Who knew?…a post by Tom

The spiritual life is not easy. Our false self does not go down without a fight, and one to the death. This is a really inconvenient battle to wage when it is challenging enough to just live life.  Who really knew what we were signing up for in following Jesus and taking this journey seriously? Who really knew that the path would evolve and feel more like death and descent? The One Who guides us knows. Others who have gone before know. Be encouraged by the following quote from Joseph Benner an American Protestant mystic who seems to know.

You, My Beloved, who have consecrated yourself to Me, and are bending every effort to find union with Me, but instead have found apparently that every prop of the World’s support has been withdrawn or is being withdrawn, and that you are without money and without friends, and know not where to turn for human help.

Learn, My Blessed One, that you are very, very, close now, and that if you will only continue to abide in Me, letting my Word abide in you and guide you, resting and trusting absolutely in My Promise, I will very soon bring to you a Joy, a Fulfillment, a Peace, that human words and human minds cannot possibly picture.

For you have obeyed My Commands, and have trusted Me, and have sought first My Kingdom and My Righteousness, and therefore will I add all other things unto you, even those the World has denied you.

-Joseph Benner, The Impersonal Life

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!

Dark Night…a post by Tom

Jeremiah 20:7 (ESV)

                        O Lord, you have deceived me,

and I was deceived;

                        you are stronger than I,

and you have prevailed.

                        I have become a laughingstock all the day;

everyone mocks me.

 

This is not what the prophet Jeremiah signed up for. He was doing everything he thought he was supposed to be doing. He was following God. He was getting pounded in the process. I love Jeremiah’s unabashedly bold and emotional words of honesty. It is one thing to feel that Satan has deceived you but God? Wow. This is truly a place of ultimate defeat and undoing. God has won and there are no moves left. Check mate.

Real growth happens in the dark. The seed must shed its protective covering and venture out exposed and vulnerable into the unknown. Intuitively being led to the surface it must grow through the darkness, the decomposing plant material, manure, and bugs. Was this what the seed signed up for when it dangled in the beautiful tree dancing in the sun and breeze? What was known inside the safe cocoon must be set aside. It must evolve and change at all costs or else Life will not go on.

All of us establish ways of relating to God that work in the beginning. But then this gets dramatically shifted. The Bible reading, prayers, songs, and relationships no longer feed the soul. Is something wrong or is something right? For sure something is being shed and something is being solidified. We might even feel ‘deceived’ by God because we thought we were doing the right thing and now everything seems so wrong. This is what is so unnerving about the Dark Night. The equation for life changes at a very profound level. Something is happening and we don’t have the categories for naming it and I can no longer hold my present experience. I must now be held. “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

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.”

Seasons of Life…a post by Joy

Seasons of life come to us whether we want them to or not. It’s interesting that this is the way God organized and planned the rhythm of life from the beginning. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8;11 states:

There is a time for everything,

a season for every activity under heaven.

A time to be born and time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal

A time to tear down and a time to rebuild.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

A time to embrace and a time to turn away.

A time to search and a time to lose.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

A time to tear and a time to mend.

A time to be quiet and a time to speak up.

A time to love and a time to hate.

A time for war and a time for peace….

God has made everything beautiful for its own time.….

The great thing about the change of seasons or a “time for everything” is the simple truth that it really IS “for a season” . When our appointed time comes to leave this earth, our season here in this life is complete.

In our journeys of Christian spiritual formation, there are seasons that are joyful, ambivalent, or sad even to the point of grieving the loss of the old season to make room for the birth of what’s coming with the new season. It’s a way that we are able to pay attention with our finite minds and hearts to the grief and the blessing of what we have just experienced through the season of Lent, Good Friday and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is always going to be the cycle of endings (“death”) and beginnings (“resurrection”) as Christ transforms us day by day in His time.   May we be mindful of the presence of Christ in our lives all the times.

Tornados, Suffering, and God

A few days ago my wife and I watched a local news channel as they tracked the tornados in southern Indiana. At one point we were told we had 8 minutes before a twister would hit our small town. The thought of being in the path of destruction naturally scared us.

The tornado didn’t hit our house. But it did hit and destroy many other homes just a few miles from us. While we were thankful we were spared we were deeply saddened for those whose lives were impacted in such a profound way. Continue Reading