Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Those Moments

Those moments when you can feel the spirit like the breath of a lion pushing you to the edge of real and tangible, panting and gasping for the supernatural more real than breath.

Those moments when you know what you know by the Divine in you, the essence of truth, the light that hasn’t faded, the rich vastness of eternity telling you what you see with your naked eye….is not all there is to know.

Those moments when prayer ascends like a baby descends. Gripping writhing agony of purpose and destiny. On behalf of another. For another. For life. For hope. For the promise that awaits in the holding.

Those moments when you find your voice is not alone. You are surrounded by a chorus of keening tears lifting  you by the strength of individual sorrow shared in community. Those moments.

Those moments when your faith is something more than a declaration of creeds, it is a life moving in tandem with eternity.  It is real, in those moments when you feel prayer leave your lips and kiss the face God.

9226724_orig

Seed Silent

I have been silent of late. Not the sulking, depressed, anti-social, need to be hidden kind of silent, but the seed kind of silent.  Surrender silent.  The way the seed falls into the cool, dark blackness of earth and gives up one identity for the promise of another. Expectant kind of silent. The promise of the hard outer shell of familiarity cracking under the pressure of the moisture and the weight of the soil.  Longing silent. The way the lover sun pulls on the tenderness of the sprout coaxing and wooing it to the surface with promises of union and purpose and destiny.

This has been my silence as I walked my  earth wet with tears and felt the weight of the reality of my dust.  I have learned a lot about my seed self.  I have experienced paradigms shifting in every facet of my being.  Who I thought I was as Child, Mother, Wife, Friend, Worshipper…all being touched by the Master Gardener’s hand each time with one question:  “Do you yield?”

Will I yield to the work of the silence and surrender? Or die, a hardened intact seed with all of my potential locked inside me?

I bow and stretch and embrace pain as escort.  For the first time I am learning what it really means to be alive.  The why behind each breath and heartbeat.  I want to live.  Live intentionally and purposefully.  I am done with existing. There is so much more to it than that.

636bac3932b6649af6650729358aecd1

Staring At The Dirt

Today has been a day of water.  Water in the form of torrential down pour, hail, sleet, snow flurries and misty wet wind. With this water comes mud.  I hate mud. I am surrounded by it. Everywhere I look it has either been tracked in, or clings to  shoes, fur, coats, pants.  It covers the driveway, and the yard and you can’t glance outside and not see it.  Gone is the blanket of white hiding the dirt. Now is the season where you have to look at dirt.  Wet, sticky, heavy, clingy, odorous….dirt.

I don’t find it a coincidence that today has overwhelmed me with water and dirt, as today is also  Maundy Thursday.  This day of Holy Week we celebrate the remembrance of the Last Supper.  We remember the Savior’s aching plea to observe and remember.  His powerful demonstration of service when he laid aside his rabbinical robes and donned the garb of the servant…a towel, and poured water into a basin and washed the dirt from off the feet of his disciples.

John 13:3-5  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus, from his secure place in the Father’s love, humbled himself as a lowly servant and looked at the dirt on his disciples feet.  He didn’t just stare.  He didn’t point out who had the dirtiest feet, he didn’t comment on nail fungus or callouses,  he poured water, and touched them, and wiped them clean.

What a lesson for ministers of  SoulCare-are we washing from a place of identity that is securely fastened in the love of the Father?  Do we know deeply whose we are, and where we are heading before we pick up the towel?  Have we seen our Savior wash our own dirty feet,  before we ever dare to look at the dirt of another?  The dirt of the journey through this broken world that clings to the peace of the wounded bringing them shame, and the inability to move freely. The dirt that dries like concrete, and rips the skin off when bumped too harshly.

Jesus didn’t use a scrub brush.  Jesus didn’t stare at the dirt.  He saw the heart under the sandals he unlatched.  He wasn’t moved by the dirt, because he himself was the living water, the walking pool of Bethesda, the wine from the water at Canaan, the baptism of Jordan, the rock of water that followed the Hebrew children in the wilderness.  He is the river of life, no dirt can cling to the soul of the one who is washed by this eternal stream.

My prayer this (muddy) Thursday is this:  May we remember the washing as we gaze at the mud.  May we  allow our souls to be reminded of our identity in the Beloved.  May we lay aside any robes of entitlement and reach for the towel as we kneel before the sandals in our care.  jesus-washing-the-feet-calvin-carter

 

God Came Cold-Old Smoke pt 3

God came cold on Valentines Sunday to the Preacher’s church. The sister found him curled up in the February frost in front of the doors to the sanctuary-he’d been there all night.  She called the Preacher and the Preacher called the Gardener, and we looked at each other and knew…”Old Smoke.”

The Gardener hurried to shower and dress turning to me with his hand on the door his steel blue eyes pierced me with their intentionality.

“We have to be very careful with this.  I’m telling you, this is a gift from God today, and how we handle this is going to make all the difference…you know?”

I smiled and lowered my eyes, “oh, I know, it is more than just a homeless man on the steps of our church…this is GOD, I’ll be right behind you! ” The Gardener smiled and nodded and raced off the mountain into the valley to be there to care for God in disguise.  Like Abraham rushed to attend the mysterious guests on that dusty afternoon where the fate of a city hung in the balance,  we found ourselves rushing to be present to the need of love that left itself at our doors. Several times I had to let my foot off the accelerator as I traveled the windy gravel road to town.

“Why am I speeding?” I mumbled to myself with a shake of the head as I crested the hill that overlooks the valley and began my decent. As I gazed at the spring mist filling the valley floor, and pondered my need to rush to church, the presence of love filled my truck and a tender voice whispered to my heart-

“Because, love compels.”

I wept. This is what it feels like?  This is what love does to you when you know who you are really serving, giving, caring for?  This is what it feels like to have your feet racing to do good?  Love compels the heart to give all it has, all the time, in every situation.  Love compels the extra mile, the only cloak, the humble turning of the smitten cheek. Love compels the cross.

I threw the truck in park and rushed into the sanctuary only to find The Sister weeping gently in quiet attendance to the man sleeping in the chair.  She had offered him a cup of coffee and a roll, wrapped him in her soft blanket and set him next to the fireplace, where he promptly fell asleep.

“This old man, was someone’s baby boy.  I want to hold him, and tell him it is going to be ok. Is that crazy?”  She choked out the whispered words, her hands trembling with compelling love.

“No, it’s not crazy”  I whispered back through my own tears, “You see, this is God, this is our Valentine gift from Heaven.  We get to love the least of these well today.”

We nodded, and wept and tucked him in a little closer to the fire, and waited to see what the congregation would think of God.

India Daily Life

30 Seconds To Midnight

Midnight

 If this fire and loss of my father has taught me anything, it is that in light of eternity, very little matters in this temporal world. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t say that with pompous airs of detached stoicism.  I say that from the trenches of gut wrenching tears and an agony that leaves you unable to breathe.  I say that from the underside of the mud in my face, from the taste of my own blood in my mouth, from the bruised knees to which I have fallen. I say that from the place of stripping and knowing in the nakedness, the shame of this life is nothing compared to the glory of his presence.  The beauty of his face, the knowledge of an eternity with the Desire of the Ages is going to be worth all the pain and suffering this life can bring.  Those are not just words but an ever nearing reality.

What do any of us have to say to each other when the world as we know it is crashing and fading, and falling and shifting?  When we can’t look back and point to anything standing saying “this is irreplaceable…truth, stuff, belonging, being” the message of this hour is actually quite simple in it’s terrifying narrowness:  “Do you know your God, does he know you?”

It is 30 seconds to midnight, do I have oil and some to spare the long darkness? Or will I be sent away to discover the truth only too late, and be shut out from the closeness of his presence?

Have I heard my name upon his lips?  What does the sound of his voice feel like?  What is the rhythm of his heart? What moves him in this hour?

The message is simple.  Am I my Beloved’s?  Is He mine? It is no longer a matter of debate or theological argument.  Either I am madly in love as a bride espoused to the groom of her youth, having learned to “love one another as I have loved you ” or, I have grown bored in the waiting and turned to other things to occupy my time trusting that the fiery affections of my first love will be there when I need it.

It is 30 seconds…where am I? What is my message?

Living On The Circumference

atom-electrons

”  The recognition that one’s life is meant to be lived from the inside out is a milepost on our spiritual journey.  In a society which lays such great stress on outward appearances, labels and symbols of success it will take an earnest concentration on our part to free ourselves from this highly touted living on the circumference. “–Bob Benson, Disciplines For The Inner Life

Living on the circumference.

By definition:  the enclosing boundary of a curved geometric figure, especially a circle.

By association:  synonyms:  perimeter, border, boundary, edge, rim, verge, margin, fringe
By etymology:  This word comes from the Latin, it means to carry, or bear around or about…
As I sit gazing at these words, I realize I am beholding the place where lepers dwell.  The social misfits, the spiritual outcasts, the religiously impure, the broken bodies, minds, spirits of the strangers… the ones no one gets…the angry ones.  The deeply soul sad, the fearful and cautious ones who look for stones behind every passing cloak.  The thought comes to me of Yeshua The Rabbi’s response to the walking dead.  What was His interpretation of Leviticus?

The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, `Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.

Leviticus 13: 45-56

Matthew 11:28-30The Message (MSG)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? 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. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 Grief can make you live on the circumference.  Feeling like an electron slowly moving around a nucleus of sorrow that won’t let you go.  Pulling you ever inward.  I am discovering in my orbit an internal language for loss.  I never knew such words or phrases existed until I found myself walking ragged through the ashes.
hiraeth2
and again:
saudade
 I turn to the Rabbi’s invitation and question whether it is for me.  What is the garment of mourning supposed to “fit” like?  at the moment it is tight and constricting and I can’t breathe most days.  But I can’t take it off.  It is like being strapped into a dress that the zipper has broken on.  To tight to go over your head, to small to slide over the hips. Only way out is the scissors-but the price tag keeps my hands at bay…I have paid so much for this dress.
No one ever told me that grief would feel so much like fear.

In The Empty Moments

Thinking tonight about the empty moments.   You know, those  time-scapes where you are truly alone with yourself. What we do with ourselves in those times are very telling.  Are they filled with accusation?  Shame? Guilt? I am watching those I love process a life lived full and yet, they sit in empty silence, and the echoes are driving them mad….I have often read and re-read this poem by Oriah called:  The Invitation.  Tonight I find myself wandering in the words again, as I am praying for my Dad who is losing touch with today, and stuck in the pain of past hurts and poor choices and soul woundings.  I ache to reach inside and help him out, all the while longing for the silver moon of my youth when I could stand in it’s light and shout” Yes” to the pale glow and know that I am ….and that is enough. I share these words with you tonight, perhaps you too are wandering.  May they bring you comfort and light, and a sense of being.  Thank you Oriah Mountain Dreamer, for penning these words and touching my soul with truth sparks for the darkness.

The Invitation by Oriahwoman-with-moon1
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation
published by HarperONE, San Francisco,
1999 All rights reserved

Burning Boxes

Mar 8:37  

For what can a man give in return for his soul?

Yesterday we burned the past.  Box after box was hauled from the back porch to the burn pile.   Boxes we had crated and stored with every move we have made.  Boxes of lives we were a part of, dreams we helped build. Boxes of stories.

The Gardener and I gazed through the smoke reading the bittersweet expressions on each other’s faces as years of our lives and hundreds of thousands of hours were emptied onto the flames.  Bittersweet.  Bitter because of the demands our business put on our relationship, our parenting, our friendships.  Bitter because of the chasing of fame, and fortune which consumed so many of our days now reduced to dust.  Bitter the reality of poor choices made, compromises considered, risks taken so costly.   Bitter the yearning for opulence and the clanging of coins in the purse.

Yet, sweet in a melancholy sort of way. Sweet the way hearts were turned into homes.  Sweet the talents and gifts of skilled hands, loyal laborers, artisan craftsman.  Sweet the way we helped a community to prosper and flourish and change.  Sweet the strength of vision and the longing for place.  It was just the wrong place.

As I sat under the candlelight of the evenings Lent service, the words of Mark 7 echoed through me.  I realized there is nothing I would give, no treasure that would tempt me from this place of soul.  There was nothing this world could offer me to trade for this new Shalom.  Though I am poorer in state than in the days of the boxes, I am richer in presence.  Richer in love. Richer in peace and vision.  I have pulled up the stake, and followed hard after the lover of my soul.  I do not long for the boxed life.  The life that was eaten by strangers, and given to other people’s children in the worship of culture, and power, and greed.  I long for my soul to be broken bread and poured out wine in the ministry of life-the life of Christ.

The boxes are still smoldering tonight.  It seems the boxed life does not die easily.  I think I will go stir the pile and resurrect the flame.  I think I will smile at the edge of the ashes.  Smile at the choice to not trade the freedom of living this God breathed authentic moment for any gilded box of earthly treasure.

You oh Lord are the anchor of my soul.  In you I delight.  In you I will never be put to shame.  Hold me close to your heart in these days to the cross.  Hold me as I gaze upon your choice and love you in the midst of suffering.

burning_the_past1

 

Sifted

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,
 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Luke 22:31-32 ESV

I have been sifted.  I know the Riddler’s voice in my head.

“You aren’t strong enough, brave enough, good enough, righteous enough, you aren’t enough.  No one sees, hears, knows, cares, loves you.  He doesn’t love you…He isn’t even real.  What if this is all a lie?  What if this is all there is?  What if they are right? What if you are alone? How could a good God-”

I know what it is to stare at a black canyon at midnight at 70 mph.  I know what it is to not believe the spark of life inside of me is worth fanning into flame. I know what it means to take my hands off the wheel and just quit.  I know the selfishness of self-absorption.

I know what it is to make grand declarations of allegiance to a Savior I wasn’t so sure I would die for.  I know what it is to wrestle with the whisper of “is this real” and “is there really a God who loves you anyway?”  I know what it is like to run away from the fellowship of hand warming when a babe questioned my walk. I know Peter, he is my brother.

“…but I have prayed for you”

Those words.  Some of the most powerful words to encounter my life became for me a living stone.  A God made flesh, incarnation of love in me reality.  A memorial of the way I was spoken back into existence and caused to stand upon feet firm and solid in faith.   He prayed for me.  My Intercessor asked for me to receive strength to not lose heart. To not give up. To find true faith. He made a way in me to Him in the middle of the dark forest of my wandering. Because he scattered crumbs from the table of his presence I did not die in my rebellion. When I was his enemy, he fed me. He prayed for me.

“and when you have turned again-“

I know what it is like to have sunlight pierce midnight.  To have words form inside of my spirit blast against darkness.  I know what it is like to hear the footsteps of love approach my wretchedness and  transform the hanging ropes of despair into ribbons of grace.  I know what it is to come groping into the light blindly waving my hands in front of my face to catch my stumbling steps, only to feel the steady grip of acceptance upon my shoulder.

“strengthen your brethren”

Can you really heal wounds if you yourself have never bled? Can you give hope when you know nothing of darkness or the pressure of the sieve? Can you lead anyone if you yourself have not turned resolutely to life? Can you teach anyone to pray, having not felt the posture of humility before the greatness of His love? Can you war, if you have never lost?

I know the sound of tempered steel.  I know what it is to be weighed on the proving grounds, and waged in battle.  I know now the treasure of  whom I have believed.  I know the way of narrowness and I have light for midnight. I know the fight of faith is a good one, a noble race run. I am at last able to say, I follow Christ because I know Him.  I know as I have been known.  He lives in me. I live in Him. I know the life I live is not my own, and I know he will finish what he has started in me.  Be of good cheer, He has overcome the world.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 ESV

peter-denial

Kidron Crossing

John 17:26

I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” ESV

And when he had spoken these words, the clock by which he lived his days tolled midnight for his soul and he arose immediately.  The days of “the hour is not yet, my time has not come” were over.  Now was the hour at hand.  Now was the moment when the cup was delivered into his hands. In this place, as the moments of his Passion begin, he prays that love would remain in them.  He knows that darkness can rob a person of love, that tonight the hearts of many would grow cold, and they would betray each other-unto death.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. John 18:1 ESV

To my casual glance this is just sensory details, setting the scenes to come in place and environment, but the wind of the Spirit blows around these words and I am drawn to enter the setting.  Why here?   Why this place?

Because it is family property.  It is a familiar place of suffering in the lineage of our Lord.  David, King of Israel crossed here, barefoot ,weeping and running like a criminal from his own son.  Tears streaming from his eyes, his heart aching with betrayal and loss wondering if he will ever see Jerusalem again he crosses this brook to the Mount of Olives.

Now, The Son of David, crosses this same brook as the full moon of Passover shines upon him.  He too has been betrayed, about to be led from Jerusalem.  He turns his face to this crossing over as the battle to drink the cup the Father has prepared begins.  Deep anguish will pierce his soul, but there is not a company to weep with him.  He is alone.  His companions are asleep.  Above him on the Mount of Olives are two cedar trees, under which according to the historian Westcott, four shops are located where the sale of objects legally pure, and enough pigeons for the sacrifices of all Israel would put coins in the priests pockets.  He writes:

“Even the mention of Kidron by the secondary and popular name of ‘the ravine of the cedars’ may contain an allusion to a scandal felt as a grievous burden at the time when the priests gained wealth by the sale of victims by the two cedars.”

 

The Lamb of God sold for thirty pieces of silver prostrates himself before the King of Heaven for the eternal profit of all who would believe in him.  When the blood has spilled upon the ground and his will is weaned and quiet, He rises to the sound of the approaching mob, and declares his identity with all the authority of son-ship. “IAM HE”!  The soldiers fall to the ground and the Lamb gives himself into their hands.

I leave this passage with questions.  How do I view those who accuse my standing before God?  Do I see them as instruments in the hands of a loving Father crafting in me the quality of son-ship? Or do I like Peter, grab for swords and begin to violently swing at ears, and eyes and noses? Worse yet, do I shrink back from the direct inquiry of my life, denying such close proximity to the radical God made flesh, who threatens every establishment that hinders perfect love?

Oh Father.  Keep me steady as I face my own Kidron.  Hold me close to the cross, let me not be ashamed of the sufferings of Christ, but rather may I glory in my bonds. May I say with zeal and truth in the inward man:  I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…and the life I now live…I live by FAITH, in the Son of Man.