Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hostility vs Joy


While Jesus predicts that people will die of fear “as they await what menaces the world” (Luke 21:26), he says to his followers: “Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). After I gazed for a long time at [Andrei] Rublev’s Trinity [icon] these words spoke to me with new power, “Praying at all times” has come to mean “dwelling in the house of God all the days of our lives.” “Surviving all that is going to happen” now tells me that I no longer need to be victim of the fear, hatred, and violence that rule the world. “Standing with confidence before the Son of Man” no longer just refers to the end of time, but opens for me the possibility of living confidently, that is, with trust (the literal meaning of con-fide) in the midst of hostility and violence.     –Henri Nouwen

There is so much hostility and violence on display in the world. War, violent crime, oppression against groups of people—these may be the first things that come to mind when we think of hostility and violence. Social media though, increasingly reveals to me that hostility and violence are not just “out there” in other countries, in certain neighborhoods, and perpetrated by dictators, gang members or others that might fit our definition of “likely suspects.”

The perpetrators of violence I am most familiar with are people of comfortable means, church goers, business leaders—the folks we work with, worship with, play tennis with, travel with. Hostility, violence and hatred show up in what is posted or shared on Facebook and Twitter. What such postings reveal to me is that many who would claim to be Christian are not interested in living with confidence in the midst of hostility but would rather participate in promoting hatred, hostility and violence.

I’ve been thinking about St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is October 4. He saw God’s light in creation. He found joy in what others bemoaned as paltry. He reached out in love to those who practiced a different religion than his. He let go of the values and culture of his family and joyfully embraced a life outside the mainstream, eschewing status and wealth and instead embracing poverty and simplicity.

He could do this because he had nothing to protect or defend. He was dwelling in the house of God while living in a world of hostility and violence. He trusted God to be God for him. He lived the gospel of Jesus, and his rootedness in God’s love meant he poured love out wherever he went.

In the midst of a society that is more interested in bringing a kingdom of hostility and violence than in bringing the kingdom of God I want to emulate his joy, his vision, his way of dwelling in the house of God. We need the spirit and theology of St. Francis.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Wounds


You were seen with the eyes of perfect love long before you entered into the dark valley of life. The spiritual life begins at the moment that you can go beyond all the wounds and claim there was a love that was perfect and unlimited long before that perfect love became reflected in the imperfect and limited, conditional love of people.                                             –Henri Nouwen


We often have one of two reactions to wounds, both physical and emotional:  we either try to hide them or we become defined by them. To have a healthy relationship to our wounds enables us to be transformed by them. Our wounds are part of us, but we are more than our wounds.

Our wounds can make us stronger. Years ago, my younger son had surgery to correct a recurring spontaneous pneumothorax. The surgeon made scar tissue on the exterior of the lung so it would basically act like glue to hold the lung in place so it would no longer collapse. The wound of scar tissue corrected his issue.

Our wounds do not make us less than. As Henri Nouwen says, we are loved perfectly by God without any reserve, without any consideration of what we’ve done or what we fail to do, or what anyone has done to us. Just as Jesus rose with and was loved with his wounds, so are we.

Jesus did not try to hide his wounds. In fact, he used his wounds to identify himself to his disciples after his resurrection. They connect him to us; they are a sign that being human means suffering, and that in what is apparent weakness, God overcomes and brings new life.

We cannot see the beauty that comes from our wounds when we are in the midst of pain and hurt. Yet when we can live our wounds through, rather than ignoring them or becoming defined by them, God is able to bring beauty from even the darkest places of pain. And often that beauty is beyond anything we could have ever hoped or imagined.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

God's Abundance


“We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.” –Matthew 14:17

 We have nothing here except. . . All day long Jesus has been with this large group of people. Their emotions ay have been mixed, as those of Jesus likely were. The news of John’s death at the command of Herod likely created an atmosphere of fear, heaviness and loss.

Into that scene Jesus proposes a shared meal. Symbolism and sustenance meet in this event. There is enough food for everyone, literally, as abundant leftovers are collected. God is not a God of fear, scarcity and small-mindedness.

Jesus had been healing the sick, but I expect the meal healed the fear of many present that day. Yes, John was dead, but God is not. God is in community, in bread and fish shared among all—disciples, questioners, the sick, children, women, men—no one turned away. God is a God of abundance, hospitality and community—found in the most ordinary of places, people and food.

There is always enough, plenty, more than enough. No need for fear, jealousy or greed. God’s economy is for all and in abundance. God’s work is larger than we can see or know.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Some Thoughts About Yoga as Spiritual Practice


Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our true nature.  –Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is speaking of the importance of solitude, but I also believe these words have applicability to the practice of yoga if one is approaching yoga as more than simply a way to exercise. I encourage students to come to yoga with openness, because the physical practice is only a part of the overall aim and philosophy of yoga.

The physical practice of yoga becomes a spiritual practice when we are able to extend grace to ourselves. We learn our limitations and do not view these as deficiencies. We accept and honor our capability, yet always seek to do the best we can do. When we can accept and honor our own capacity, it then becomes possible to accept and honor the capacity of others.

Our ability to accept our wounds makes the physical practice of yoga an exercise in spiritual growth. We may have injuries or conditions or aches and pains that bring us to yoga in the hope of finding relief. It requires vulnerability to accept and work with the wounds we have, be they physical or emotional. As we learn to love our bodies and what they are capable of doing, we find healing of attitudes that may be more limiting than the wounds themselves. Our culture does not encourage vulnerability, so the ability to hold our woundedness lovingly grows us spiritually.

Finally, there are poses in yoga that challenge us, that invite us to move past fear of failure, that coax us to try, in a safe space, something we may not have thought we could do. For me, that was a significant aspect of spiritual growth. Yoga helped me to be strong in the face of fear, to “breathe through the pose,” and come out on the other side more confident than before. In yoga, I discovered strength within me that I wasn’t aware I possessed. I know where that strength came from, so yoga has helped me to tune in more fully to the presence of God’s spirit in me.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Vacant


“When an unclean spirit leaves a person, it wanders through dry places looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find any. Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the place vacant, cleaned up, and decorated. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and make their home there. That person is worse off at the end than at the beginning.  
–Matthew 12:43-45


Let my heart not be found vacant, Lord,
well-adorned yet empty. Let my heart be
filled with warmth, love and your presence,
that I may walk in your way,
that I may radiate your love to others.
Fill me full of yourself, O God.
Leave no cell void of you
that I may dissolve into you
fully,
completely,
wholly.
Amen.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Birthday Reflections


I celebrated my birthday this week and I certainly know I have much to celebrate. I am living in a place of fullness, joy and peace that I could have never imagined for myself. Some people use the expression “living the dream” sarcastically, but I use it with sincerity. Friends of mine have heard me say that truly, I am living my dream. I am grateful for the way my life has unfolded to bring me to this place of deep gladness.

Frederick Buechner says this: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. When I first heard this quote, I was in a season of discernment about what I sensed as a call for my life. Following that call took me from what felt comfortable and predictable and set me on a journey that defied any effort at making a five year plan. Even if I had made such a plan, the events that unfolded along the way were ones I could have never predicted.

Fullness of life doesn’t mean rainbows and unicorns. I went through the hardest season of my life thus far in the years between following this call and now. In fact, there were days dark enough and circumstances unsettling enough that I questioned my worth and my call. But God’s love was manifested to me in the love, companionship and encouragement of friends. I likewise realized that the consistent practice of centering prayer and lectio divina had led to a sense of God’s presence that sustained me. I was grateful that I never felt abandoned by God, even when I questioned everything else about my life.

As I reflect on life at the conclusion of another trip around the sun, I can’t think of anything I’d wish for if I had birthday candles to blow out. I am grateful for each moment. I am grateful for my friends. I am grateful for the communities to which I belong. And yes, I am grateful, supremely grateful, for the season of struggle, the pain and the people whose words and actions hurt me. Without them, I would not be where I am today. I would not have learned and lived the truth of death and resurrection in such a palpable way.

So I celebrate that I have been born and that I have been reborn. Life is good. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Present in the Transitions


When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities.
                                                                                --Matthew 14:13

Jesus needed some alone time after learning of the execution of his cousin John. The only time he could claim was the time on the boat. As soon as he landed, he was once again surrounded by crowds.

I imagine Jesus found the time on the boat soothing to his grieving soul, enabling him to then be fully present with the crowds who were waiting for him when he came ashore. It is a reminder to me to not fail to be fully present in the transitions of life.

Our achievement/accomplishment oriented culture places greater emphasis on the destination than the process required to get there. We are constantly looking ahead to the next thing, but when we do this, we miss the gifts of being on the way.

Recently I observed a Luna moth on a UPS drop box as I was walking on a downtown sidewalk from my apartment to my car. Had I been lost in thought about my to-do list, I might have missed a moment of beauty. And this morning as I parked my car in a large parking lot to go to an appointment, I heard a hawk. I stopped, looking in the sky to see if I could see it. I found it perched in a pine tree that is growing at the edge of the lot. It was a gift to appreciate as I moved toward my destination.

It takes intentionality to be as present climbing the stairs, walking across a parking lot, riding an elevator or standing in line as we are when we first put our bare feet in the sand on a long awaited beach trip, or are eating lunch with a friend we haven’t seen in a while, or celebrating a milestone moment of life.

Seeking God’s presence in the moments between moments, in the spaces between thoughts, or in the transitions between events enriches all of life and disposes us to see God in ways we could miss if we are only focused on accomplishments or destinations. Much of Jesus’ ministry happened when he was on the way. I pray we can appreciate the “on the way” moments as much as the moments of arrival or accomplishment.