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Ecstatic Worship

Art by David Lawson.

Art by David Lawson.

Are you the observer or the participant? We don’t see much ecstasy in worship these days. Oh, there’s a lot of loud music and wild lights like a rock concert and occasionally some roaring and clapping and shouting, but the spectacle of David and the transporting of the ark is beyond words and unlikely to be repeated in our age.

When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might,  while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. [2 Samuel 6:13-16, NIV]

The journey, about 12.5 miles, was interrupted every six steps for a sacrificial offering. If this is true, they stopped about 4,000 times, and it would have taken almost a month to make the journey, assuming they stopped for 10 minutes for each sacrifice and went day and night. Not likely.

But, is the point of this story in the details or the implication?There are two distinct responses to the return of the ark: the participant and the observer.

King David led the procession as a worshiper dressed in an ephod (similar to a front & back apron), like a prophet, for Samuel also wore such a garment. He modeled, with apparent abandon, the joy of having the ark, a representative resting place for God on earth, returned to its origins, to the center of Jewish life and government. This day was his greatest accomplishment and gift to his people up to that point. He exhibited the fullness of his joy and pleasure and it burst out of him in dancing with disregard for how he might look or sound. He was that happy.

But from another vantage point was Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife for whom he paid the bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins, which suggests he killed many men to win her. And back in those days, she loved David as well. He was her hero, her “knight in shining armor.” But when his attention turned away from her and wholly unto his God, displaying himself transparently to everyone, she lost respect for him. She was embarrassed by his display of emotion (and evidently, he may have also displayed his private parts in his frenzy – see vs. 20-21). She watched and she judged.

It’s a dangerous thing to cast judgment on the behaviors of others, whether it is in joy or grief. We cannot know the depth of their feelings or what is needed to express them in that moment. Perhaps I don’t believe the machinations of others are authentic. So what? What does it matter? Who is harmed by displays of raw emotion or spiritual manifestations (from speaking in tongues or a whirling dervish)?

But even in less significant ways, I’m afraid we have become a culture of passive observers. I think we might be missing out on a entire array of experiences because we pre-judge even ourselves. We imagine observing ourselves and do not act.

When was the last time you experienced emotional abandon? Or unrestrained spiritual expression?

 

Appalling Disbelief

miracleIn currently voguish vernacular, if something is unbelievable in its stupidity or absurdity, someone might say, “Really?” and pitch the voice very high. This is how I imagine Jesus alluding to the people from his hometown, Nazareth, who could not accept the reality of his miracles.

Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief. [Mark 6:4-6a, CEB]

Anyone can reject a miracle.

I suppose a miracle can still happen without you, but how you or I respond to a phenomenon is personal and somewhat subjective. If it’s important to you to dissect the event, to find a scientific reason or explanation, to question it’s integrity, then it can be a non-miracle for you. But to assume that your understanding of an event is the only way to see it is absurd and unrealistic, whether from the side of science or faith. People interpret events according to their “Weltenschauung” [a comprehensive conception or image of the universe and of humanity’s relation to it].

It’s up to an individual to change or adapt the conception of what is possible or impossible. Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.” [Matthew 19:26, CEB] It is the biggest leap of faith, to accept that all things are possible with God, to accept that nature can be manipulated, to accept that there is a reality outside (or beside) of our own.

But if there is a soul, if there is a spark or Qi or spirit that is not limited to our five senses, then God is possible too. And if God is possible then miracles are possible, by definition.

I am open to miracles. I am open to the hand of God in my life.

Adopted

adoptionTen years ago, we met our daughter-to-be through a wonderful organization called KidSave that provides summer opportunities for adoptable older children from around the world. Back then, the country of favor was Russia, but they have since closed their doors and their orphaned and abandoned children languish in bulging institutions. Since Liliana was already a young teen (13), she had a say in the matter. She had to choose.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship [The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ . . . [Romans 8:14-17a; NIV]

The choice Liliana made to permit us to proceed with our adoption was only months after another decision she had to make back in Russia. At that time, she was living in a teen crisis center and the director believed it would be to Lily’s best interest to legally sever her birth mother’s rights. As a result, Lily found herself in a courtroom, her birth mother sitting opposite from her, and the judge asking Lily if she wanted to go through with this legal procedure (this is after months and years of emotional trauma, drunkenness, and verbal abuse). She said yes, not so much to a cutting off from the parent, but that life, that life of sorrow and hopelessness.

You would think she would have jumped at the chance to be adopted here in American. But really, she would have to leave everything that was familiar to her. There would be no going back. She was unsure and afraid. She had no way to know that her new family would come with more than just two parents and two brothers, but would also come with a new history and a new future. She would inherit from us all that we had to give. She would be fully ours.

God does the same for his adopted children. When we turn away from the old life, the old “leadership,” we are children of God. We have legal rights in the family of God. We inherit all that God has for us. But we must choose.

 

This Sacred Place

Painting by George Oommen, 1997

Painting by George Oommen, 1997

How often do we have the revelation of God’s presence right where we are? Isn’t it more likely that we, too, have missed God and the experience of sacred?

When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. [Genesis 28:16-17; CEB]

Jacob had arbitrarily picked out a place to rest. He selected a rock for a pillow. There was nothing in the physical place that would suggest divine properties. And yet, he dreamed. In that dream he saw visions of holy things and messengers and even a representation of God himself, perhaps in the Christ form (since Jesus is the physical manifestation gifted to humans to “see” God). But most importantly, Jacob recognized the time has holy.

So much is unknown about our dream lives, our sub-conscious existences, our personal spirit time. I have had some dramatic dreams in my life and they remain with me still, in some cases, thirty years later. I know those dreams to be holy, to be sacred, as offerings from God. And from them, I have made choices and decisions, the greatest one, to follow Christ and not a life rooted merely in desire.

But how many dreams have I lost? How many moments have I missed or forgotten?

Truthfully, if I could be more present in the moment, more mindful (as the Buddhists say), I would recognize God’s presence daily. If, like Brother Lawrence, I could practice prayer throughout the day, then I would recognize God’s presence by the hour or even by the breath. God’s promise to be present came as part of our covenant, when I accepted Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Within me lies the sacred. And I keep missing it. For this reason, I have started praying the hours once more, to bring myself back out of the busyness and into the divine.

 

Return Home and Tell

my storyJesus rarely encouraged anyone to share their miracle stories, most likely to avoid the rumor mill and the masses looking to be healed physically but missing the spiritual context. And yet, specifically, the demon-possessed Gerasene, who wanted to become a disciple and follow Jesus was told to return home and tell his story.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged to come along with Jesus as one of his disciples. Jesus sent him away, saying,  “Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you.” [Luke 8:38-39a, CEB]

Apparently, Gerasa (although there is some controversy about the area where this exorcism took place), was a pagan region. When Jesus exorcised Legion (or the many demons), that evil entity asked to be sent into a herd of swine instead of directly into the Abyss. Although Jesus obliged, it is generally understood when the swine then raced over a cliff, that it represented the demon’s demise as well. They Abyss was their rightful “home.” At the same time, the swine herders raced back to the city to tell of of this event–not the wonder of the exorcism and the healing of the man, but the loss of their herds and their violent deaths. These men created an atmosphere of fear around the work of Jesus. When the crowd showed up, they came in dread, afraid of the next “miracle” and asked Jesus to leave them. They did not doubt that Jesus was powerful, they did not want to know how powerful.

And for this reason, I believe, the man who was healed was asked to stay and counter the stories. Only his own words would have the potential to influence others. His testimony could not be denied and the point of the miracle could be re-focused.

Each of us can only tell our own story.

There is an Australian comedian/musician and skeptic who has made quite a stir and made a lot of money mocking believers as well as “New Agers” but I think it’s primarily because of second, third and fourth hand stories (my cousin blah blah blah, etc.). He symbolizes many people in our world who see no reason for faith or the supernatural.

For this reason, I encourage each person to know and tell his/her own story, not the “teachings” or hearsay or Bible stories, just one’s own experience and how faith in God, in Christ, in Spirit manifested. In the end, that is all we have, this personal witness. It’s enough.

Ready to be Found

200135310-004I would not want to know or meet God when God is feeling provoked. I believe in a loving and kind God, a Presence of patience and kindness and understanding. And yet, there is a part of this same God that knows anger, a truly righteous anger that I don’t want to imagine, an anger in response to willfulness and stubbornness. Let me not be part of that scenario.

“I was ready to respond to those who didn’t ask.
    I was ready to be found by those who didn’t look for me.
I said, “I’m here! I’m here!” to a nation
    that didn’t call on my name.
I extended my hands all day
    to a rebellious people
        walking in a way that isn’t good,
        following their own plans;
people who provoke me to my face continually, . . .”  [Isaiah 65:1-3a, CEB]

God is ready to be found at any point in person’s life. God even provided a human form, Christ Jesus, to insure his message could be heard and understood: life is more than this body, the battle is for the spirit, eternity is a choice–a matter of surrender. Each day, God is asking, will you see Me; will you hear ME? Will you answer?

Or will we provoke God instead by making the same choices over and over again. Will we choose, like a delinquent kid, to sit in the back row of the classroom, our body slumped over, our senses numbed by self-medication, our ears filled with jammin’ sounds, our eyes with decadent delights?

I understand, I’m not “that” bad. I have chosen to follow Christ into the arms of God, but not fully. I am still holding on to some of the old ways, the old sounds, the old pleasures. I am still looking down at my feet instead of watching the horizon for the signals God provides to walk this way and not that way; don’t look down. “Lift up your heads, you gates;  lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” [Psalm 24:9, NIV]

 

Power to Heal

Painting by Prof. M. M. Ninan

Painting by Prof. M. M. Ninan

Healing remains a mystery for most of us. Of course, the science of it all has been investigated and documented by very smart people, but ultimately, the why of healing and who is healed and why one tactic or procedure works with one and not another, it’s simply unknown. It is the realm of God.

Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” [Mark 5:29-30, NIV]  But they [the bystanders] laughed at him. After he [Jesus] put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). [Mark 5:29:40-41, NIV]

The power to heal. What is that? Is this power simply the spirit and therefore, endless, or must it be re-charged like a battery? Is it like manna, merely enough for one day? Do some have more than others? Is this “power” simply the life force and some have more than others? Or is it more likely that we are all equally endowed but diverse in our ability to access it? Or, is it even an it? Is this a Presence and sentient?

My fantasy self, the one that reads light-heartedly of magic and elves and wonder, where good and evil are clearly demarcated, likes to imagine that the people Jesus raised from the dead might still be alive today. I mean, at what point would they die once that power infused them? To my best knowledge, the ones Jesus resurrected died of illnesses and not at the hand of others or by accident. Jesus undid the knot in their thread of life. In the case of Lazarus [John 11], Jesus clearly says that the act of resurrection is to glorify God, the Father.

But, what of us? That’s the question that is really on my mind, I know. There have been healers in the past, people who made a sensation through the laying of the hands and prayer, healing many. Charlatans abounded as well, putting on a show of healing. The authentic becomes more difficult to identify. Even in Jesus’s time, there were magicians and brokers of the supernatural. Our culture is unaccustomed to the potential power of the Spirit. We are logical and scientific. All miracles are suspect. Cliches abound: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.” And so on. We’re all from the “Show Me” state of Missouri it seems.

Jesus was suffused in power and he was given the right to wield it or not. This power was so plentiful that some people, like the woman with the issue of blood, were able to grasp it, at times, without his direct intervention: power which could transform and make whole again or even better than it was in the first place.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [John 14: 12-14, NIV]

The only thing in the way is me.

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