“The little strength remaining in the soul is like a spark hidden in ashes” Thomas a Kempis Our TV fireplace with it’s warm orange glow and crackling logs doesn’t change the room temperature, but with a little imagination you can almost believe there is heat. Add a few candles and some background music and you… Continue reading Crackling Logs
Talking to a Sunni Muslim women recently, I was curious about her practice of Ramadan. She shared that not drinking water all day was the hardest part; and that the fast in Calgary, is from 3:40 am to 9:40 pm. She explained that all Muslims are expected, once they reach puberty, to participate, but there are a number of exceptions such as health and pregnancy. I pointed out that Jesus anticipated that Christians would fast also. She was curious whether Christian fasting included not drinking water like Sunnis do. Oh, I replied Christian fasting is optional, people can do whatever they want.
This got me thinking about our Christian practices. Jesus spoke about fasting and prayer often but he also warned against basing our religion on external exercises. “When you fast Jesus said, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” (Matt. 6:16) All traditional spiritual disciplines whether solitude, silence, fasting, bible reading, prayer, worship, giving and others, can become forms that are empty of spiritual reality. Yet, without them, it is impossible to imagine a person will make much true progress in their Christian faith. Just as Ignatius had his “Exercises” and St Benedict had his “Rules”, we need our own set of practices tailored to fit the rhythms of our life.
Imagine playing for a sports team where workouts were optional. Or, suppose a dietician recommends a diet of chips and pop, where vegetables and fruits are non-compulsory. Picture learning piano from a teacher who said practice is elective. Have we turned the grace of God into freedom to do what I feel like? How often do you feel like taking up your cross daily to follow Christ?
James said, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (Jas 2:17)
In other words, every person whose life exemplifies what it means to be a follower of Jesus, develops a set of compulsory spiritual practices to follow.
How do you practice your Christian faith? What “rules” do you live by to give structure to your spirituality? Do you feel it is helpful to have patterns of daily spiritual practice?
Our lives are filled with many words. Each day 30 billion Whatsapp messages and 20 billion texts fly across cyber space. In addition, the airwaves are filled with radio and TV messages, words and images filling our thoughts. Among all those words, how many are healing or encouraging those who are burdened and full of… Continue reading A Word to Encourage
Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. Songs of Solomon
Here is a question I ask myself once in a while. What do I want, really? How would you answer this question? At various times, my answer includes things like happiness; consolation; peace; a solution to a problem and forgiveness.
Let’s suppose, in one grand moment, all of what I desire happened. How would that feel? Even if all our desires in the life were fulfilled it would only be temporary and I imagine we would still want more. So then I have longings that this world cannot fulfill and that leaves me in a dilemma. I can keep trying in more and more ways to satisfy desire or just try to ignore or deny it altogether. However, desire has an eternal quality about it that does not go away. When I am aware of the longings within me that cannot be satisfied in this world the best I can do is lift my heart to God who is our highest good.
When we attempt to numb our desires by our business, or to suppress our desires through religious guilt and fear it is like closing a door on the very best our hearts could aspire to, perfect love. The antidote to unmet hunger is not to avoid it, but to be present and awake to it. Desire is telling us something about ourselves and about our relationship with God.
“Contemplation is understood as the desire to awaken from our dark sleep.” Wendy Farley.
Desire fully awake can sound a bit frightening, it feels dangerous, like a wild river at flood level. Like the river guided by it’s banks to the ocean, God intends that we set our desires upon Him. He longs for us and His desire is that we want Him in return. He considers it a form of adultery when we love the world and ignore Him. He cannot be counted on to give us everything we want in this life. He can be counted on to give us His highest good for our souls.
“He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:5,6
The problem we face is that we are too weak to lift our desire wholly to God and so we attach our desires to the temporal world instead. In this way we settle for less that the best. Farley states that,
“The problem with desire is not that it desires the wrong objects: the problem is that it relinquishes its erotic structure for the economy of possession. Desire, ever restless, ever yearning, does not seek heaven to still its lust for pleasure eternally and completely.”
To guide our awakened desires, we need the gift of discernment. Saint Ignatius teaches that our feelings can guide us to God’s purpose in our lives. On his sick bed, using his imagination he would follow his immediate longing to their goal. Then he would notice how he felt about that end. He discovered that if it was a God desire it left him with feelings of consolation and when it was a selfish end it led to feelings of desolation. So then he chose to pursue the feeling that led to consolation and this was his calling to give up all and become follower of Jesus.
Thomas a Kempis similarly instructed his disciples to discern the movements of grace and nature.
The Voice of Christ: My child, pay careful attention to the movements of nature and of grace, for they move in very contrary and subtle ways, and can scarcely be distinguished by anyone except a man who is spiritual and inwardly enlightened. Kempis.
With grace, patience, the word of God, wisdom, and spiritual mentors we will find our way to our ultimate source and our purest desire, God. Purity of affection leads us to loving in this world without seeking to possess it.
Being awake to love can in fact be entirely counter cultural and inefficient. We will be challenged by love to give up our clinging to lesser things in order to embrace something better. Awakened desire however is it’s own reward. Gerald May says,
….. love calls us beyond using God to satisfy our needs, to heal us, to get us out of trouble, or to enhance our efficiency. Love calls us to gratitude, relinquishment, celebration, service, play, praise, companionship, intimacy, communion, and always to deeper yearning. In other words, love calls us to love. Gerald May
The Oprah Magazine has declared 2016 the year of YOU. This announcement is about what we might expect from O magazine, but would someone tell me how I can handle another year of me. Definitely, knowing and improving ourselves is helpful but only if we are willing to be brutally honest in the process.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm. 51:6
My desire is for more grace that will help me be patient in trails, to grow in my disappointments, to turn my heart more often to heaven and put my hope in eternal things above things of this world. I need more grace to live more often in the presence of love and be okay with its inefficiency.
Inside of us are two conflicting natures wrestling for the title role of our affections. As Jesus said, we cannot serve both God and the world — something must give. The human nature with its disordered affections competes with my true desire for the pure nature of God. I need great grace if I am to remain in peace in my present condition and even more grace if I intend to change.
Paying attention to the movement of grace and nature within is an important practice for those who long for greater freedom in God.
……pay careful attention to the movements of nature and of grace, for they move in very contrary and subtle ways, and can scarcely be distinguished by anyone except a man who is spiritual and inwardly enlightened. Thomas a Kempis
In describing the struggle within, Thomas a Kempis calls our fallen human condition nature, and the divine nature he calls grace. He points out that the only way for grace and human nature to cohabit is for nature to submit to grace. In other words, like the Odd Couple, there are two roommates inside me that can only get along is if one is willing to give in to the other. In the case of grace and nature, one is from above, one from below, one seeks the will of God the other it’s own way. We participate in the divine nature of Jesus when we choose to pay attention to the subtle movements of grace and ignore the more demanding voice of nature.
If I am to grow in grace this year, it will take some humility and brokenness as I realize the truth that I am nothing and can do little if any good without God and a great deal of His grace. In this place of surrender and weakness, I also discover that by grace, I can do all things through Christ who strengthen’s me. (Philippians 4:13)
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us toc his own glory and excellence,d 4by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1
O most blessed grace, which makes the poor in spirit rich in virtues, which renders him who is rich in many good things humble of heart, come, descend upon me, fill me quickly with your consolation lest my soul faint with weariness and dryness of mind. Let me find grace in Your sight, I beg, Lord, for Your grace is enough for me, even though I obtain none of the things which nature desires. If I am tempted and afflicted with many tribulations, I will fear no evils while Your grace is with me. This is my strength. This will give me counsel and help. This is more powerful than all my enemies and wiser than all the wise. This is the mistress of truth, the teacher of discipline, the light of the heart, the consoler in anguish, the banisher of sorrow, the expeller of fear, the nourisher of devotion, the producer of tears. What am I without grace, but dead wood, a useless branch, fit only to be cast away? Let Your grace, therefore, go before me and follow me, O Lord, and make me always intent upon good works, through Jesus Christ, Your Son. Thomas a Kempis
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness… Matthew 4:1 The desert is symbolic of the harshness and isolation we can often feel, even in our crowded world. Rejection, failure and the disappointments of life can send us there, feeling thirsty and barren. It does not usually occur to me that God might… Continue reading Thin Places
Time to go; don’t be late. Leaving the house: got my gadgets, got my glasses, wore the right clothes, used mouthwash, locked the door, got my keys, oops. Once again the well-ordered life evades me. A new set of plans begins, call for a ride and worry about the keys later. Living a well-ordered life… Continue reading A Well-ordered Life.
I am not much of a boy scout, but I love the outdoors. When I try to start a fire, I usually end up on my knees with my face in the fire pit, coaxing, blowing and pleading with the fire to start. If I could apply the same desperation and attention to stirring up… Continue reading A Spark in the Ashes
One Sunday morning, a young shepherd boy was caring for his sheep when he heard the bells of the church ringing. Watching the people walk by on their way to church, he thought, “I would like to talk to God, but what can I say to him?” He had never been taught a prayer. So,… Continue reading The Alphabet Prayer