What are you exploring?…a post by Tom

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot

 

What are you looking for? A better sense of self? A better home and garden? More knowledge about the Divine or your divinely inspired pursuits? An idealized Christianity or church to validate a privatized salvation project? To figure out your dysfunctional family system? Untie some knotty existential shoelaces tightened by primal repression so that you no longer trip over fear, guilt, and shame? A well balanced portfolio? Some peace and quiet.

Augustine said somewhere that the heart is restless until it rests in God. We come out of the womb kicking and screaming and often we go out that way. Kickers and screamers in this world seem to be the majority populace and unfortunately dominate the airwaves.  Unless, we happen to come home to God and our true self rooted in endless Love.   This doesn’t seem to happen until we explore and to explore means to fail. We can’t explore without risk or uncertainty. “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave, that was so dreaded, has become the center.” -Joseph Campbell.

It’s all there in the story of prodigal son, which surprisingly is really about the Father. The son sets out to explore the far country and ends up right where he began, at home but this time knowing himself as the beloved son home for the first time. We come from God and we are returning to God. Jesus said I know where I came from and I know where I am going. His invitation and gift to us is to KNOW this place within us called the kingdom of God for the first time.   The sooner the better for us and the planet.  Still kicking and screaming? Not sure if you have arrived at your arrival? Then go out and explore! And wherever you go, God will be eagerly waiting for your arrival.

I AM with you always…a post by Joy

 

Psalm 139: 1-3; 7

Oh Lord, You have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my every thought when far away.

You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest.

Every moment, You know where I am.

I can never escape from your Spirit!

I can never get away from Your Presence!

 In today’s world it seems that the human race is constantly trying to be more connected with others through the constant use of their phones. I’ve seen teen-agers text each other who were sitting right next to each other instead of speaking to them. It seems that instead of connecting, they are dis-connecting more and more by not feeling comfortable with eye to eye contact and the etiquette of carrying on a simple conversation.

When someone sets a boundary by wearing ear buds, I realize they may need time to be alone or “chill out” after a busy day. They could be listening to music or even a Scripture passage for all I know. Yet, I also wonder are they afraid to connect with the outside world because they are afraid to be known. Are they wanting to “disappear” without having to let anyone know where they really are with their thoughts and emotions? Are they afraid to totally be alone in silence because it is too painful or scary?

In the journey of Christian Spiritual Formation, we do need a balance of being alone and being with other people in community. The Spiritual Discipline of Solitude and Silence is a wonderful exercise of paying attention to just “BEING” with Christ in our space of being alone. YET, for all of us as Christians, we are truly NEVER ALONE. One of the ways of loving God is to receive that we are known by God and that in knowing us as we are, He loves us still.   (I Cor. 8: 3) God is always with us, always connected to us in the most endearing expression of His love through His presence forever.

Matt. 28:20 “I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE AGE.”

 

Thanks be to God!

I Lift My Eyes To The Mountains…a post by Joy

 

PSALM 121: 1-2

I lift up my eyes to the mountains–

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

 

Psalm 121 has always been one of my favorites. My father had all 4 of us children memorize the entire Psalm when we were young. It’s amazing that these verses have come to my heart and mind at different times in my life, even after having not read the Psalm for a very long time. Today, as I look at the mountains in front of me and all the different kinds of mountains that we have seen in our travels over the last few weeks, I’m amazed at God’s handiwork. Even while the mountain is “sitting still” there is life being lived on it’s surface and down below in the depths of the earth. Beautiful waterfalls trailing down the mountain, prolific colorful flowers, and sheep that graze on the side of the mountain remind me of God’s gracious gifts. These elements are all a part of the help He provides for us in that there is beauty to nourish our souls and a reminder that He provides our every need.

Imaginatively, I wonder if the mountains are ever amazed at God’s handiwork in us as human beings. I know this is a crazy question to ask yet I can’t resist the thought of it!

Part of the handiwork of God in us through Christian spiritual formation is knowing when to stop to rest. Discernment about preparation for the next step or not taking the next step simply takes time of “looking unto the mountains for God’s help.” For me, mountains represent a place of stillness. While resting during this discernment process, His reply may simply be to “stay”; “wait”; “sleep”; “ponder”; “sit still”; “take just one step” or “it’s time to play.”

Whatever His answer may be, we can rest assured that while we are in the process of living life as we look for His help, “….the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, (including the mountains) will not slumber, neither will He sleep.” (Psalm 121:4)

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.