Seeing the Unseen…a post by Joy

About a month ago, my eyeglass frames with progressive lenses broke. Knowing it was time to get a check-up I scheduled an appointment instead of getting my glasses repaired right away. Unfortunately, I had to wait another week to see the eye doctor. Thank goodness for another set of glasses that I use for computer work and reading music at the piano.

When the time came, the check-up revealed that my eyes would require a change on my lenses so I would need to wait about 7-10 days for the new glasses to arrive. In the mean while, we were traveling during that time. One morning, we required the services of an Uber driver. Once the transaction was complete, the driver drove away, and I walked into the house wearing my prescription sunglasses. As I began to look for my computer/piano glasses, I realized they were not in my purse and panicked realizing they had been left in the car of the Uber driver. My husband and my son discovered the info necessary to touch base with the driver. He delivered my glasses within 10 minutes. Once I walked into the house with them, I burst into tears thanking the Lord that they had been returned by the driver.   I felt very vulnerable not having those glasses and not being able to read anything without them. We still had 6 days to be away on the trip.

Later that same day, several of us accompanied our grandson to the aquarium for his 3rd birthday. When we arrived, as I began to climb out of the car, the left temple of my prescription sunglasses fell off. It surprised me and of course, I began looking for the tiny screw to repair it. It was not to be found.

With this saga that happened within one month to all 3 pairs of my prescription eyeglasses I immediately asked this question.  “Lord, what is it that you want me to see or change about the way that I am seeing or perceiving things in life?”

“What was so necessary to transform in me at this place in my life that you had to catch my attention by allowing all 3 pairs of my prescription eyeglasses to go through brokenness, delay of repair, and displacement?” My eyes, the “window of my soul” can only see what they are given to see at the appropriate time my soul is willing to see the truth about myself or another in my relational life.

I feel vulnerable with my “broken” eyes knowing that I can only see clearly when I use the eyeglasses with prescriptions designed just for my eyes. Yet, I also feel thankful for these wonderful tools that transform my sight from brokenness to clarity. I feel vulnerable with the brokenness within my soul yet thankful for the transformation that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, through the community of other believers, and through the practice of Christian spiritual disciplines.

When it comes to the tool of this saga that I have experienced, I sense that Christ is reminding me that He is constantly providing for me even when I can’t see things clearly and even when I can’t see the whole picture of what He is allowing to happen to me in my every day life. I have once again been given the opportunity to trust God in all things even when I feel very vulnerable about my weaknesses. It has also been a lesson in patience with myself and with God’s timing. Part of seeing how Christ was working in me through all of this was to not be seeing through my own eyes in order to “open my eyes” to what He wanted me to “see”. The tools that Christ uses for our individual journeys of spiritual transformation may not always be the great sermon that we just heard or the Scripture passage that we just read. It may also be the most common and ordinary events of life that God is using to call us to pay attention to see what we can see through His eyes.

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!

Be Still And Know That I Am God…a post by Joy

“Being Still” can be one of the most challenging things we do in the journey of Christian spiritual formation. In our culture, there are so many distractions. Some of them are good distractions, such as our jobs and tending to our families and friends. Others are distractions of guilt, shame, or fear that keep us from even considering “being still” much less actually “doing” it.

Scripture doesn’t say to us, “Be still and be perfect” or “Be still and God will love you forever,” or “ Be still and God will protect you.” Psalm 46:10 says, “BE STILL and KNOW that I AM GOD.”

Another word sometimes used interchangeably for being still is to be silent. When I posture myself to be still I am reminding myself to be quiet in my body, my mind, and my soul. God can speak to us through His Holy Spirit in so many ways: through the Scriptures, through His still quiet voice (when we are quiet enough to hear it), through the presence or voice of a friend and sometimes even a stranger.

My own personal challenge with this spiritual discipline of “being still” is that I have all these other things to do that are also important for the cause of Christ. Yet, my greatest “cause” for Him is “to KNOW HIM”. As I know Him more, I also know myself more by being aware of the ways I reflect His image and or nature. Being merciful to others and ourselves, being wise in our decisions, helping others, displaying a joyful or forgiving spirit when needed etc. are some of the ways that we can reflect the image of God and attract others to Him.   In most of these ways, there is much movement in our outer world and our inner world to reflect who God is.

Yet, I wonder if God sometimes calls us to be still because another way to reflect Him IS to “be still.” It’s His way of calling us to come commune with Him by being present to His presence within us in order to KNOW HIM in a way we’ve never known Him before.

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

Silence and Imagination…a post by Rich

A good friend of mine, Pastor Dan Braga sent along to me Andrew Sullivan’s article entitled, “I Used to be A Human Being.”  Sullivan writes,  “The Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.”

The journey into the practice of silence and solitude or some form of sabbath rest is battered and assaulted at every turn.  I recall my mother lamenting one Sunday morning back around 1960 the elimination of Sunday blue laws in New York that prohibited grocery stores from opening on Sunday. Her words were simple, “We don’t need that.”  She was affirming the reality now erased from our general community consciousness that Sunday was for rest.  Sullivan, in his article particularly charges the arrival of our smart phones only a decade ago as the new and devastating intruder on our space where silence could once live.  

What captured my attention regarding Sullivan’s thoughts was his insight regarding the relationship between silence- sabbath- and imagination.  “But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.” Silence, certainly when practiced faithfully leads to self-integration.  We move past our fragmented and fringed living to an experience where our soul becomes more solid and whole.  We move from the circumference of our being to the center of our soul through silence.  Without silence we live scattered and superficial. We become dulled by a narrowness of noise that over time  deadens the soul. 

Silence before God, which forms the solid soul becomes the pathway to a healthy imagination.  The soul that has space to breathe, to hear, to see, to smell and to touch finds life’s simple realities pointing beyond themselves in their beauty and goodness to God’s presence.  

I am fortunate to live near woods where my screened in porch, my favorite room in our home, allows the singing birds to enter my times of silence. This past summer and now fall season is filled with blue-jays crying out in their unique song. Each time I hear them I remember as a young boy their crying voice among the pine trees of our church camp where our family would spend time in the Adirondack Mountains each Memorial Day weekend. The blue jay’s voice now leads to more. A pathway to memories. A daily reminder of God’s presence over the decades instilling faith that reaches back generations in our family. Memories of ordinary and faithful parents who worked, and gave and loved and worshipped, come along with the jay’s cry. In silence emerges a sense of being that is grounded and anchored traversing along the ordinary to God’s presence here and now. The soul is deepened and then . . .expands. Imagination begins to flourish in the wide open spaces of silence where faith experiences the Trinitarian God who lives and moves and has his being in the blue jay’s cry and beyond in the quiet and calm of the silence. A sacramental consciousness is awakened and nourished. Imagination grows in God and about God.

Sullivan suggests a simple discipline that once a week we find a 24 hour period to put our phones away along with our other electronic gadgets and allow space for the silence.  Not a bad idea if we wish to imagine more.

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!

It Takes a Body…a post by Jim

“Christianity is to have one’s body shaped, one’s habits determined, in such a manner that the worship of God is unavoidable” (Stanley Hauerwas). A spiritual discipline is “an activity within our power—something we can do—which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort” (Dallas Willard).

Practicing spiritual disciplines shape us so that we become the kind of person who more instinctively lives the kind of life that is pleasing to our Lord. That is to say, the change our being through our doing. They shape our souls through our actions. Or as neuroscientist Antonio Damasio puts it, “Mind is probably not conceivable without some sort of embodiment.” Our thoughts and desires arise in large part from the activity of our bodies.

This is Holy Week. The Gospel writers slow their narratives of Jesus to make sure we understand that what happened this week is absolutely crucial to the Gospel story. And as we read of Jesus activity during the week we see a man, among other things, given to communion with his Father (in prayer) and communion with his disciples (at the Last Supper). It is as if Jesus needs the influence and strength that comes from connecting with others.

Without the help of others, without a sense of touch and togetherness, it is very, very difficult to live out our calling in Christ. Like Christ we need healthy and hefty doses of communion. We need others to influence our body to the point of being the kind of person that is pleasing to our Father.

May God help us this week to follow the path of Jesus, the way of surrender no matter what the ‘ask’, so that we glorify our Father. To do that will require a connection that our body feels so that it can move us in that direction.

Walking In Step…a post by Joy

Many years ago, I memorized Psalm 37: 23 as a song. The verse reads :  “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. “

This song has played over and over in my heart and mind the last couple of weeks. I began to think about the different kinds of steps that Christ guides us to take in our journeys of spiritual formation. Some steps moving forward are small and some are moving by “leaps and bounds”. There are slow steps and even some steps in the process that may feel as though we are moving backwards.

Recently, I’ve been released from physical therapy for my right foot and leg. The therapy I’ve received is helping to put my body into alignment to help me learn to walk in a way that is healthier for me. In light of this, I’ve been very aware that the process of Christian Spiritual Formation is Christ working in us to bring us back to the alignment of our true selves created by God.

Taking a step forward into the new “way of being” that Christ transforms can be uncomfortable at times as we let go of what we are most familiar with even though it may not be the healthiest.

The greatest comfort in this journey of spiritual formation is that we are not alone. Christ is upholding us with His hand. He walks in step with us through the presence of His Holy Spirit by helping us step out of fear into courage; out of shame into embracing that we are His beloved children who receive our worth from Him; and out of a false guilt by accepting that He has covered everything for us through His death and resurrection.

May the peace of Christ be with us all as we walk with Him one step at a time!

How Do I See? (Part 2)

One’s perspective impacts what one sees and experiences. This is not to say that a change of perspective means a change in what is true. It simply means what is true is impacting me differently. That happens in our journey of faith as well as life in general. In my last post I (Jim) noted three perspectives on the Christian faith (status, qualities, relationship) and mentioned things that influence which perspective is more ‘natural’ for us (religious background, life experiences, etc.). It seems that God uses everything about us to give us a glimpse of what we have in Christ. Continue Reading

A Grounding Experience: Spiritual Life Coaching (Part 2)

10294420724_0300cf921d_oHave you ever wondered what God is “up to” in your life? Have you been discouraged thinking that you were alone in making decisions? Have you felt as though you were disjointed or scattered in your process of discerning what direction to take in your life’s journey? If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, then I (Joy) encourage you to consider participating in the spiritual discipline of “spiritual direction” (also known as “spiritual life coaching” or “spiritual mentoring”). Continue Reading