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Archive for the ‘Dilemma Series’ Category

I haven’t thought about these two terms as “entities” in a long time. Are they same or different? There are unique Hebrew and Greek words for them and I am aware the Bible uses them both in a variety of ways. As I read a variety of contemplative books, I see a score of variations. But, right now, I want to know what I believe or experience. Do I need to “know?”

Webster’s doesn’t help much, defining spirit as “an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organism,” or “the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person” while soul comes up as “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.” Both of these definitions like the words “animating” and “immaterial.” Of course, I already knew that.

When I look up diagrams, several pictures bubble to the top: concentric circles with spirit in the middle, Venn diagrams with overlapping circles, individual circles with arrows between them, and stacked circles within a body. Take your pick.

 

I can remember sitting under some pastors along the way who made this all sound conclusive, but it felt unattainable, as though holiness was a magic ring on a merry go round that I had to reach for, every time I went around. As a young believer, the message was “accept Jesus and boom! you’re good.” Later, “ask for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and you’re completely covered.” But then, along came “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” [Philippians 2:12-13] or “consecrate yourself to God,” [Romans 12:1], or, “you have been chosen through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and to be obedient to Jesus Christ,” [I Peter 1:2]. Obedience, discipline, commitment, long-suffering. And all because I was wondering about the soul and spirit.

Here’s the end result of all this cacophony according to me . . . today.

Soul and Spirit dwell together and they inform each other. They can be small or large, luminous or dusky. They can operate autonomously or as one. They can sing. They can work with the Holy Spirit when they are open. They are not gender specific all the time. My soul can be a curmudgeon. My spirit never is. My soul can be goofy. My spirit waits. They both exult at the Presence of God. They both worship. They both need rest under the wings of God. [Are those really wings? Of course not, but my soul finds comfort there and my spirit is succored there.]

For this reason, I know, the ways of God are a mystery. And my soul dwells there in Spirit.

milky way soul and spirit

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While practicing Lectio Divina over the weekend, I found myself reading
Numbers 21:4-5:

“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” ” [NIV]

impatienceAnd I immediately knew that “impatient” was the operative word for me. Impatience does not happen in the twinkling of an eye. It’s a process and literally, has steps along the way and thought patterns that culminate into full blown impatience. Here are just a few of the steps I discovered about myself.

  • I make assumptions about the destination and how long it will take to get there. This can be anything from walking my three-year-old grandson to the car to waiting for my lunch to be delivered at a restaurant. But it can also have a spiritual element: practicing silence (not 20 minutest yet??) or noting my unanswered prayers. 
  • I make assumptions of what I will or will not encounter. Why would I imagine that a “quiet time” would really be quiet: I live where cars, garbage trucks, pets, and a toddler manifest at will. 
  • I have often misunderstood the plan. How many times did I think I would be picked up at a certain time and discover it’s the wrong day? And how many times have I thought God wanted me to experience one moment when it was something altogether different? 
  • I don’t always recognize the early stages of impatience in my heart: it starts as a grumbling, like a gnawing hunger. At this point, there are no words, just a churning or frothiness within. 
  • Eventually, my grumbling becomes words, either out loud or in my head. I can rarely assuage the onslaught of impatience once words are formed. If anything, I’m digging in. Words make impatience stronger. 
  • My worst cases of impatience result in total disdain for “what is” and consequently, I miss what other thing could be born from the moment.
  • My personal inconvenience drives everything. It’s not long before hyperbole rules the day: How dare . . . ; I will NEVER . . . ; I hate . . . ; This ALWAYS . . .! And so on. The litany has its own rhythms and like the Baby Shark song, will not relent. 
  • As I review my episodes of impatience, whether with God or people, I can attest that I am no better than the Israelites. I complain, I lament, I give evidence of why I am justified in these feelings, and soon, I am ready to turn back. Whatever was awful before seems better than the way things are now. I think to myself, “if I can just avoid this situation, I will feel better. Life will be easier.” I’ll have that “old time religion.” 

gratefulRepercussions can develop from impatience that are more wretched than the original. Must I carry on until the “venomous snakes” (Numbers 21:6) show up before I repent? Or, can I breathe into the onslaught of impatient feelings and counter them with gratitude? 

That is the remedy, by the way. Just a simple expression of gratitude and acceptance. If I am surrendered to God, and believe God’s love for me, then really, is it too much to ask of myself to acknowledge the circumstances and walk them out? I want to say “yes, thanks,” and then see what happens. 

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A year and a half ago, our church was betrayed by its pastor. We were a vibrant, youthful, trendy, and growing church with a funny and charismatic leader. But his own moral bankruptcy was brought to light, as such things generally are, and all were dismayed. What do we do now?

Many people left the church quickly while some drifted away as the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months. Some stayed, stalwart and determined, to show that this church was not about a single leader. The body of believers is the church etc. And although campuses shriveled and closed, a faithful core remained and now, more or less, the church is revived under new leadership and denominational oversight.

But what about me? The timing could not have been worse because, in truth, I was already pulling away. Despite having been in leadership from the very beginning (2011) and “all in,” as they say, for all of those years, I was changing from within. When my husband died in 2014, the outpouring from the church was remarkable and I am grateful for them and my own faith grounded in Christ. And yet, I found myself searching for a deeper understanding of God through silence and solitude. The upbeat, black box, theater atmosphere of the contemporary church was not easily fitting into this new wine skin.

I was one of those who drifted away with no place to go. I have been a church attender for nearly forty years. Sunday morning without obligations was a surprise to me, a kind of unhurried and lazy rising. In many ways, it was a truer sabbath than rushing out the door by seven a.m. to help set up this or that, attend stand up meetings, fill in for missing teachers, or run AV equipment; in general, work two back to back services wherever help was needed (the dream team).

After several months, I had to ask myself about church: Did I need it? Did I want it? And why? I have friends who have walked away from the institutionalized church and there are many books about giving up the routine of attending church. I knew all of that. And yet, as I began to learn some of the ancient spiritual practices within silence and solitude, mostly done alone, I wanted to share it too. I joined a couple of small groups and attended a few retreats. They were energizing. Was there a church that could do the same? Or could “any” church suffice? Isn’t it really about relationship–between individuals as well as God.

I thought visiting a variety of churches each Sunday would be fun. It’s not. I found myself with a secret checklist: how many people greeted me? Were there any children? How old was everyone? How was the sermon? How many attended? How did they celebrate communion and how often? What buzz words did they use? What clues were in the bulletin? How was the music? Was there anyone there “like” me? Was there diversity? Was the interior attractive? What kind of outreach do they do? Was there an unspoken political agenda? Was there an awareness of current events and acknowledgment of human suffering?

The list got longer each Sunday. It was ridiculous.

In the end, I set most of this checklist aside and stuck to these elements of discernment: Can I be myself in this place without self-editing what I say? Do I experience God’s Presence in this place and within myself while I am there? Can I grow in spiritual formation and discover more about the mystery of the Holy Trinity in this place?

The dilemma is not what this or that church has to offer me but who I am in the church.

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