Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Growing Pains

I’ve been using a devotion book based on the writings of Julian of Norwich. It’s meant to be used over a 30-day period, but the writings are so deep that I often spend 2-3 weeks with each day’s message. The one I am currently reading talks about how we cannot come to know our own spirit until we know God, because our spirit dwells in God.

While we may long to know our spirit, Julian warns that our longing will be accompanied by sorrow. This perplexed me at first, until I considered that a longing to know one’s spirit is born from the desire to be more fully who one is created to be. And this longing to be our true self comes from a desire to grow in intimacy with God.

All my life I’ve heard the term “growing pains.” It’s so familiar to me that I can forget just how true it is. All real spiritual growth is accompanied by pain, because growth involves leaving behind something comfortable and familiar. It involves disorientation.

But this could be descriptive of all change, not just spiritual growth. You may be resistant to change or may not see any reason to change. You may not really want to grow because you are satisfied with what you know of yourself and God.

Nature tells us that everything is always in some state of change. Spring gives way to summer, then fall and then winter. Change is unavoidable. Resisting change is painful but it is a different kind of pain than growth brings. When we choose to grow, we are aware that there will be pain associated with growth. We invite the disorientation that comes with spiritual growth, because we trust that a new orientation will come, one accompanied by a deeper and fuller knowledge of God and self. Those who resist change will still be disoriented and suffer pain, but their pain may catch them by surprise and may cause them to see themselves as victims, questioning the existence or faithfulness of God.

Avoiding the pain of growth means we’ll eventually suffer the pain of change. For a long while we may shield ourselves from the pain of change by hardening ourselves emotionally or attempting to control the circumstances and people around us or by attacking those who are different from us or who disagree with us. When crisis strikes, we are likely to be shattered because of our rigidity. Those who choose the path of growth with its accompanying pain know that the longing for a growing intimacy with God is pain worth bearing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Faith in Belovedness

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (NRSV)
“You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” (CEB)
“You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” (MSG)
                                                                                                                Mark 1:11

Can you hear these words being spoken about you? Do you believe you are God’s beloved son or daughter? When I asked these questions to a group looking at Mark 1:1-11, most could believe that God loved them. What was harder to accept was that God was pleased with them.

And yet, the creation account in Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image. That doesn’t mean that God has a nose, mouth and ears like ours. It means that we are created with the spirit and qualities of God. In Ephesians 2:10, we hear these words: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

God’s masterpiece. If you create something, pour your heart and spirit into it, and call it a masterpiece, it naturally follows that you are pleased with it. Why would God create us and love us yet not find joy in us?

What makes the good news good for me is knowing that God finds happiness in me, that God considers me the pride of God’s life, marked by God’s love, chosen. We are all chosen. To be chosen does not imply ambivalence but instead proclaims devotion.

If we don’t believe that God finds happiness in us, then how can we believe God loves us dearly? And how can we approach God in faith if we are afraid of God’s displeasure? To believe we are forgiven and free, to believe in grace, is to believe that God is pleased with us, God’s dearest creatures.

For faith to be faith, there must be a deep knowing that we are God’s beloved, God’s masterpiece, that God stepped back from creating us and called us “very good.” Henri Nouwen says that when we know our own chosenness, it doesn’t make us arrogant. Instead it causes us to see that others are chosen as well. Knowing we are chosen causes us to want others to know their own chosenness.

You are God’s beloved, God’s masterpiece, the pride of God’s life! Live with that truth and your light cannot help but shine!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Being A Beginner

Recently I began practicing yoga. Mostly I’ve been attending beginner classes. It’s been fun to be a beginner, to be new to something and thus to not be expected to have some level of proficiency. We are always beginners as children, but sometimes as adults we get so used to mastery that we are uncomfortable with the vulnerability and mystery of being a beginner.

We may shun the label “beginner” as if it denotes a lower status than “experienced.” But that’s our pride talking, not our spirit. Our ego doesn’t like to be awkward, vulnerable or uninformed. Yet as children we were all of these much of the time. If we are unwilling to be a beginner, we close ourselves off from learning. We make no space for curiosity and creativity. We cannot grow. Our efforts to avoid being labeled a beginner actually cause us to be awkward, vulnerable and uniformed.

There is great freedom and excitement in being a beginner. Freedom, because I don’t have expectations to meet. If I don’t know a yoga pose, if I cannot hold my balance or am not as flexible as another, so what? I’m a beginner. I have to learn. I have to work and practice so I can move forward. The excitement of being a beginner results from the wide open horizon for learning that beginning invites me into. I enjoy the remembrance of what it was like to be a child, to see possibilities with breathless, wide-eyed enthusiasm, to plunge into a sport or hobby with no agenda but fun.

As I’ve thought about the delight in being a beginner, I recall an incident from a few weeks ago. I went to lunch with a friend, to a restaurant I had not visited previously. I had the opportunity to try something new, but chose instead to eat something familiar. Looking back, I realized I missed a chance to be a beginner, to explore something new, to be vulnerable and to let another teach me. I had an occasion to be curious and childlike, and let it pass me by. My loss!

Although I hope to gain some yoga experience, I want to remember the excitement I’ve experienced in being a beginner. I look forward to finding something else to begin. And next time I have the chance to try a new food, I’ll approach it joyfully.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Holding the Chalice

Holding the chalice as my church family receives Holy Communion is a privilege for me. That we share ourselves with each other when we dip bread in the common cup demonstrates what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12:27 when he says “You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.”

On a recent Sunday I was privileged to hold the chalice. As people dipped their bread, some crumbs remained in the cup. As I said to each person, “This is the blood of Christ, poured out for you” I was aware that the cup also held the body of Christ, the crumbs of the bread each communicant had received. Body and blood cannot be separated. Each needs the other.

This is no less true of us. While I could not identify from whom the individual crumbs in the chalice came, seeing them mingled together reminded me that we need each other, that we cannot be separated one from another and be fully who we are created to be. Wholeness is never a solitary way of being. Holiness is not an individual achievement.

Our interdependence is demonstrated in Holy Communion, eating from the same loaf, dipping into the same cup. As the servant allowed to hold the cup, I saw visual confirmation of our interdependence—crumbs—fragile life given and shared in Christ’s body and blood. What a precious gift to hold in my hands, and what a glorious memory to now hold in my heart! Some may disdain crumbs in the chalice but for me they represent bits and pieces of ourselves, our broken and shared selves, immersed in God’s sweet and generous grace.