Humility, Part 3: What’s it To You?

There’s this great story at the end of John’s Gospel (“Good News Story”). Jesus is talking to Peter, one of his followers, and Peter makes some remark about a third follower, and wants to know will happen to this other person. 

Jesus replies to him, basically, “What’s it to you? Why should you care?”

Part of living in humility is surrendering our pathological need and desire to change other people. To debate them. To assume—without invitation—the role of truth-teller (prophet) or teacher. 

We think it’s always our job to correct error, or to share what we “know” in order to “enlighten” others and show them how brilliant we are and how wrong they are. 

(Yes, those quotes and italics are intended.) 

Some of us, at times are, in fact, called to be teachers and truth-tellers. 

But my sense is that most of the time I just want to tell people off and convince them (and myself) that I’m right.

But living a life of humility (and, I daresay, healthy spirituality) requires sometimes listening to the spirit of Jesus say to us, “What’s it to you? Why should you care?” 

Everyone is on their own unique journey. 

Furthermore, I am only human, and it shouldn’t be a shock or a reach to consider, if only for a moment, that maybe, just maybe I don’t have all the answers. 

Sometimes daily, tactical humility involves surrendering my “right” to teach or argue with others, and to trust that they are on their own journey through life. 

Humility, Pt 2

If humility has an “antithesis” or opposite, it’s pride. Certainly pride is having an exaggerated view of oneself, of believing that somehow you are better than others, or that somehow you “deserve” everything you’ve obtained in the world.

But there’s actually another, even more subtle way to think about pride. 

Pride is anything that separates you from other human beings. 

When you think about pride in this way, it opens up whole new (and often troubling) ideas to consider. 

Because it means that pride can happen, not only when we are dwelling on the POSITIVE things that set us apart from others, but also our NEGATIVE behaviors and personality traits. 

To say it another way, cultivating humility does not mean practicing shame.

When you are thinking that somehow you are the worst person in the world, you are dwelling on something that sets you apart—and makes you unique—from other people. 

True humility is not thinking of yourself as necessarily worse than other people, it’s actually not thinking of yourself at all

True, deep humility can be a whimsical, others-centered, way of being and living that is centered deeply in a secure peaceful awareness of a God who loves you. 

It’s almost counter-intuitive, but true humility—self-forgetfulness—happens when we are so sure about who we are in God that we are free to completely focus on the moment and on others. 

On Humility, Pt. 1

Humility is the “skeleton key” to spirituality. It opens the door to a journey of wonder, of transformation, of love and peace and contentment. 

I think that the reason that humility is so powerful is that humility seems to start with some version of “I don’t know.” 

At some level, it is a renunciation of our pride. 

We no longer have to have all the answers. We no longer have to be right. 

We can just “be,” and learn to know that being—with all of our imperfections and “lumps”—is enough. 

So maybe today can be a day when you begin to appropriate a little humility, not only towards God/the Universe, but also towards other people. 

(Which is infinitely harder to do, but bears just as much fruit as humility towards your Higher Power.) 

Release yourself from having the answers today. It’s a gift. 

Job One

What if your first “job” is not: 

… to run 3 miles
… to plan dinner
… to respond to THAT post? 
… to get a head start on your work list
… to catch up on the news
… to get the kids out of bed? 

What if your “job one” is to sit yourself down in the presence of the Love of the universe and know that, before anything else, you are going to be okay? 

What if job one is to perceive and receive the smile of infinite love (and maybe give a smile back)? 

What if job one is to breathe quietly and attach to no thoughts except for, “I consent to Your Spirit”? 

Because if you get job one done correctly, all of those other “what ifs” fall into place in a pretty amazing way. 

Start With What You Know

In times like these (or in any time, really) it’s very easy to get caught up in everything that you don’t know or understand. 

Whether it’s an inability to gather face-to-face in a spiritual community right now, or what you think you “don’t know” about spirituality, or the Bible, or growth, focusing on our perceived LACK of things can be paralyzing. 

It’s usually better—or at least more productive—to begin with what you DO know: 

… You’re not perfect (and that’s okay)
… You’d like to grow
… You need help

If you can start with those things—which are all really about humility—it’s easy to become open and available for change. Your eyes get a little wider and your hearing gets a little sharper, and pretty soon you will start to notice opportunities for change and growth. For trust and honesty and service. 

Start today. Nothing is holding you back. 

A Poem for Ascension Day

Today is Ascension Day, when we remember/acknowledge the day where Jesus ascends into heaven after his resurrection. The text can be found in the Book of Acts, chapter 1:

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he game them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to now the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Acts chapter 1 (NIV)

“Ascension Day”

When you soared, feet leaving earth
(or so I’m told)
Like scarred Superman
Taking flight
Watching us roll away
(And looking at the bottoms of your feet)

We were alone then,
But with more than we ever had before.

For then you entered us—YOU!
Invaded our flesh
Penetrated spirit and being
The true soul-lover

So that you, in Spirit
Could be with us—
Seeing MORE
Calling for MORE
Inviting us into destiny.

While you in FLESH
Re-assumed your place
In the divine dance,
And brought humanity home
Flesh and blood back to Father and Sister Spirit.

We watched while this happened
Typically unknowing—maybe—
That all the universe had changed
As it always does.

Rain Poem #38

The window only has to be opened a crack;
An inch or two,
That’s all it takes in order
To feel the hint of rain-cool air
And to hear the subtleties
Of the drops of rain

The thunder, however—
That’s another thing altogether:
Announcing its presence,
Invading through closed doors and windows,
Conquering the airspace
Within and without
And proclaiming,
“Today’s a day for sleeping in,
Or for sitting and watching
The weather work its magic
On the suburban landscape
That you forget
Does not belong to you.”

Something New (ish)

(Sent this out via Facebook yesterday because I was having some technology issues.)

Hey all

First of all, I wanted to say thanks to all of you for being so generous with your time and attention, and choosing to read my thoughts and scribblings over the years!

I wanted to let you know that I’m going to be trying some new content out over these next weeks and months; I would love for you to be a part of this new season with me!

To begin with, I’m going to be experimenting more with some audio teaching. It may evolve into a podcast, but for now, feel free to give this a listen. It’s a short reflection piece on Jeremiah 29

In addition—just because you’re awesome—I’ve recorded a cover of a song that has been a real blessing to me for the last year or so. Check it out over on my YouTube channel (or just click here). 

Lastly, I wanted to let you know that I have a record coming out in just a week or so. It’s a collection of eight new songs, and I can’t wait to share them with you! Keep tabs on the release date (like everything else in our world right now, things like shipping times are a little up in the air) through my Facebook Page and/or Instagram

There will be some more exciting changes coming soon, so stay tuned, but for now please just know that I’m grateful for all of you who have taken the time to read and comment through the years. 

Take care!

What Works for Me, Part 7: Into My Life

Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to lay out, in simple terms, the core components and ideas of my spirituality. While it probably seems overly-simplistic to a lot of folks, I’m currently finding that the best things are actually quite simple (though they are seldom “easy”), and their simplicity helps combat my deep tendency to overly-complicate things.

So, to wrap up everything, I’d like to just describe, more or less, how I live it out during a typical day. (Though it can be debated if there’s any such thing as a “typical day”, I’m a creature of habit, so I try very hard to “hard-bake” these activities into my life. I believe that they put me in the best position to make it from day to day, to give me the best chance to have meaningful connections with other people, to contribute to the world in meaningful ways, and to be just a little bit better today than I was yesterday).

Again, not much of this routine is complicated or complex; they are just simple activities and behaviors repeated over time, with a certain degree of intentionality and focus.

MORNING

My morning starts pretty much the same each day: I get up around 4:30AM, I make myself a cup of coffee with my AeroPress, drink about 8 ounces of water, and then go sit down at my desk. I do a very brief reading (takes usually less than 45 seconds), and then I immediately go into a 20 minute session of centering prayer.

If you’re not familiar with centering prayer I would definitely encourage you to investigate it. I struggled with prayer my entire life until I discovered this method, and it has helped me experience God more deeply. Without going into the specifics of the technique, the GOAL of centering prayer is for me to surrender my life and my will over to the power of God as best and as completely as I can.

(And, in case you’re wondering, I have virtually never had a problem with spending 20 minutes in silent prayer before 5AM. I can’t explain it, but somehow I remain alert and focused, even at this early hour.)

After that I do a quick session of journaling (based loosely on the 5-Minute Journal, but a little more streamlined). Basically I write (by hand-I try to stay off of screens entirely during the morning hours) the date, a quote or song lyric that I may have woke up with, 2-3 gratitudes, my intention for the day (usually something like “humility”, or “peace,” or “openness”), and then the absolute priorities for my life, which are currently (1) recovery, (2) family, and (3) vocation.

After that I will review my calendar for the day, do a brief creative writing exercise, and maybe so a small amount of spiritual reading, but then I go out to the kitchen and see if there’s anything I can clean up or put away before anyone else gets up. It’s an easy way that I can get out of my own head, and begin to serve others at an early part of my day.

EVENING

To be honest, I have always struggled to maintain a SET and established “reset” time in the afternoon and evening. I’m making progress, but I still have a ways to go in getting the habit and routine cemented into my life. Nevertheless, I have come to believe that these “PM Resets” are absolutely critical for me in my life every day, so I am striving to implement an afternoon session of Centering Prayer—or at least a period of intentional silence—around 4 or 4:30 every day, and then also an end of day reflection/evaluation (sometimes called an “Examen” in other faith traditions).

Towards the end of my day (but ideally before I get in bed), I just constructively review my day. I take a few deep breaths, and with a posture of gratitude and acceptance, I run through everything I did throughout the day, including the people I met, the places I went and the things I did, but ALSO my emotional reactions and even my intentions. I make little notes in my journal as I go of anything that stands out, both bad and—critically for me—good.

I also ask myself a few basic questions:

  • Was I kind and loving to everyone?
  • Was I mindful of others, and of how I could serve them?
  • Was I self-centered?
  • Was I focused on myself?
  • Do I owe an apology to anyone? (If I do, I try to write that down and address the situation as soon as I can the next day, if not sooner.)

Where I have struggled, I ask God to help me do better. Where I have managed to be reasonably loving and others-centered, I express gratitude.

It’s important for me to not do this in such a way that triggers any shame. Instead, what I am looking for is an HONEST evaluation—good and bad—of my existence during my day, and then a tangible action (asking God to help me do better, or making an apology, or celebrating, etc.)

After this, I am usually able to go to bed with a clear conscience and a sense that I have “sealed this day”, and can rest and prepare for the next one.

THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Between my set times of prayer and reflection, I seek to monitor myself as I move through my day. When I am wrong, I simply admit it (QUICKLY), apologize if necessary, and move on.

(NOTE: Without fail I encounter people and situationswho are frustrating to me. When I can, I need to remember that I cannot control others’ behavior and reactions. I CAN ONLY CONTROL MYSELF, so it’s up to me to monitor ME, not them. On one hand, this is incredibly difficult to do, because I have to release my desire to control others’ behavior. On the other hand, this is incredibly liberating, because it means that I always have SOMETHING that I can do to “deal with” any situation.)

So on the whole, this is what works for me. It’s simple, it’s easy, and anyone can do it. Not everyone does, but that’s okay. It’s saving ME, and I hear rumors from family and friends that it ACTUALLY may be working—that I really am, somehow, becoming slightly less self-centered, slightly less angry, slightly less fearful, and more compassionate, more gentle, more kind.

And I will take that.

For Today, Just This

We like to believe that salvation and forgiveness happens in Jerusalem, at the cross (and then in the empty tomb).

However, the ancients—the fathers and mothers of my faith tradition—knew a secret that I tend to forget (and that the modern church neglects to remind me):

My salvation begins with the arrival of God in human form. When the Creator chooses to enter fully into the broken, limited, imperfect form of His creation, something powerful has happened:

Namely, that nothing in my life—no brokenness, or imperfection, or bad choice—can keep God from me.

(And this happens BEFORE I speak any words of regret, or contrition!)

When God chooses to take on human form, He declares: I can deal with human life; I do not need to condemn it, or reject it. I accept it, so that it can be changed into something more powerful and beautiful than anyone can imagine.

I wish I could say it better than John Chrysostom, but I cannot. These words haunt me, encourage me, challenge me, and remind me that I am ALREADY saved

You could do a lot worse today (or over the next few days) than to just sit with these words and their meaning:

Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side—a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and we now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being fully in heaven; and while complete in heaven, he is without diminution on earth. Though he was God, he became man, not denying himself to be God. Though being the unchanging Word, he became flesh that he might dwell amongst us.

To Him, then who out of confusion has wrought a clear path; to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom (349-407), “The Joys of Christmas” (emphasis added)

Merry Christmas everyone.