Archives for 2006

Paradox

    Guidance of the life by the Light within is not exhausted as is too frequently supposed, in special leadings toward particular tasks. It begins first of all in a mass revision of our total reaction to the world… There is a total Instruction as well as specific instructions from the Light with. The dynamic illumination from the deeper level is shed upon the judgments of the surface level, and lo, the “former things are passed away, behold, they are become new.

    Paradoxically, this total Instruction proceeds in two opposing directions at once. We are torn loose from earthly attachments and ambitions – contemptus mundi. And we are quickened to a divine but painful concern for the world – amor mundi. He plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love. — A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly

What a wonderful paradox, while God is busy ‘plucking the world out of our hearts’, He is at the same time ‘hurling the world into our hearts’ in order to enable our ministry!

Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault

    But in the contemplative journey, as we swim down into those deeper waters toward the wellsprings of hope, we begin to experience and trust what it means to lay down self, to let go of ordinary awareness and surrender ourselves to the mercy of God. And as hope, the hidden spring of mercy deep within us, is released in that touch and flows out from the center, filling us with the fullness of God’s own purpose living itself into action, then we discover within ourselves the mysterious plenitude to live into action what our ordinary hearts and minds could not possibly sustain. —Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault

Accompanying

    …still today one of the basic strengths of congregations is to accompany, to be present physically, eye to eye. (pg. 23) — Gary Gunderson,Deeply Woven Roots: Improving the Quality of Life in Your Community

This is something that I have a passion for. It is vitally important to be physically present with others – nothing beats showing up!

The Nov/Dec 2003 Net Results has an article by Alexander M. Jacobs entitled “Loitering for the Lord”. It provides a wonderful example of accompanying. As a part of his campus ministry, Pastor Jacobs made a point regularly to just ‘show up’ at the local coffee shop – and just loiter; making himself available to whoever was around and wanted to visit. He found that putting himself out there, with no plan, other than to be available to those who might need him, became a powerful way to enhance his ministry and connection with the students he ministered to. Nothing beats showing up!

I work in technical sales. A big part of what I do is show up and listen (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). I ask questions in order to get clarification and work with my customers to help them identify problems and then examine possible solutions. I can sometimes handle some of the tasks via the phone, but nothing beats showing up! We can go out in the plant and actually look at equipment. What holds true in sales – holds true in ministry. Nothing beats showing up!

This past Sunday I was making visits to the nursing homes. One of the ladies (whom I don’t know well) had three phone calls while I was in her room. Each time she picked up the phone and immediately said, “I have company. I’ll call you back.” This encounter came immediately to mind as I was reflecting on the importance of accompanying. My presence mattered. I was bringing church to her and helping her stay connected to the community. She was hungry for this connection and because of this need was willing to postpone visiting with family and friends during our visit. Nothing beats showing up!

I have a great concern – mostly because I struggle with this issue so often – that in our fast-paced society we move at such a great speed that people get left out. David Whyte articulates the problem well:

    The great tragedy of speed as an answer to the complexities and responsibilities of existence is that very soon we cannot recognize anything or anyone who is not traveling at the same velocity as we are. We see only those moving in the same whirling orbit and only those moving with the same urgency. Soon we begin to suffer a form of amnesia, caused by the blurred vision of velocity itself, where those things germane to our humanity are dropped from our minds one by one. … On the personal side, as slaves to speed, we start to lose sight of family members, especially children, or those who are ill or infirm, who are not flying through the world as quickly and determinedly as we are. – David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

David Whyte’s quote serves as a powerful reminder for us all. If we don’t modify our approach to time, people will be left out. Needs will be unnoticed and thus unmet. Concerns and cares will have no expression. Gunderson’s strength of accompanying is the antidote for this problem. It encourages us to slow our velocity and become available to and aware of those around us.

Faith

Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NRSV)

    First of all, let me say that I am so glad that faith is a gift and not something that I have to think my way into!

    I hear my voice in the cry of the father who when asked by Jesus, “Do you believe?”, replies, “I believe, help my unbelief!” Oh Yes, I see myself alright!

    It has taken me many years to reach the point that I am okay with this. God is mystery, my attempts at understanding the Mystery can never lead me to a full and complete understanding – the more I know, the more I realize I can never know. This realization is some of what led me to the study of spiritual formation. Spiritual Formation, of course, includes the intellectual knowledge of but also has a strong emphasis on engaging the complete person – body, mind, emotions, and spirit. This wholistic approach is more focused towards providing one with tools and practices that assist the individual to experience God and God’s love. The tools and practices help make me open and available to God. In this open state I am able to recognize and accept the gift of faith.

    God acts – I receive.

    Thanks be to God!

    Amen!

What is Spiritual Direction?

“The essence of spiritual guidance or direction can be seen whenever one person helps another to see and respond to spiritual truth. … When spiritual guidance occurs in a formal, one-to-one relationship with another individual, it can be called spiritual direction. In the classic form of spiritual direction there is a director and a directee, the one helping the other to discern the work of the Lord in his or her life and to distinguish among the various forces or “spirits” which seem to beckon in different directions.” –Gerald May, Care of Mind, Care of Spirit

“The ministry of spiritual direction can be understood as the meeting of two or more people whose desire is to prayerfully listen for the movements of the Holy Spirit in all areas of a person’s life (not just in their formal prayer life). It is a three-way relationship: among the true director who is the Holy Spirit, … and the human director (who listens for the directions of the Spirit with the directee), and the directee. … The director is a companion along the pilgrim’s way, wanting to be directly open along with the directee to the Spirit-undercurrents flowing through the happenings of the directee’s life.” – Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Director, Spiritual Companion

Spiritual direction is neither psychotherapy nor pastoral counseling.

“Spiritual direction gives people an opportunity to reflect on what they perceive as experiences with God.”

“The art of Spiritual Direction lies in our uncovering the obvious in our lives and in realizing that everyday events are the means by which God tries to reach us.” – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening

“The Holy Spirit is the true director in this strange ministry called spiritual direction.” – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening

“…the task of the external director is to put souls in touch with the Holy Spirit, their inward guide.” – Augustine Baker (17th Century)

What is Spiritual Formation?

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63: 1, NRSV)

“Spiritual formation is a rather general term referring to all attempts, means, instructions, and disciplines intended towards deepening of faith and furtherance of spiritual growth. It includes educational endeavors as well as the more intimate and in-depth processes of spiritual direction.”

    –Gerald May, Care of Mind, Care of Spirit

The dynamics of shaping the human spirit toward maturity and consonance [sounding together]. Spiritual formation can refer to two closely related processes. The first is a basic fact of life: as creatures we are constantly being formed by the world around us; and as creatures with a spirit capable of transcending our world, we can be aware of and take part in that formation. … The second process is the more deliberate attempt to form ourselves or allow ourselves to be formed within a particular spiritual tradition. …

The process of spiritual formation can differ widely from person to person, due to personality, personal history, and the particular formation tradition(s) embraced. The only certainties are that our spirits will continue to be formed (or de-formed) throughout our lives and that God will continue to call us into deeper, more consonant relationships with God, our truest selves, and the people and world around us.

    The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation

Carl E. Braaten – Time & Grace

from Principles of Lutheran Theology:

By God’s grace and the means of grace we can live meaningfully in time and history. We cannot realize our potentialities on our own. When the grace of God penetrates our life, we are equipped to deal with the three dimensions of time. We become free from bondage to our past through forgiveness otherwise we are incarcerated in the guilts and fears which our past throws up to haunt us. We become fully engaged in the meaning of the present moment, living life to the hilt; otherwise we wander aimlessly through life, not knowing the whence and the whither of our movements. We are made open to the future which is rushing toward us, entering into the unknown with courage and faith in the providential hand of God; otherwise we are paralyzed into inaction, frozen by the foreboding possibilities of an incalculable tomorrow. Grace lifts us beyond bondage to the passage of time and mediates to us the power of eternal life.

AMEN.

Worship

    “It is a paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation. Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but. … What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit, and repetitive motions are conducive to devotions such as the Jesus Prayer or the rosary.”  ~Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and ‘Women’s Work’

In the truest sense worship is about increasing our God-consciousness which I have found requires a decreasing awareness of myself and an opening of myself completely to the present moment of time. My ability to achieve this state varies from week to week. It is not an on/off state, but more of a continuum that I move within.

As Kathleen reminds us, it is the routine that enables this process. As we move into the familiar liturgy and hymns, we move into a familiar place, a place where we can relax. We know the rhythm of the service – it has been written in our core by repetition. This intimate awareness frees us from our self and allows us to move along the continuum away from self awareness and more fully into the present moment which plants us in the presence of the Divine (actually God is always there, it is our awareness of God’s presence that is heightened).

This process is similar to an athlete who before any game has run countless drills in order to make the required movements ‘automatic’ – so much a part of themselves that they can execute the required moves without thought, confident of the outcome, thus freeing them to focus not on the basics of their movements or execution – these will occur automatically because of the repetition – but instead freeing them to respond to the tactics and strategies of their opponent in the particular contest (i.e. the conditions of the moment).

C. S. Lewis in his Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer discusses this same phenomena with the admonition that change in the worship service forces the worshipper to move from a state of God-consciousness into a state of ‘self’-consciousness due to the unfamiliar. Once the change has been practiced, it then becomes routinized and the worshipper is able to move away from their consciousness of self once again.

I once attended a church where the choirmaster was keenly aware of this phenomena and very respectful of the congregation gathered in that place. He made it a point never to add a hymn to the service that the congregation didn’t already know without preparing them for it. For two or three weeks prior to it being sung as a hymn during worship, he played it as part of the prelude or postlude. The week before the congregation sang it for the first time, it was used as one of the choir’s anthems. During the service that the hymn was sung for the first time, he played it through completely once, prior to the singing. This meant that the congregation had heard the piece 4-5 times before they ever sang it. What a blessing he was! How incredibly caring and thoughtful! This was a marvelous place to worship.

So don’t fight the routine in worship lose yourself in it! God is waiting for you!