Meals of Communion…a post by Joy

From my own experience, It really is true that to share a meal with someone is an opportunity of reminding us that we are in communion with Christ.

It’s interesting to me that a number of times in Scripture, including the story of the angels who appeared to Abraham to announce to him that he and Sarai would become parents in their ripe “old age”, this bit of news was delivered in a setting around the experience of a meal.

The first miracle performed by Jesus was in the venue of a wedding feast, a celebration with others. Yet to the other side of things, Jesus was reprimanded for having a meal with sinners, a condemnation by others for his choice of company. When the Prodigal Son came home, his father immediately gave instructions to his older son and servants alike to prepare the fatted calf for a meal; and most amazing is that the last significant act of community and communion that Jesus had with His disciples before the crucifixion was the “Last Supper.”

To eat a meal around the kitchen or dining room table is a place of physical nourishment AND a place of communion with each other for soul nourishment.

Many times I am reminded as I’m serving or eating a meal with family, friends or strangers too, even in the airport, that I am hosting the presence of Christ within my soul to serve a bit of Christ to others. And in the same way, I receive a blessing and a portion of who Christ is from other believers as they are living out their gifts from Him as image-bearers of Christ. We are being in communion with Christ, with others and with ourselves by doing this simple, life-giving act of eating our meals while being mindful of His life-giving presence in each of us.

Soul to soul, heart to heart, mind to mind, through the Holy Spirit we commune with each other and with the loving presence of God, the Father; God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.

This Sacred holy practice of eating 3 times a day either alone with Christ or with others, is a reminder that we can intentionally and mindfully return to Christ these specific times per day (even if it’s 2 times/day.) We all participate in this ritual of eating like clock work because we are human and were designed to nurture our physical bodies this way. It’s a time for replenishing our energy levels for our bodies. Yet it’s also a replenishment for the care of our souls as we “gather all the parts of our selves” (whether the playful self, the rigid self, the hurting self, or the helpful self etc.) to a centering place with Christ. He could have created us to be nourished “on the run” ALL the time without having to take this time to be in communion with Him, with others, or with ourselves.

Yet, I am so very thankful He gave us this gift of sitting down with others to eat a meal, looking each other in the eye to express and be an example of what our communion can be with Him. A holy sacred space like this certainly includes space for laughter and sometimes tears as hearts are shared with each other.

DO ALL OF THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME,” is a command and a reminder of the work of Christ in us through His sacrifice every time we partake of the elements of communion. Yet, for me, it is also a reminder that when we participate in a meal with others, we are being mindful of His work in us through the communion that we have with others.

Babette’s Feast is a movie that I like to watch at least once a year and especially around the Thanksgiving season. It’s a wonderful story about a Parisian political refugee from the 19th century who is given opportunity to use her gifts in a unique way to bring healing to a hurting village through the experience of an incredible meal. To me, Babette is an example of a woman who was being mindful of the healing presence of Christ within her, not by her words, but by her act of communing with the people of the village through a meal.

May Christ be honored by the way we enter into a meal with one another as an act of communing with Him as we commune with those around us.

Real Butter…a post by Tom

Recently I journeyed with a 100-year-old woman as she neared death. When she died the family shared memories and reflections on her storied life. I find it fascinating how people focus in and remember the small things over the big. One of the grandchildren, of whom she was particularly fond, recalled going over to her grandma’s small apartment for movie night to eat popcorn made with REAL BUTTER. The grandmother did not have much materially speaking. She lived alone and worked as a waitress. However, when her grandkids came over she used REAL BUTTER! The children were accustomed to margarine at home but with grandma there was REAL BUTTER and this was astonishingly good and decadent.  The granddaughter, a successful professional on the West Coast, flew in and couldn’t stop talking about butter.  Among other things her candy dish was also exquisitely stocked with very good hard candies, the kind with fancy crinkly wrappers. These are the small lavish touches that can change everything. What are the ways we can reflect God extravagance towards us for others? How can we be lavish toward loved ones in small simple ways? Do we have to let a scarcity mentality dominate even our popcorn? It is in the small things that our lavishness or stinginess can shine. When it comes to us, God uses REAL GRACE lavishly.

Ephesians 1:7

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.

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.

The Thrill and Agony of Longing…a post by Jim

Two weekends ago CrossPoint hosted retreat 5 (out of 8) for our current Deeper Journey community. The topic was ‘desire’ and it certainly touched a nerve.

The Bible repeatedly speaks to importance of desire, having our desires met by God, avoiding sinful desires, pursuing our deepest desires. Jesus asked the lame man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer seems obvious. “I want to walk so please heal me.” It seems Jesus is pointing us to the importance of naming our desires.

There is the question of what desires are legitimate to pursue and what desires are tainted by sin and should be avoided. But for me the toughest part of the retreat came when we reminded ourselves that we have many legitimate, wholesome desires that do not come true. The frustration, anger, disappointment, and confusion that flows from good yet unmet desires is real. How can we avoid cynicism the older we get?

Seems the answer is found in a living hope. Hope keeps the heart alive and tender. Hope orientates us to what is coming, not what has happened (or not happened). Hope anchored in the promises of our Lord is a sure bet. Yes, all my desires won’t be met in this life but hope says that all my desires (and more than I can possibly long for now) will be experienced in the life to come. Praise be to God.

We cannot out desire God.

Wild Geese…a poem by Mary Oliver

This is a beautiful poem that speaks for itself and the first few lines are of particular encouragement for those tortured souls…you know who you are.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us…a post by Joy

For two mornings this week I have awakened to this verse going through my mind.

Psalm 90:17 (KJV)  

“Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.

Establish Thou the work of our hands;

Establish Thou the work of our hands.

It’s a familiar verse that is quoted in the Midday prayer that we have often quoted through the years for the Deeper Journey retreats.  I also have it in song form by the Northumbria Community in England.  Actually, the song is what awakened me from my dreams both of those mornings.

I’ve often been struck by this verse in contemplating the meaning of it or what it has for me as I pay attention to God’s beckoning through it. Besides the enjoyment of appreciating beauty for it’s own sake, beauty has also been important to me as a container for peace.  Nine years ago as we prepared to move, our home was in disarray as we packed. I intentionally lit a candle and set it on the kitchen counter as a reminder that the Holy Spirit, the light of Christ, was with us on this journey. It was an encounter with the beauty of Christ being “upon us.”  This reminder brought peace along with the beauty as I continued to pack, therefore, “establishing the work of my hands!”

A couple of other translations describe “beauty” as the “favor of the Lord” (NIV) or the “approval of God.” (NLT).  Having the favor of Christ on our lives is definitely something that we all may receive from His atoning work on the cross.  I’m imagining that having “favor” or “approval” or “beauty” upon us from God is also going to look different for each of us because we are all created with different gifts, ways of being in the world, and perceiving the world.  It seems, that part of His spiritual transformational work of beauty upon us is “to establish the work of our hands” in whatever way He has designed and allow it to be integrated with the desire He has given us in the first place for that kind of work.

Thanks be to God!

If anyone thirsts…a post by Tom

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. – John 7:37

I am struck with this simple and beautiful invitation from Jesus. It addresses four important issues.

SELF WORTH

Anyone…Yes anyone. Including you? Yes. Including me? Yes. As humans created in the image of God we have the dignity and worth to approach the Savior. God desires all to be saved.

NEED

Thirsts… Feels a need and wants something more. God I am so thirsty in this broken world. I feel a need and want something more. I thirst. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” – Augustine of Hippo

SOURCE

Let him come to me… Not let him study or let him do x, y, z or clean up his act first but let him come directly to Jesus. Am I going directly to Jesus or somewhere else including my thoughts and emotions?

ACTION

Drink… Take in what Jesus offers, drink it in and ingest. Let who He is and what He offers become me. This involves consent, this involves openness, this involves communion, and this involves receiving. Do I trust that what he offers is good?

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.

Beacon of Light…a post by Joy

As a child I remember that my mother loved to light candles for many of our evening meals. For me, it made the meal time extra inviting along with the delicious food served, and the ordinary conversations of daily life. Time permitting, my father would tell a favorite story using the candles as a prop that we as children, and even as adults, loved to hear.

As a college student returning home for a visit, and when Jim and I were first married, I remember the candle light in the window welcoming us home.  It was as though it was a beacon of light guiding our way back into the open arms of family life lived there.

January is the month that my mother passed away 31 years ago.  I am especially mindful during this time of what I learned from her about living, loving, and dying. She loved Jesus Christ with a tender hearted passion.  She reflected the light of Christ to all who knew her.

Through the years, lighting a candle often makes me think of my mother and the tradition that I have integrated into my own family’s life. Yet, for almost 15 years now, I am also reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit who lives within us as believers.   Christ, as the Light of the World, beckons us to reflect His light to others in every way that we can. Part of the journey of Christian Spiritual formation is to notice or pay attention to how Christ “shows up” for us in ordinary every day life. This simple act of lighting a candle is one such “noticing” for me.

Christ is the One who is the beacon of light for us daily. Thank goodness He will also welcome us home for that particular time when it is our turn to cross the divide between earth and heaven receiving us into “family life lived there.”