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!

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 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)

“Shoulds” That hold us hostage…a post by Joy

I should go to bed earlier;

I should lose weight;

I should exercise more;

I should have made a different decision than what I did.

 “Shoulds” that hold us hostage and weigh us down are one of the elements of life that keep us from living with the freedom of “what is”. The reality of “now” and being present to it as a way of life keeps me from wandering in the past and the imaginations of the future.

Don’t get me wrong. I love history and reminiscing about good memories that have already been lived. I enjoy planning ahead for things of the future and imagining ways of living out my dreams. Yet, If I am always longing in the “land of the shoulds”, how can I ever be at peace in the stillness of Christ

I understand that in the spiritual discipline of discernment, we need to ask the question(s) of what should I do or not do as part of the process.

It’s the “shoulds” that come from regret, or hook us in our fear, guilt, and shame or perfectionism that paralyze our souls and keep us from taking action in a healthy way.

We sometimes find it easier to show grace to others when they should have done something in a particular way. Yet to show grace to ourselves by acknowledging and letting go of our “shoulds” or forgiving ourselves may seem too difficult because its’ unfamiliar or it seems opposite of trying to be the good Christian that we aspire to be.

We are the beloved children of Christ. He covered all of the “shoulds” that affect each of us whether it triggers our guilt, fear or shame that we are trying to manage. For myself, I do not want to be held hostage anymore to the “shoulds” that can trigger these emotions.

Yet, I embrace the need for balance and integration of the positive “shoulds” that help one take action toward wholeness (and just getting things done) and the “shoulds of regret”.   They both remind me to posture myself before Christ as He does His transforming work in me through His grace of forgiveness and love toward all the “shoulds” of life I have lived.

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.

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!

Living in the Present Moment…a post by Rich

So time launches us ready or not into a new year as we continue on in our journey of faith. I suspect many or at least some of us have made resolutions as we seek to make 2017 profitable for our continued maturation in Christ. The good news of course is that God’s Spirit has us on a journey toward becoming our truest self in Christ,(II Cor. 3:18) and he promises to continue to be faithfully present with us here and now in the new year ahead. (Mt. 28:20)

Over the holiday season I found myself re-reading various authors on the topic of living in the present moment. It seems that God continues to bring me back again and again to reflect upon and attend to my being present relationally in the here and now. The capacity to live present to what is, is essential if we are going to experience the presence of God who never leaves us or forsakes us.(Deut. 31:6) I was reminded that transformation in one sense is always happening as we internalize the presence of those around us including God’s presence in the here and now.

Living present requires for the vast majority of us an intentional slowing of our life’s pace. For all the activists in our tribe, those of us who are usually in a hurry, this in itself can be a shock to our consciousness and our typical way of being. A life crowded, cluttered and hurried will most likely be a distracted life at best. We live busy avoiding ourselves and in so doing settle comfortably on the circumference of our soul. Slowing our pace, giving ourselves space to breath, taking five minutes periodically throughout the day to pray, gathering ourselves to be where our feet are and seeking to pay attention would help us all slow down and live in the present.

Then of course if we are to be present relationally to others, God, and even ourselves, we will need to be people who listen. Some suggest at the heart of the first sin was our parents failure to truly listen to the voice of God in the garden. Mary, our Lord”s mother, begins her journey of obedience with an attentive listening to the angelic voice. (Lk.1:38) Listening is the posture of receptivity now! It is the posture of the soul that is taking in and embracing now. I am convinced that for any of us to experience more fully God’s presence in the present moment we will need to grow in our capacity and ability to listen. We will need to listen to our own soul, to our anxiousness, negative self-talk, feelings of inadequacy, and the demanding voice to do more. We must hear God here and now and in all of this affirm to us that we are his children. To avoid ourself is to avoid now and in so doing to avoid God with me now!  We will need to listen to others. Their voice, their presence is how God greets as well. Learning to listen is the path to a more robust experience of God in all his goodness and mercy. Listening anchors the soul within because we become more anchored in the one who is our Life. A deepened sense of belonging arises in the soul’s deepest terrain and in this security of belonging in Christ we gain an enlarged capacity to be present to what is.

And so we say whether you are a pastor, or a pastor’s wife, a teacher, Dad, Mom, brother, sister, child, or friend it really is about your living present in the here and now. You are part of God’s transformative work in the lives of others by which our Lord is reconciling the world to himself.  Let 2017 be a time of slowing down, praying , and listening!

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.

The River of Healing…a post by Joy

Having driven yesterday to the site of the Ohio River at Leavenworth, Indiana, we stopped for a few moments to gaze upon its beauty. While the sun glistened on the water, the view became even more restful and inviting to just “be in the moment.” It was life-giving to watch it move gently down the way.

Interestingly enough, the Scripture reading for this morning was on the passage of the River of Healing in Ezekiel 47: 1-12. Verse 9 states that “everything that touches the water of this river will live.” Then….”Wherever this water flows, everything will live. “

The passage reminds me of what Jesus said in John 7:38. Once we believe in Him , He gives us the “living water” of His Holy Spirit.

Christian spiritual formation may be peaceful or raging during our journey within yet He is constantly with us as the “river of healing” as transformation takes place.

Frances Ridley Havergal, the hymn writer put it this way:

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace;

Over all victorious in its bright increase;

Perfect, yet it floweth, Fuller ev’ry day,

Perfect, yet it groweth, Deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed.

Finding as He promised perfect peace and rest.