easily distracted…and what distracts us often corrupts us. We are influenced by what we come in contact by and keep company with. The examples of this are many, but one quick example is the acceptance of violence and sexuality in T.V. programming. Through the course of my life, there has been a major shift in what we permit to come into our homes on the television…in fact, not only is it permitted, for very many it is acceptable and demanded. This illustrates why purity and undefilement may have been so rigorously and unwaveringly demanded by our God.
This begs the question of me; “What compromises do I continue to make in keeping myself holy and undefiled for the purposes of God and the health of our relationship?”
“The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.” (Matt. 4:10)
Another set of questions I think are good for me to ponder as I venture through this Lenten season, I found today while reading a book, Small Surrenders by Emilie Griffith. In it she quotes a question from Brennan Manning, who asks; “How is my life unfolding in terms of my primary goal of living with God forever?”
This is a pretty big question and might be difficult to nail down in practical terms, so Emilie unpacks this question with a more specific list that helps us to address the bigger examination of our heart. She asks the following:
- What am I doing with my time?
- What am I doing with life?
- How well am I expressing the imprint of Christ upon my heart?
- How deep is my charity?
- How deep is my love?
- How well am I functioning in the Christian life?
And, the question I completed the list with that “popped” into my head as I pondered these—“Am I becoming all that God desires and has destined for me to become?”
I think I will sit with and revisit these through my Lenten journey…
Our Prayer from Charles de Foucauld
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.
Ash Wednesday: Entering the Desert–A Time to Reset
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today marks the beginning of the Lenten Season, Ash Wednesday, an acknowledgement of our individual and collective brokenness—a time to realize and to confess how far we have veered from the radiant image of the God who created us.
While Lent is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, there are multiple illustrations and seasons where the call to repentance, both individual and corporate, went out to people. The actual practice of Lent has origins dating back as early as 200AD with mentions of corporate fasting by the church father St. Irenaeus. The Fast of Lent was later formalized between the years of 313 – 325 in the disciplinary canons of the Nicean Council. This call beckoned people to turn from their selfish desires and return to the path of righteousness, which is God. Lent is about turning…repentance, and transformation. I like that Lent can serve as a reset point for me. I also like that I am not alone, and this on several levels. As corporate observance, I know the Church universal (at least many, though not all) will be observing this season and I find support in the fact that I am not alone in this period of reset, turning, and transformation. I also find support in knowing that during this season of Lent, these 40-days, I enter into the desert wilderness of my soul following Jesus and the example he left us in the gospels when he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested and tempted by Satan.
Lent is traditionally the season of focused, concentrated transformation of self, from old man to new. Lent is the time when new patterns of living are forged to last a year and when new attitudes of heart are developed… I have been made brand new in Christ, but there is lots of change to make. 40 days of transformation. Neil Robbie
I enter into the wilderness with Jesus…facing my weaknesses, to learn what He learned and to be taught by the same Spirit that taught Him. I like how Emilie Griffith points out that Lent is “a time when we deepen our faith in a journey not of grand gestures but of small surrenders.” These small surrenders are the baby steps that lead to total surrender and whole-life transformation into the image and reflection of Christ Jesus. Henri Nouwen says these little surrenders are choices we make along our way. He writes; “The choice for your way has to be made every moment of our life.” I am learning there are no times or places where there are not choices… everyday is full of choices always before me to choose my way or the way of Jesus. Lord, I pray, help me always to choose you.
Take care you do not forget the LORD… (Deut. 6:12)
My Bible reading this morning reminded me of the dilemma faced by us all. It can be so easy to have our eyes and hearts distracted from the Way of our Lord. The world we live in is noisy and paced it seems at light speed. Survival takes effort and energy…hazards of all types exist around every corner and in every shadow. We get tired, sick, disheartened…distracted. We look for escape and begin to daydream about anything and everything except the present moment. Many people begin the path of self-medication, fulfilling those daydream fantasies, choosing alcohol, prescription drugs, and a myriad of other escape vehicles. All of this makes it easy to be distracted from the focus on our God even to the point that we forget the LORD.
I think this can be the case even for many of us who remain in groups that attend church services, even those of us who “do stuff” that Christians do like serving other people and reading our Bibles or other devotional material. We still “forget the LORD.” We can end up going through the motions, dried up, burnt out, worn to just a shell of a person from the hectic, noisy, distracted lives we lead. This is why Lent and participation in these 40-days is good for us. We are provided an earnest time of focus and dedication to our Lord… returning to the roots of our faith, if you will.
We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversion, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ. -Thomas Merton
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)
“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
And so, we enter the desert, to a time of fasting, repentance, and remembrance of our frailty. We answer the call of our Lord to be converted and be reconciled. We turn to Him with hopeful anticipation of the work He will wrought in us as we surrender ourselves to His molding and shaping. Make me, O Lord, like unto You. Have Your way in me…always today and forever. Amen
Watching Like Simeon
A Christmastide and Year’s End Reflection [25DEC12---01JAN13]
Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the LORD. There is hope for your future.” (Jeremiah 31:16-17)
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. (Luke 2:25)
As I reflect on the days of Advent and into the Days of Christmas, a couple of thoughts I have had seem more prominent than the rest.
First, are a few thoughts I’ve had about the person-prophet Simeon. Here is a man who appears to have lived most of his life in relative obscurity…at least it seems so from the biblical record. The narrative record teaches about Simeon that he was a righteous and devout man, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him. He was looking for Jesus. Because he was devoutly and faithfully looking for Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God promised him he would not die before seeing him. He (Simeon) would see the consolation of Israel—the very consolation of the whole world.
For Christmas is not merely a day like every other day. It is a day made holy and special by a sacred mystery. It is not merely another day in a weary round of time. Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity… We are then, above all, obliged to reveal Christ in our lives… Every day of our mortal lives must be His manifestation, His divine Epiphany, in the world which He has created and redeemed.” -Thomas Merton
And Simeon saw Jesus. Simeon was alert—paying attention—he had ears to hear and eyes to see. He was not caught up in the distractions of the day. His relationship with God was intimate; “The Holy Spirit rested on him.”
The second thing I’ve been considering is the absurdity of the time and place of Jesus’ birth. It makes me wonder if many of us in this modern and over-busy world would recognize his coming today. We people living in “first world” countries have a debilitating habit and hunger for the loud, proud, and shiny things. Many of us like busy and entertainment filled lives; we do not crave the quiet or silence, and many of us do not like being alone or in solitude.
Jesus was born in the shadows…and lived in relative poverty on the edges of his society hidden from the world’s stage for more than ninety percent of his life. Would we know him? Would we recognize him as Simeon did? In all likelihood, many who claim to know him today probably would not have recognized him then… Truthfully, many who say they know him today, probably would not recognize him if they saw him face-to-face today.
“How can we expect to find Jesus if we do not seek him in the states of this earthly life, in loneliness and silence in poverty and suffering, in persecution and contempt, in annihilation and the cross?”-Francois Fenelon
I want to be like Simeon. I want to be and be known as a righteous and devout man. I want to be a man always watching and looking for Jesus. I want to always have the Holy Spirit of God upon and within me. When Jesus appears, whenever and wherever and in whomever that may be…I want to recognize him. Every. Time. Like Simeon.
As I sit here, the beating of my heart, the ebb and flow of my breathing, the movements of my mind are all signs of God’s ongoing creation of me. I pause for a moment…And become aware of this presence of God.
I ask for the grace to let go of my own concerns and be open to what God is asking me. I ask You, O God, to keep me humbled—always driving me to Your feet—beneath Your cross, which has saved me. Help me to remain as one who is poor in spirit, always guided and formed by Your hand, my Loving Creator.
Lord, hear my prayer. And let my cry come unto You. Let us bless the Lord.
Blessed are you, LORD the God of Israel, you have come to your people and set them free.
The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. In him was life,, and the life was the light of all.
You have raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of your servant David.
The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth—Emmanuel! God is with us—In him is life, and that life is the light of all.
Through your holy prophets, you promised of old to save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us.
The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. In him was life,, and the life was the light of all.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen
Book Review: The Little Book of Hours
Compiled by: The Community of Jesus
Published: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557255334
Several years ago, after reading Praying with the Church by Scot McKnight, I started experimenting with the practice of praying with fixed hour prayers. I have found this holy habit to be one of the most defining of my personal spiritual disciplines. I continue to seek out and use various prayer books that are modeled after this style of prayer. Following the Benedictine monastic tradition of praying the liturgy of the hours, the Community of Jesus has compiled The Little Book of Hours.
If you are unfamiliar with fixed hour prayers, the liturgy of the hours (also known as the Divine Office), is an ancient tradition that punctuates the day with prayer at certain times. Most commonly, these punctuations follow prayer times at morning, noon, evening, and night. Other monastic communities may seek to expand these prayer times to seven times a day.
The Little Book of Hours is a brief compilation of the prayers used by the Community of Jesus at the Church of Transfiguration on Cape Cod. While the actual prayer liturgies used by the Community are more expansive than those in this prayer book, the collection here represents the heartbeat that sustains and nurtures the said Community. The liturgy of hours in The Little Book is wonderful first step into the practice of praying the liturgy of the hours. This four-week cycle of hours is ideally designed for praying in a community, but is also a perfect fit for small groups and can be a great tool for personal prayer. I have just completed my first four-week cycle with this little book of prayers and plan to use it regularly during my prayer and devotional time through the coming year.