Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Belonging to the Truth

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence.      
    1 John 3:18-19

Love well demonstrated happens when we belong to the truth. We belong to the truth when we know how much God loves us. When we know how much God loves us, we can love ourselves. When we love ourselves, we can love others. When we love others, we demonstrate love with both action and truth. The coupling of action and truth is important because our actions demonstrate love to the extent that we belong to the truth.

Belonging to the truth is different than saying you don’t tell lies. Belonging to the truth is a way of being, a permeating presence, the awareness that one is deeply rooted in, and drawing life from, the heart of Christ. When we are confident of God’s love for us, we dwell in the truth and our actions flow from that truth. There is integrity between inner and outer—inner truth and outer action.

Belonging to the truth is not moralistic. It is not incidental, that is, based on telling the truth in particular incidents. You can tell those who belong to the truth because their entire way of living emanates love. Moralists, on the other hand, emanate pride, which is fearful, judgmental and arrogant, highly concerned with controlling the perceptions of others. Moralists are focused on what others think of them and are often vocal about how moral they are. Those who belong to the truth are focused on God, acting out of their love for God, unconcerned about how they are perceived by others.

This story from the sayings of the desert fathers that illustrates the difference between belonging to the truth vs. not telling a lie:

It was said about one brother that when he had woven baskets and put handles on them, he heart a monk next door saying: What shall I do? The trader is coming but I don’t have handles on my baskets! Then he took the handles off his own baskets and brought them to his neighbor saying: Look, I have these left over. Why don’t you put them on your baskets? And he made his brother’s work complete, as there was need, leaving his own unfinished.

In this example, the compassionate brother said the handles were left over, when, in fact, they were not left over, but the ones he needed to make his own baskets complete. A moralist would say he told a lie, and yet he demonstrated compassion and showed he belonged to the truth. To have given the handles to the brother, telling him they were his only handles, would have been prideful and made the despairing brother feel worse than he already felt.

Those who belong to the truth know that they belong to the truth by grace alone, not merit, so they are humble and can extend grace to others. Because they aren’t concerned with what others think of them, they are free to act out of love for God and love for others, actions that come from a heart of love that is confident of God’s love for them. There is congruence between their inner being and outward doing—they belong to the truth because love permeates both their inner being and outward doing. They aren’t perfect; they still fall short, but because they know deeply God’s love for them, they can humbly acknowledge their failure and receive God’s grace with gratitude.

Moralists, who are often quick to tell you that they don’t lie, are actually living a lie because there is not congruence between their inner being and outward doing. While their outward doing may appear “correct,” it comes from a heart of fear, pride and self-righteousness. It is a fa├žade that masks their inner fear.

May we know the truth of God’s love for us, and live lives of congruence that demonstrate our belonging to the truth.  Such a life is a life of compassion, freedom and joy!


Monday, June 12, 2017

Be Careful How You Pray

Be careful what you pray for . . . is the first part of a saying we’ve likely heard. It came to my mind recently when reading a person’s comment to the prayer request of another. I was surprised by the pray-er’s assumption that she knew what the requester needed. While not about prayer, a quote from Wendell Berry offers a valid warning to us when we pray for others:

We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world—to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it.

Have you ever shuddered at the way someone’s prayer assumed to know what was best for another? Or was ignorant of all the facts? Is it right to pray for a marriage to be saved if one spouse abuses the other? If an elderly cancer victim is ready to cross the threshold into heaven, do you pray for them not to die?

In early May I attended a Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation on the Georgia coast. One of our presenters, Sister Kathleen Flood, was asked how we should pray for others. The question was prompted by the uneasiness of presuming to know the need of another. Sister Kathleen offered a lovely response. She said when others ask her to pray for specific outcomes, she responds, “I will hold you in prayer.” She went on to tell us that she lifts the person’s name to God in her prayer time, but does not attempt to direct God toward a specific response.

Her answer reminded me of a healing story of Jesus. When Jesus was teaching in a crowded house, friends of a paralyzed man took their friend up on the roof, made a hole in it, and lowered their friend in front of Jesus. They didn’t ask Jesus to heal their friend. They simply placed him at Jesus’ feet.

Their example is a good one for us. Rather than giving God directions about how to respond to another’s need (which, when described as I just have, sounds as presumptuous as it really is), can we simply place our friend in God’s presence and trust that God knows what our friend needs?

In addition to not presuming we know better than God the need of another, such a way of praying relieves us of “pray-er’s guilt.” An example of this is when you pray for another to be cured and they die and you wonder if you didn’t pray hard enough or say the right words, as if there is a magic formula you have to utter to get the prayer to “work.”

Because God is God and we are not, and because sometimes our prayer requests can come with our own selfish agendas, simply holding another in prayer to God is prayer enough. Such a prayer prevents a superfluity of words, and teaches us the humility of letting another go to God’s care and keeping. Let us hold one another up to God, trusting that the One who made us knows our needs.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Listen

As for you, what you heard from the beginning must remain in you.
                                                                                                                                1 John 2:24a

Long before I was in the womb, long
before I was even an egg—when I was alive
only in the mind of God—
God whispered into me her dream for me.
The word I heard from the beginning
brought me into being.
It remains in me, a spark, which,
ignited by self-knowledge, fills
all of me with light and life.
Listen, my heart.
Listen.
What stokes my fire?
What makes my soul dance?
What nourishes my joy?
Listen.
These reveal how God’s dream
resounds in me. May my life
sing its unique song into the void
I was created to fill.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Perfection: A Matter of Heart

Perfection, then, is clearly not achieved simply by being naked, by the lack of wealth or by the rejection of honours, unless here is also that love whose ingredients the apostle described and which is to be found solely in purity of heart. Not to be jealous, not to be puffed up, not to act heedlessly, not to seek what does not belong to one, not to rejoice over some injustice, not to plan evil—what is this and its like if not the continuous offering to God of a heart that is perfect and truly pure, a heart kept free of all disturbance?

I read this quote in a book of daily wisdom from contemporary and ancient monastics. It is a restating of Paul’s most famous writing, his words about love in 1 Corinthians 13. Though Paul does not use the word perfection in that chapter that is so familiar to us, to love and live with a pure heart could be a good definition of perfection.

Often, our focus is on achieving outward perfection. We want to be thought well of by others and we may act to achieve that end rather than from the desire to love God well by cultivating a pure heart. I know I have sometimes acted in a way not in accordance with the desire of my heart because I wanted to present a good outward appearance. Yet the dissonance within, created by going against the grain of my heart’s intuition, did violence to my soul.

We know from scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments that God is more concerned with the state of one’s heart than with actual deeds done. You can cross all the spiritual ‘T’s and dot all the spiritual ‘I’s and leave God unimpressed. The prophets chastised the people to attend to their hearts rather than cover all the bases with their sacrifices, and Jesus spoke of those who clean the outside of the cup but leave the inside full of filth.

Why do we give more weight to outward acts rather than attending to the state of our hearts? I believe there are several reasons. Pride is a strong force, and we can be recognized by others as “good people” based on what we do, even if we harbor hatred and bitterness within. Ease is another motive—it’s a lot easier to do an outward something, even something difficult, than to commence the long path of inward change and growth, which requires much discipline. I’ve encountered many who, when challenged to begin a practice of self-reflection, look within, dislike what they see, and choose not to go any further down that path. In her book, The Interior Castle, Teresa of Avila speaks of this propensity with colorful metaphorical language. She talks about the snakes, vipers and venomous reptiles we encounter as we begin the journey inward, and how we have to persevere to get past these.

The most important work we can do for God is the work of allowing our hearts to be changed. It is through purity of heart that our outward acts become pleasing to God. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Our Inherent Interconnectedness

Sometimes life lessons come from the simplest items. Recently for me, it was an apple core. Let me explain.

On Wednesdays, I bring my lunch to work. The schedule for that day makes it difficult to go out for lunch and we have a wonderful courtyard with tables and chairs, flowers, and abundant shade. I enjoy being outside anyway, so it’s always a pleasant break in the day.

Last Wednesday, I noticed an apple core in the chair next to mine. I bring apples most weeks, and place the core at the base of a plant, since I know the core will compost. A squirrel knew it had found a treat, carried it to the table and sat in a chair like a person to dine! While I didn’t get to see the actual event, I enjoyed the mental image it brought forth.

On Tuesday mornings, we have a service of morning prayer in our prayer center. Many mornings I enjoy sipping my coffee prior to prayer while looking out the windows of the prayer center. A fence of brick lattice is visible outside the windows, and the windows also overlook the courtyard. I often see squirrels and birds, and when the season and weather cooperate, I get to see the sun hit the side of our sanctuary building. There is a particular spot on the brick fence that is often littered with acorn shells, evidence that a squirrel has had a meal there.


When I looked out the window yesterday, there was an apple core in that spot! I laughed out loud, thinking about how much my lunch leftovers are being appreciated by our church’s nearest neighbors. It was a reminder, a lesson for me about how all creation is connected, that every act we take affects others, whether we are aware of it or not. We know it if we remember our science lessons—the trees produce oxygen we need to breathe, and we produce carbon dioxide that the trees need to breathe. Yet we don’t always live like we know this, or else we would be more careful about our environment.

This is only one example of how our lives depends on the lives of everything and everyone else. We are dependent on one another far more than many of us realize. People you will never meet made your clothes, tended and harvested your food and assembled most of the products you use every day. When we act as if some people don’t matter, as if they are disposable, we harm ourselves, not only our way of life but also our souls.

All we do, for good, for ill, or simply unknowingly, has a ripple effect, just as we are affected by the actions, beliefs and choices of others. An apple-eating squirrel reminded me of that. May we all be more aware of our interconnectedness and live every day with care, remembering that our neighbors include all of creation.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Three Haiku from Ireland

On Easter Monday, I traveled to Ireland for a writing retreat, giving my blog a rest while generating fresh ideas for future posts. Today I offer three haiku written in the ruins of the church named for St. Colman Mac Duach.


Ancient prayer grows
from the stone. Small fern speaks life
into hopeful hearts.


Warmh of holiness.
Sanctuary of silence.
Eternity speaks.


I offer my heart
on this ancient altar as
prayers seep from stones.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Yes!

2 Corinthians 1:19-20

Christ is risen and so am I:
   my first thought on waking today.
What great surprise—
   the powers that rule are overthrown
   not by force but by love.
Greed, jealousy, hate, fear outwitted.
Peace, joy, grace, abundance flow
drowning the armies of small-mindedness.

Sing, dance, praise the God of life,
the God of love,
the God of YES!