God is with me in the shifting…a post by Joy

In the journey of Christian Spiritual Formation, when everything is shifting on the inside of our souls, like shifting sands of the sea, there is typically shifting in our external world as well. It can either paralyze us or inspire us to move forward one step at a time. Choosing to sit still to “Be with God” is not a posture of paralysis. It is a position of honoring God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit who live within us. Yet, when we are working, serving, or playing, these are also positions of honoring His presence in us. We are NEVER without His Presence. Such an encouraging promise from Scripture, Matthew 28:20, states: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Hebrews 13:5 also reminds us of His omnipresence. “For God has said, ‘I will NEVER fail you. I will NEVER forsake you.’ “

There is no human being who has ever been able to give this kind of promise, even with our best efforts. Whether I am paralyzed, moving forward, or moving backward, God is with me. Truly, thanks be to God!

When the Dew Dries …a post by Jim

When going for a morning walk last week I notice an unusual sight on the sidewalk. There were hundreds of dead worms. Strange. I’ve seen a few on the sidewalk before but nothing like this. I wondered what caused them to die there.

After a couple miles I seem to stumble on what I thought was a reasonable answer. Worms need moisture. And we haven’t had rain in a week. Instead of doing the hard work of digging their way into the sod of the lawns they seemed to be seduced by the heavy dew that was on the sidewalk. The strategy worked during the night but when the morning sun came and the dew dried the little creatures could not survive.

To a great extent, life is the culmination of decisions we make. Sometimes we do what is right even though it is hard. But sometimes we do what is easier just because we can. We become attracted to the “evening dew.” Sometimes it takes years before we are forced to live the consequences of some decisions. But it goes away. Eventually. As Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right but the end of that way is a death.”

“Dear Jesus, help me to make decisions that reflect a deep love for you and others. Don’t let me be seduced by evening dew. Draw me deep into the soil of your fellowship even if it is hard.” Amen

Check Your Posture…a post by Joy

Christian Spiritual Formation is a journey that is one of posturing ourselves to be awakened to the process of coming back to the true self of who God created us to be. The posturing is sometimes difficult. It can require us to be still or it can require us to step into something new because we have been still long enough.

Being still requires us to let go of distractions of work, family life, or being busy for the sake of busyness. Stepping into something new requires that we let go of what feels safe and familiar. Which ever space we find ourselves, the action of “letting go” is hard work. It always involves the spiritual discipline of discernment. Trusting God in the journey of His transformational work in this process is also a way of posturing or placing ourselves intentionally into His care. Sometimes the act of that trust is to “Be Still”; sometimes it means to step forward and maybe even step backwards.

Part of the “letting go” can include a time of grief so that the loss can be acknowledged and accepted in order to move forward. Yet, in all of these steps of whether we are sitting, moving, grieving, or any other posturing, we can be comforted that “….Christ is with us always, to the very end of the age. “

Matthew 28:20. May the peace of Christ be with us always!

Invitation to Trust…a post by Rich

Brennan Manning in his book “Ruthless Trust” tells the following story.

“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.” She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.” (Ruthless Trust, p. 3)

As we approach Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord it may well be that many are seeking a new sense of clarity or certainty about themselves or the things of God.  Too often however our quest for clarity or certainty is a subtle strategy for us to be in charge. We like being in control! The gospel of Jesus Christ has been and ever shall be an invitation to trust. Trust for the disciples of Jesus is not optional, it is required. Jesus says emphatically in John’s Gospel, “Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me.” (John 14:1). So we come to the heart of our faith; we trust in a Risen Savior! Again we are reminded that the Kingdom of God is not made up of those who have figured out all of life, nor of those who have resolved haunting questions in their life, nor of those who have recovered from all their wounds, nor of those who are completely certain about matters divine, but rather of those who trust the love the Father has for us in Christ. We are like children trust a loving and good parent who seeks our very best. Such trust delights God the Father and it is for this trust by his children in him, that God our Father sent his Son and delivered him from the power of sin and death by his resurrection. So this Easter we come again trusting in our God who loves us more than we know! Grace and peace to you, Christ is risen!

Butterfly effect…a post by Tom

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”

—Dean Jackson

God’s first revelation is nature.  In nature’s cycles of life, death, and rebirth we see the gospel in action right in front of us.  Our spiritual journey is no different, we must journey through stages of order, disorder, and reorder.  The journey of Jesus was meant to be followed and not just worshipped.   Leaning into our own order, disorder, and reorder while trusting the process when we are in unknown spiritual territory takes courage. Let’s learn from the journey of the butterfly and relate this to our own path.

A butterfly goes through four stages of life egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  To cross from one stage to the next involves great risk and change. A person on the spiritual path also goes through stages with each stage having a different goal.  Often these stages are separated by a dark night or crisis of faith which involve creative risk.

The first egg stage: tiny eggs are laid on the underside of a leaf as the caterpillar larva is protected and growing inside its membrane.  If we are lucky, we are born into a Christian home and given the protection and teaching to develop our childish and childlike faith.  If not, we find ourselves saddled with a spiritual restlessness and desiring we know not what nor where to find it.  Perhaps we find our way to a faith community that can do what our homes did not.

The second larva stage: when the egg hatches a larva emerges and has only one goal…to eat.  The larva grows into a fat juicy caterpillar. On the spiritual path, one could call this the conversion.  We are awakened to the gospel and have a personal encounter with Jesus.  We have hatched!  Now we have an insatiable hunger to know more and all we want to do is learn, learn, and learn.  This is the time when we can’t take in enough podcasts, sermons, Bible studies and church.  We amass theology and data about being a follower of Jesus.  And just like the heavy caterpillar, we might take ourselves very seriously and be heavy with self preoccupation. Most of us think this is the end game and most churches park the bus here, but there is more.

The third pupa stage: when the larva stops growing, it stops eating and then forms a chrysalis. This is a mysterious stage of development because from the outside it looks like the pupa is doing nothing, perhaps dead.  However, inside the cocoon the pupa is literally being digested and reformed into a butterfly.  The old parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a radical transformation or metamorphosis. On the spiritual path there comes a point when we have had enough with the Bible studies, prayer groups, sermons, and talking heads.  We may even think we are losing our faith.  From the outside it looks like the person has backslidden or fallen into unbelief.  However, inside the person is learning the contemplative path and resting in union with God beneath thoughts, imagination, and feelings.  Ask them to explain what is going on and they can’t. The mother and fathers of the church have called this ‘quies’ or holy resting.  The person just wants to rest in silence and solitude in the loving embrace of God.  The old parts of one’s religious heritage and beliefs are being digested and brought into a higher or fuller realization.  Symbols take on new meaning and belief systems become pointers to the mystery rather than an explanation of mystery.

The fourth butterfly stage:  when the pupa is done forming it hatches from the cocoon through a breathtaking process and a butterfly emerges.  The butterfly must struggle to emerge from the previous stage and then flap its vulnerable and soft wings to get the blood flowing into them.  Once it has rested and gotten the wings to cooperate, it flies!  The mission now is reproduction.  On the spiritual path we must put our contemplation into action.  We might have to break out of the denominational traditions we were brought up.  We might have to break free of limiting relationships and theology.  We will most certainly have to break free of our family system and cultural conditioning.  We graduate from first half of life spirituality into second half.  This takes enormous effort and struggle to emerge into a world and sometimes a religious landscape that doesn’t value contemplatives.  We dare to fly because now we have learned to take ourselves…lightly.   It is for freedom Christ set us free!  Our mission then is to help others in their own transformation.

I Have a Dream…a post by Jim

Martin Luther King, much like Martin Luther centuries ago and the Apostle John and the Old Testament prophets of old, had a vision of a different future. They had a dream of what life might look like when the kingdom of God is more fully lived on earth. They called people to live that reality.

We cannot live well without a vision, without a dream, without hope of something better. At so many levels and in so many places we see the brokenness, suffering, and sin of people on the edge of the vision. Indeed, all of us need a sense of “we were not created for this so surely God has something better in store for us.”

Yesterday, as we celebrated a national holiday honoring a man with a dream of people being judged, not by the color of their skin, but the quality of their character all of us should pause and ask ourselves, “How can I better ‘do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God’?”

Be specific. Not random but INTENTIONAL acts of righteousness, kindness, and meekness. Maybe tip someone twice as much as normal. Maybe prepare a meal. Maybe 15 minutes of quiet prayer listening to God with a spirit of surrender.

What is your dream? How are you living toward it today?

For Longing…a New Year blessing from John O’Donohue

For Longing

Poem by John O’Donohue

blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.

may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.

may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.

may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

Imagination and Our Spiritual Journey…a post by Rich

Have we lost our capacity for imagination as Christians?  Have we assigned imagination to child’s play but now of course we are adults so we set aside childish ways?  Imagination is about pretend, we all know that.  We use our imagination for fantasy. Imagination takes us into the world of the improbable and the impossible.  Adult life has to face what is real and not engage in some imaginary goose chase.  So this is how many have come to think about imagination. 

Could there be more to imagination than what we imagine? Imagination is a faculty or capacity of the mind. We all use our  imagination. We can imagine a relaxing vacation at the beach, a positive outcome to a difficult conversation, or a family living in peace. When we look at the way Jesus taught, it seems like he invited us to regularly use our imagination. The prodigal son story, or when he says “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,” or in his parable of the sower, or even his statement “I am the way . . .” All invite us to use our imagination.  Paul seems to invite the use of our imagination as well in his theological teaching when he speaks of our be baptized in Christ and our being raised in him. He further instructs us to set our minds on things above where Christ is seated.  All this and more invites imagination. 

Reason helps us to discern what is true. Imagination which is intertwined with faith enables us, as CS Lewis argued, to discover and know meaning. Imagination isn’t just about pretend or fantasy. Quite the contrary, without imagination we would never truly know reality.  Reason allows me to observe my world and draw some conclusions from the world’s beauty and complexity for instance.  Imagination helps me see God’s eternal power and deity is manifest in all of God’s created order. Imagination helps us to see and know more.  

Imagination plays an essential role in our reading of Scripture and our ability to enter the story of God. We can imagine ourselves with Christ and listen to him as he teaches and observe him as he heals. Imagination that is educated and structured in God’s word becomes a real source for discerning in relationships and in problem solving. Imagination is most important in our spiritual life because it can assist in fostering experiences of God’s presence.  Perhaps it is time for all of us to consider that imagination is a gift from God for our spiritual journey. And this gift actually assist us in knowing what is most real! Imagine that!

A Time for Everything…a post by Joy

“It’s time to wind the clocks,” he said as he walked to the grandfather clock that he had built so many years ago. “That’s what I do on Sundays.”

As I watched him proceed to complete this process that he does weekly, I knew that beautiful tones of the chimes would sound on the hour as I have heard it many times through the years.

It made me wonder if in our journey of Christian spiritual formation, Christ says at regular rhythmic intervals, “It’s time to reset the pilgrims on their journeys according to my time. As they live each day, sometimes they get distracted with all the different ways that can fill their hours of life. They get so busy trying to get to places “on time” that they miss the time of their lives by trusting in real time which is ‘MY TIME’.”

The great thing about clocks is that the increments of “telling time” come in seconds, minutes, and hours. They are each important in their purpose of making sure the world runs “on time.” If tiny little moments named seconds are important in the process of recording time then it’s okay for me to take very small steps in the process of spiritual formation and know that it is making a difference in my journey of moving toward reflecting my true self as the likeness of Christ.

Every second, minute, and hour that I live is important to fulfill the time that God is allowing me to live upon this earth. To be aware that I am living moment by moment in His Time is more about being aware of His presence in that particular moment and even in this moment that I am writing.

To sit still and listen to the actual “tick-tock” of the clock is a way of being aware of the moment right now being lived. It also reminds me that I am with Him and He is with me In His Time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

 “There is a time for everything……..”

I Desire therefore I Am…a post by Jim

“What do you want me to do for you?” This was Jesus’ question to the blind man. Why ask that question. Isn’t it obvious what the man would want? It is. But Jesus asks about his desire because he knows it is critical for us to own and name and take responsibility for our desires. We must pay attention to our desires because they tell us something VERY important in the Christian life. Desire, more than our cognition, volition, or conscience, define what we believe is true, good, and beautiful.

Last week a community of devoted souls met for the fifth retreat of eight in the experience we call A Deeper Journey. It was a great couple of days of discussion around the topic of DESIRE. Rich and I proposed two basic propositions: 1) all of us have deep desires and 2) it really helps if our desires are motivating us in our Christian walk rather than working against us.

The desires we have look backward and forward. By means of memory desire have a reference point for what is true, good, and beautiful. The memories of our own experience (e.g a really good steak in the past sets the trajectory of the steak I want tonight!) as well as the primal memory we have of the Garden (“He has set eternity in our hearts” in Ecclesiastes 3:11). Desire needs memory to look backward to help tell us what is something really worth wanting. And by means of imagination desire has a future orientation. We image what the true, good, and beautiful could be in our future. It is ultimately a longing for heaven.

But both memory and imagination can create a lot of pain when we desire. We didn’t get what we wanted and we may not get what we hope for. So whenever we live alive with desire we can expect to feel both the delight of fulfilled desires and the pain of unmet desires. No wonder Ronald Rolheiser said Christian spirituality is what we do with desire. It must be informed by the history and heart of Scripture if desire is to be our ally in our walk with Christ.

“Lord, make me to be a person of deep desires. Help me to be aware of them, to name them, to feel them and ultimately to surrender them to you. Amen.”