Courage and Peacemaking

In John 13, two things happen.

One: Jesus is betrayed. Whatever your goals or plans are, there will be people who do not agree and have a difference of values. They stand to lose something because of your stance and decisions. Also, betrayal is painful.

Two: After the betrayal, Jesus gives them a new commandment to follow. “Love each other”. One thought in the tradition is that it’s a new commandment because it builds on the first one to “love God”. In the face of betrayal, Jesus calls his disciples to love each other. It’s the only way God’s love is displayed.

In the last 10 years, the internal betrayal and hatred Americans have for one another is disheartening. Polarization on any topic has caused such disdain and contempt for the other that it has affected the way we live with one another. Some see the American flag and are triggered. Others fly the trump flags as a substitute for the real one.

We’ve lost the ability to cultivate peace which is an expression of love. In our stance to speak our truths, we have been betrayed or betrayed others. We need a courage that will help us go inward and cultivate peace in our hearts first.

We need a courage for self-expression and also a courage for communal-participation. We find ourselves and “the other” in both. This is one of the tensions that America is struggling with (i.e. personal rights/freedoms, communal responsibility). We need the deep grounding God offers to realize both (which are, at times, in tension with each other).

In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book on anger, he invites us to cultivate peace in our hearts instead of trying to find it “out there”. We must learn how to acknowledge our anger and cradle it as a baby infant so that we don’t act out in tantrums.

How might we slow down and sit with our anger and betrayals? How might we see that we too are contributing to the collective problem by not soothing our anger? To the degree that we’re angry and act out towards, we short circuit our ability to cope with betrayal and pain. We continue to transmit it in hostile and negative ways.

How might Jesus’ call to love each other in the midst of betrayal be our own call today?

Difficulties in Prayer

Reading and reflecting on “Guided by the Spirit: A Jesuit Perspective on Spiritual Direction” by Frank J. Houdek, SJ

I remember Eugene Peterson once saying that someone wanted to talk to him about their marriage issues.  But before they started, he asked them about their prayer life.  What does prayer have to do with marriage (or any other circumstance we’re facing)?  Everything!  

The ministry of spiritual direction has been life changing for me. Prayer is God’s responsibility and primary effort to be in communion with humanity. God initiates prayer that we might response by receiving such a free gift of consolation and communion; that we might become aware and alert to God’s wooing in our lives.

In “Guided by the Spirit”, Frank Houdek writes about some of the difficulties of prayer within the  spiritual direction (informally, many pastoral interactions) relationship.  Previously, Houdek is saying that prayer is an invitation into a deeper surrender and trust with the Source of Life.  Prayer invites us into a freedom to be our truest self where we experience God’s unconditional love for who we are.

Houdek points out a few difficulties we may experience in prayer:

  • Prayer is difficult because it requires deeper levels of trust that God loves us and is acting on our behalf.
  • Prayer styles and ruts are real. 
    •  It’s easy to get stuck on a style of prayer because that’s all we know.  Yet we’re not experiencing freedom, flow, or authenticity.  
    • We have a limited view of prayer that can diminish our experience instead of expanding God’s love.
  • An exaggerated preoccupation with the self.
    • “Often the source of this difficulty is a long-term sense of personal inadequacy…a lowered self-esteem, a sense of personal deficiency…[causing the person concern about doing prayer the right way].
  • We exert too much effort in making prayer “successful”
    • Houdek says that we may have a “…self-righteous approach to prayer predicated on the understanding that prayer is something one does and that, if one does it intensely enough, then God must respond.”
  • Exaggerated guilt can hinder growth and development in prayer
    • The directee recognizes the gap between proposed ideal behavior and actual performance”
    • What is the working image of God in this experience?  Most likely the demanding and judgmental God-parent.  
  • A pattern of moral disorder or real moral fault.
    • The person is aware that their personal behavior is destructive to oneself or others.  They’re doing life in such a way that is contrary to the love of God in their life.  

Houdek would say that these are very common difficulties that come to the surface in spiritual direction.  

For each difficulty, he offers some insights that are helpful in working through them.  I’ll highlight a few:

  • Find new styles, places, postures, to pray.
    • Prayer must be authentic to who you are.  You can sing, listen to music, meditate, pray in a group, do a prayer walk, charismatic prayer, scripture reading and prayer.
    • If you feel caught in a routine for a lengthy period of time that is not producing inner freedom and helping you to respond to the actions and initiatives of God, try changing up the prayer routine.
  • Discover and accept a clearer realization of God’s unconditional and unqualified love for you.
    • We need personal freedom from the constant and debilitating negative self-preoccupation.  (For some, it might help to pray with a spiritual director or trusted friend to remind them of God’s unmerited love).
  • How does a flower grow?  
    • By receiving sun and rain.  So too is success in prayer.  It’s a gift we received, something God is shining and raining upon us.
  • Practice some form of physical relaxation exercises such as breathing prayer, nature walks, contemplative prayer, art visualization prayer, or religious music to release rigidity towards prayer.  This will help lead a person towards more freedom and liberation from debilitating experiences.  
  • Concentrate on your values rather than ideals.
    • Too often, we can idealize our prayer lives.  “A focus on values and a concentration on commitment to value will gradually liberate the [person] from the tyranny of the ideal.”
  • Recognize the difference between feelings and morality
    • Feelings are morally neutral (and may point to a need to be attended to)
    • “It is how we choose to act that raises the issue of morality.”
    • Too often, we can deal with feelings of guilt in prayer over our “feelings” which are neutral.  Bring the feelings–anger, sexuality, guilt–into God’s healing presence.

Houdek says that “At best, prayer is always a matter of purity of intention by which every aspect and dimension of life is continually and consciously being redirected toward the living God.  It is the normal and ordinary response to the realization of God’s gifts to the person.  As this realization and awareness grows and takes hold of one’s consciousness–that God is gracious and constant in gift-giving– the [person] will pray more maturely and more responsibly, with considerable devotion, personal satisfaction, and spiritual consolation.”

Parenting Ourselves, Faith, and Kids

I love using the end of the year (typically starting late November through the first weeks of January) to assess the previous year and what my hopes and longings are for the following year. Notice I didn’t say GOALS or RESOLUTIONS. My motivation is a lot more focused if I think about my hopes and longings because I believe that’s where God is most likely at work or active in my life, animating these desires by the Holy Spirit.

This year (2021), I want to pay more attention to how God might be at work in my son’s lives and our family unit. I start this by simply acknowledging that God longs for our family to know Him in intimate and personal ways. I long for my son’s to know that God loves them, forgives them, empowers them, and has a task in this life for them to participate in. I long for my son’s to have the spiritual vitality needed to make do in this world that is full of wonder, but also filled with pain.

I want my son’s to work hard, earn a livable wage, pay their bills on time, be gracious towards others, and participate in God’s redemptive purposes in this world. I want them to have loving relationships with friends a future partner, and to do common good in this world.

Whatever form that takes, I’m here to support. And I want to be with them as they learn to discern God’s active presence and invitations for their lives.

I hope to have religious, moral, and daily life conversations with my son’s as they get older and explore the different contours of life. I hope they can be honest with me or some other guide in their lives that will help them be self-aware, honest, compassionate, and courageous.

And I want them to enjoy the hell out of life: to travel, meet new people, have dreams and chase them.

I think Christina and I model our faith in public ways for our boys to see. We have a commitment to a local church community. We talk about our faith off and on during dinner time. But I think we can spend more time praying for them and listening to what God might want to say and do in their current lives.

Author Kara Powell says that we will get what we are. She cites another researcher saying,

“The most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents. “

— Christian Smith and Melissa Lundquist Denton (Smith and Denton, Soul Searching)

Powell, Kara. The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family (p. 28).

At this stage of faith, I trust that God fills us with the Spirit to parent our kids. But, as Dallas Willard says, “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort”. I can take some time to be intentional about praying for my son’s and listen to how the Spirit might be active in drawing near to them. This is my longing this year.

Contemplative Prayer as a Mexican

I resisted silence for a big part of early 30s. I felt so silenced growing up. Mexican kids aren’t allowed to talk back and the narrative is that we don’t have a voice (as kids or mexicans). To my surprise, when I was introduced to more contemplative spiritual practices, it caused a well of emotions and words to come to the surface. My 30s became a healing time. Whereas I felt silenced from a cultural perspective, the practice of prayerful silence and solitude caused me to have word to share my inner experiences.

Now in my forty’s, I’m wrestling with questions like, “Is this it? Is there more?” And the temptation is to think “THE MORE” is found out there. No manches! It’s found within. So here I am in a new season going back to silence and contemplative prayer to listen and find the little, quiet things of goodness. To be still.

…Eckhart Tolle writes, “True happiness is found in seemingly unremarkable things. But to be aware of little, quiet things, you need to be quiet inside. A high degree of alertness is required. Be still. Look. Listen. Be present.” That is the essence of contemplative practice. And that is where our transformation is activated.

Heuertz, Christopher L.. The Sacred Enneagram.