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Posts Tagged ‘silence’

It’s time to put some idols under the microscope. I get too complacent about my idols, thinking they have little power, after all, how bad could they be? I’m a walking believer, I study the scriptures, I pray, I go to church, I even fast . . .

I John 5:21
Little children, keep yourselves from idols (false gods)–[from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life]. Amen (so let it be).
{Amplified]

All faith-based disciplines are a help to the life of a follower of Christ. All of these practices aid the fuller indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But for every discipline and practice that is a help, there are “idols” that pull and push against us . . . me.

My idols (in no particular order):

  • Newspapers, News, Blogs, or just about anything on the Internet
  • Lattes and Loose Tea, brewed correctly
  • Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, FlickR
  • Sleeping late; pushing the snooze button 4 times
  • Being Busy, really busy, I mean really, really busy
  • Reading as many books at the same time as I can: current load is 8
  • Driving alone, so I can listen to an audio book
  • Smart Phone
  • Gadgets, or coveting gadgets, or reading about gadgets
  • Being funny
  • Being casual about money, a joke, since it’s in short supply
  • Writing anything: blog, book, reports, instructions, grocery lists
  • Photography, even without a good camera; or maybe it’s kvetching about that too
  • NPR (if I’m short on audio book) – silence not allowed in the car
  • Panera with a few special people (you know who you are)
  • Scheduling the family: even after age 18
  • Age lines, puffy veins, dry eye, sore feet, plus lots of extra pounds
  • Talking, a nice way of saying gossip
  • Being with and taking care of dogs & cats
  • Candles = ambiance
  • Pandora: Smooth Jazz
  • Work: librarian, manager, volunteer, parent
  • Workshops and Training – learn something else new
  • Children’s needs, Husband’s needs and all the needs they don’t know they need

Oh, come on, goofy right? Aren’t idols supposed to be like Mother Teresa or Brad Pitt? Aren’t they the rich and famous, the indulgences, the lofty or the lowly?

No, not really. I mean, I suppose those are issues too, but really, for me, it’s the “time suckers!” : anything that takes me away from my awareness of the Presence within, the marriage of Spirit, the inner life, Christ in me and me in Christ. That’s the very essence of what it means to be an overcomer in this world, this age, this culture. I know all this in my mind, but instead, I act out: I step on my scale and start another diet, I read too many posts, I play too much Scrabble or Words with Friends, I fill my time and watch the digital clock on my computer turn over, minute by minute by minute.

I occupy my mind. Ha Ha. Occupy Irmgarde. These activities, these mind numbing time wasters, they are all camping out inside me. And even if none are particularly bad, they draw me away from my center.

When I was in acting school, I learned a surefire remedy for hiccups: every time! Basically, it requires the person to “relax the diaphragm.” That’s all. But, to do cure usually requires silence, stillness, breath, and centering.

To cure idol pandering depends on the same practices.

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Photo by Natdiastok

Wikipedia states, “pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms.” I do that.

James 1:26a, 27c
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, . . . keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Language is a gift that humans have. With it, we can calm a child, paint word pictures, bring joy and laughter, or elicit memory and sorrow; we can also ruin a reputation, fill space with toxicity, hurt someone’s heart, start a fight, or destroy a relationship. Just with words.

Sometimes I think I have a good knack with words, but too often, I misuse my gift.

Some years ago, I went on a silent retreat at All Saints Convent. I had been there before for shorter retreats but never in full silence. I didn’t realize this silence would also mean no one would engage me – not with eyes or touch or anything. It was like I wasn’t there. In my loneliness, I sought out books and wrote in my journal.

But I wonder, were there still too many of those words? Did I really go into the silence?

My daughter asked me the other day if I have ever tried meditation and could I really sit and think of nothing? I said I had, more in the realm of contemplative prayer, but the battle with words was tough. I can do the flowing river routine for about a minute, maybe. No, truth be told, I am still a slave to the automatic typewriter in my head.

I have said some terrible things to people and I’ve said some terrible things about people. It’s all gossip and diarrhea of the mouth.

People always say, “think before you speak” and the joke for me is that I often speak so I can hear what I’m thinking.

On Wednesday, I went to an acupuncturist in hopes of getting some relief from hot flashes. After the treatment, she said the process is a kind of drawing out of heat from the body and often it leaves through body waste. I’d like to dump some of those mean words the same way and flush them down the toilet.

You, out there: you I know and you I don’t know . . . please forgive me.

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Batik by Hanna Cheriyan Varghese, Malaysia

Sometimes it’s not worth engaging in discussions that will go nowhere, particularly if people are getting upset and defensive. No one gains. If anything, more is said than should have been said and the controversy escalates. I have seen this happen a hundred times. I’m done.

Titus 3:9
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

We had a controversy in our local community that was extremely divisive. Conversations were misrepresented; newspapers reported incomplete information and often, with only one side of the story or pure hearsay; while social networks were used to accuse and inflame an already unstable situation. And to what end? The people in the center of it all felt no better, just wrenched apart emotionally. The only thing that lessened the impact was the wisdom of a few who said: don’t engage, don’t add, don’t comment. And eventually, this proved the best choice; the furor abated and people moved on with their lives.

When Jesus stood before the different “authorities” on those fateful days before his crucifixion, he, too was silent. What would have been the point? No one would have believed him more that day than any other day. There was nothing more to be said. His great controversy had to be endured and he knew the meaning from the beginning. He may not have known how the whole thing would play out, the passing from one dignitary to another (think about it: he saw three “leaders” in the course of 24 hours who could have changed the world), but he knew the outcome would be the same: torture and death to the body.

But Jesus also knew about the third day. He knew about the results. He trusted God, despite the pain, the desolation, the anger, and the very air of evil that encircled him. Words were nothing.

And so, Jesus, as foretold throughout the histories and prophecies, rose from the dead. That event put all controversies into perspective.

When all is said and done, most stories have an opportunity for resurrection and transformation. With God, there is always hope. There is no irredeemable act. Even in the face of evil, we must hold fast to our belief that “love wins” — God wins!

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This phrase about grieving the Holy Spirit has always jumped out at me. Reverend Spurgeon said, back in 1859, that causing grief touches even the hardest hearts. But today, for the first time, I linked the cause directly to my mouth.

Ephesians 4:29-30a
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . .

This revelation really clenches it for me: I must include “unconscious talking” into my fast.

I can just imagine the Holy Spirit within me, covering ears and thinking, “I can’t believe she really said that!” And then, crying. Doesn’t crying go along with grief?

Sometimes, there is anger too, and disappointment. There is helplessness in grief, because there isn’t much one can do to change the situation. And with grief, there is pain.

When a person is sorrowing, it is because of loss. And in that loss, there is love. But it’s love that is cut off, stopped, quenched, unresolved, blocked. . . for whatever reason.

So, whenever I speak out-of-hand, or gossip, or judge, there is a loss that happens there too. I am inching further away from my center where the Holy Spirit dwells. And the Holy Spirit is calling, reaching out to me, warning me, crying for me, whispering to me, but I am too focused on the outpouring.

Unlike fasting from food, which is relatively easy since the body is pretty good about reminding me about three to four times a day, “Hey, didn’t you forget something? Food! I need food!” But to fast from blabbing is more difficult. There won’t be any help for this one. It will be about mindfulness. It will be about “practicing the presence” of God. It will be about thinking before I speak. It will be about slowing down. It will be about listening.

And maybe, just maybe, if I can submit to this discipline, even for a short while, I will hear the angels singing after all.

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For those who read my meditations regularly, you know I am intrigued by the sweep of paradox in scripture. Strength in weakness is one of the most difficult concepts to put my head around since the display of strength is my security blanket.

II Corinthians 11:30-31
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.

Back in the day, I worked with a small group of friends to build an avant garde dance theatre company in New York City. These types of projects are always a bit “hand to mouth” and poorly funded. It can be very stressful. I was in charge of the finances (using mostly my personal funds) and the administration of the company in addition to working full time and going to school. After a year of this, I was at the breaking point. At one of our meetings, I confessed, I was falling apart inside and I couldn’t continue to be the rock anymore. They would not allow it. “You have to be strong. We depend on you to be strong.”

And then I knew we had, all of us, put our confidence in the wrong thing: my strength and confidence That kind of strength is an illusion.

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. [Psalm 18:32]
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. [Psalm 46:1]

But God cannot arm me with strength or “be” my strength as long as I continue in the “world’s strongest woman competition.” I have to believe in the promise. I have to be willing to reveal my weakness and only then will God’s strength be visible. My strength is a mere veil to the real thing.

Some of the tools:

  • Be willing to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Choose silence.
  • Acknowledge the successes of others.
  • Accept mistakes.
  • Forgo the praise of others.
  • Relinquish control.
  • Embrace the feelings.
  • Open the heart.
  • Submit to outside circumstances.
  • Build trust.
  • Pray.
  • Respond to the Holy Spirit.

It is one thing to talk about paradox but it’s another to actually live it. This takes a great leap of faith. It’s time to jump.

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There comes a time when a person’s principles will separate him/her from certain friendships or situations, either by choice because the circumstances are unpalatable or by the pressure of others. The question is whether the separation is a wall or a space.

II Corinthians 6:16-17a
What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.

Even though Jesus supped and interacted with “prostitutes and tax collectors,” these folks were not his daily diet. He still had to seek out solitude and silence. He needed time with God, his heart’s true home. He also needed time with his close friends with whom he shared his himself.

This scripture reference has been used for centuries to justify the creation of exclusive “societies” in the name of holiness. Convents and monasteries became the ultimate separation and for years; they thrived until humanity called out for help and slowly they came out and brought their faith to the world around them. It was a difficult change, a time to learn balance between separation and service.

There are other ways to separate. Simply an attitude or affiliation can be a dividing wall. For some, it’s like a badge of honor to maintain a list of things they don’t do: watch R-rated movies, listen to secular music, dance to a beat, look at nude paintings or sculpture, drink wine, beer or any alcohol at all, send their children to public schools, take communion in a particular way, baptize in a particular way, pray in a particular way, and so forth. The walls become thicker and taller over time. Unfortunately, if anyone crosses over or digs a hole through the wall, he/she is considered a reprobate. The wall is fortified.

Some of the extreme examples are the groups who have created compounds in the name of “community” where rules dominate, families inter-marry, and women are considered chattel once again. There are churches where membership is a complex ritual. There are religious groups where the “shepherds” determine whether two people marry or not, or whether a family should buy a car, or how much should be tithed. Yes, these are extremes, but their is separatism all along this continuum. They become an oppression.

How or what people do in the name of God can be diverse. How an individual is led to worship and honor God is a choice. But when these practices become a source of intentional alienation, something is wrong.

It is my heart that my life would be a flowing stream that can break down walls but also create pools and coves of safety. I don’t ever want to become a stagnant pond in the name of “holiness.”

He [she] is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he [she] does prospers. [Psalm 1:3]

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Can’t do it. I can’t be silent. I won’t. And that doesn’t make me less fond of my beloved Savior nor He of me. Nor does it mean the Bible is so full of holes that it’s unreliable or useless. In fact, I’m not even arguing with the truth of it. I’m just not going to do it.

I Corinthians 14:33b-34
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.

There are certainly cultural and historical bases for this verse (and others) about the roles of women in the church. I understand that.

And yet, on one hand, New Testament women were free to worship and participate equally in the promises of Christ and even perform as leaders (e.g. Lydia & Priscilla) and yet, on the other hand, great limitations were placed on their authority within the church.

Some liberal-leaning Bible historians have explained away this verse by saying it refers to the disorder of the Corinthian church and that women were calling out across the room asking for explanations and the like. Good luck with that one. Maybe so.

And yet, I tend to agree with the more conservative approachs: Paul meant what he said. So be it.

But I cannot keep silent. I don’t cover my head in church and I still wear jewelry and I don’t always “submit” to my husband’s point of view. These things are also part of who I am and I come to Christ honestly.

I have been gifted to speak and even, on occasion, to write well. There have been anointings. The Holy Spirit has flowed through me and I have spoken out of that secret place. I have experienced the pleasure of my God in His creation–me. And although I love the scriptures and all that those words have given to me and revealed to me, I will not allow this verse to condemn me.

So, I’ll wait. And on that great day when we no longer “see through a glass darkly” [I Corinthians 13:12] but understand the greater meanings of our three-dimensional life on this earth, it will all make sense.

I trust God and lean on His grace and that grace is sufficient, even for this intentional rebellion.

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