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But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]

It’s only taken 30 some years for me to understand that prayer is mine. I mean, it’s between me and God and there is no “right” way to pray. Only if I pray as “me” can I ever hope to achieve the “pray without ceasing” intention. This discovery came out of my conversation with a spiritual director.

For too many years, I have placed prayer into a silo. This is my prayer time. These are my tools for prayer. These are the books I’ve read. These are the suggestions, instructions, recommendations on prayer.

I would never say, I need to get better at eating nor would I think I need more practice in sitting or standing or talking (my gift and my undoing). Historically, I have placed prayer in the arena of learning how to knit or play the piano or walk on stilts. I’ve allowed myself to believe that prayer is a skill. That is not the case. And with that understanding, a freedom descends upon me like a cool breeze.

I am already good at prayer. I just didn’t recognize it. I have all that I need to pray. I have all my imagination and breath and soul. I am a complete person. And for this reason, I am a praying being.

During that same conversation with Lorie, I kvetched about having a sweet time in prayer some days, but then I have to get up from my chair and enter my regular life. Good Lord Almighty. How has it come to that? This is me turning off the spigot.

Lastly, I believe I am seeing that any intentional time with God is a way of sending myself forward into the experiences of the next moment. It’s a springboard that can ground me.  “. . . in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Vaya con Dios.

 

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You’re lying. And so am I.

“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.” [Psalm 50:1-3]

That’s right. God is never really silent. God is speaking through every atom of every living thing in Earth. God is speaking within each and every one of us. This is not a speaking problem, this is a listening problem.

Me and the Silence by
Stefano Bonazzi

I have been silent for some months. I have not written because of an inner vacuum, not an experience of peace and harmony, but a hollowness of spirit. I have gone through a lot of the motions; I have read the Word and I have pondered; I have attended worship services and I have sung the songs. I have engaged a spiritual director. I have hit a singing bowl and followed its vibrations. I have listened to music. But my mind remains a maelstrom.

The mere chaos of our age is a clanging cymbal. The incessant drone of news and tweets from the White House, always a shock that fuels dismay, chills my heart. The cry of sorrow as the rains engulf our Texas cities is loud and persistent. The anger and violence of Charlottesville clamors like a great cloud of bees, buzzing in swarms and demanding attention. The petty annoyances of broken things and the drama of relationships twang and clunk and slam.

And yet, God is speaking too. God is Present. It is not an either/or proposition. Cannot be.

God is in the terror as much as God is in the peace. Can I live in that paradox long enough to trust and learn and discern? God does not change but is the constant to which I am invited to cling. When Mike died, this was clear to me and I was able to stand. But this external chaos has proved to be my master, a master I must shed. For there is only One, whose love and strength and assurance is is promised and waiting.

With whom will I engage this day? In which river will I suspend my heart? The waters can be

gentle but obstacles will always remain.

I must choose to acknowledge God. In the moment. Discipline is a choice. Awareness is a choice. And somewhere along the way, they can become a habit, a norm.

Right now, I hear God in the dripping of the soft rain outside my window. I feel God in the fur of my fat cat. I hear God in the contented sigh of my sleeping dog. And because the view from my chair in my bedroom snags my shoulda gene (wash my clothes, wipe the mirror, make the bed etc.), I close my eyes and look there, in the wonder of my imagination (that great gift of God) where I can see anything I choose to see.

 

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I’m not sure why I’ve been so dense about this scripture for so long. Did everyone get this and me just today? Sigh.

 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” [John 3:5-8, NIV] 

For some reason, I always associated being born of water as baptism. It is one of those symbolic acts that we are encouraged to do, from death to life kind of thing. In some churches, it is even mandated.

But today, I just realized that we are all born of water. I mean, human beings are born of water through the womb (hint: water breaking and all that). We are all the same in this way: humankind. We are all born with tremendous potential for all things possible in our three dimensional, time-constrained world.

However, how are we born of the Spirit? Is this that conversion experience when we accept Christ? That’s certainly an implication from scripture but I’m thinking some careful study might be good here as well. But accepting the reality of Jesus and the reality of the Holy Spirit, may only be the starting point. I think there is also a revelation of spirit that is needed. The Spirit is all around us. Heaven is all around us, for lack of a better term for that “other.” It is not a place as we know place.

Being born of the Spirit requires a certain relinquishing the body, not being so concerned about its state of affairs, recognizing the fleeting nature of the body, and cherishing instead the spirit within whose true home is heaven, with God and in God and through God.

Our spirit birth can be easy or difficult. We make it less difficult by practicing the ways of Jesus and thereby manifesting the “fruits” of Spirit. We agree to the paradoxes of going the extra mile, loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute. We give thanks in all circumstances, for they are too are merely a moment. We journey the life of the flesh in anticipation of the birth in the spirit.

Can we dwell in the spirit now? Not really, but we can engage there through the Holy Spirit and in our relationship to God. Prayer is a key component and being still and meditating. These are ways to center down into those places. Sometimes, in worship, we are experience the Presence. The more self-less we are, the more likely to enter that Place.

Spirit of the Living God, breathe on me.

 

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values-icebergIt’s an easy homework question this week, asking about our church’s values. Restore Church values are plastered all over the building in Havre de Grace, the collateral materials, and the website. There’s no doubts there, this part is important to the church’s DNA, the Code. But comparing those values with my own, is revelation of sorts.

1. We are faith-filled, big thinking, bold risk takers. This value is demonstrated in the church through the resolute faith of the leadership, trusting God for transformative power and miraculous answers to prayer; the vision for the future is big and beyond any one person’s ability or for that matter, even a group, to fulfill without divine inspiration and Presence. We walk on.

Me: I am a woman of faith, this I can say with confidence, throughout the challenges life has thrown my way. But am I looking back more than I am looking forward? That could be. I am, by nature, a “big” person. I mean, not tall or large, but when I express myself, it’s expansive. I tend to be too loud sometimes, and I tend to interrupt. I’m like a small volcano sometimes too. But do I think big for the future? I support the church in its future, but I have not found my own pattern within it, despite my service and participation. I’m not a complainer. I don’t kick against the goads. But do I take risks? Not so much. My joke has always been: planned spontaneity. I have taken some risks and they haven’t worked out, so I am, I confess, a little gun-shy.

2. We will do anything short of sin, to reach people who do not know Christ. The  church manifests this value through its commitment to reaching out to all people, with no judgment, and inviting them into the House. No one is asked to “clean up” before “showing up.” Therefore, we go out to the highways and byways, seeking those in need, seeking those who don’t know God, seeking those who have lost hope. Where? Events like egg hunts and movies in the park or military night out or single moms spa days.

Me: I am comfortable in my faith and in talking about my journey and my God. I am OK being myself in just about any environment. I believe in this open door policy. But I have not been as quick to open my own door. I’d like to move on that. Our current outreach events are good, they reach a lot of people, but I have not made time to work them like I did at the first. What happened there? I think it’s a bit like the tithe of money: if you don’t give it, then often the money is eaten up elsewhere. And perhaps it’s the same with time, if we withhold it from service, it is also consumed in the cares of the world.

3. grace-changes-everythingWe will lift up the grace and love of Jesus, rather than using our platform to judge and condemn. I mentioned this before, the church’s open door and open arms to all people. There may be people who walk into the House who are still struggling with deep sins or troubles, but the church is a hospital, not a country club. Grace is more powerful than anything else we can offer.

Me: I am much more open than I used to be. Somehow, in my many years of a Christ-centered life, I got the misconception that it was up to me to protect the Word (as though the Word could not stand on its own), and thereby add to it, more do’s and don’ts and can’ts and should nots etc. Such and such a group was sinning by choice and therefore, outside my world. I just can’t do that anymore. I let God do the judging and pray I can be an instrument of love and grace. Sometimes, it can be a fine line, I know and I don’t always walk it perfectly, but that’s fine too. Love wins.

4. We will love people when they least expect or deserve it. This is one of my favorite code/values of the church because it is our version of “random acts of kindness” and “paying it forward.” It’s being loving to the unloving. It’s touching the untouchables. Some of this looks like meals brought to an entire staff at a school or a basket of cheer to the fire station or police station, or just handing out “rah-rah” sports beads or glow sticks on the 4th. Simple stuff.

Me: I used to be better at this, like giving my entire block holiday cookies or gifting my staff. I like to giving little symbols of caring. I hope to re-connect to this part of myself and remember how to do it without a huge money investment. That I can’t do anymore.

body-of-christ35. We believe the church is the hope of the world. This has been a new thing for me, this love of the church itself (not a “single” church, but Church, as in Body of Christ). But the point is that this body of believers, operating in community and in love, has a chance to change the world — not by political railings but by humble service and prayer and faith.

Me: I have not loved the Church. I confess that. There have been so many believing people who have hurt me and judged me and, well, you all know that sad song. I need to do better here, finding a better connection between the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the People. And love them. Sometimes, I am ashamed of other believers (not so much in my local body), but in the bigger arena, those who play in politics particularly, who feel mandated to be the hope of the world through rhetoric alone.

6. We are united under one vision. This has been an important element of our local church that has caused some people to pack up and move along. That’s made me sad sometimes, and yet, I understand that there are expressions of the Presence in lots of different ways, from dark room theater style worship to glorious cathedrals and classical music. It’s not for everyone. I decided, from the beginning, to take this ride at Restore Church and although there have been things I didn’t particularly love to do, I wanted to see it through. And God has blessed this one vision.

Me: For many years, I prayed and prayed for an upbeat, spirit-filled, contemporary church in Havre de Grace. This church has been my answered prayer and I didn’t want to miss it. I’m in.

7. We are spiritual contributors, not spiritual consumers. This is an important difference that many people still don’t get. The idea here is that everyone who attends the church should be doing something. Church is not showing up at a Sunday morning service once a week anymore. Church is a living, breathing expression of our faith every day. Of course, if a person is hurting and lost, it will take more time to find a way into service. But people of faith, should be contributing from their storehouse of gifts.

Me: In some ways, I’m good here. But I confess, I’ve wanted to slide sometimes, to just show up, to just be a fly on the wall. But I know that’s not really me either. But I’m still not good at the balance, the family/work/church balance. So I do what I do best (talk) and a little teaching, and hopefully, a little more writing and administrating.

giving8. We will lead the way with irrational generosity. So, if you want to be in a church that is trying things and has a big vision, then you might as well get used to the idea that there will be financial expectations. But, with a heart. If we can’t give from the heart, willingly, then our giving will sour the well. If people want leaders to stop asking for money, then give generously and give a tithe, and the asking will stop because there will be enough.

Me: Not perfect in this area. I am nearly at the full tithe and give by automatic withdrawal. I don’t have to think about it. And that’s a good thing. But above the tithe, is not so easy. I’m feeling the pinch of a new lifestyle as a widow and retirement around the corner. It’s hard not to worry a little about resources. But God has been faithful.

simplicity9. We believe simplicity enables excellence. I’ll have to talk to my pastor about this one. It probably has to do with my mental model for simplicity vs. his model. I think this value/code is similar to the single vision, but I’m not really sure. Or maybe just the simple message: We exist so that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ.

Me: I am interested in simplifying my life. I have certainly had to downsize since leaving my big house. I have let go of a lot of “things.” But I don’t know that I have fully embraced the single vision for myself that is the church’s vision. In fact, I know I haven’t, because I just wrote about that last week. Here is the place, where it all comes screeching to a halt. I support the church’s vision, but I haven’t really made it my own yet. This is a matter for prayer.

10. We continually increase our capacity to expand by structuring our church for the next level. This is a leader thing, this idea of building the church’s infrastructure – not bricks and mortar, but people who can help make things happen.

Me: Not there yet. I’m not fighting the growth, not at all. But I have not found my place in the growth. Not yet.

This blog post was written in response to homework questions, but I challenge you, how do your personal values line up with your church or whatever group you consider to be your spiritual home.

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Presence 2What do I really want? I have struggled with this question for years. I’m not quite sure how it became such a stumbling block. Sometimes I think I feared that if I spoke my wants, they might sound petty and mundane. Or, worse, I would put my wants out there and they would never be fulfilled. Clearly, by revealing my wants I feel vulnerable.

You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever. [Psalm 73:24-26, NIV]

The synonyms reveal the complexity of the word “want:” choose, need, crave, prefer, require, wish, ache, aspire, covet, fancy, hanker, hunger, long [for], lust, pine, thirst, yearn, and of course, desire. And here’s one answer to my query. Want is generic and covers a broad range of seeking. It’s ok to “want” the daily things of life, from a cup of coffee to a red dress. But want does not capture what God is asking of me within.

In Psalm 73, the word “desire” is more like “take pleasure in” or “delight in.” This is not about longing or wishing, it’s about a state of being, a contentment in being with God, in God. So often, I find myself leaving that place and “hankering” for something else. I am ambushed by the world’s noise and images; every commercial on television, every ad on Facebook, every magazine is telling me what I should be wanting. More, more, more.

But God wants me to enter into the Presence, abide there, and rest.

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Welcome carpet

Who is inviting whom inside? Traditionally, we think of our commitment to the Christ as inviting Presence into ourselves, much like Martha opened her home to Jesus. But what if we are missing something critical in the transaction?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. [Luke 10:38, NIV] Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. [John 15:4, NIV]

Yesterday, I re-discovered a wonderful podcast called “Pray As You Go,” and the question was presented about whose hospitality? For you see, in actuality, it is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit dwells in me and I, in turn, am invited to dwell within the Holy Spirit. I am invited into mutuality.

I am not saying we are equal, not at all. That kind of thinking can get a person into trouble, imagining herself as a God, capable of rendering miracles much like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty.

Instead, it’s another way of thinking about the “secret place,” but more literally, within the heart of God. Because of Jesus’s humanity and godhood, it is possible to indwell Spirit. I am invited. The door is open. And in the same way, I am asked to keep my own doors open to God on earth, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. And the more we spend time within, the more we become one.

I think I may have misunderstood along the way that this oneness was automatic at my transformation, my first “welcome, please come in” acceptance of Jesus. But more and more, I am convinced that it’s a process of living together, like an old married couple. Sure, we’re committed and it’s forever, but the nuances of relationship and “knowing” come over the years.

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keep walkingAnd yet, there are times–in fact, many times, when our hearts are full of hope, our spirits are at rest, and our eyes are looking forward, but the way does not clear. And despite these words:

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; . . .

[Psalm 112:6-8, NIV]

We are shaken and we fear and we hesitate. That’s right. It happens.

I know these things for I lived them. I have walked with confidence and I have seen the glory of the Lord, like a true Shekhinah. I have shaken in the Presence and I have heard the voice of God. I have trusted when there was nothing to trust and I have known steadfastness. My faith is strong.

But that doesn’t mean I am not human. Nor does it mean that I do not fall in my faith. I weep and I call out to God, who has seemed to forsake me. I have walked the lonely corridor where no door is open and no light shines ahead.

Why do I write this? Because I was reminded yesterday in service, to keep going. Just keep going. There is something in the going that eventually reveals the underlying truth. Only when I have stopped, even briefly, have I seen the effects of fear grow roots. And to move, after stopping, gets harder and harder, the longer I delay.

I walk. I go. And my confidence in the Presence of Christ Jesus returns. First as a whisper, but eventually as a song.

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