The Gift of Presence

steeringwheelI’m taking on a new challenge this week: to stop every time I get in my car and be fully present for the next 30 seconds. The goal is simply to encourage being present to the moment. Kris Kile, the blogger who posted the challenge, writes about using practices like silence, meditation, being in nature, and so on, to “tame the brain,” as he puts it. “Taming the Brain disciplines,” he says, “are a means to an end. The end is more balance, harmony, integrity, connection, peace, awareness, and effectiveness. Yet, they run completely counter to the drift of the culture we live in.” So true, Kris. Thanks for the exercise.

 

So how did it go for me? The first time I got in the car this week it was to drive my daughter to work, and she was running late. In my haste to get her there, I forgot all about the challenge of pausing. The next time, though, I remembered. I took time to pay attention to my breathing, to invite God’s presence into the moment.  I noticed beside the car one solitary tree branch, dancing in the wind. I let it become a metaphor for allowing myself to be moved by the breath of the Spirit. I felt his peace. I felt centered. And then it was done. As I reflected, I noticed I my earlier tendency to hurry, that it seemed critical to get on my way and be efficient. I now felt more patient. I felt how nice it was to be freed from the habit of hurry, and from any thought about myself or my “to do” list, even for a moment. I felt like my True Self. Living out of that place is one way of living out the resurrection, as Rohr says.

 

This relates to the fifth suggestion Rohr lists in twelve ways to live out the resurrection: “Choose your True Self – your radical union with God – as often as possible throughout the day.”

 

What is our True Self? It is who we have been from the beginning, before our first breath or thought. It is who we were created to be. We do not earn or work for it, yet we feel its truth. It is who we are when we are centered and at peace, conscious only of the present moment. That surrendered, resting state is where God has uninhibited access to all that we are, the place he calls “union with God.” It’s where he calls us by name. It is a place of rest, and also of transformation.   For we do not walk away unchanged from an encounter with the living God.

 

How do we choose this? As a first step, slowing down and being still help us remember that we have a choice. So much of what we do is largely unconscious. Mindful practices like this exercise of being present help us pay attention. They help us notice how much our thoughts rule our actions and our reactions. They help us become conscious, which is the only way we can choose love.

 

For Christians, this quiet center is a means of being “hidden in Christ,” as it says in Colossians 3. It allows us to experience the death of the ego, if even for a moment, and trust in his presence, his goodness and his rest as we let God be God with our whole being. Body, mind and spirit are his.

 

We’ve talked often about how the habits, attitudes and thoughts we accumulate in our lifetime revolve around our identity, our ego, or our False Self. As much as we’ve been dominated by this False Self most of our lives, that is not who we are. The False Self is largely self-referenced and self-protective. It thrives on activity to feel important, so much so that we don’t even notice many unconscious habits. Slowing down our habitual, ego-based thoughts frees us to experience and chose our True Self.

 

As Rohr says, “Religion has only one job description: how to make one out of two. For Christians, that is “the Christ mystery”, whereby we believe God overcame the gap from God’s side. God does all the work, the heavy lifting, and always initiates the longing. The deepest human need and longing is to overcome the separateness, the distance from what always seems “over there” and “beyond me,” like a perfect lover, a moment of perfection in art, music or dance, and surely a transcendent God.”

 

And we can choose it, every time we pause and answer his invitation to rest.

 

It is slow work, this deep transformation, but it happens just the same. At some point we might notice we’ve become more peaceful, more patient, more accepting of others, less determined to be right or in control or to have our way. But noticing our selves isn’t really our concern any more. When we have surrendered to our True Self, we know we did nothing to work for it or earn it, so ego isn’t in the picture. We are truly free. At least until the ego wakes again and intervenes, and we begin again. But now we have a frame of reference for what it feels like to be free.

 

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:18-30

 

Practice: Try the exercise I mentioned from Kris Kile, of pausing throughout your day to be present. His blog, Transformation.Institute, is listed below.

Kris Kile Transformation.Institute blog

 

 

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In the way, again

Yielding to other’s opinions and beliefs isn’t modeled much in social media. To the imagescontrary, people seem to feel freer online than ever to hurl abusive slurs at one another for merely stating a difference of opinion. Maybe they get caught up in the emotion of the argument and forget there’s a real person at the other end feeling the sting of their words. Maybe the thought of yielding never comes up, or if it does it feels like surrender, or weakness, as losing. I wonder when did beliefs and opinions become more important than respect for another person? If our self-referenced perspective is all we have to go on, it’s likely we will defend it to the bitter end.

In last week’s entry we talked about things that get in our way, about getting our way, and how “to give way” means to yield.   It’s worth a deeper look if we hope to truly live out the resurrection, as Rohr says. This will mean learning to step back and be honest about times when I slip back into the fear or anger of my False Self, as I often do in the middle of a conflict. Here I am, talking about conflict, again. It just seems that what’s most true about me is often revealed in my response to conflict and in difficult relationships. These are the places where I learn how little I really love. As long as I’m cloistered away or surrounded by people who are just like me, I can believe I’m a genuinely loving person. But how do I respond when my cup is tipped? Do I need to win the argument? Must I always be right, or have things my way? Is my way really best?

In the moment, I may not see it, it feels so natural to defend my position. But like holding a page too close to read, even six inches of distance can give me clarity. I can access this by stepping away, by paying attention to my breathing or by meditating. The practice of examen is helpful here as well, asking God to show me what I don’t see, or how I contributed to this difficult situation. However I reach center, I now have the opportunity to make amends and to own my feelings that got in the way. I get to forgive and to ask forgiveness, to be part of healing in even my most difficult relationships.

I was moved by those in Charleston last week who responded to hatred, racism and murder with forgiveness on their lips and in their hearts. If anyone had a right to hold onto anger and seek vengeance, they did. They know better than most of us what it is to yield to a higher power who is Love. The Christ they follow talked about turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, praying for those who persecute us, laying down our lives for others. There’s no room in this kingdom for talk of my rights or of being right, much less seeking revenge. To walk in his ways – to learn to love – is part of a lifetime of learning to let go of our need to control, of anger, of fear and learn to trust that although his ways are not our ways, we can learn them.

His Spirit within helps us live and respond out of our True Self, with a yielded heart. It seems to yield is always about giving. In yielding to another car in traffic, I give up my right to be first. In a heated discussion, I give up my right to be right. When I’ve been wronged, I give up my right to revenge. As Jesus said, he who would gain his life must lose it. It’s counter cultural, for sure, but it’s good for me to practice ways “to die before I die,” as Rohr and many of the mystics say.

One of my oldest memories is of singing this hymn in church. It’s still my prayer today:

“Have Thine own way, Lord, have thine own way.  Search me and try me, Master, today.

Mold me and make me After Thy will, While I am waiting, Yielded and still.”

Today’s prayer practice: Spend a few minutes in quiet, then meditate on the Beatitudes from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 1-16. Read them again slowly and see what stands out for you. Return to silence and listen as you wait for any stirrings from his Spirit that are just for you today. Remain in his love.

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In the way

“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”

— Margaret ThatcherIMG_0194

This quote from Margaret Thatcher, though probably said in jest, is often closer to the truth for me than I’d like to admit.   I can wait, as long as the outcome is in my favor. As long as I get my own way. And nothing stands in my way. There’s something inflexible in this stance that leaves no room for transformation. The word “way” originally meant a road, path or course of travel, not an end in itself. Thus to “give way” meant to yield the road to another.

Maybe either unconsciously or consciously, we assume our way is best, as Frank Sinatra immortalized in the song, “My Way.”

“For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself, then he has naught.

To say the things he truly feels;

And not the words of one who kneels.

The record shows I took the blows –

And did it my way!” — Frank Sinatra, “My Way”

What I’ve noticed is that my way, as good as it may seem to me, only takes me so far in life. There is so much I just don’t see on my own. I am one who kneels and asks for divine light, help and strength. I know that in any situation, I only have my own perspective, which is often so much a part of me – maybe even a treasured part — that I don’t see my bias. This relates to today’s advice from Living Out the Resurrection (Rohr): “Do not indulge or believe your False Self – that which is concocted by your mind and society’s expectations.”

This is a tough nut to crack. After all, we’ve been building this False Self (ego self) ever since we were small. It’s given us an identity, it’s helped keep us safe, there’s much about it that we define as good. And it’s all we know. We think it is who we are. Even our thoughts are contained by it, as we follow our preferred ways of thinking.

Operating out of my perspective, which is limited at best, allows me to dig in my heels, to take offense at others’ views, to believe my own press, to remain a victim, to hang on to anger and resentment, to judge and label, to feel justified in defending myself. This is not a pretty picture. These are all things that get in the way of love. Instead they lead to deep division. They keep me stuck, majoring on the minors, defending shaky ground. They keep me bound up in the same old worn out patterns of relating, instead of the freedom and healing I find in letting go, in forgiving, in living and let live. I need humility to truly see in order to get out of my way.

Anne Wilson Schaef wrote, “There are so many ways to heal. Arrogance may have a place in technology, but not in healing. I need to get out of my own way if I am to heal.”

How do I know if I’m in the way or set in my ways? Even if I just assume that I am, how do I escape from this deeply worn groove?

Even in the midst of conflict or angst, it helps to step aside mentally and emotionally and just breathe. This helps me be fully present to myself, my feelings and to God’s spirit. As I quiet myself I allow myself to notice what’s come up in me, even if it’s unpleasant. It’s just honest to admit to feelings of bitterness, resentment or judgment, asking God what they have to teach me. Then I invite God’s spirit in, and rest in the presence of Love, and let go. There’s nothing to do here, just be. As I center myself in his peace, I’m able to get out of the way, in sync with his Way. In meditation, I’m given a fresh and enlarged perspective, an acceptance of others and a glimpse of the truth: that we are all loved. Even this person with whom I’m in conflict. I get to confess my part and receive forgiveness. And emerge in a new place. Who knows what’s possible now that I’m walking in his way?

Each Sunday we are invited into worship with this prayer:

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, 
and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our 
hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may 
perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; 
through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

If I know that the All Seeing God is also the All Loving God, what could keep me from coming and receiving good from his hands? If there’s any fear, his perfect love can dissipate it. When I feel my mind beginning to spin a tale, either to elevate myself or to disparage someone else, may I respond to that awareness, be still, let it go and pray for God to have his Way in me.

Practice for today:

Spend a few minutes reflecting on the question, “Who do I think I am?” And then, “What do I need to see?” Feel free to bring your real life conflicts up. Remember the False Self is about who you think you are, though your thinking does not make it true. Your True Self is who you truly are, apart from all roles and labels and viewpoints, in the presence of the God who is Love. We can only be free from ourselves when we let go of our addiction to our own preferred way of thinking. Contemplation helps to free us. Ask God to show you who you truly are through his eyes as you breathe deeply, sit quietly and rest in the peace of his presence. Afterwards, express gratitude for the inner freedom and peace he offers.

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Beauty from ashes

The third on the list of ways we might live out the resurrection Dying embers(from author Richard Rohr) is “Undo your mistakes by some positive action towards the offended person or situation.”

I’m not sure it’s possible to “undo” our mistakes.   If I’m careless with a campfire, I can’t undo the devastation that ravages the woodlands.  We live with our mistakes and – hopefully — learn from them.  As much as I dread the idea of failure, I know I’ve learned far more from my mistakes and failures than my successes.  My failures have helped me realize my own limitations and my ongoing need for grace.  For that I am both thankful and humbled.  Still, as far as my relationships with others go, I believe it’s important to keep short accounts. Though we can’t undo our mistakes, we can counter our negative, hurtful or angry actions with positive action towards those we have offended.

What does this have to do with new life?  To get to anything new, something has to die. What do I need to let go of?  Perhaps it’s my pride or my self image or my need to be in control, or to be right.  I won’t get to new life — especially in relationships — by clinging to what I know or defending my position.

In my conversations with those in rehab, they frequently remind me of steps 8 and 9 from the 12 steps, which are about naming those we have harmed and being willing to make amends, and then going and doing so. It requires us to think beyond ourselves, and honestly examine our actions and motives. And to discern what might be most helpful or meaningful to the person we have harmed. Lastly, we follow through, if at all possible.

There’s a verse in Romans that says “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18)   It simply isn’t possible in all situations to go back to the person we harmed and make peace. Maybe they’ve moved away, or slammed the door on the relationship. Maybe it’s a parent or other relative who has since died. Maybe we’ve just lost contact. So what is it that depends on us? How can we be at peace? We can keep the situation a matter of prayer, and continue to pray for this person, placing it and them in God’s hands. We can pray for ourselves, that we would be drawn to his peace and love, instead of repeating harmful behaviors. We can strive to become more open and aware of God’s goodness in the world, and “put ourselves in the way of beauty,” as Cheryl Strayed says in Wild.  Part of God’s beauty is his peace, a peace that passes understanding.  And as we cooperate more and more with the Spirit, we can watch God make beauty from our ashes.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage;  Yes, wait for the Lord.”                           Psalm 27:13-14

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“I’m sorry.”

Why are these two words so hard to say?

It wasn’t the first time it had happened. My husband was driving and I was the navigator, steeringwheelas usual. We were in an unfamiliar city, trying to find the university building where he was about to give a talk. We’d been relying on printed directions, when suddenly I realized I had missed something and were now driving in the wrong direction in rush hour traffic. I quickly grabbed my iphone and entered our destination, which shortly got us back on track. But I knew it would have been good to at least look at the map ahead of time, and perhaps have my phone ready as a backup. And we do have history here. That can make the simplest things loaded, right?

I always have a defense when these things happen, instead of just saying, “I’m sorry.” This week I had Rohr’s second rule in my head, “Say you’re sorry when you’ve hurt someone,” so I did say, “I’m sorry, I should have looked at the route and been prepared.” I couldn’t resist adding, “But those were confusing directions.” This was a small thing and no real harm was done, as he did make his meeting on time, but it drove home for me how hard it is for me to apologize and to resist defending myself. For that matter, is there anything too small – or too big — to apologize for?

So why is it so hard to say we’re sorry?  Some theories:

1. We have few models for it. We mirror what we’ve been taught, but also what we see. It’s much more common to see people make justifications for their behavior rather than admit they did something wrong and take responsibility. We witness this in so many dimensions in the news and current events, in public servants and civic leaders, and honestly, within the church as well. We are all human, and none of us are immune to the temptation to defend our ego.  But shifting the blame or returning pain for pain helps no one.  Covering up keeps us stuck.

2. It’s scary. Apologizing is part of authentic intimacy, and that makes us vulnerable. Our apology might be rejected, we might be abandoned. This is a real risk. But if we are seeking to love as God loves, and love others as ourselves, it’s worth the risk. It’s part of being in relationship, being honest about our lives. Maybe that’s why it’s on the list of ways to live out the resurrection. Dying to our own concerns can bring new life.

3. We have to face anothers’ pain. And it is pain we have caused by our actions or our inactions. This is the other side of the coin. It’s never just about us. If we can muster the courage to go here and be with them in their pain and apologize, there’s no telling what healing might happen.

4. We prefer illusion.  We desperately need to believe we really are good, strong, capable, bright, dependable people. It causes dissonance to even look at our shadow self, much less own what we see there. This shadow self is part of the ego that we spend the first half of life constructing. It’s sometimes called the false self. Rohr says the false self isn’t bad, it’s just incomplete. Our true self runs much deeper, “the face we had before we were born,” the person God created us to be, separate from our roles, titles, vocation or status in our family or community. This is our true identity, and once we glimpse it, we find less need to defend anything. It becomes easier to admit that we have both light and darkness within us, to speak honestly about those moments when we were only thinking of ourselves, and apologize.

There’s a prayer we say in my church that captures this kind of honesty with the God who loves us unconditionally. This prayer just clears the air for me.  I say it often:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.  Amen.”

If we know that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by God, this becomes our central truth. We find we can come clean, with him and with others. We will rely less on our defenses and be more authentic about both our weaknesses and our strengths, for these no longer define us. We are free to become our true selves, the image of Love we see in Christ.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  2 Corinthians 3:17

What do you find most challenging about this topic?  Is there anyone to whom you need to say “I’m sorry,” today?  How might this lead to something new?  Ask God to show you the way.

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A Plague of Grackles

We are suffering a plague of grackles.  grackle,-common-del-haven-nj-jan-7-2010-DPF_2613-728304I only meant to feed songbirds and sparrows, but first one grackle showed up, and then another. Soon a whole gang of them flew in and took over, chasing away the other birds, and in one afternoon they had eaten all two pounds of the birdseed I had just put out.  Surely you must have grackles, wherever you live: swarms of glossy, black, cackling birds that descend on your city or neighborhood or crowd onto telephone wires.  They band together in farm country too and a horde of them can quickly consume a whole crop of corn.  They are everywhere. They are the bullies of the bird world, or the cockroaches, if you want an insect analogy, and I believe they mean to take over the planet. I despise them and am hereby declaring all out war.

This true tale from my back yard is similar to what happens when I identify with and am captivated by negative thoughts.  (This is part of a series I’m writing on 12 ways to live out the resurrection, an idea I got from Richard Rohr.  The step for the week is, “Refuse to identify with negative, blaming, antagonistic or fearful thoughts.”)

What might identifying with negative thoughts look like?  What is the progression I’m trying to avoid?  Like the grackles, one or two thoughts by themselves aren’t that troubling. But if I allow a negative thought center stage, it’s quickly joined by another.  And another. As they grow in number, they engage first my emotions, then my desires, my passions.  And pretty soon I’m taken over by the swarm of nasties.  A passion full blown is as hard to get rid of as these roaming flocks of destruction.  As long as I keep putting food out, they will come.

Do I have a choice?

Whether we’re talking grackles or my thoughts, I don’t have to continue to feed them. As Rohr reminds us, though we can’t keep from having critical thoughts, either of ourselves or others, we don’t have to engage with them.  We have thoughts, we are not our thoughts. If I don’t feed them or give them attention, they go away.

One thing that’s helped me is simply awareness.   Once I’m aware, I’m able to notice how that thought is affecting me and I can stop the progression. Especially if I ask myself how it make me feel.  If the answer is angry, anxious, judgmental or resentful, that is not a place I want to stay.  “Awareness of our thoughts allows distance from them, which is the first step in discernment.”*  I can pray, asking God to quiet my mind.  Centering prayer and meditation are especially useful tools.  If I stay in the present moment, rather than the past or future, that helps as well.  Focusing on my breathing is a good way to remind myself that God dwells in me and gives me Life.  And he is found in the present moment. When I calm my thought life, I become aware of that still, small voice calling me to something more.

I wish I could guarantee that fearful and blaming thoughts wouldn’t plague me again. But at least I have a few tools to keep the beasties at bay. And the God who indwells me offers me peace that passes all understanding.   Right now, in this present moment.

“My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.”  Psalm 62:5-6

*Mary Margaret Funk, Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life.

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There’s More

Today no one would doubt that it’s Spring, even here in New England.  Nothing is buddingApril lake yet, but it’s sunny and 70, and you can see a hint of leaf buds on the trees.  When it was sleeting last week, we had some skeptics.  Even last Saturday, there was still a layer of ice on the lake.  It reminds me that despite what I see as reality, there’s always the possibility of God’s goodness unfolding even as I speak.  I want to live out of that place of hope and freedom as I attempt to practice the resurrection.

How do I begin to do that? At the end of his book Immortal Diamond, Richard Rohr lists 12 ways to practice resurrection now.  I hope to focus on one each week and reflect on it and let it trickle down.  Maybe it will lead me into something new as I lean into God’s love.  The first is “Refuse to identify with negative, blaming, antagonistic or fearful thoughts.” (He notes that we can’t keep from having them.)  But we don’t have to engage and let them take us down a dark path.  We have thoughts, but we are more than our thoughts.  And these aren’t thoughts that bring Life.  We can notice them and let them go and give ourselves grace.  How is this part of walking in newness of life?   For me, fear is usually the thing that trips me up and keeps me from stepping into life, so refusing to listen to anxious or self-demeaning thoughts helps free me to be present and open to new possibilities.  It makes me want to search for my true self, that person I was created to be.  If I refuse to entertain those negative, critical thoughts I might notice there’s more going on than meets the eye.

How can I break out of the cycle?  In my fear of conflict, I can stop the cynicism and enter into it without baggage.  In my anxiety about my performance or how others might perceive me, I can remind myself God loves me just like I am, whether I ace or bomb things in my own eyes.  Awareness is the first step, especially as I hear those voices in my head that are so loud they seem like my own. Voices that pepper me with anxieties about what I “should” do or who I “ought to” be.  These are not God’s voice, and they don’t reflect how he sees me.  God invites me to set aside my limited perspective and wait, remaining open to the possibility of something more.  What does he have for me?  I don’t want to miss it.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:19.

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Christ is Rising

This poem from Steve Garnaas-Holmes is a beautiful reminder that we are all in process.  God’s mercies in us and around us are ongoing.  May we be patient with ourselves, and learn what it looks like to live out the resurrection.  Christ is rising.Scottish crypt

Easter sunrise service
we gather on snow frozen hard.
We shiver and shuffle for warmth.
The sun is late coming up
over the bare trees.

Resurrection seldom comes in a flash,
Jesus in the flowery garden.
The woman in labor knows.
This path can only lead to life,
but it is a long one.
It takes time for God
to make sorrow into joy,
fear into wisdom,
love into victory,
death into life.
Justice gestates.
Only gradually, with great trust,
does this life become the next,
with much practice and failure,
many jugs of spices left again
beside the empty tomb.
Day by day the bread is kneaded,
the light folded into our hearts.

Don’t stop watering the bare soil
where seeds lie working.

Christ is rising.
He is rising indeed.

— Steve Garnaas-Holmes, http://www.unfoldinglight.net

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Light

glorieta snapdragon“He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

This was our first Easter in a liturgical church, and even though St. Mark’s is small, they pulled out all the stops: fragrant lilies and tulips at the altar, incense wafting through the chapel, dramatic choral anthems that lifted our hearts, hymns that reminded us of Christ’s amazing gift to us in his life, death and resurrection. It was beautiful and stirring, and I was grateful to be a part of it, thankful to be reminded again that “He is risen.”

As we were rejoicing today, we were also reminded that Mark’s gospel ends very honestly with Jesus’ loved one running away in fear at this news. We’ve heard it so many times, it’s easy to forget how terrifying this must have been. Nothing these past three days has gone as they expected, and they’d seen their dreams of a new kingdom die along with Jesus. Nothing prepared them for the death of their Messiah. They are in mourning, and a few of them have come to grieve and anoint the body, only to find it missing and an angel telling them not to fear. Right.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8

It comforts me that God knows we are fearful creatures, and tells us over and over, “Do not fear.” “I am with you.” These two sentences have carried me into and through situations where I too wanted to flee in fear. Knowing Christ is with me has given me courage to step into those fears and choose life instead of something less, trusting that something good will come, even if I am quaking with terror at the thought. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available for me as well. When I’ve taken a risk and stepped out in faith, he’s replaced my fears with joy and gratitude. When I’ve stuck even a toe outside my comfort zone, bringing food to the homeless, visiting addicts in rehab, or stepping into a conflict that seems bigger than I am, I’ve seen that God indeed offers new life. He delights in giving us freedom from all that holds us back and keeps us from becoming. But it doesn’t stop there, because it isn’t just about us. The good news is for everyone, and we are the vessels. As he molds us in his image, our compassion for the world will shine, making light of the darkness.  “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Today’s prayer practice: Gratitude

Spend a few quiet moments with God today, reflecting on some of what you’re grateful for. Today is an opportunity to look at all we have in Christ, to remember his promise to always be with us. Take a walk alone or sit in your favorite peaceful spot and get quiet, asking God to bring some of his gifts to mind. Thank him for these, then meditate on these verses, listening for how God might want to shape you into a vessel of his love: Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

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Darkness

stained glassSixth Saturday

 

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and breathed his last.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Matthew 27:45-54

Darkness came over the whole land. This must have seemed like the end of all things for the disciples who looked on from a distance. All their hopes and dreams ended on a cross that day. Jesus’ words of despair must have resonated with them, as they surely felt God had forsaken them all.

Maybe you have felt abandoned by God. It helps to know that this is not uncommon in the lives of saints. The psalmists certainly felt abandoned at times, and often recorded their cries to a God who seemed mysteriously absent. Sometimes the suffering of the world can seem like too much and we wonder where God is. Why has he turned his back on us and allowed this pain? Then we can guilt ourselves and wonder if it’s us. Shouldn’t we just try harder to believe, or pray harder or avoid admitting that we feel the slightest bit of doubt? We are so uncomfortable with these questions. Yet doubt is not the enemy of faith. It is honest and real and invites openness to God when we’re willing to ride it out. Though it may feel scary, it’s helpful to stick with the process as long as it takes for God to do his work in us. He may be taking us into a deeper place of faith, regardless of how it looks and feels.

One result of all this inner work is that it allows God to give us his perspective, as we only have our small view of reality before us. Take another look at the scene above. As Jesus breathes his last and the earth shakes and the veil in the temple is torn, the disciples grieve and despair. What they do not know is that at the very same time the dead are being raised to life. The soldiers watching this scene are brought to faith by it, saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Is this a glimpse of death or of new life? Of a reason to grieve or of God’s unfolding plan? Like most things we experience, it is both.

Today’s prayer practice: Prayer of abandonment

Read the verses above again slowly, allowing them to sink in. How do you feel when you read Jesus’ cry of despair? Have you ever experienced a sense of God’s absence? What are you feeling now? Ask God to show you he is with you, even if you aren’t aware of his presence. Listen.  Are you willing to trust that God is doing unseen work in the darkness of your life and circumstances? Take this to him in prayer and sit with open hands. Close with this prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

All we, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:5-6

 

 

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