Motionless and Silent

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After they had finished nailing him to the cross and were waiting for him to die, they whiled away the time by throwing dice for his clothes…From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around midafternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly…“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  (Gospel of Matthew, c27, v45-46)

Christians believe that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the central point of human history.  It is God Himself making it possible for those who believe in Jesus as God, who realize they need what He did for them in His death, and who accept Him as God of their lives to be transformed into sons and daughters of God.

The death of Jesus is of particular importance because it is there that Christians believe God took upon Himself the full weight of the sin of humanity and, in death, paid the price for it that we cannot fully pay.

There are many mysterious things about Jesus’ death.  This is what strikes me today: the motionlessness and silence of it.

Jesus was nailed to the cross.  He couldn’t move.  It seems that throughout His life He moved at a deliberate pace toward being motionless.  In the end, Jesus was nailed down and waited to die.  He couldn’t have had one more meeting if He had wanted to.  He couldn’t tweet the news moment by moment: “@SonofMan is thirsty on #thecross.”  The few things He could have done He chose not to: calling down angels to save Himself or making sure we understood this as an object lesson.

He chose to be motionless and, as far as enlightening us further, silent.  He had done what He came for and in the face of the ultimate injustice, humiliation, and taunting, was simply motionless and silent, content to allow this profound event of human history to occur in His stillness.

God, His Father, was also motionless and silent.  God the Father did not act to save His Son.  When Jesus cried out to Him, “Where are you?”, there was nothing but silence.  God could have made a show of it, ensuring that we all understood what was happening; after all, God had used special effects to gain the attention of His people quite effectively throughout history: lightening, hail, fire, whirlwinds, earthquakes, cedar trees breaking…

But, in this moment, this most profound event in human history, God the Father was silent.

The event, it seems, required no exclamation point of motion or noise.  This is in such contrast to our lives.

The event, it seems, required no exclamation point of motion or noise.

This is in such contrast to our lives.

We race around; multitasking is highly valued despite research showing that it decreases our performance.  We ask each other, “What did you do today?”  We measure our absolute and relative worth by our current performance and our past accomplishments–with emphasis on our current performance (“What have you done for me lately?”).  We are always on the move.  We are always trying to create, change, or fix something.

And we are always making noise.  We have something to say and we want to be heard.  We talk over each other in our zeal to be heard.  We are free with our advice to another.  Have you ever paused to take stock of the noise in the world?  Perhaps, like attending a loud rock concert, we find today that our hearing is failing and what once was loud is now acceptable.

There are certainly times to act and times to speak.  Aren’t there also times to be still and be quiet?  Imagine facing an important moment in your life or a tremendous injustice to you and responding as Jesus did by being motionless and silent.  Can we even conceive of that possibility anymore?  How would our closest relationships be transformed if we dared to be occasionally motionless instead of always trying to fix, to be silent instead of trying to advise?

In our deepest pain, the fundamental loneliness and brokenness of the so-called human condition, we too often act out or shout out trying to relieve our pain instead of persevering, motionless and in silence.  We hurry to alleviate the pain of others and miss the times when it is better to simple be with the other, motionless and silent.

To be motionless and silent when Jesus asks us, to persevere and suffer with Jesus in this way is the only path along which our character will be transformed into that of God’s.

Naked and Unafraid

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[All of creations stops, there is silence in the heavens and the earth…will they or won’t they?  The crunch of a stolen bite taken from forbidden fruit is deafening.  At the sound of the proprietor approaching the offenders drop the evidence and run.…] then the Lord God called to Adam, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Paraphrase from the first book of the Bible–Genesis ch 3, verses 9-11 (New American Standard Translation)

God prohibited the first humans, Adam and Eve, from eating fruit from the tree of knowledge so that they would not know good from evil and become “like God” (Genesis 3:5, 22).  They took a bite anyway.  Then, realizing they were naked they hid from God in fear.

There is so much to think about in these few verses, so much explanatory power regarding the state of the world today.  However, one particular thing is on my mind: being naked and afraid.

I don’t know specifically what was in their respective minds to cause fear when they suddenly realized their nakedness; however, I know what is in my mind, and it is more than about a lack of clothes.

We throw around words of nakedness with ease: transparency in Government, authentic community, being real with each other.  Our language suggests we want such nakedness with each other, but do we really?  Yes and no.  Imagine standing before another human naked in the deepest sense of that word, no barriers at all.  Your most intimate thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, desires, fears…all that you are fully revealed, open for inspection by another.  I think we each desperately long for that kind of acceptance, but we fear laughter and ultimately, rejection, because to be accepted is to be loved; rejection is death.

We so yearn for acceptance and fear rejection that we consciously and unconsciously create a false self, a Glittering Image, so that we will find love in the acceptance from another.  Some of our falseness we are aware of, we call it The Mask behind which we hide.  Our talk of “being authentic” only refers to each coming out from behind our respective Masks.  However, our false identity is far deeper than The Mask; we are mostly unaware of it until something happens to bring it to light.  Our idea of an acceptable “normal” has been constructed by the influences of parents, friends, favorite celebrities, authors, teachers, the media, advertisers, businesses, our culture…we are helpless to see beyond what we have come to believe and the things to which we cling.

We are helpless, that is, until something happens that challenges what we believe about “normal.”  I recently had such an experience.  I now find my self with no status to hide behind because I’m not making any money.  I have no 40-hour-a-week job to define myself.  I have no office and co-workers in which to busy myself in and with.  I have no established church family to immerse myself.  I have no strategic goals to work toward to give me the illusion of self value.  It is a new kind of nakedness and through it more of my own Glittering Image has been revealed.  This experience is showing me more of what I cling too and use to define myself and find acceptance from you.

It is an uncomfortable place to be and questions swirl in my mind–

Where have I placed my sense of security?  In a paycheck or money in the bank?  What happens when I am no longer in control of that?

It is an uncomfortable place to be and questions swirl in my mind–

What does it mean to work?  What counts as “work”?  I now have a “job” as a Christian missionary.  God has to make connections with people, it is out of my hands.  I can only wait on Him, but what if I “work,” as I have previously defined it, less than 8 hours a day?  What then?

How do I measure productivity?  I’m not building widgets, and meeting with people produces little immediate, measurable results.  Am I just a drain on this society that so values results?

From where does my self-worth come?  “Missionary” is not as cool a job title as “airline pilot,” which I once had.  Am I defined by my title and job description?  From where do my real identity and value come?

God, it seems, is no respecter of my comfortable paradigms.

God, it seems, is no respecter of my comfortable paradigms.

I know most of the answers in my head; however, living as though I believe them is different.  The questions are no longer theoretical, they are real and immediate.

All of our answers are in some way illusionary.  We believe we know what it is to be “normal.”  We believe we can control our destiny and manage our own security.  We believe we can define ourselves by what we do or what we wear or what we have.  In reality, we have never been able to do any of these things.  Like Adam and Eve, we move through life relying on our own knowledge of good and evil, each putting up a Glittering Image for all to see because, in our fear of being seen naked, we hide from ourselves, from each other, and from God.

So strong is the pull of the Glittering Image that I can already feel the urge to use my job as missionary to fulfill my need to for acceptance.  I could quite easily begin to  define myself as “one of God’s people called into missionary life.”  It would be very easy to bask in the wide acceptance of my fellow Christians, perhaps even allowing myself to be placed on a pedestal because of the “great sacrifice you’re making for God” as a missionary.  I can easily slip in a casual comment that I’m more Jesus-like in my poverty.

Our need for acceptance tugs even more subtly and more tragically.  I’ve discovered that even trying to be like Jesus can become another form of a Glittering Image.  Before I’m burned at the stake, history shows us that people have outwardly tried to be like Jesus with the inner motive of power, greed, etc.  These are the obvious examples.  But even more dangerous to the Christian, one can strain and groan to be outwardly like Jesus (as we have constructed Him) because in some circles it is not acceptable to be a Christian struggling with real problems, wrestling with serious questions about one’s faith, battling despair…to be living a life that is not “fine.”  Sadly, in some churches it is simply not acceptable to be “naked and unafraid.”

With the God of the Bible we can find unconditional love in our nakedness.  We don’t have to cover ourselves and hide in the bushes.  But, and this can be difficult for us, it is love on His terms, not as we have distorted it.  His love casts out our fear.  God longs for us to become who we were created to be, more human not some false representation, and He wants to help; He sent us His Spirit to help us.  Even as we hide in fear at our nakedness–as if we could really hide from God–He is singing over us.  What else do we really need but Him and a group of friends similarly loving Him and trying to love each other in the same way?

 

God’s Will

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For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.

–Irenaeus; Against Heresies, 4.20.7.

For Christians, finding God’s will is of supreme importance.  Because we say we love God and believe He wants the best for us, we strive to live “in His will for us.”  In the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, we say ”Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

However, many of us want a fax, a text, an email, a telegram, handwriting on the wall, God speaking in our ear…some direct form of communication from God that will tell us straight out what to do and which is the right path ahead.  We want this because of our fundamental misunderstanding of God’s nature or our own laziness at putting in the work required in a relationship with God.  These manifests themselves in a myriad of ways: 1) we are afraid of offending God because deep down we believe He is our adversary and not our greatest supporter; 2) it is easier to live by direct command than by faith; 3) if we make a mistake, however we might come to believe that, we don’t believe God will redeem it for our good; 4) we think if we find God’s will it will be like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and our life will be great as we define it.  I’m sure you can think of other distorted reasons for finding God’s will.

Of course there are those of us who want to find God’s will because of our love for God and deep desire to please Him.

Regardless of your motivation, have you ever stopped to ask, “Regarding what I can discern, what is God’s fundamental will for me?”

Jules Toner, in his book, Discerning God’s Will, a study on Ignatius of Loyola’s writings on discernment, believes Ignatius understood God’s fundamental will for us to be for our greater glory.  That’s right, our greater glory.  Or, if we are not disposed toward Him, to lessen the harm to us.  Toner puts it this way:

The greater glory that God wills for us is our greater participation in his eternal and infinite glory.  It is from God its giver and to God who is glorified in us.  It is in us as our fullness of life and for us whose happiness is in being glory to God and giving his glory to each other. (23)

It sounds circular, doesn’t it.  God wants our greater glory so that we glorify Him.  Not so, because it all precedes from God.  One meaning of the word “glory,” as used in the Bible, is “the essence of a person.”  So, God gives us His glory so that we might become truly who we were created to be: humans in relationship with Him.  Only in this way can we escape our false identities woven out of the lies around us that tell us how we should live and what makes us significant.

As Irenaeus says, above, we glorify God by becoming all that He created us to be…fully human, and the only way that happens is in relationship with God.  And this is the essence of our life-long journey with God: the gradual shedding of the lies so that our true selves begin to emerge.  Only the experience of God’s love can cause such a transformation.

The greater glory that God wills for us is our greater participation in his eternal and infinite glory.

In practice, our desire to find God’s will is usually triggered by a choice before us.  We try to find God’s will within the context of a specific concrete situation including the people involved.  And, because we are each different, God’s will for me in a specific situation may differ from His will for you in a similar situation.  As we ponder God’s will and finally choose, our choice must always, as far as we are able to ascertain, bring God the greater glory.  Regarding what we have said above, this means that we choose that which we believe will bring us into closer relationship with Him.

Becoming our true selves in relationship with Him, that is His glory given to us and His fundamental will for us.

Rhythm of Life

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Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  –Jesus. (Gospel of Matthew c11, v28-29.  The Message.)

From somewhere in the Caribbean…

I was forty feet underwater.  In front of me was a large rock, perhaps 20 feet across.  It was coral encrusted and the fish were swarming.

I like scuba diving.  I find it peaceful; there is something about the rhythmic flow of air from the tank through the regulator into my lungs, then from my lungs through the regulator and into the water, bubbling up past my ears, that I find soothing.  The rush of air in, bubbles out. Breathe in.  Breathe out.  In.  Out.  A beautiful rhythm.

Too, it is so restful to be in a state that feels gravity free.  Divers call it “neutral buoyancy”–weighted just so that the diver, when motionless, neither floats up nor sinks down, but stays at the depth he or she is.  It must be like the weightlessness the astronauts experience (they do, in fact, train for space by being underwater in very large pools).  You move along by kicking your fin-encased feet and when you stop kicking you drift to a stop and find yourself simply suspended in the water; floating underwater, if I can use that term, as one might float in space.  Remarkable.  I’ve often wondered whether that sense of serenity while floating motionless submerged in water taps into some long ago memory of floating in the womb.

Rhythmically breathing in and out, floating weightless, the remarkable sense of quiet amidst the comforting sounds of the compressed air, and the beauty of fish and coral and sea floor…that, for me, is the majesty of scuba diving.

So, why then, if all is supposed to be tranquil, am I frustrated and fighting so hard as I float nearly upright along a vertical face of this rock?

Earlier in the dive, while swimming along a sandy bottom, I had discovered the forty feet of water above me did not dampen out the effects of the three to four foot surface swells.  Swimming perpendicular to the swells resulted in my being pushed three feet to the right, then three feet to the left.  Right.  Left.  Right.  Left.  It was lulling, sideways rhythm of a rocking motion as I progress across the bottom.

What was even more fun was swimming parallel to the surface swells.  If I did not kick at all I discovered I would move back three feet, then forward three feet.  If I kicked while the sea motion tried to move me back, I could hold my place and then I would be propelled forward much faster than normal when the motion of the water changed direction.  So, swimming in the direction of the swells became a rhythm of resisting the motion by kicking to stay in place, then resting as the current moved me forward.  Kick.  Rest.  Kick.  Rest.  Another delightful rhythm.

Now, something, I no longer remember what, had caught my attention on the face of this rock and I wanted to float peacefully and examine this thing.  What had been another enjoyable rhythm of diving–swimming with motion of the swell–had now become a great annoyance as it kept me from doing what I wanted in the way I wanted to do it.  I was thrashing about trying to maintain my depth and keep from being pushed into the rock by the now irritating to and fro of the ocean.  My arms and legs flailed.  My breathing quickened and was erratic at my exertion.  Finally, I gave up and moved away from the rock face.

That’s when I noticed the fish below me.  Beautifully colored angelfish, parrotfish, trigger Imagefish, and others moved easily around the coral darting in to nibble on a tasty piece of coral, playing tag and follow the leader while swooping in and out of narrow passages, or just resting as the motion of the water rocked them back and forth.  Motion or not, those fish were at home in their element.  It is what they knew, all they had even known.  They didn’t fight the water; rather, they had learned to move along their desired way within the larger context  of the rhythm of the water.

At that moment I realized just how much it was I who was the “fish out of water.”  To these small fish, the motion of the water was something they had experienced all of their lives.  They knew no different.  I, on the other hand, having grown up surrounded by air that rarely moves with the force to knock me off my course and with my feet firmly planted on the ground to give me great leverage to move, thrashed about in this alien environment unable to cope with this gentle motion of the water.  I didn’t embrace the rhythm of the water, moving with it that I might see what the rock had presented to me.  No, I had fought it trying to force the ocean to submit to my will and missed what the rock had for me to see.

I’m often a fish out of water in the spiritual realm, too.  Like the verse at the top says, there is a rhythm of life with Jesus.  We are invited into it.  Too often I find myself as unfamiliar with the spiritual world as I am with the undersea world. I try to bend Jesus’ rhythm to my will and, just like my ocean experience, I end up thrashing about unable to enjoy Jesus’ natural tranquility in the moment.  I think the Apostle Paul had begun to learn the secret of living in the rhythm of Jesus when he said:

Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.  (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, c4, v11-13.  The Message.)

I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

If we get so close to Jesus that we become relationally one with Him, as He has invited us to be, then we will move with His rhythm and the turbulence around us will be unnoticed, just as it was for those fish.  Like Paul, we will be content in all situations because we are moving with the rhythm of Jesus–contentment will be natural for us.

The spiritual realm of Father God, Son Jesus, and the Spirit, which bursts forth from Their relationship, is actually our natural home, it is when we fix our eyes on this world or try to impose our will on the rhythm of Jesus that we thrash about and lose what He offers in the moment.

Draw closer to Jesus, respond to His invitation to move as He moves.  That is the first thing.  Join Him in His rhythm and find in the depths of your soul His peace in the midst of the turbulence and currents of life.  Let His Spirit teach you: pay attention to your life and when you notice yourself thrashing about, struggling to maintain your depth, your breathing has become erratic and the tranquility is gone, you are fighting the rhythm of Jesus rather than moving with it.  Stop.  Let your heart, mind, and soul reengage with Jesus to feel His rhythm.  Everything else, the second things, flow out of the rhythm of relationship with Jesus.

Worth, Value, and Price

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Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.

–C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Worth, value, and price…these are terms used by economists to try to understand how people interact with the economic world.

Worth is a way of talking about how much “use” a commodity or service is to a particular individual.  Take the service provided by a plumber: the worth of service is low to me if I have an only slightly annoying faucet drip.  However, the worth of service is very high if I have a major water leak and my house is flooding.

Value is tougher.  Value is “worth” to our economy in the abstract.  The service provided by our plumber is valuable to our economy because of the benefits of managing water and waste flow.  We could certainly do without but our economy would suffer.

Price is what the market says is the worth or value of the commodity or service; it is the voice of the collective…us.  Our plumber charges some amount that the market will bear; in other words, what the average person will pay for the service.

Ideally, in any economic transaction all three line up: What I think a thing is worth is the same as its value to the economy and is the same as its price.  None of us likes to pay more than we think something is worth.  And sometimes, things are simply overvalued.

I went to a baseball game the other day.  I like baseball.  It brings me pleasure to sit in the stands on a warm, sunny day and watch a game; it is worth something to me.  I paid $26 (USD), the market price of the ticket.  That is about the upper limit to what I think it was worth to me; I would likely not have paid much more.  As for value, though, I think the value of baseball is way out of line.  Professional sports teams make the case for economic value to a city to justify the costs of a new stadium or salaries to players.  Since stadiums continue to be built and player salaries continue to escalate, then clearly not everyone agrees with my value assessment of baseball.

Over the past years each American president has called for an increase in the numbers of scientists and engineers.  This call indicates an understanding of the need for technological advancement, which leads to economic growth.  Scientists and engineers are, therefore, highly valued in our economy.  Playtime is also highly valued.  It is important to occasionally escape from work that we might play, whether camping or fishing or golf, or…watching a baseball game.    Play, after all, refreshes us and allows us to work more efficiently.  So, playtime has value because it brings money into the economy and refreshes workers who work more effectively, thus, enhancing the economy.

Why stop with work or play?  I can value a friendship because it may prove useful to me in an economic sense; maybe we will end up doing business together or maybe my friend will throw business my way.  The arts, too.  We build museums and theaters only after economic studies show they will enhance the local economy.

The economy, stupid.

“The economy, stupid” was a central point in Bill Clinton’s successful bid for the presidency in 1992. Is it really all about the economy?  Is all of value in life to be subject to economic evaluation?  Why has no American President called for more artists, poets, or philosophers?

imagesIn our economic-growth mindset we have lost the ancient idea of leisure.  Aristotle believed that we were unleisurely, at work and play, so that we could be leisurely, which is the center of culture.  Today, we have co-opted the word, leisure, absorbing it into “play.”  For Westerners, there is now only work and play, both of which we try to do “hard.”  This couldn’t be more different from the historical understanding of leisure.  Now, our word that comes closest to the ancient understanding of leisure is “contemplation”; however, even that does not quite capture the proper sense.

Leisure, as understood by the ancients–Greeks and Romans–was to engage in something for its own sake.  In Lewis’ view of friendship, above, one spends time with a friend for the sake of the friendship and nothing else.  Schools (Greek skole) were originally conceived as places of learning for its own sake rather than the trade schools they have become.  Van Gogh was famous for his study of color for its own sake rather than the expectancy of economic benefit.  Surely there might have been some local economic benefit to his working a job rather than playing with colored yarn; however, culturally we would be so much the poorer had he not engaged in the leisure of the arts.

This is not to say that leisure cannot result in economic benefit; however, it “results” is never the goal of a leisurely activity.  As schools today cut back on forms of liberal arts education–forms of leisure–we lose the ability to appreciate people, experiences, and things for their own sake.  If our activity has no economic value, then we turn away with both our time and our money; after all, if there is no economic value, the its worth to me is zero, which is the price I assign it.

We ignore leisure at the cost of our own souls.  Leisure allows us to escape the confines of our environment, whether at work or play, and move beyond ourselves, to tap into those parts of us that are not practical, to enter into the sphere of wonder and awe.  Ultimately, leisure is what allows us, in the words of poet Magee, to “put out my hand and touch the face of God.”

Navigating Life

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[Alice went on,] “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

“Are you leaving from? Or are you going to?”–a recent question to me from a friend.

Sometimes I wonder whether life isn’t just a simple navigational problem. I used to be an airline pilot. For each flight I knew where I was starting from; where I was going; why I was going there; what the obstacles were between here and there (e.g., weather, mountains); what the best route of flight was for the triple goals of maintaining the schedule, fuel economy, and passenger comfort; and how much fuel I needed to get there.

My journey through life has often seemed less precise. There have been times when I have been leaving from somewhere; I have found the situation I’m in intolerable for any number of reasons and I’m off to something else, anything else “so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” as Alice says. I’ve left where I am with no clear destination in mind. In “leaving from” I knew my starting point but any of many destinations will do.

That’s the thing about leaving from. The destination is often unknown; when I have wanted to leave where I am all that I know is that I want to be where I am now not. My reasons for leaving have sometimes been to escape: escape from the big city, escape from life in a cubicle, escape from a dreary job, escape from routine, escape from a difficult situation, escape from painful memories…escape to anywhere but here.

For some, a life of leaving is enjoyable. No roots, no commitment, no responsibilities…it is the journey that matters. It is a life of exploration and excitement. Spontaneity rules. Perhaps you
have seen the t-shirt that says, “Not everyone who wanders is lost.”

I have a natural curiosity and restlessness that has often provided fuel for my life’s journey. It has been the driving force behind some of my leavings. “The grass is greener,” I have told myself more than once, “just on the other side of the next fence.” Just over there it will be better, there will be new things to see and learn, new experiences to be had. And, often that has proved true.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to think differently about leaving. No, not about changing locations, but about the idea of “leaving from” vs “going to.” In “going to” the destination is known. One can start a going to journey from anywhere, but the destination is known. As I reflected on years of leaving–I’ve lived in 9 states and had 5 careers, so far–here is the realization to which I’ve come, strange as it may sound to some: all of my leavings have been goings. Whether fueled by curiosity, restlessness, or escape, all of my instances of leaving have been caused by my search for something, by being drawn toward something that has been unknown to me for most of my life.

In his little book, Happiness & Contemplation, philosopher Pieper claims that “man craves by nature happiness and bliss.” By nature we crave it, it is hard-wired into us. “Why do you want to be happy?” asks Pieper. It is a question we never ask because it has no answer. We just do want it…by nature. Now there’s a lot more to this happiness thing than can be said here, but if he is right, and I think he is, then all leavings are indeed goings…going toward happiness, even if we don’t know what that is for us. Of course, some believe they are undeserving of happiness, but that is for another time.

Why do you want to be happy?

If I am simply a creation of random mutation and natural selection, then it would seen happiness should be within my grasp. Happiness should come from surviving, from achieving the four F’s: flee, fight, food, and fornication, these are all that are required for an organism’s basic survival. And yet…for millennia philosophers have known this about happiness: truest happiness is a gift, it comes to us from outside our souls. We can act to get things or to do things, each which brings us some measure of happiness; however, that which quenches our deepest thirst for happiness comes from outside of us, from contemplating the greatest good.

An African bishop named Augustine, alive some 1700 years ago in present-day Algiers, had an early life of wandering, of leaving-from-while-really-going-to…he has helped me to understand my own journey happiness. He said, “You have made us and directed us toward Yourself and our heart is restless until we rest in you” (Confessions 1.1)

You have made us and directed us toward Yourself and our heart is restless until we rest in you.

I am created by God to be in a loving relationship with Him; outside of that I will always be incomplete and unhappy in the depths of my soul. And not just any god will do, the god must be the God of tri-unity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, each a person, each person God, yet together the one God…the great mystery of the God of Christianity. The single-person gods of other beliefs will simply not do here; a single-person god would find happiness by contemplating self, the worst sort of self-centeredness. No, none of these single-person gods are like the intrinsically outward-facing Christian God of eternal love between Father-Son-Spirit; a God of happiness spent in eternal contemplation of the Other.  It is this God that yearns for a loving relationship with each of us.

Happiness, then, comes from contemplating the greatest good, the God of Christianity. He made use that way; it is our nature. Poet T.S. Eliot described for me my journey back to God in a few lines from his poem “Little Giddings“:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The Nights

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I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.
~Vincent Van Gogh

How long the night seems to one kept awake by pain.
~Bernard Joseph Saurin, Blanche et Guiscard, translated

—–

12:30 am. No sign of sleep.

It is dark, quiet, at least in the world external to my mind, nothing is moving about…what is it about the night?

—–

There are sleepless nights that I find friendly. During these nights, there are no demands on my mind–other than the nagging back-of-my-mind reminder that the alarm clock will soon sound and I’ll be tired all day. But on these nights, even that seems an easy price to pay.

During these kinds of nights my soul feels free. During the daylight, you see, there are rules to be followed and responsibilities to perform and schedules to keep; I never feel quite free to let my mind roam: free to think thoughts that seem important to think, free to bend over and examine what is under every thought-rock, free to contemplate all there is. During the daylight hours, whenever I do let my mind roam so, I miss my turn or the driver behind me honks because the light has gone green–someone went around me today. In the daylight, I’ve found, I must always be attentive to the outer world, to be present to something or some other. How constricting and tiresome it can be.

In the early 1940s, before the US entered World War II, American pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr. wrote the poem, “High Flight,” to express what it was like for him to fly. Sadly, Magee died in a midair collision shortly after penning this poem. Having also flown, his poem is meaningful to me. And, it describes the free feeling I have in my soul during this kind of night, these friendly nights. Here’s is Magee’s poem:

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth 
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth 
Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things 
You have not dreamed of…wheeled and soared and swung 
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, 
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung 
My eager craft through footless halls of air. 
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark, or even eagle flew. 
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod 
The high untrespassed sanctity of space 
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

“Touching the face of God” is a phrase that resonates deeply within me. You see, contemplation, the highest form of knowing, is a form of reaching out and touching the face of God; it is beholding in love one’s Beloved. It is the greatest form of happiness. Wonderful nights!

—–

There is another night, the kind when freedom is replaced by exhaustion. During these nights my mind may race from thought to thought like a glutton shoveling food with both hands, never stopping to savor. Still other times my mind repeats thoughts, rehearsing them over and over and over and over like a scratched 45. Are you old enough to have used a record player?

—–

There is a worse night: a night of torment. There have been many of these lately. In these nights I am awake with a problem or pending conflict, my mind churning and grinding, breaking thought boulders into rocks, then into peebles, then into fine sand. Finally, after what can be hours, the problem is diagnosed, the conflict seen for what it is. And then…

…a solution begins to form. My mind shifts gears, now whining, high pitched at a very high RPM, rapidly sifting through ideas, combinations and connections with other thoughts are made, evaluated, and discarded or retained. A web of solution slowly takes shape, layer upon layer. The earlier layers are forgotten and must be rediscovered; a higher gear yet, and the whining in my head again increases in pitch with the change in RPM. Finally, the problem is solved, elegantly or the path to resolving conflict is found, usually by a dramatic, self-righteous speech. I am eager for the morrow! But wait! Is this really the answer? And, it begins again, the boulders have reformed. Is this what insanity is like? It is certainly Satan’s playground.

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The worst part of these nights of torment is the appearance of the light of day. Photons strike the hard-won solution or reflect the words of the self-righteous speech only to illuminate the foolishness. The night was a waste. Now I’m just tired.

—–

Worst yet are the nights filled with the pain of love. A number of spiritual writers throughout the centuries refer to God’s “wound of love.” It is the deep longing for God that He inflicts upon us, a painful yearning that will never be fully satisfied until after death. A night of sleepless longing filled with happiness and joy.

It is at this point I find that the circle is completed, the nights of wounded longing meet the friendly nights of a freed soul…

—–

1:25am, and still no sign of sleep.

Ears That Do Not Hear

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I have recently seen a figure published that there are nearly 200 million English-language blog sites on the web, and that worldwide the total begins to approach one billion.    —http://www.rickmylander.com/2013/01/blog-blah-blah.html?m=1

This is the way a friend of mine introduces his new blog.  Imagine, 200 million English-language blog sites, nearly 1 billion world-wide.  If we added in emails, tweets, Facebook posts, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and the myriad of other electronic outlets for our thoughts, how many words per minute pouring out of us do you suppose that represents?  So many of us with so much to say.  This blog is but one more…

For the sake of brevity, let me label everything “spoken” into the electronic world by humanity as iSpeak.

Is it that the billions of us iSpeaking away really have something to say?  Is my voice so different from the others that my words find a unique place among the billions of billions of words being iSpoken into the aether?  Well, yes.  Ultimately, I do think we each have something unique to say.  After all, we are each unique persons who see the world just a little differently than the other.  My voice, yours, too, is indeed unique in this universe.

Here is an odd turn in the road that my mind is walking: the connection between iSpeaking and casual sex.  About casual sex, philosopher Joseph Pieper says this: “The encounter that is sheer sex and nothing else has rightly been called deceptive in character.  For the moment, an illusion of union arises; but without love this apparent union of two strangers leaves them more remote from each other than they were before” (Faith, Hope, Love).

Is iSpeaking like having the deceptive casual sex as Pieper describes, an experience that leaves strangers farther apart?  I think so.  Consider Margaret Guenther’s thought from her terrific book, Holy Listening: “In a way, not to be heard is not to exist.”

In a way, not to be heard is not to exist.

Loneliness is perhaps both our fundamental condition and fundamental fear.  It is our fundamental condition because we are estranged from God who made us; it is only in relationship with Him that we find our true identity.  To be truly alone is to be unaffirmed as a human, do be, well, as though dead.  Sadly, this is our deepest condition.  We are estranged from each other and, if we are honest, from ourselves.  Even Christians, those who have accepted the act of Jesus on the cross as God’s act of overcoming the estrangement, find ourselves struggling with loneliness as we long to be with God, face-to-face.

So, what has all this to do with iSpeaking?  A speaker without a listener is like Pieper’s two deceived, casual lovers.  Broadcasting my words into the electronic aether deceives me into thinking I matter, that I’m not alone.  However, with no listener is that really true?

A quick test: how many of you fellow iSpeakers are disappointed when no one “likes,” “follows,” or “comments” on your words?  Surely you feel it…particularly if you have iSpoken something important to you.  Perhaps you have only some who follow you; perhaps you have a legion.  How many followers is enough to make you feel as though you matter?  I wager that the number will never be high enough to make us feel as though we exist.

If Guenther is right, and I think she is, then we may iSpeak all we want, we may even garner a multitude of followers; yet, without being heard it is as though we don’t exist.  Could it be that billions of words that we iSpeak acutually come out of our own desperate need to be heard?  At the depths of our individual souls aren’t we each searching for someone to listen, someone who will say to us, “What you says matters; you exist”?  I want someone to affirm that it is good that I exist; this is the bedrock of what it means to be loved, which is our most fundamental need.  And being heard is a cornerstone of the goodness of my existence being affirmed. 

Our need to be loved extends beyond the electronic iWorld and into the rWorld (real world).  So many people speaking, so much verbal noise, so much information to convey, so much to do, hurry, hurry, HURRY…  We are growing deaf to each other.  Do any of us really hear? Or, with no listeners are we all in danger of becoming extinct to each other?

Another test: Name a person in your life who really hears you, who lets you finish a thought even if it means periods of silence; a person who will let you feel what you feel without trying to correct or fix you.  In my experience few can name such a person.

All is not lost.  There is a way out of the noise.

We can practice hospitality.  Sure, it is an old fashioned notion.  Webster defines hospitality as the act of receiving another in a kind and liberally generous manner without expecting a reward.  But, we’ve no time for hospitality these days.  We move too fast and are too tightly scheduled.  Productivity reigns.  The ancient idea of leisure, contemplating something for its own sake, is gone.  And yet listening, at its core, is the best kind of leisurely hospitality.  It is the hospitality of making room within your own soul to invite the other in as you listen.

iSpeaking has its place.  I write because it helps me think and I post it because perhaps another wonders about the same things.  But, I will fall into despair if I hope to have my existence affirmed in this way; while you may read this, I can never really know whether I have been heard by you.

So, find another human being and practice hospitality.  Hear their words, notice their voice inflections, see their body language, look into their eyes, quiet your own desire to be heard, talk as little as you need, ignore your desire to fix them, be attentive to your own internal responses as they talk allowing your emotions and feelings to connect with theirs…offer the hospitality of inviting them in to your very soul.  Give the other the very, very rare gift of being heard.  For a short time, one fewer voice in the world will not be missed.

Safe

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Jesus put his arms around each one and whispered, “I didn’t come to just give you good things; I came to give you Me, my Father, and the Holy Spirit. In Us, you have real life. You’re safe.”
–Presence (unpublished…coming soon)

Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard is fond of asking the following question: “If you could use only one word to describe Jesus, what would that word be?” You can probably imagine the answers: God, Savior, Teacher, Fraud, Risen, Redeemer, Liar, Beloved, Lord, Friend, Christ, Lunatic, Rock, Son, Messiah, Fictitious, Healer, Love…perhaps you have your own one-word description.

Willard’s word is “relaxed.” Perhaps I have a different image of a “relaxed” person than Dr. Willard intends. From Webster: Lacking precision? No, Jesus was very precise. At rest or at ease? Often; however that whole sweating blood episode before His beating and crucifixion didn’t seem too relaxing. Easy of manner? I imaging Jesus as assuredly intense. “Relaxed” doesn’t fit for me.

“Safe.” I like this word. To be clear, I don’t think it is the best word to describe Jesus; however, I do think it is a great word to describe His response as He moved about in the world.

The world around us is a scary place. There are murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, fiscal cliffs, car crashes, wars, falls, scrapes, bumps, bruises, insults, betrayals, hunger, bankruptcy, homelessness, fights, loneliness, sickness, disease, and so much more. One has only to watch the evening news.

There is a great scene in the 1991 movie, Grand Canyon. Suburbanite Mac’s car breaks down at night in the inner city of Los Angeles. While he is waiting for the tow truck, a carload of young thugs threaten him. Tow truck driver Simon arrives and in a confrontation with the thugs says, “I don’t know if you know it, but the world ain’t supposed to be this way.” Mac isn’t supposed to be afraid, the thugs aren’t supposed to be waiving guns, and by extension there aren’t supposed to be a poor inner city or young men forced to prove their toughness or…well, it goes on and on. It reaches all the way back to the Garden. It ain’t supposed to be this way.

Isn’t that true. Somewhere, deep down inside of us we know that the world is dangerous, we agree with Simon, the world ain’t supposed be this way. We should be safe.

Now, I feel safe in one regard: I know my eternal destiny, to use the Christian vernacular. I am completely assured that when I die I will be with the Christian God for all of eternity. I will be safe. To quote God’s promise:

And I heard a loud voice from God, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

That is safe! It is safety guarantied by God Himself, creator of all the heavens and the universe. Right now I feel safe in that way, a future safeness, a safeness-to-come. I’m sure Jesus also felt that kind of safeness-to-come.

What about right now. Do I have to live in fear now and wait for the safety-to-come? Did Jesus? No, to both. Is it as simple as a choice? My choice? Yes, to both.

Don’t be afraid any longer, only believe.
–Jesus

Jesus felt safe by letting go. Jesus had no expectations of His own, only expectancy of His Father’s fulfilled promises. By contrast, I have expectations and plenty of them, and most of my life’s expectations have been tightly interwoven with the American Dream. Too, my expectancy of God-at-work has been low. “God helps those who help themselves” after all. I work hard for my daily bread, my refrigerator is full; I don’t have to expect God to keep His promise. (Oh, that last quote is from Benjamin Franklin, not God.)

I have learned that my expectations keep my eyes firmly locked on me; it is my expectation of how my life should be, my expectation of how the world should be, and my expectation of how God must act. My expectations put me in the center of my world and offers the illusion of me in charge of my life and the world and God, and that’s the whole problem, isn’t it. In fact, that’s the root of the problem: man trying to be God. Expectations only lead to fear, the fear of failed expectations.

Expectancy is different. Expectancy as practiced by Jesus is God-centered. My life for His glory; Jesus’ choice must be mine. No expectations. I am God’s adopted son. I have all of the rights of His son. He loves me and will treat me and care for me as the beloved son that I am, including dashing my expectations as He conforms me into the likeness of Jesus. Those are not my expectations, those are God’s promises. To the extent that I, with His help (and He does most of the work!), can let go of my own expectations and hold on only to the expectancy that my Father will love me and treat me as He has promised, no matter what that means for my personal circumstances, then I will feel safe. I will be safe. Fear will be gone. My life for His glory.

Jesus didn’t come just to give me things to fulfill my expectations, He came to give me Himself in loving relationship. Only in relationship with Him will I be safe, and I will have life and have it abundantly.

That’s the way things are supposed to be.

Why Us?

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Jesus turned and saw Andrew and another following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day…later, Andrew went and found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Christ.”
–The Gospel of John, Chapter 1, verses 38-41, paraphrased

Have you ever wondered why God created us? After all, we seem to be a lot of trouble for Him, so much so that He once destroyed “every living thing” that He had made, except Noah and his family and at least representative pairs of all animals and birds.

But, why would God create us? Some point to Isaiah’s words that say God created us for His glory. Surely this is true. The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that “the chief end of man” is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Again, surely this is true. Still, somehow all of this seems a little sterile to me. Using a human relationship, I can glorify a human king by being an upright, obedient subject and by showing proper respect to the king. But beyond that I might never have any relationship with the king.

God moved me beyond my early notion of bringing Him glory when I began to understand Jesus when He said that eternal life is to “know the only true God [the Father] and Jesus Christ whom He sent.” Here, the Greek work for “know” means the most intimate relationship we can imagine. So, to combine the Scriptures, somehow my intimate relationship with God glorifies Him.

But, again, why? What is it about God that wants a relationship with me and yearns for me to have a relationship with Him…a relationship He wants so badly that He, in the person of Jesus, died to have it?

I think have found the answer; and of course I’m not the first to come to this. Here is how I am currently thinking about this question of the creation of mankind. Have you ever had an experience that you found so joy-filled that you couldn’t wait to share it? An experience you just couldn’t wait to invite another into hoping they, too, would share your joy? As a kid I was always inviting other kids to play football or baseball in the park; it was so much fun for me and I wanted us all to have fun. As an adult I encourage friends to go to a particular restaurant or to go see a movie…all things that have brought me joy. Even better are the events in which I share the joy with them, such as shared meals or movies. I really enjoy golf. I find great joy in being outside and walking the course. The (very) occasional good shot I hit is also joyful. My pleasure from golf was actually enhanced when my wife began to play and we could share the joy of the game. It seems natural to us to invite others into that which we have found joyful and in that act find our own joy enhanced; so natural is it that I believe it is part of who we are, part of being made “in the image and likeness” of God.

So, now I imagine the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; I imagine the perfect love that exists in the relationship, so perfect that the three are distinct and yet one, unified in love. I imagine the joyous love that must always be present within the Trinity, so present that the Apostle John says that God is love. I find it easy to imagine that God, immersed in perfect love and the resulting joy would want to share that experience; not just by showering others with love but by inviting others in to that experience of love. With whom did God choose to share His experience? Us…He created us to share the experience of love with Him, to enter into the same relationship with God that Jesus has with His Father.

With whom did God choose to share His experience? Us…He created us to share the experience of love with Him, to enter into the same relationship with God that Jesus has with His Father.

Can there be any truth more profound? I think not. When Jesus walked the earth He continually invited others along. “Follow Me” was His urging. Some followed; most didn’t. This inviting is, I believe, at the heart of what Jesus means when as His last words to His followers before being crucified He prays for us to be relationally “one” with He and our Father (John 17:22-26).

I have had a few deeply mystical encounters with God in which I have experienced the briefest taste of His love for me. Its power is incapacitating in the moment. The result of each encounter has always been the deepening of my love for Him. And I have the great fortune of experiencing perhaps the best possible human expression of God’s love in my marriage and also with a small, deeply loving community of committed Jesus followers. These experiences have been important events that have moved me along the path of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. Here is something I’ve discovered along the way: the more I become like Christ, the more I experience the kind of love that exists within the Trinity, and the more I respond to His invitation to join in His love, the more I long for others to experience it…I long to share with you the experience God is sharing with me.

So, I say to you, whoever you are reading this, I have found the Christ…come, and you too will see.