A Reflection on Death, Abundance, and Compassion

Today’s scripture readings have a few themes:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120617.cfm

  1.  Death
  2.  Abundance
  3.  comfort/compassion

Death

In my late 20’s and early 30’s, I struggled with panic attacks.  I had an immense amount of anxiety about dying.  This manifested itself in different ways, mostly through a fear of getting sick or having a heart attack.  A few factors contributed that I could think of.  One, I was a new father.  We had Christopher and David a year apart and I was pretty nervous about not being present or available to them.  This had symbolic meaning to me as a fear of abandonment.  I didn’t want to abandon my kids and see them struggle without a father and I also had to cope with my own fears of being left fending for myself.  Two, I was just starting to work as a corporate chaplain and the stories I was hearing were very overwhelming.  Three, lack of self care.  I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or exercising very well.  The result?  Panic attacks.  

Here’s what helped me:  

  1. Talking with a therapist.  I was able to talk about the pain of being abandoned and how much it hurt.  It helped me realize that, while I felt abandoned, I could learn new ways of parenting myself so that I’d know that I can handle whatever life might throw my way.  In spiritual terms, I learned that I was never alone and that the Higher Power (Jesus) would be with me.  Growing up latino and in a pentecostal home, seeing a therapist was a taboo because we were taught that we really didn’t “trust God”.  That was nonsense!  🙂
  2. Self-care.  For me, this meant getting 8 hours of sleep, staying away from fast food and greasy food, and cycling.  I took up road biking, lost 20 lbs, and felt great. I also started making time to take regular retreats throughout the year.  I have to plan them in advance and then stick to them.
  3. Community.  I needed more friends in my life that I could go to eat with, go to concerts, and just be silly and laugh.  I needed connection and deep friendships.  

Abundance

We grew up with not a lot of money so I developed a fear of not having enough.  It’s driven many of my financial decisions.  But as I think about life and God, the scripture is clear that God thinks in terms of abundance, not scarcity.  I’m not talking about or promoting a “prosperity gospel” where abundance is the sign that God loves you and that you are more special than others.  But God does care about abundance and wants to lack no good thing.  I’d be very wary if someone used this to try and make a case for materialism or consumerism.  That’s just bad theology.  I’m talking about being able to have an attitude and heart that is at rest with what we have and isn’t ruled by “stuff”.  Fear of not having can be very costly.  And it usually doesn’t get us what we really want. 

Comfort/Compassion

In each reading, there is provision and comfort for the hungry, the needy, and the sick.  Death is overcome.  Sickness is healed.  And there is a feast of table for all people.  Jesus has compassion on the crowd.  Some are sick.  Others are hungry.  We read about a God who cares about the daily stuff, about the burdens that we carry.  He is not a god who sits by idly.  Jesus is engaged with the people and is about making wrongs right.  

I’m not sure I wholeheartedly believe that God is that compassionate.  I feel like have to earn his abundance and comfort.  I feel like if I don’t perform well as a disciple, I will be mistreated.  When I feel this way, I look at a picture of my sons or a picture of “little Roy” and imagine how much God loves us.  I want to trust that love from a Heavenly Father who is in heaven, and yet breaking into my world to transform my heart and mind.  This the concept of grace at work.  This energy, favor, love that God bestows is His hearts’ disposition.  

Questions for Reflection

*What are you most afraid of these days?  Can you tell God about it?

*Where do you feel like you are lacking?  Ask the Great Shepherd to lead you beside still waters and restore your soul.  

*How might God want to comfort you today?  Tell him where the pain is.

Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.
May your new life fill us afresh.
May you cause to see how you are abundant in our lives.
May you have compassion on us.

Amen

Don’t Waste The Pain

“Revolution might sound a little dramatic, but in this world, choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance. Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people— including yourself. One minute you’ll pray that the transformation stops, and the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time… brave, afraid, and very, very alive. Rising strong is the final piece of this transformation.”

– Brene Brown

I’m thinking of the young man (it could easily be a woman) in his 20’s (maybe even 30s) who is trying to get his life together after making a lot of personal mistakes.  He feels like a failure, alone, and abandoned.  He may even be angry at the world for the bag he was given.

What you’ve been through is not fair.  The upbringing was rough…it wasn’t your fault.  And yet this is what you have to come to grips with.  You’ll need a lot of support, care, and love.  There will be days when you can’t make sense of the deep pain you feel in your heart.

Your greatest choice today is to live as one who is willing to rise strong, WITH all the anxiety and stress.  The gift of strength is for you to reclaim who you long to be.  It’s unsettling, uncomfortable, and necessary.  You must remember that you are the beloved!  That is your real identity and at the core of who you are.

You’ll need community, care, and courage.  You’ll need a power bigger than you.

And as a friend once said, don’t waste the pain.  I’m not sure what exactly that means.  But I’m starting to understand that with each set of waves (of pain), there is an opportunity to keep rising, growing, and being transformed.

 

Using the VIM framework for Pastoral Counseling

I did a spiritual formation retreat last weekend and shared on Dallas Willard and Henri Nouwen’s work; specifically looking at their views on transformation.
Both use the starting point of longing/desire/deep need, which is a “goal” or vision.
I think this can also be used for a general understanding of pastoral short term counseling. It’s goal oriented and it offers a framework for us to “play in”.
I’m generally seeing some “metanarrative” themes when it comes to naming our longings/vision:
  1. We long for/need Love. This could be affirmation, belonging, acceptance, encouragement, community.
  2. We long for/need healing. Much of the work of Jesus was being a healing presence and then talking about it. This healing could be from past hurts, grief/loss, trauma, medical, financial, addictions, depression.
  3. We long for/need meaning and purpose. This could be direction, clarity, identity, mission. We have a God given impulse to contribute to this world and find things that are bigger than us.

Short term pastoral counseling is very helpful for many as a means to address specific inner movements that someone might be experiencing.

A retreat for transformation

I won’t let up until you pay attention.  You haven’t been very patient or understanding lately.  Or loving.  I know you’re irritated and weary.  How do you think I feel?!  I have to do life with you 24-7.

Could you please hit the pause button and let’s retreat?

Sincerely,

Roy’s Soul


This weekend, I had the opportunity to be a retreat speaker for a spiritual formation retreat hosted by North Coast Calvary Chapel’s Young Adult Ministries.  I had a wonderful sharing and being with the retreatants.  It was personally refreshing for me as I sensed God speaking to me and abiding with me.  I am deeply grateful for the opportunity.

What follows are some notes and highlights of the retreat.

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Spiritual Formation Retreat at Heart Bar Campground

My task for the first session was to offer an introduction to what spiritual formation is, offer some information on spiritual development theory based on a few thinkers on the subject (Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard), and to share some practical ways that we can engage in some spiritual disciplines (means) as we aspire towards our longings.  

Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation is the process of undergoing a revolution of the heart and character so that it reflects the life of Christ.  To be spiritually formed into the image of Christ, we engage in practices/disciplines that foster attentiveness to God’s voice, His presence, and His guidance.  Without such experiences, we become less of the True Self and function more out of a disordered self.  Usually that disorderliness is filled with disconnectedness, waywardness, and self-destructive patterns.  

Spiritual Formation includes the task of looking within:  to reflect on our daily life, and to seek God and his active presence in our lives.  We use questions of reflection such as:

  • What’s happening within and how is God working within?  
  • What is he drawing my attention to?  
  • What movements, as we take a moment to listen, am I most present to?  
  • Am I present to joy, hope, love?  Or might it be frustration, anger, or hopelessness?  Is it a circumstance?  Perhaps a relationship, work, or finding my place in this world?  Or might I be avoiding looking within for fear of what I might find?  
  • Am I lonely?  Insecure?  Avoiding others?  Or mixture of all of it? 

The goal of spiritual formation is to reflect the character of Jesus, as we peal back the layers of the false self in order to see the True Self that God has blessed us with.

The process acknowledges that our lives have become unmanageable and that if we are to become who we truly long to be, we are to trust that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to our original design of goodness.  In Christian language, we call the unmanageability “sin”.  It feels like such a dirty word in our culture but it basically means that we are trying to manage our lives on our own terms.

I see spiritual formation as a means to engage the process of transformation in my character, vocation, purpose, and personality in this world.  It is of upmost priority in my life, mostly because I’ve seen how I can ruin my state of being based on disordered desires and decisions that I make.  I need transformation.  I can be filled with anger, short-tempered, judgmental, impulsive, compulsive.  I need a framework–a vision, intention, means–to engage with on a daily basis in order to keep accountable towards growth.

Dallas Willard’s VIM

During the session, I explained how Dallas Willard understood spiritual formation.  He saw it as a revolution of character and heart.  Using the acronym VIM (in latin, vim means vigor, energy, enthusiasm), he offers a developmental theory for transformation:

  • Vision:  rooted in goodness, truth, and beauty, we need a vision for what we long for in this world, who we long to be.  All transformation starts with a longing that we envision.  For those who struggle with alcohol, the vision is to abstain from alcohol in order to live a healthier life (emotional, relational, physical).
  • Intention:  a decision to lean into a way of being, a profession or vow.  We must make a decision towards the vision and transformation.  Sometimes we make that decision 50 times a day.  
  • Means:  ways for us to see our vision and decision realized.  It might help to identify roadblocks in our lives (i.e. I drink when I’m stressed).  Some other means can include meditation on Christ’s Teachings, learning from others in the Christian Tradition (saints such as St. Francis, St. Ignatius), both to fill our minds and hearts with new possibilities of being.

VIM is a standard way of developing a framework for any form of change.  It can be used for goal setting, employee development, character development, breaking unhealthy habits.

Henri Nouwen on Formation

Words and language are essential when undergoing transformation.  How are we supposed to understand what is happening in our mind and heart if we don’t have the words to articulate the movements happening in us.  Henri Nouwen understood that if we are going to undergo the inward journey towards the transformation of heart, it is vital to learn discernment and articulation.

Nouwen believed that:

“The key work here is articulation. People who can identify and articulate the movements of their inner lives, who can give names to their varied experiences, need no longer be victims of themselves but are able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the Spirit from entering. They can create space for the One whose heart is greater than theirs, whose eyes see more than theirs, and whose hands can heal and form more than theirs.”  

Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit

I like Nouwen’s framework of formation using the concept of polarities as well to name the movements happening within.

It should be noted that authors start with longing.  What is our deepest yearning desires in our hearts?  For some, we long for direction, vocation, clarity.  For others, we long for healing of past hurts, forgiveness, wholeness.  The Bible is filled with passages that address our longings.  One of my favorites is Proverbs 13:12,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Nouwen encourages us to engage in a the daily spiritual disciplines of Lectio Divina and Silence and Solitude as prayerful means for transformation.

I offered the retreatants an overview of each discipline and then we had an hour to ourselves to engage in the practices.

Lectio Divina

*It is prayerfully reading the text to see how the Word is speaking to me in the present moment.  It means that I read the text, and the text reads me.  The Bible is not primarily for information, but for transformation. It is a way to read so that it names God’s active presence in our lives now!

My personal experience with the discipline has helped me to articulate what my longings are and how God is actively at present in my life.

Instructions

Select a passage that is about 6-8 verses in length.

(silencio):  silent, prayerful preparation as we come in touch with our desire to hear from God.

First Read:  (lectio) Listen for a word, phrase, or image that captures your attention.  Try not to overthink it.  Just be attentive to it.  It might be a word of comfort, discomfort, challenge, healing.  Trust that the Word wants to impart His word to you.  After the reading, we savor and reflect on this word in silence.  This is a time to feel the word, not to judge it or try to give it meaning.

Second Read:  (meditation) Read the passage a second time and reflect on how this word is touching your life.  We might ask, “What is it in my current season of life that needed to hear this word today?”  [NOTE:  St. Ignatius encouraged imagination and wonder so if it was a parable or story, he would say to put yourself into the story.  What is the setting?  For example, in the story of Jesus birth, what did it smell like?  What animals were there?  What was the mood like?  What character might you be in the story?  What am experiencing?  After we meditate, we sit in silence with this word again, trying not to overthink it.

Third Reading:  (oratio) the movement to respond to the word.  What is the invitation or challenge of the word?  How might we respond to God’s invitation?  Give full expression to the response.   (NOTE:  be present to whatever the response might be…fear, anger, hope, love, joy, self-awareness, wisdom).  We center back into silence.  

Contemplate on the word and rest in God’s presence and provision.  Let this word nourish you throughout the day.  Remember that God wants to enable and empower us to respond faithfully to His invitation.

Silence and Solitude

My personal experience silence and solitude has been a peaceful and restless relationship.  The first season of practicing this discipline, I felt a sense of release, relief, and renewal.  I felt more attentive to God, myself, and others.  But it was also unsettling.  I had nothing to “offer God”.  I was “doing” anything for him.  I was only offering my silence and presence.  That seems to be more than enough.  For ministry junkies or over-achievers, this practice seems to knock us off our throne.  It reminds us that we’re not charge (Hallowed by Your name, Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be done).  

“The longing for solitude is the longing for God. It is the longing to experience union with God unmediated by the ways we typically try to relate to God. By “unmediated” I mean a direct experience of God with nothing in between: an encounter with God that is not mediated by words, by theological constructs, by religious activity, by my own or other’s manipulations of my relationship with God. It is the practice that spiritual seekers down through the ages have used to experience intimacy with God rather than just talking about it.”  – Ruth Haley Barton

One main scripture that captures silence and solitude is Mark 1:35, Mark 6:30 (Come away with me),  and Psalm 46 (Be still and know).

Instructions

  • Find a comfortable place to quietly.
  • Breath deeply, becoming aware of God’s presence (breathe), and your desire for communion with him.
  • What thoughts, feelings, or life material do you notice?  Don’t’ rush or try to make anything happen.  Be still and know.  Let your heart speak:  is there joy, pain, hope, despair?  What movements do you notice?  A question?  A desire?  A loss?  
  • Remember that you are in God’s presence.  Sit and stay with the most present movement you’re experiencing.  Feel it.  Be with it.  What does it mean for you to be present to the movement and allowing God to sort it out, for him to do the work on your behalf?

Scriptures on spiritual formation 

Acts 17:28 “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”

Mark 1:35-38 (inward) Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 (outward) Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

John 17:24,25  “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Colossians 1:24-29 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

Spiritual Formation with D.Willard – #1

I became a certified spiritual director back in 2009 at the University of San Diego.  Prior to the course, I was reading some of Dallas Willard’s work and was getting exposed more to the world of spiritual formation.  The course opened up a new world for me that included how I viewed God, myself, and transformation.

In Willard’s book (co-written with Don Simpson), “Revolution of Character”, the authors aim to give a brief overview of how spiritual change happens.  In some ways, the book is more of a devotional that one can read, pray, write, and meditate with.  It’s mostly based on Willard’s, “Renovation of the Heart”.

I personally need change and transformation in my life.  I’ve constantly been on the hunt, trying to find ways that I can be loving, gentle, patient, wise, others-focused, humble, peaceful, courageous.  I’m grateful for Dallas Willard’s works and the gift that spiritual formation has been in my life.

I’ll be offering some few thoughts on my readings and hope they inspire you to purchase the books and read for yourself so you can engage a “Revolution of Character”


 

Ch. 1 – A Revolution Has Begun

“Those who drink the water I give them will never again be thirsty.  The water I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Jesus of Nazareth, John 4:14

*We can drink this water and it will gush out of us.  Immediately the order is set:  drink first (personal experience) and then the outflow.  I forget this a lot. I want to care for others, be about my busy work, parent well, be a good husband, do do do!, and I neglect drinking water (both figuratively and spiritually).  I want to drink this water.   I need new life in me and gushing out of me.

*The fibers of our being are divine!  We are made good/good (see the story of Genesis).  What a juxtaposition to what many of us experience in life:  brokenness, befuddled, and bored.  Yet we are made for good.

*We experience this new life water in Jesus.  Other drinks leave us unsatisfied and wanting.

*This water flows out of our sense of being, not straining or demanding, or even sheer will.  There is flow with this type of new life water.  It comes from the center of who we are.

*This water is marked by love, joy, and hope.  As we lean into this way of being, the lesser parts of us “peace out”.  In a sense, it’s not about becoming less selfish, angry, or irritated.  It’s about becoming love, joy, hope.

*We learn these new habits and rhythms through prayer and other spiritual disciplines that draw us closer to Jesus.

*The reality is that this type of life sounds great, but seems out of reach, even for those who go to church or pray every day.  Why:  “…we don’t approach and receive the life Jesus offers us in the right way…we…need an understanding of the depth of our problem and how Christ works to redeem each element of our nature.” p. 11  

*In many ways, this type of transformation reminds of the 12-Step tradition.  It begins with us admitting that we were powerless and that our lives had become unmanageable. The next step is that we needed a Higher Power greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity.  In many ways, this is such a relief.  I don’t have the power to overcome the deficit in my life.  So I need a life of surrender.

*Inner transformation happens slowly and intentionally as we cultivate the ways of Jesus in our life.  This is good news!  We can work on a “soul competency” that enables us to live in wholeness, power, and goodness.  We don’t have to be ruled or mastered by our broken habits, anger, or boredom.  We don’t have live defeated lives!

*The way we live and respond in this world is a result of who we have become in our center (the heart).  We are all shaped and formed.  No one escapes it.

*The heart can be influenced and transformed.  There is a method to the madness.  Change is possible!  It can be shaped to reflect the life of Jesus to be a loving presence, aware of God’s presence in our lives.

*This new heart will have the ability to impact and influence those in our spheres:  family, business, communities.  “The work of Christ always begins in our heart and moves outwards into our everyday experiences.” p.12

*”To get to that place of increased self-knowledge, honesty, humility before God, and a consistently Christlike attitude, we must step away in moments of reflection or even times of personal retreat to examine the inner workings of our human nature” p.13

*Jesus is the one true spiritual master that can guide our hearts and the movements of inner transformation in our lives.  He knows what needs to be changed and how to go about it.

*The revolution of character starts within as we partner with Jesus and His way of being in this world.

*To flourish in this life, we need to experience a heart transformation.  Much of it begins with a vision of who we long to be, a recognition that we are not that person, and that we need a higher Power (Jesus) to help us in this new way of living.

*Christian spiritual formation is about us becoming like Christ himself.  It’s driven by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  This is not a passive process, but it is a gift of grace that we receive.

 

Shadow Work via Listening

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24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Spiritual growth in most religious traditions or self-help practices, is about learning to listen.   Try it for a moment.  Hit the pause right now.  What do you hear?  I hear crickets in my backyard, a distant airplane, the house creaking, a conversation I had with my sister, my kids saying “NO!”.  What did you hear?

I’m not consciously listening for the things I just mentioned.  But when I am intentional , I can hear.

Jesus the Rabbi offers a steady stream of wisdom and invites His followers to listen.  I could have used a non-Jesus quote that talks about the gift of listening.  But I’m rooted in a faith tradition that is shaping how I listen.

In effect, I’m being invited to is listen.  It’s a learned habit, a practice.  You and I have not always been good listeners.  And guess what?  We still have a ways to go.

So how do we listen?  In other parts of the Bible we’re instructed to:

  • be still
  • be in solitude away from distraction
  • be humble and learn to be a student
  • acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers

What I’m hoping we can all do is learn to listen and be attentive to God, our emotions/thoughts/inner movements, and others.  I desperately want to be a good listener.  I believe in it so much that I’ve based my career on being a listener.  So I’m listening to my own inner movements.  There are movements within that clamor for my attention.  Some are joyful and others are pitiful.

I want to incline my ear towards the One who is whispering the great Three phrases we long for:  You are my beloved, I am pleased with, You belong to Me.  I want to be attentive to these words because they give me the courage to face the other parts that scream at me:

“You blew it”

“Shame on you”

“Cut a corner…no one will find out”

“look again”

“You’re so stupid”

“You don’t need anybody”

“You’re all alone and you’ll blow it”

“You’re not good enough”

Any time I hear these words, I remove myself from either/or thinking.  I acknowledge the stress and circumstances I’m in.  I acknowledge my fears.  And I learn to hear the great Words that the Father spoke over His Son.  Those same words are for you and I today.  Claim them for yourself.  Don’t be shy about it.  You and I need them right now.

Don’t be afraid to listen to what’s happening within.  God is in the midst of your “within” and you no longer have to fear the shadows.  Befriend the shadow.  Learn to hear what it might be saying and then offer it away in the Presence of the One who exclaims:

“I love You”