Posts Tagged ‘sacred other’

Separating myself from “corrupting influences” is not so easy. It’s a matter of degree, that difference between good, better & best. In some areas, I have been successful and on occasion, I have been blessed and used in a powerful way but it’s an erratic arrangement.

II Timothy 2:21
So whoever cleanses himself/herself [from what is ignoble and unclean, who separates himself/herself from contact with contaminating and corrupting influences] will [then himself/herself] be a vessel set apart and useful for honorable and noble purposes, consecrated and profitable to the Master, fit and ready for any good work.

Some of this “separation” feels too strict and legalistic, like those Pharisaical laws that disallowed touching contaminated things without all kinds of ceremonial washings and waiting times. It smacks of the story that Jesus told about the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37] who broke all kinds of laws to minister to an injured and “unclean” man. There are contemporary versions of this, various religious sects that will not allow people of differing beliefs to sit at table or to share in communion or other sacred acts.

And so I manage to excuse or validate some of my choices in the name of freedom. But it can be a slippery slope, I know.

I think it’s important to recognize the value of single-minded piety, as long as it is also lived with grace and generosity toward others who do not live in the same way. That kind of life does indeed prepare the mind and soul for greater challenges of faith. There are other hints to this concept like Paul’s references to the athletes who prepare hard for the race, who practice their craft diligently, who commit their energies toward attaining a particular goal.

In earlier years of my faith journey, I have somewhat foolishly asked God to drop gifts and signs on me, to use me as that intermediary for healing or miracles. And yes, it’s true that these are gifts; it’s possible that God, for the sake of the moment, might grant such experiences. But for the long haul? I think it’s the warriors of faith, the ones who don’t necessarily shy away from “corruptions” and “contaminations,” they simply don’t have time or interest there. It’s a non-issue.

If I am in a time of prayer and meditation, I am not watching the unenlightening television show or browsing the Internet for inappropriate content. My “self” is elsewhere engaged.

It all boils down to this for me: to be used for “noble purpose” is part and parcel of my daily life, how I manage the little things [Luke 16:10a]. Thanks be to God.

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Quilt by Dee Mallon

Paul speaks a specific blessing on the Thessalonians: a strong heart and so much love that it overflows on everyone. Now there’s a blessing I can embrace. But heart strength must accompany love, because loving others is not easy–it’s not just Valentine roses and chocolates.

I Thessalonians 3:12-13a
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts . . .
[NIV 2011]

Oh, this thing called love. It’s one of the most powerful aspects of God and yet, it’s the least understood or exercised. It’s become a word of hippies and lovers, cupids and cartoons instead of a force that can rock a people, even a nation. It’s the ultimate expression of paradox.

Love poured out on us from God is capable of healing and renewing hope for others. If I could operate in that anointed love, I could live a I Corinthians 13 life.

Love never fails.

If love is the action, then the heart is the container where love is rooted within and married to the Holy Spirit. The heart must be strong to endure rejection, hatred, anger, abandonment, prejudice, lies, and ignorance. The heart must be flexible, sometimes a fortress and sometimes a cloud. The heart can have doors but they cannot be locked. The heart must be a sponge and a drum. Sometimes, the heart must be a mirror and at other times, a vacuum. The heart, blessed by God, is a micro-universe, always expanding to make room for more love.

Keep me mindful this day of my heart and the hearts of others, that love would flow, overflow, and become a river, undaunted, ever changing, and reaching into the depths of those dry places.

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Salt is a seasoning that makes things taste better through its chemical interactions with the food. And yet, in this age of health anxiety, we have started to withhold salt from our diet even though exercise could be just as effective. Have we removed salt from conversations too?

Colossians 4:6
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

When was the last time I sat around with some people and just talked? I mean talked about ideas and possibilities, spirituality or sorrow, hope or despair. When has the conversation started heading one way and my comments moved it another, giving it a new flavor, a new point of view . . . with grace.

Now, I don’t mean those times when proselytizing starts or the 4 Spiritual Laws pamphlets come out of the handbag or a litany of “Praise the Lords” drop in after every remark like a Greek chorus or HipHop melody.

I’m interested in knowing if the truth of me, Spirit-filled and intertwined with the Christ within, has acted as a true flavoring, bringing out the best in others while giving grace and acceptance to any hardened hearts around me.

So much is out there that teaches us how to control a conversation, close the deal, get to “yes,” influence, convince or convert people, win friends, or filibuster until people can’t stand it anymore.

When my daughter, new to this country at 15, went to high school with little or no English, she bemoaned how hard it was to make friends. We chalked it up to ESL (English as a Second Language) and assumed things would get better as her language skills improved. And to some degree that was true and yet, it never became easy for her. Truthfully, I am amazed teenagers have any friends at all considering that most of their conversations tend to be about themselves and rarely about the other, unless they are drilling down into the behavior, looks, attitude or boyfriend of a mutual “other” (i.e. gossiping).

I shared with her a handy book I found called How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends by Don Gabor. I encouraged her to try the author’s technique but she found it unmanageable. And why? Because the essence of his technique was to ask lots of questions about the other person and listen to the answers. It’s letting go of feeling it necessary to reciprocate data for data, fact for fact, personal story for personal story. This is the grace part of conversation.

Perhaps it’s time for me to reread this book myself. Or maybe, like here, scripture has been saying it all along: Grace and salt, kindness and joy, love and humor, forgiveness and knowledge, patience and wisdom.

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It’s hard to break the rules when we’ve been told all of our lives that the rules are immutable. Imagine being raised a Judean back in the day, and then told by Jesus and his followers that all things can be eaten, all people can be touched, nothing is intrinsically forbidden. It’s outrageous!

Colossians 2:20-22
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.

But what about the 21st century believer? Have I been lulled into habitual narrowness? Have I taken passages from scripture and turned them into rigid human laws and interpretations?

If Judeans had a hard time giving up the dietary laws they followed over 3,000 years, isn’t it possible we’ve gotten equally inflexible about food, music, movies, dancing, beat, clothing, language, sexual preference, and so on? After all, they were “told” in the laws of Moses that many these things were forbidden. And yet, with the death and resurrection of Christ, suddenly, everything was allowed.

Someone once told me that Jesus never healed any two people the same way because human nature tends to codify behavior into a rule or law or procedure. Jesus was in the rule-breaking business. The last thing he needed was to set up a system.

The reason that “externals” are not so very important (even today) is that the work is within. What Christ did, as God incarnate, was to establish a new point in time.

People tend to forget, when Jesus sat down and “ate” with sinners, these were parties (Roman-type orgies, probably). There was “unclean” food all over the place and people were lounging around and engaging in all kinds of unseemly behaviors. There were dancing girls and slaves. There were gay and straight guests. It was a sensuous culture, the way of the wealthy. That’s one of the reasons the priests were indignant about Jesus. That’s why they couldn’t buy into the stories–Jesus, the Messiah? Uou’ve got to be kidding, he’s totally unclean. Impossible!

Why could he do all of these and it not matter? Because he was reaching for the heart, the sacred other, the soul, the part of all humans that can be transformed, instantly (or slowly), but often, an evolution that cannot be readily discerned by the outer shell.

Now I can go ahead and never do a bad thing or lust after all kinds of things that I shouldn’t, and yet, despite all that outer goodness, my heart could still be another shrunken head, tied to a string of trophies on the belt of a great enemy.

This past weekend, I walked a prayer labyrinth; it is “used as an instrument to facilitate meditation, prayer, and personal reflection.” For each person, the journey is unique even though the path is identical. For me, the word that dominated my walk was “balance.”

Let me start there.

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To know . . . to know . . . to know. What does it mean to know Christ? What does it mean to know the power of his resurrection? And what does it mean to know the fellowship of his sufferings? I mean, really!

Philippians 3:10a
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings . . .

To understand with certainty, that’s one definition. Or, to establish or fix something in the mind (like memorization). Or, to be acquainted with (like a friend). Or, to understand with experience (like baking a cake). And finally, to be able to distinguish one thing from another (like right from wrong).

In some ways, each one of these definitions can be applied to this verse. Like Paul, I want to “know” Christ with certainty. I don’t want a casual acquaintance but a deep knowing that comes from exposure. I want the sunburn of Christ (no sunscreen) inside and out. With that kind of knowing, there is trust, contentment, patience, confidence, and security. To the degree that I don’t have those attributes is the degree to which I don’t really know the Christ. Perhaps “to know” really means “to love” (which is how the more archaic definition for knowing meant a sexual union). There is nothing more beautiful than transparent sex, the give and take of pleasure, the concern for other. Too bad. most sexual unions miss the sacred part.

And how about knowing the “power of his resurrection?” That’s formidable. Can anyone imagine being acquainted with this type of knowledge or certainty? That is supposed to be the case for every Christian, but we don’t walk our lives with that kind of confidence. I know I don’t: I still fear illnesses and teens driving home late at night and violence. Besides, isn’t Paul actually asking for the knowledge of this power to operate in the present and not just for raising his own body. Undoubtedly, this kind of power heals the sick, makes the blind see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. Same power, I’m sure of it.

And lastly, to know and share in the afflictions that Christ suffered: not just physical but emotional, mindful, and spiritual. Can I bear the pain? Can I accept it? Or do I still run away from pain. Sweet paradox again.

I’m thinking they all go together. I cannot “know” one aspect without the other. I cannot be acquainted with healing power without knowledge of pain and hardship. My certainty is strengthened by the operation of all three in my life.

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Prayers are scattered throughout Paul’s writings and many are often repeated as blessings, but never has a prayer touched me as deeply as this one did today. With three elements, my way can be transformed: love, knowledge, and insight.

Philippians 1:9
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, . . .

If I can approach my days with love, literally reach out to others with an authentic heart, those actions become a framework within which knowledge and discernment can grow and become strong. I cannot expect to have knowledge of the human soul without love. That kind of understanding comes through relationship. To know someone is to encounter the sacred core.

Every day presents me with choices. I make these decisions based on my understanding of the person or the circumstances. There are good choices and there are the “best” choices. Paul contends here that love, knowledge and depth of insight are essential to discerning the very best path.

Today, we begin the Advent season when we enter a time of anticipation, a “divine interruption” of our regular lives. It’s a time of beginnings. What better way to begin that to set the heart toward abounding love.

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If love is a type of submission, as I believe it is, then that is the best place to start with this controversial passage about wifely submission. You see, if ALL are to submit to one another, why must the “wife to husband” submission be “greater” or more submissive as some people imply?

Ephesians 5:22, 24
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. . . . Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

I’m still taking baby steps when it comes to loving as Christ loved others. Here’s my theory: if I can love/submit to my husband a fraction of what Christ models for me to love/submit to everyone, we’ll have a transformed marriage.

The same habitual sins I experience with others in my daily life are magnified at home. For instance, if I judge others, even people I don’t know in the grocery line or sitting in a restaurant, is there any surprise that I judge those closest to me?

Probably, the love/submission relationship was supposed to be easier with our mates, after all, we’ve made a promise to love them, to cherish them, to stand beside them through joys and sorrows, to create families, to build a microcosm of the Church (i.e. Body of Christ). Instead, we build mini-cultures that reflect the culture in which we live. In some families, that means an environment of greed, ambition, violence, mistrust, disease, and manipulation.

I missed something along the way and forgot that my own husband is “sacred other.” He is Holy Spirit illuminated too. And that is the One to whom I am to submit within him. It is not the veiled man, but the core that is holy. And it is the core of man that is more than worthy of love and yes, even submission.

Some of his veil I caused. When two people hurt each other or become estranged in any way, the darkness covers the light within on both sides. I have been looking through two layers of sin: my own and his.

It’s a uncertain business to begin peeling the layers of “outer self” in a relationship while the other is fully clothed and protected. But I am pretty sure that “outer me” cannot love/submit to anyone in the way of Jesus.

Today, I have intention and mindfulness with love and submission for the Holy Spirit.

(FD 9)

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