Spiritual Awakenings

For a long time, I wanted to be admired and liked, so much that I didn’t know who I really was. As I get into my 40s, I have felt more exposed and in touch with my failings. It’s felt raw and overwhelming at times.

But I’m grateful for a spouse and friends who remind me of who I am. They’ve been a presence of encouragement throughout my inner struggles to shed false identities and claim belovedness.

There’s more to come. There’s more I’d love to accomplish. But I’m grateful that if I don’t hit my personal goals, I’m loved.

During Holy Week, I long to know that my false self doesn’t inhibit God’s grace and compassion towards me. I long to know this new reality that Jesus offers through death and resurrection.

Healing False Images of God

They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+6&version=NIV;MSG

I once heard someone say that the moment you ask “why”, you’re a theologian. And we all ask why, which means we all have some kind of working image of God.

The Christian faith says Christ Jesus is the full revelation of God. God incarnate. Emmanuel, God with us. For 3.5 years, Jesus is near and revealing Himself. Most don’t get who He is. His 11 disciples (one of them betrays him) don’t get Him completely.

We’re constantly imposing our image of ourselves onto God.
“Isn’t he the son of Joseph?”
“Jesus can’t be the bread of life!”
“We grew up with him, in Nazareth. We know His parents!”

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t react to our images of Him. He is “self-differentiated” enough to be who He is: King of kings and Lord of lords. Our idolatrous impositions don’t move him.

Yet we are to pray for a truth based image of God that rightly sees Him as King and Lord, aligning our lives to His purposes and goodness. Jesus is admonishing the pharisees to see Him for who He really is. This will take some self-reflection on their part.

Our prayer today is that we would be people who allow God to be God, imaging Him for the King and Lord that He is.

Mystery Reveals My Heart

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

In Christian tradition, one great claim and aim is to be made in the image of God. This means to experience a transformation such that we become who we have always been: children of God who imitate the One who creates and loves. Orthodox theologians call this theosis: the process of becoming one with God.

In this union with Christ, we become as He is. “Christ becomes like us (incarnation) that we might become like him (theosis).”

My assertion is that this process of theosis most happens in mystery and suffering. Moses becomes a holy person through his own desert experience after leaving everything he knows: Egyptian living, customs, and rites. His Egyptian identity is shattered when he learns of his Hebrew roots. This crisis of identity leads him to act in ways contrary to God-like character, shifting him into the desert for 40 years. He enters a mystery, a great unknown.

Jesus enacts the Christ identity most on the cross when He takes on sin and death, trusting that the Father is not limited by death. Since Christ is the ultimate icon of theosis, we might dismiss the example and say, “Well, this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and be done with the story. But incarnation and theosis are claiming that we too will go through our own process of desert/cross/mystery.

I’m in a season of mystery and am handling more like Moses, pre-desert. I’m more like Peter who is sold out and convinced one moment, but then betrays Jesus the next.

To be in a season of mystery and the great unknown shake my core of trust, destabilizes my devotion to Christ, and causes a feeling petulance. How’s that for someone who claims to trust and follow God?!

The word mystery is about hiddenness and is closely related to mystic. To be a mystic requires a self-surrender (a kenosis…self-emptying) to the Great Mystery. I don’t know what this all means, but I’m comforted by the reality not all of life is explained away in three easy steps to success.

It brings my comfort to know that I am called to surrender to Mystery and be shaped by God to be like him in all things. During this lenten season, life feels dark, foggy, and cloudy. There are a few unknown variables in my life that are driving me crazy. I can’t control them or make them go away. I’ve been angry and irritable, much like Moses and Peter. The mystery of circumstances has revealed my childish and immature response. Mystery has revealed my heart…and it’s not pretty.

Last night during a worship time at our church, Christina broke script and sang a song that was not our list. I don’t remember the lyrics, mostly because I was confronted with a sense of the Holy. I put my drumsticks down, stood up, palms up. I was frozen and paralyzed in what felt like God’s focused presence. I remembered Isaiah 6:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isaiah%206&version=NIV

In that moment, all I could do is surrender to Mystery and the Holy. When I got up this morning, I had a deeper hope and one that had the courage to surrender to Mystery.

I don’t have answers to some of my perplexing questions. But I have a sense of God’s presence in the Mystery and a grace to surrender.

Article: Sacred/Secular and loss of divine action

It seems like today’s cultural view on God has shifted mainly towards His inaction. Faith in our culture seems to have little to no transcendent quality. There is no more “mystery, transformation, and ontological encounter”. The writer’s use of baptism and the ontological reality that happens is getting lost.

Taylor’s perspective gives us both a window into the challenges we face and an explanation of why faith-formation initiatives have missed the mark. Seeing secular3 as the construct of an immanent frame allows us to see why a deeper theological construct is necessary, for the believability of divine action itself has come under question. To discuss faith in ministry, we are compelled to do so theologically, exploring how transcendence might be testified to in a secular age of unbelief.

https://www.catalystresources.org/faith-formation-in-a-secular-age/

Brene Brown on Midlife Unraveling

I felt my life start to unravel last year. Questions of life significance, my body feeling different “chronic” conditions, and feeling the depression of “is this IT?” Unraveling is a better way to describe what is happening.

Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.
By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling. You can’t cure the midlife unraveling with control any more than the acquisitions, accomplishments, and alpha-parenting of our thirties cured our deep longing for permission to slow down and be imperfect.
Midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

https://brenebrown.com/blog/2018/05/24/the-midlife-unraveling/

From Nominal Faith to Holy Obedience

Nominal Christianity.
Convenience/Consumer Christianity.

There is nothing nominal or convenient about Hebrews 4. Theme’s of trusting God, obedience, and praying in a manner that we are honest about our motives don’t give us the option to pick and choose.

Nominal/Convenience Christianity won’t allow us enough time to sit in prayer, becoming aware of our hidden agendas and motives, in the light of God’s holy presence.

Hebrews 4 is the ultimate #checkyourheart. The writer is recalling a story of when the people of Israel did not enter into the promised land because of their disobedience. It would have been a time of rest and trust in a God who called them the beloved, the apple of His eye. Instead, they turned to ideologies and beliefs which were more convenient.

Followers of Jesus are in constant dialogue with the King. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are reminded that it’s about His Kingdom and His will. We pray about everything! For our decisions, kids, marriage, work, finances, hidden motives! Everything!

Relying on God’s work to shepherd us–to guide, feed, protect, and care for us–is to enter His rest. We go at His pace, asking for what He wants in all situations. And how liberating it is to admit that I’m limited in power, wisdom, and humility! I’m not meant to be ruler of my life.

I used to think obedience, trust, and faith were heavy tasks and so demanding. But then life kept smacking me. Failures turned into prayers of help. Seeing my limitations in full display have brought me to my knees. I need a King! I need a Savior. I need the God of Scripture who longs to guide and lead for His good purposes, which somehow end up being good for all of us.

Are you burned out? Stressed? Hiding your twisted motives? Living in constant worry and fear? Lacking direction? The Gospel (good news) is that Christ longs to shepherd us. But it requires an active trust and obedient heart. It’s okay. If you don’t have that kind of mind/heart, admit it and ask God to change you.

Unbelief as Mistrust

Hebrews 3:12,14 (The Message)So watch your step, friends. Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God.If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul.

Observation 1: Biblical trust is more than doing a free-fall and letting others catch you. Trust is more like a relationship you build with a local favorite restaurant. The waiter/waitress knows your order and they deliver every time. You keep going back because you feel cared for, the food is good, and the service is worth it.

Observation 2: Unbelief (mistrust) usually causes a turning away. We don’t feel safe. It feels too vulnerable to trust so we hide or turn away. There is an evil force working to create mistrust between us and the Living God. Can we confess our unbelief and how it’s caused us to turn away? It’s caused my heart to be distrusting and skeptical. And this has led to nothing good.

Observation 3: The phrase “Living God” and unbelief would go together. Living God is about a God who is active, present, and cares about us and this world. I don’t always feel or trust that. Nothing good has come from it.

Observation 4: To be in Christ means that it’s the power of Christ that is moving us towards a deeper trust, relinquishing all mistrust and unbelief. Christ is an active reality in our hearts and minds that is renewing us to have hearts of deep trust.

Can I trust that the Living God is present and actively longing to be Lord of my life? To guide, lead, and provide?

Can I confess my unbelief knowing very well that it’s led to hurt and pain?

Can I trust that I’m not missing out on anything because God is active in our lives?

Becoming through Committing

Photo by Jonathan Bowers on Unsplash

“Spiritually and morally he was searching, sincerely and even desperately, for someone or something to commit himself to; but, even as he flirted with faith and church, his restlessness and bad habits made it difficult for him to commit himself to anything in a consistent way.”

– Ronald Rolheiser, source link

The quote is leading towards a deeper truth about contemplative prayer; mainly that through this form of prayer, we are becoming more attuned to the eternal in the ordinary-everyday experience. I get this at some level in my soul. I sometimes feel restless and ask myself, “is this all there is?” It may be, but eternity is staring me in the face and I may not be aware of it…

What struck me most about Rolheiser’s quote regarding Thomas Merton is the principle that we have a need to commit ourselves to something or someone (or both), in a consistent way. It makes sense that one of the original wounds some of us struggle with is fear of commitment and abandonment. We feel stuck, isolated, afraid that “this is it”. But we don’t see how we become more of ourselves when we give our lives away to someone or something.

When Merton gave his life away to the trappist monastery, he was committing to something greater than himself. It was a commitment to pray, serve, practice solitude, and learn to live in community. Our commitments are no less. His life of contemplative prayer helped him to see the eternal in his lifelong commitment.

While I’ve given my life away to marriage, parenting, and being a chaplain, there seems to be something deeper calling me. I’m still seeking a deeper level of commitment; something that will cost me my whole life. I also recognize that my own practice of contemplative prayer is opening me up to see the deep eternal purposes in every day life and my current commitments. Eternity is present in the now to these commitments. I’m just praying for the eyes to see the depth and the ears to hear the eternal in my marriage, parenting, and those I serve. There’s more happening than I realize!

I’m also becoming more sympathetic to those who have committed themselves to a work/vocation of being engineers, sales and marketing strategists, technicians, gardeners, or artists. Many have found their calling in such endeavors. I envy them in some way. And yet, I think we need better ways to honor their calling and commitments.

Have you given your life away to something or someone? How have you experienced the eternal (the depth) of this commitment? How has it shaped you?

Understanding Contemplative Prayer

The difference between meditation and contemplation is predicated on this: In meditation we focus on icons, on God as God appears in our thoughts, imagination, and feelings. In contemplation, icons are treated as idols, and the discipline then is to sit in a seeming darkness, beneath a cloud of unknowing, to try to be face to face with a reality which is too big to grasp within our imagination. Meditation, like an icon, is something that is useful for a time, but ultimately we are all called to contemplation. As the Cloud of Unknowing puts it: “For certainly, he who seeks to have God perfectly will not take his rest in the consciousness of any angel or any saint that is in heaven.”

Ronald Rolheiser, source

I’ve been practicing contemplative prayer (off and on) for the past 10 years. What’s been unnerving is the jittery anxiety I feel during the prayer time itself. If I’m to let all thoughts and feelings ascend to God–even my loving images of who God is so that I might be present to the reality of God–then I feel totally out of control! It’s been a great way to keep surrendering to the Great Other! I see the prayer as an act of sweet surrender to all the God is…beyond the icons, constructs, or images we might have (good or ill). It’s very healing in the long run.

Barbara Holmes on the human task

“. . . As I see it, the human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the Eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity, facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. These tasks require a knowledge of self and others that only comes from the centering down that Thurman advocates. It is not an escape from the din of daily life; rather, it requires full entry into the fray but on different terms. . . . Always, contemplation requires attentiveness to the Spirit of God. . . .”

Barbara Holmes