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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Psalm 143:6
I stretch out my hands to You;
My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Selah.

Certainly, when it comes to scripture and to God, there is no greater thirst than the desire for God, to taste and see, to know and to be known. That is, if we recognize the source of our yearning. In discussion on this topic today, I was reminded of the fragility of our understanding. My friend said, in essence, that she believes longing for God is planted within all of us and that we are all, in one way or another, searching to return to who we are meant to be, in communion with God. How this resonated with me.

But what happens when we don’t know the source or true nature of what we are desiring or yearning to know? What if that longing is corrupted along the way? What if the idols of our world or the temporary “feel good” moments clamor to become the objects of our desire?

How many men and women have allowed sex to fill that void, or power, or success?

Longing is usually accompanied by vulnerability. In the language of faith, that is a good thing. Our hearts and spirits open to the Presence of God, we hear God’s “voice,” holy words are revealed in scripture, and we are willing to surrender–“Thy will be done.” But if our longing is misdirected and we are vulnerable as well, then we may find ourselves abused, physically or emotionally. We mistake sex for love, power for influence, and success for self-discovery.

In human psychology, longing is considered a “secondary” emotion, usually associated with the primary emotions of love and sadness. Often, longing is looking for a change. I love you, but I long for you to love me. I am sad, but I long for you to change so I won’t be sad anymore.

In my mind, the only truly safe place to put our longings is in God. When focus on other human beings, we move out of alignment. Like a car, we can still move forward, but with each mile, we become more and more damaged.

I long for a world where peace and justice and kindness reign. I long for understanding and trust and renewal. I long for unity. But my current ideas or thoughts about how our cultural losses can be undone, are misplaced. I have missed the point. No state of being can be mandated. No human law will change the course that is being set today through abused longings. Too many of us are looking for results before we look for the source of our fractures. We ignore our interdependence and play the “blame game.” We have become like two fans on separate sports teams “praying” to win. Whose prayers will God hear? Both and neither, because we are longing for the wrong result.

Let them give thanks to the Lord’s unfailing love
    and wonderful deeds for humankind,
for God satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.
(Ps 109-8-9, NIV, pronoun edits my own)

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Religious symbols

Yesterday, two friends and I discussed the word “religion.” The three of us have been working on “personal creeds” as an exercise in spiritual practice. After all, what do we believe? Is there more for us beyond the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed? Does it matter? And, is this creed-building an aspect of religion?

Librarian that I am, I looked up the definition. Webster’s has a few choices: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith; and, for interest’s sake, an archaic meaning: scrupulous conformity or “conscientiousness.” A thoughtful addition to all of these definitions comes from Wikipedia, “The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith, belief system or sometimes set of duties; however, in the words of Émile Durkheim, religion differs from private belief in that it is “something eminently social.” That resonates with me.

Religion has gotten a rather bad “rap” these days, primarily because of people who are using it to practice exclusivity. On one hand, they claim that everyone is welcome into their club, but that welcome only lasts as long as one follows the doctrine, the rules, the agreed upon credo. And yes, it is a social interaction. For many years, I learned to use the right language, to ignore the anti-whatever of the day, and to pretend I didn’t watch adult movies or read the Harry Potter series.

I remember attending churches where the word “religion” was used dismissively, as though, their worship ways were higher or “spirit-led” and therefore unbounded by the rigidity of religion. And yet, over time, these free spirits ended up with an “order of worship” and a belief statement and lines drawn in the sand. Often, the Bible, as a whole, is used as a standard, calling on the inerrancy of scripture as the foundation for everything. But, isn’t that religion?

I remember attending a church unlike my charismatic beginnings for about three years. Liturgical and systematic, every week’s service was codified and several passages from the book of prayer were repeated each week. This form of worship is often derided as “dead.” But, in the end, it was not the liturgy that drove us away, it was the people who said, in more ways than one, “we don’t do that here.”

Religion is an overarching term that encapsulates the way we choose to worship and what we believe. Just within the “Christian” religion, there are 6 major mega-blocs (according to http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm and The World Christian Encyclopedia [WCE], people who identify themselves as Independents, Protestants, Marginals, Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglicans.) Within those blocs, the WCE has identified 33,000 denominations. Each one slightly different in practice. Is there any wonder that people fall away? We’ve managed to make it all so very complicated.

Judaism has managed to keep the number around six or seven while Islam appears to have only two. I’m sure there are other minor differences there too of which I am unaware, but honestly, the comparison is noteworthy.

Religion, in and of itself, is not a bad word. In fact, it’s a very broad term, much like a forest. The trees and plants that make up that forest are varied and beautiful, useful and ornamental. But they are all part of the forest. And it’s the forest that helps keep us alive.

What do you believe?

 

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I am not talking about occupation, just to be clear.

The etymology of vocation goes back to the middle ages and has its roots in vocacioun which loosely means “summons.” Others often use the term “calling.” As soon as that word comes along, people get all religious about it: called to be a pastor or a priest or a nun. It’s some spooky thing a person hears and is led to sacrifice and surrender. I remember the first time I heard about calling after becoming a Christian and shook in my boots for fear of being called to Africa. (This is ironic now that I have delighted in volunteering at the Village of Hope in Zambia in recent years.)

self discoveryBut how does vocation manifest in the lives of regular people? Or does it? Is it a call from God even if the person is not a believer? There is no doubt in my mind that this is so. I can think of no other reason that a person would follow a passion for art (rarely accompanied by financial gain) or service to the poor and disenfranchised or an becoming an unpaid “first responder” or a master gardener or, of course, a true follower of the Christ (or as some now reference God: the Divine).

I have been reading a number of books lately that are catapulting me into my own search (despite my senior citizen status and my nearly 40 years as a believer). If anyone is interested, I recommend Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, The Second Mountain by David Brooks, or The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner, or Walking in Wonder by John O’Donohue. In one form or another, they discuss vocation in terms of self-discovery. But the most important feature in my mind is the idea that vocation (or giftings of the true self) are planted within and are waiting to pair with “need.”

All of these years, I have felt guilty for not actively taking my faith into the streets, befriending the homeless, feeding the poor, visiting the elderly or sick, serving in prison, or teaching children. These are all such wonderful good works. Out of that guilt, I have dabbled in all of these, but I have never really connected to the work. These are all great needs. In fact, our world will never lack need for human compassion and outreach. At one time or another, we all need help, we all fall or fail or suffer. And there will always be people who have it worse than us, whose lives teeter on the brink of death or survival.

What is my vocation in the face of need? What is specifically the perfect match between who I am and what my unique self can bring to the table of scarcity? Day by day, I rest in the certainty of threads being woven together, not just for what lies ahead but also incorporating what has already gone before. Nothing is wasted in God’s time.

“Today I understand vocation quite differently–not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”  –Parker Palmer

“. . . because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” [2nd Timothy 1:12b

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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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accept-circumstancesHow many times have you heard someone say, “I’m not angry, just disappointed.” I think anger might be healthier and easier to overcome.

Disappointment is a sinister sort of behavior. At first, seemingly benign, but like English Ivy, it creeps and sucks the life out of its host. It’s a cancer. I know this because I have allowed disappointment to take up much space in my heart and soul. So many of the roads I chose did not lead me where I thought they would; so many choices gave less than hoped results. I have been like a child who longs for a special toy at Christmas but doesn’t get it. Sure, the other toys are great, but what about that one?

I have seen disappointment ruin marriages and upend families, I have seen it lead others into substance abuse and depression. I have watched disappointment erode joy in my own life.

Much of my practice in disappointment was born in my upbringing. I don’t want to bash my mother, but she was a taskmaster who demanded much of her children, most likely because she sacrificed so much to build a family as a single mother. But she too suffered from disappointment, coming to this country with so many dreams, most unfulfilled. Disappointment is a family business.

The antidote? Confession first of all. I realized this today in my quiet time. It’s time to release this dark animal from its deep hiding places within. It’s time to acknowledge that it is there and ask God to forgive me for hanging on to it for so long. God forgive me.

acceptanceSecond comes thanksgiving. To those of us who have done a lot of swimming in the waters of disappointment, giving thanks for “what is” over “what we wanted” is not simple trick. It’s time to make a conscious effort: daily, hourly, even minute by minute if necessary. Thank you God.

And thirdly, forgiveness. It’s a blame game in the world of disappointment. From blaming our parents to our partners to our children to our God, and of course, ourselves. It’s time to forgive all the players. I forgive.

Wrap these steps up with scripture. There are many that speak to it, but the simplest to learn is in I Thessalonians 5:16-18,  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” For it is in this simple truth that new disappointments can be resisted. 

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While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingBut the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” [Matthew 9:32-34 NIV]

Jesus healed in plain view of many people. Eyewitnesses were aplenty. And yet, despite that, there were many who could not see. They could not believe that the healings were rooted in good. They decided it was fake news.

I have never personally witnessed a healing miracle. I have heard stories from missionaries and conference speakers, people who have seen many miracles reminiscent of the work of Jesus in his day. And aren’t there promises in scripture that believers would also be able to channel God’s power?

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” [James 5:14-15, NIV]

Prayer, offered in faith, is the key. Believing that it can happen, that God is able, that the miraculous is possible. And to name it truth.

In our current political culture, truth has become elusive. We are bombarded with claims on every side. How is it possible that such diverse claims of truth could have such passionate believers? And where is truth in the midst of them? I’m thinking it’s in plain view but we only see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. In that regard, nothing has changed in two thousand years.

Pray for revelation. Believe God.

From the Original Trinity Hymnal, #468

O God of truth, whose living Word
Upholds whate’er hath breath,
Look down on thy creation, Lord,
Enslaved by sin and death,

Set up thy standard, Lord, that we
Who claim a heav’nly birth,
May march with thee to smite the lies
That vex thy groaning earth.

Ah! would we join that blest array,
And follow in the might
Of him, the Faithful and the True,
In raiment clean and white!

Then, God of truth for whom we long,
Thou who wilt hear our pray’r,
Do thine own battle in our hearts,
And slay the falsehood there.

–mirfield

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Theology of the Holy Spirit is vast. Bigger than anything I could know or understand fully, but I can speak to my own experience and thereby, hopefully fulfill the essence of the Hillsong homework assignment.

The basics about the Holy Spirit are found in Acts 1:4-8 and Acts 2:1-13. The first passage carries the promise of Holy Spirit from Jesus Himself and the second passage describes the Holy Spirit’s appearance and “baptism” of the believers gathered there. We are told that the Holy Spirit is a gift and a source of power, and ultimately the resource for activities of believers from that day forth and forever. The first expression of that baptism was speaking in other tongues (not glossolalia at this point, but truly other languages). And why? To reach as many people as possible with the news: the Holy Spirit is here.

This anointing impassioned the believers with confidence to tell their story, to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and the Presence of God’s Kingdom. The message was (and still is) that Jesus is who He says He was and that the sacrifice of the Messiah’s blood (our deliverer) was a restitution for the sins and separation of humankind from God – then and forever.

I Corinthians 12 (written by Paul) outlines a variety manifestations beginning with vs 4:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

And goes on to articulate gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healings, speaking in tongues, and so forth. At the end of the chapter, Paul lists some of the roles that can manifest by the Presence of the Holy Spirit operating freely in a believer. But then, in I Corinthians 13, the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit are recounted: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

But this teaching was not available to the early church, not until the Apostle Paul, a learned man, had his own Holy Spirit experience and filled the ultimate command of Christ to reach out beyond the borders of Judea and Israel. He was the one who trusted Jesus at his Word to reach to the ends of the earth, the ends of their civilization. Before that, they lived communally and lovingly, they surrendered to the way of nonviolence, they shared the teachings and stories they heard from Jesus (for it was wholly an oral tradition), and they opened their doors to seekers. They were also persecuted. But they persisted nonetheless.

My own encounter with the Holy Spirit began a month or two after my confession and surrender to Jesus. My “mentor,” a rather unlikely evangelist in my acting class, encouraged me to ask for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Back in the 70’s, that was the trend, with an expectation of miracles, particularly the gift of tongues (now called glossolalia). As a previous “new ager,” I was pretty much game for anything that smacked of “woo-woo.”

When I prayed, nothing happened for several days. No tongues, no nothin.’

One day, I came home to my apartment from school, and as I entered the door, I literally experienced a whoosh of air, as though someone had opened a skylight. I dropped my bags and my hands reached up (a gesture which I was not aware at the time was common among the charismatics and their worship). I cried with a kind of joy. And I wanted to sing and praise too. But I had no history of songs to God. The only song that came to mind was the one I learned one summer at a friend’s Vacation Bible School, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. . . ” I sang that song as I walked around my apartment for 45 minutes. Ecstatic. Drenched in the Holy Spirit.

Later, when I shared my experience with my friend, he immediately asked about Tongues, for that was his church tradition. No tongues, no baptism. I was a bit crushed but decided to press along without his opinion. I knew what I knew and I knew what I felt. I was on fire for my God and my faith in Christ and the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

Within a few days, I did have a language experience but not what anyone expected. My background is Latvian. I grew up in a Latvian home and it was spoken predominately by my parents until my father’s death when I was 9. After that, our family slowly drifted away from the Latvian community and I began losing my Latvian language. By the end of my twenties, I could barely hold a conversation. But one day, in the throes of my ecstatic prayer time, I began to pray fluidly and completely in Latvian. I engaged with God in the language of my human father (who never learned much English), and I experienced a healing and transfer of love from my lost father to my heavenly Father.

Like the early believers in Acts, I too was un-churched. I did not know what was normal or not. I simply told everyone I met my story. I was a most improbable convert and several of my classmates recognized my transformation as God’s alone and they too reached out to Christ anew.

That was more than 38 years ago. Who is the Holy Spirit for me now?

Over the years, I have experienced many physical manifestations from being “slain in the spirit,” to “prophecy” and “words of knowledge.” I have (and still do on occasion) speak in Tongues and I have prayed over/with people whose lives were changed. No healings as far as I know.

Today, the Holy Spirit is speaking to me more mystically than ever. I believe that Christianity is filled with paradox from turning the other cheek to going the extra mile. In the same way, I believe the Holy Spirit is within and without, here and not here. We cannot describe the Holy Spirit for that world is simply not us, not 3-D, not constrained by time or flesh. And for this reason, Holy Spirit is an intimate partner with our own personal spirit, able to direct, console, comfort, and teach. Holy Spirit can manifest physically — or not.

Holy Spirit is breath and no breath. Just as God is the great I AM, so IS the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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