Moments

Don’t be afraid of your unique ways of connecting to God. We are all wired up differently.

Years ago Gary Thomas wrote a helpful little book called Sacred Pathways. In it he identified nine ways that people can experience and encounter God, including through study, through serving others, or through appreciating nature.

Life can be full of constant distractions, and when you are living like this it can be difficult to experience God. The difficulty is because one of the true things about God is that He is found IN THE MOMENT, and when your mind is going a hundred miles an hour about 20 different things, you really are NOT in the moment. You are far, far away, and God may be disparately trying to speak to you about what is going on RIGHT NOW.

However, when you are on your own unique pathway, there is often a moment where you can lose yourself and become TRULY present to the moment. Every moment and every activity collapses into THIS moment and THIS time, and you discover that your mind is simultaneously ultimately FOCUSED and ultimately OPEN to possibility, to the Spirit of God that is speaking.

Don’t be ashamed of your pathway, and don’t neglect it. The pathways is NOT God, but it is a tool and a roadmap to the place (and TIME) where God is.

 

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Waiting for Your World to Change

How long does spiritual growth actually take?

You go to the chair every morning with some mix of hope and acceptance. You HOPE for an encounter, for a wave of grace and presence and transcendence that leaves you with goose bumps and and an elevated heart beat. You ACCEPT the fact that not only may this not happen, it’s not even the point.

The point is to show up and do YOUR part.

But still you desire some change, some marker and evidence that you’re getting better. But would you even recognize it if it showed up?

Or is the evidence really only seen by others, by your friends and family?

Some mornings it really seems like going through the motions, like no one is really listening. And this is difficult. You know in your head that these times are simply times of FAITH, when the gap is a little wider, the silence is a little deeper.

When the feelings come, when your heart is stirred deeply with a loving presence, THAT is when it is actually easier to believe, to be grateful.

But those times are simply good gifts from God, and your job is to first appreciate and be grateful for those gifts.

But NOT to come to expect the gifts.

When the silence is louder than the words of love, it doesn’t mean the Gift-Giver is absent, or is unhappy.

It’s just a reminder that you cannot really control when and how the gifts are given.

Still, though you may know this objectively, the experience of the silence can be challenging, and even discouraging.

Will there ever come a time when you consistently dwell in this joy, this love, peace and compassion?

That’s when you hear the voice of your mentor, your spiritual father saying, “How long did it take you to wonder INTO the wilderness? If it took you 20 years (or 5, or 10, or 40) to get INTO the forest, why would you expect to walk out in just 4 years (or whatever your number is).

The point is to simply keep on walking: show up, sit down, and engage silence… and wait.

Switching Gears

In Matthew’s gospel, there’s this story about Jesus hits me on a very practical, but subtle, level. 

In chapter 14, John the Baptizer has just been executed by King Herod. It seems that Jesus and John were rather close: Jesus was actually a follower of John for a time (John baptized him!), and may have been a mentor of sorts, and even extended family (they may have been cousins). 

So Jesus just finds out that this man, this influential figure, this friend has just been murdered, and he withdraws to pray (and, I’m sure, to mourn and grieve). 

But Jesus is a popular figure, a rabbi and a healer, and so when the crowds hear that Jesus is in the area, they convene around him.

The gospel says that when Jesus sees them, he “has compassion on them,” and begins to heal the sick folk that were there. 

That is a gear shift: to go from trying to mourn and pray in solitude, to performing acts of ministry. 

It’s one of my biggest challenges: I have relational “buckets” that I live in, and if I’m required to shift—from solitude or study to serious conversation, or from a business meeting to counseling—it is a stress on me. In fact, sometimes I simply cannot make the shift. 

Unfortunately, life—people—don’t dwell in discrete buckets, and life doesn’t have hard edges. Learning to move fluidly between interactions is a gift of the Spirit, and something that will take time to grow up in me. 

Diagnosis + Cure

(All quotes from Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom.)

When people who know your heart well and love you dearly say that you are a child of God, that God has entered deeply into your being, and that you are offering much of God to others, you hear these statements as pep talks. You don’t believe that these people are really seeing what they are saying.

There is so often a deep doubt in your core about who you are. Furthermore, the encouragement you so often give to others you refuse to believe about yourself. 

It’s not out of rebellion, it’s out of the deep woundedness that you—and so many others—carry. 

As long you as you remain blind to your own truth, you keep putting yourself down and referring to everyone else as better, holier, and more loved than you are. You look up to everyone in who you see goodness, beauty, and love because you don not see any of these qualities in yourself. 

Seeing everyone else as better than you is not true humility; it’s actually a form of pride. Pride at its core is finding ways to separate ourselves from others. Humility is actually not thinking of yourself at all, not so you can be “special”, but so you can be free to be in absolute community with all people. 

You have to be willing to live your loneliness, your incompleteness, your lack of total incarnation fearlessly, and trust that God will give you the people to keep showing you the truth of who you are.

It starts with naming it, and naming it completely. It’s way too easy to be afraid that if we admit to ourselves how “bad” we are at the spiritual life, God will somehow reject us. But this is a problem with an incomplete and inaccurate understanding of love (and much moreso, God’s love). 

Name it, and name it completely. What we bring to God, God heals. What we bring to Christ, Christ heals. Bringing it to him starts with naming it. 

Where Does Hope Live?

You wonder where hope lives, and this is natural.

Shootings… division… strife…

William Butler Yeats said in a famous poem, “The center cannot hold,” and you feel that in this season.

On one side, a brave public face. On another side fear, anger and insecurity as both the left and right forget how to treat each other as human beings.

Where does hope live?

You want to keep away from the news, but still the news always seems to find you.

Where does hope live?

Maybe hope lives in the surrender of hope. 

Think about Jesus, and his very central invitation—call and command, even—to take up the cross (yours, or his, depending on the gospel).

Remember that the cross was not a symbol of hope.

It was a symbol of death.

But what Jesus (and all of life, really) is trying to teach you is that embracing the reality of surrender, loss of control even unto death is actually the place where you find hope.

If for nothing else than that’s the place you surrender and lay down all expectations of anything else, and you are content to be present to the moment, and find that right there is the place where God is, and where to breathe—to merely be alive—is to have everything in the universe available and to you.

 

Past

A part of you was left behind very early in your life: the part that never felt completely received. It is full of fears. Meanwhile, you grew up with many survival skills… But Jesus dwells in your fearful, never received self… Where you are most human, most yourself, weakest, there Jesus lives. (Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)

It’s always challenging to remember that the path to healing is not to neglect your wounds and your past; it is not to reject or separate the ugly things that you’ve done. The path to healing is about integrating and accepting your past—even (especially?) the ugly parts of it—because if you had not have done what you did, you would not be where you are.

Everything in your past has brought you to this moment, which is full of possibility and pregnant with potential and love and peace.

 

Let’s Talk About Death, Baby

One of my favorite movies of all time is High Fidelity starring John Cusack. It also happens to be one of my favorite books of all time.
I love the story because of the insight into the culture around music—and people who love music—but also the insight into people who struggle in relationships and with growing into adulthood.
The characters in the story are constantly making top five list of various records and songs and artists (because that’s what we music geeks do), and towards the end of the film John Cusack‘s character Rob talked about his top five songs for his funeral. So this morning I started working on mine…
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To tell you the truth, I do not (at least yet) have an “easy” relationship with death. I wantto say that I don’t have any concerns, and that I’m sure that I will easily pass from this life to the next.

But if I said all that I would be lying.

I think right now I still have thoughts about the injustice of it all, of leaving things undone and leaving people behind.
But on the other hand, if I reallybelieve the truth about faith, my life, and this world is true, I know that this—even death—can be something to be embraced and even savored and anticipated.
One day there will be healing where there is brokenness…
Clarity where there is confusion… 
Contentment where there is anxiety… 
Love where there is loneliness… 
All of these things I really do believe, but still I guess it’s no great sin to still be a little bit afraid of the unknown.
Ultimately, I would like to think that I can wrestle with death a little bit over the next years of my life, and eventually, as Saint Francis put it, “make friends with death” before the end.
At the very least, remembering the inevitability of death is clarifying.
By the way, I was talking casually with my son, and I said told him the list that I was working on, He dryly replied I really hope walking on sunshine is not on that list.
(But even then, somehow there’s some powerful spiritual truth in that song!)