Monday, February 27, 2012

Finding Your Spirit Song

So, did you give up something for Lent?  Chocolate or soda perhaps?  If you did, you are in good company.  There are many Christians who “sacrifice” something during the period of Lent.  For a lot of people, this sums up the period of Lent for them.  Lent, is a time of sacrifice, nothing more, nothing less.  I won’t argue with that belief, but, I would like to help you broaden your perspective a bit and perhaps, give you a deeper appreciation of what Lent can be for you personally.

We are told in the Gospels, that Jesus went out into the wilderness.  Many believe that he actually went out in to the desert.  When you think about a desert, the vast majority of people think of a dry, hot, dusty, lifeless area, that is certainly quiet and not a place that you want to go.  Now, I personally have never been to a desert.  I have family and friends though, who have.  The most fascinating stories come from those who have actually lived in a desert area or who have been in a desert for an extended period of time.  They tell me that the desert isn’t quite as lifeless as the rest of us perceive it to be.  Life in the desert is subtle, but it is there, if you just take the time to stop and pay attention.  A sudden rain will cause things to bloom, things that you didn’t even know were there, but were waiting, just under the surface, for the right time and the right circumstances.  Sunrise and Sunset paint dramatic pictures across the landscape-color, shadow, shape, things that you would not normally see or expect to see in such a lifeless place.  But most fascinating to me are the friends who tell me that the desert sings.  The desert is not this vast silent space.  If one listens closely you can hear the song of the desert when the breeze blows and the sands shift.  The desert sings and all because a breeze blows through.  That doesn’t sound lifeless to me!

As a girl who grew up in the country, I can understand this subtle singing.  I have heard the singing in a different way though.  I grew up hearing the sound of pines whispering or maple leaves rustling.  I have heard the difference between a babbling brook, a lapping lake and the ocean roar.  I have heard it at the top of a granite mountain where alpine flora and fauna cling tenaciously in the nooks and crannies and sway in a gentle breeze.  Each, is part of the wilderness, and it is vast, and wide, and open enough that you can hear the song of even a gentle breeze.

Now, you can look at time in the wilderness as a matter of sacrifice-giving up the comforts of the known and familiar, “doing without”  being the soul purpose of going out into the wilderness.  Or, you can broaden your perspective and look at this as an opportunity where the spirit can blow a fresh breeze into those spiritual spaces.  For me, personally, the second option adds so much more meaning to the time of Lent!

The thing that got me to seriously consider the second option was a meditation that Rev. Leslie Weatherhead wrote in his book “A Private House of Prayer”.  In it, he describes how he imagines the story from John 3, verses 1-8.  He imagines Nicodemus eating dinner with Jesus and that it was traditional to have the shutters closed so others could not overlook them while they were eating.  He describes how stifling it is in the room until Jesus walks over to the shutters and flings them open to let in the evening breeze.  He sees Jesus using this experience to describe the New Birth-when the fresh air wafts gently in and drives out the stale, stifled atmosphere that prevailed before.  Fresh air replaces dead air.  The breeze blows, and it is clean and new!

My great-grandmother understood this well!  Apparently she would open the windows of the house, even in the dead of winter, for five to ten minutes, every day, in order to let fresh air in to the house.  She said it made it easier to heat the house and keep it warm, once you did that!  For those of you who have never experienced a Vermont winter, let me assure you, it can get mighty cold!  30 below zero is not an uncommon temperature at certain times during the winter, so to commit to this routine every day throughout the winter was quite a feat, especially in the days when the house was heated by a wood stove only!  Warm stuffy air was sacrificed long enough to let the fresh air in!

Now imagine that your soul is shut up tight, like a house in winter.  Imagine that your life is warm and cozy because you have everything shut tightly.  The problem though, is that things can become stifling.  The air can become stale.  You forget the sound of the song.  You forget what it feels like to have a fresh breeze blowing.  So you make the conscious choice to sacrifice and go out in to the spiritual wilderness.  You open up the doors and windows of your life, and your soul, so the breeze can waft its way through.  It may mean that you confront some things that you have kept tightly sealed or hidden.  It can mean being temporarily uncomfortable.  That’s what Jesus did out there in the desert.  He left the known and the comfortable and traveled out to a place where the breeze could blow.  In doing so, the song of the Spirit came through and he was able to confront those things that needed to be confronted.  Did it involve sacrifice?  We know from the Gospel of Luke that it most certainly did involve sacrifice.  But I would argue that it was so much more than that!  In the bigger picture, it involved opening up to the breeze of the Spirit, blowing through the soul, providing a freshness that allowed him to confront the things that needed to be confronted, so he was able to go on and do the thing that he had been sent to do!

What would happen in your life if you made the spiritual journey out in to the desert?  Are you willing to open up your life and your soul?  Are you willing to be uncomfortable and to confront some things that may need to be confronted?  It would involve sacrificing the safety and security of the known comfort zone and venturing out in to the unknown.  The wilderness may seem lifeless at first, but when the gentle breeze blows, the air changes.  If you listen closely, you can hear the Spirit song.  Not everyone will be willing or ready to do this, but I want each of you to consider the possibility.  Instead of just going through the motions of preparing for a High Holy Day, consider taking the risk of going deeper.  Consider taking the risk of venturing out in to the desert.  Consider the possibility of opening yourself up to seeing things that you did not expect.  Consider going on the quest to hear your very own Spirit song from God!

Let the wind blow God, let the wind blow!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Encourage Courage! Take Courage!

Have you ever run across something that was so eye-opening, so radical and revolutionary that you will never look at a certain thing in the same way again?  Hold on to your hats!  This is gonna blow you away!

Let’s start with Webster’s definition of three very ordinary words-courage, fear, encourage

Courage-the capacity to meet danger without giving way to fear
Fear-the instinctive emotion aroused by impending or seeming danger, pain or evil
Encourage-to give courage or confidence to

Let me expand the definition of encourage-to give the capacity to meet danger without giving way to the instinctive emotion aroused by impending or seeming danger, pain or evil.

Now let’s take a look at a familiar story in Matthew 14, where Jesus walks on water.  Even a person with a passing encounter with Sunday School will be familiar with this story!  Jesus had sent the disciples on their way, by boat, while he went up to the mountain to pray.  It says that the boat was battered by waves and that in the early morning Jesus came walking towards them on the sea.  It also says that the disciples were terrified because they thought it was a ghost.  Here’s where it gets interesting, verse 27.  The NRSV Bible renders the translation like this:  “…‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  The King James version says “Be of good cheer.”  For me, neither one of these translations invoke a sense of powerfulness.  What I hear in my head is that old song from the late 80’s early 90’s “don’t worry, be happy!”  Sweet, but not exactly powerful.

Leslie Weatherhead translated it differently.  In the Positive Affirmation for day 18 he translates it this way:  “Courage, it is I.”  I could never recall hearing it translated that way, so I did a little digging and the NIV Bible says this for verse, 27:  “Take courage!  It is I!”  What do I hear in my head?  Every musical track that has ever been used in a movie when the hero comes to the rescue!

Talk about a powerful image!  Here are the men, on this boat, waves literally crashing over the top of the boat while they are tossed around, pretty certain that they are not going to make it, when all of a sudden, here comes this figure, walking towards them, stomping waves like a child stomps an anthill!  They are terrified!  Then suddenly, this big strong voice shouts out to them “ TAKE COURAGE!  IT….IS…I!!!”  Wow!  That is powerful!

Then we go on to verse 28 where Peter says “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  What does Jesus say?  “Come.”  We know the rest of the story, Peter does get out of the boat and does just fine until he gets distracted by the wind and then he becomes frightened again.  Down he goes, so he calls out to Jesus who grabs him by the hand and brings him back to the ship safely.  Jesus says to him “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Now, I want to throw out one more definition.  This word, has about a half page column in the dictionary but, I want to focus on the very first definition listed.

Take-to get possession of by using force or superior strength

When you think about this Bible story and what Jesus said, and the definitions of those key words, “take courage” is not a warm and fuzzy, comforting phrase.  It is a command!  Jesus is telling Peter to forcefully grab on to courage and not give way to fear!  This completely changes the dynamic of this story!  It also gives a new understanding to the question that Jesus asked Peter.  “Why did you doubt?”  Jesus is saying “you had it in your hands, why did you let go?!  Why did you let yourself get distracted?  Why did you give fear free reign again?”  

Think about how many people could use this type of message today!  Average, everyday people, just trying to get by in life.  They want to do something different, but they are afraid.  Their life boat is getting swamped by the waves of bill collectors, threat of house foreclosure, possibility of losing their job.  Their children are struggling in school.  They have a sick parent who needs assistance.  They are living at the mercy of the waves, just barely getting by.  They are baling as fast as they can but still the waves come!  They want to get a different job.  They want to go back to school.  They have an idea for a business but, oh Lord!  It’s just too risky!  They are barely holding on as it is!  What if they take the chance and fail?!  All the people they would let down!  All the things they might lose!  They are terrified, just like the Disciples in the boat!  Fear is a powerful thing!

Courage is equally as powerful if we can just take hold of it!  Look around you.  Is there someone you know who took a risk and against all odds succeeded?  Look at individuals in the military who go above and beyond the call of duty.  I guarantee that each one experienced fear, but they took hold of courage and did something extraordinary!  If you are fearful, look to others who inspire you and who have exhibited courage in their own life.   Or, maybe, you are the courageous one.  Can you be the person who reaches out to another individual and offer encouragement?  Can you help blaze the path?  In a society where fear runs rampant, when failure seems the only option, can you be that person who grabs on and doesn’t let go?

Imagine how different things could be if we made it a practice to encourage courage!  How much change would we see if we delivered this one simple message-take courage!  Even in a storm, we are never truly alone.  Encourage yourself, encourage others.  Imagine how different life could be if we all chose to “take courage!”

I will never look at the story of Jesus walking on water the same way again!  From now on, I will see it as a powerful story of how life can be if we stop living in our own private world of fear.  Take courage, Jesus said.  Take courage and believe!  Take hold of that powerful, awe inspiring message and boldly walk forward in courage today!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Through the Gate to the Broad Place

The notes for Psalm 20 in the Wesley Study Bible say that this is an intercession for the king.  It says that  the people are asking for God’s protection for their king, because their safety is contingent upon his safety.  I’m glad that I read the Psalm before I read the notes because, I had a very different take on this, particularly on verses 4 and 5:
“May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.  May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners.  May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.”
What I heard in my head and heart was a blessing.  This is the type of prayer that I would pray for a loved one or a friend, particularly if they were struggling with some issue.  Not only do I want my friend to overcome obstacles but, I want to celebrate with them, when they achieve their goal!  This is the kind of prayer that I hope someone would pray over me!

There was another verse that caught my attention, as well, that I think goes nicely with this blessing.  Psalm 18, verse 19:
“He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.”
The notes on this verse say that a broad place is far from enemies that would otherwise be pressing in on an individual.  Again, I understand what they are saying,  but I saw something very different!  In my minds eye, I saw a wide, open, space, full of opportunity.  I saw potential!

Here’s my convoluted thought process.  It’s a winding path but stay with me! It will make sense, once we wind through the maze!   Jesus said the gate is narrow.  We have to choose to walk through the gate.  But what happens when you walk through that gate?  Things usually open up into a much wider, broader space!  Why does God give you gifts and graces?  Why does God give you ideas and plans?  Why do the right people show up, at the right time, in the right place?  Here’s the part that we tend to skim over; the reason is, because God delights in you!

If you have prayed to God to use your gifts and graces, for His honor and glory, if you have asked Him what His plan is for your life, then you have started towards that narrow gate.  What a delight!  Someone who actually stopped talking, and stopped long enough to ask what His plan is, rather than, putting forth what you think the plan should be!  Once you walk through that gate, the Holy Spirit puts His arm around your shoulder and says “look around you.”  You look and think “wow, this is way more than I imagined!”  His plan, is your plan, and he will fulfill your heart’s desire!  Your friends and family will celebrate with you because, God has delighted in you!  It is a powerful, profound image!  An incredible vision, if we could just believe in it!  Ah, there’s the catch, the thing that keeps you from walking through that gate!  It’s hard to believe, especially if we feel that we are not “delightful!”

Leslie Weatherhead, in his book, “A Private House of Prayer” said something that was stunning in it’s simplicity, and really gets to the heart of the matter.  In the meditation for day 4, he talks about the story from Mark, chapter 2, where the four men, literally, haul their sick friend up to the roof, and remove the tiles, so they can lower him down to Jesus, because they truly believe Jesus can heal him.  Jesus does not say to the man, “you are healed.”  What does he say?  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Rev. Weatherhead says this:
“How many disabilities of ours would disappear if we could really feel completely forgiven, utterly free from guilt?” 
 He comes back to this point, during the confession for day 15, when he says this:
“God does not ask us to live in a state of continual remorse about our past sins, but to outgrow them and become spiritually adult.”  
God forgives, but do you forgive yourself?  Why are you unable to believe that God delights in you?  Because you can’t let go of the guilt.  It is tough to believe in the forgiveness of God when you can’t forgive yourself!  The train of thought in your head is “how can I ask for blessings when I’m not worthy?”

God’s forgiveness is not dependent on us, or how worthy we think we are!  God forgives because God is God!  He is merciful, and loving; and He doesn’t worry about the past, when someone has truly repented and asked for forgiveness.  If He wanted us to wallow in guilt over past sins, then, why would He send Jesus?  Jesus came because God so loved the world!  Jesus came so that we could experience forgiveness!  When we choose to believe Jesus is Savior, and ask for forgiveness, God forgets those sins!  He focuses on the present, and the future, and what wonderful things are waiting for you, if, you would just believe and ask!  This is why Paul, in Philippians 3, talks about “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” and he talks about pressing towards the goal of the “heavenly call” of God.  If past guilt keeps holding you prisoner, how can you move forward?  Didn’t Jesus come to set each of us free?

God has a “heavenly call” for each of us; a delightful plan that He wants to share.  But, you’re not going to enter that narrow way, if, you keep hauling all the guilt baggage around with you!    Let it go!  God has forgiven you, learn to forgive yourself!  

As you let go of all that baggage, and walk through that narrow gate, I pray with the Psalmist that  God will grant your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.  I believe that he will deliver you to that broad place because God is Good.  He loves you, He forgives you and He delights in you!  May you shout with joy when your victory comes, because God loves YOU, and delights, in YOU!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Extraordinary Ordinary Deborah!

The Book of Judges is such an interesting book!  In the very beginning we read how Israel does what is right as long as the generation that came into the land with Joshua was still alive.  But as it says in chapter 2, once that generation died, they started straying from the path!  So the cycle begins.  Israel strays, suffering comes about because of that, they call out to the Lord and a Judge is raised to deliver them.  Things go well as long as that Judge is alive, but once that Judge dies, it starts all over again!

We see this happening today as well.  Take the veterans of World War II for example.  There has been a great effort to record their stories so they can be told long after those vets are gone.  Why?  Because if we are willing to learn from them, perhaps we can avoid the same painful lessons that they had to encounter first hand!  But it is oh so easy to forget, especially if you are a few generations removed from the event!  This point is vividly recorded again and again in the book of Judges.

The other thing that is so striking about Judges, is God’s choice of Judges.  The least likely, the weakest, the most unexpected individuals are raised up to be the leaders!  Which brings me to Deborah!  She is, by far, one of my most favorite leaders in the book of Judges!  She gets two chapters for crying out loud, yet she is so commonly overlooked!  She is the woman behind the scenes making sure that God gets what God wants!

We meet Deborah in chapter 4.  We are told first that she is a Prophetess.  Then, we are told that she is the wife of Lappidoth and that she sits “under the palm of Deborah” where the Israelites come to her for judgment.  This was a woman, who had nothing to prove, because she had already stood the test of time!  Her counsel was considered wise enough, that she was trusted to be able to make decisions that were fair.  She was a highly respected woman in a culture that was dominated by the male status quo.  That, in and of itself, is a stunning accomplishment!  But there’s more.

She summons Barak to give him a message.  Staring at verse 6, in chapter 4 (Wesley Study Bible, NRSV):
“She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun.  I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’  Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’  Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.”
Barak gets a divine message from God, delivered by the most trusted and respected Prophetess of Israel and his response is “I’ll go if you go”????  Wow!  Talk about lack of faith!  So what is Deborah’s response?  She tells him that she will go but he needs to realize that he’s not going to get credit for this deliverance, it will be a woman who gets credit!  Barak may not have enough confidence in the message from God, but Deborah did have confidence!

We read further on that the battle goes exactly as Deborah said, and Sisera flees on foot and ends up at the tent of Heber, the Kenite, where he meets Heber’s wife, Jael.  Here is a connection that often is overlooked.  Heber is descended from Hobab, the father in law of Moses.  Although they might have moved  a distance away, they were still connected to Israel.  Long story short, Jael has Sisera come in to the tent, she feeds him, gives him something to drink and a blanket to cover him so he can rest.  He falls asleep and she drives a tent peg through his temple and kills him.  Barbaric?  Yes.  But it wasn’t Barak that brought down enemy number one of Israel.  As Deborah said “the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”  That woman, just happened to be Jael, whose family had ties to Israel!

Chapter 5 is “The Song of Deborah” where the story of the battle is recounted.  The song is very clear-deliverance came because of the Lord!  The Lord is the mighty warrior, who turned the tide and made victory possible!  Deborah knew this and understood this right from the very beginning.  She trusted in the Lord’s message and did what she had to do to ensure that it was carried out.  And that is what is so extraordinary and special about Deborah.  She trusted God enough to step beyond the established roles of society to become the leader that Israel needed, when they needed it!

This is just my opinion, but, I think Deborah probably didn’t see herself as anything but ordinary.  She didn’t go looking for fame or glory, she simply did what she had to do.  We hear a similar refrain from our heroes today.  Our soldiers who are recognized for courageous acts respond that they were “just doing my job.”  Or, an individual who rushes in to save someone from a burning building, or pull someone from a wreck, how do they respond?  “I don’t see myself as a hero, I just did what had to be done.”

For me, that is the great lesson of Deborah.  Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things if they are willing to trust in the guiding hand of God!  These are individuals who are not looking for fame and glory.  They are individuals who just want to do the right thing!  It doesn’t matter who gets credit, what matters, is that, something good was accomplished from the effort.

John Wesley preached in the open fields in order to reach individuals that the church would not allow in the doors.  Florence Nightingale is responsible for the beginnings of the nursing profession as we now know it.  Clara Barton brought the ideas of the Red Cross to the United States.  Martin Luther King inspired us with his “I have a dream” speech, but it was Rosa Parks who simply wanted to be able to sit where she wanted to!  Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, the list can go on, but each of these individuals did not set out to gain fame and glory, they just wanted to do the right thing!

So you, darling, precious, ordinary, person, can accomplish great things!  You do it every day without realizing the fact!  You do this by simply choosing to listen to that still, small, voice and doing the things that need to be done.  Those small “right acts” that you do, unnoticed, everyday, can add up to extraordinary things in the long run.  We may not know God’s plan or even understand His plan, but as long as we trust Him, great things can happen!  If you ever need to be reminded of that fact, just go back to Judges and read about Deborah.  Deborah, an ordinary woman, who by the grace of God, was able to accomplish an extraordinary thing!  I sum up her philosophy by paraphrasing the end of verse 21, found in chapter 5.  March on sweet souls, be strong!  Trust the Lord and march on with might!  Sing your songs like Deborah, the extraordinary, ordinary, leader of Israel!  March on!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Encouragement? Caution? All of the Above

In Matthew chapter 12, Jesus has been talking in parables, telling truths in story form.  At verse 43 he starts talking about evil spirits:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none.  Then it says ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order.  Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.  So will it be also with this evil generation.”
Now, look at the exchange in Job, chapter 1, between the Lord and “the accuser” or Satan,  verse 7:
“The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’  Satan answered the Lord, ‘ From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
Notice the similarity in the descriptions.  Satan wanders about looking for a place to land.  He goes to and fro until he finds a resting place.  There is a reason that I bring this up.

As you know, I have been exploring the art of meditation, an aspect of Christian Mysticism, and I have discovered that not all books are created equal!  There are some books that claim to be about Christian Mysticism and Spiritual insight and, quite frankly, they are not books that I would recommend for someone exploring this topic!

There was one book that I read online, that was recommended as the sort of  “7 steps to meditation and mysticism” and, at first, it’s suggestions seemed reasonable.  But as I read further, I discovered that the writer’s view of the source of evil, and mine, parted ways in a dramatic fashion!  In a nutshell, the writer believes that evil comes about by “wrong thought” and that there isn’t really evil in the world.   Bad things happen to people because they “think” it into being.  An individual is in a car accident, for example, because they attracted the negative situation by their thoughts.  A child is ill because a parent had negative thoughts of sickness that manifested in the child.  The solution is simply to “neutralize” the negative thought pattern and then you start attracting positive things into your life.  I wish I was kidding about this but I’m not!  This is the point where I strongly disagree with the writer, based on my study of scriptures.

The entire book of Job is based on refuting such arguments!  It states, right from the beginning, that Job was indeed a righteous man.  His friends make the argument that the calamities that have befallen Job, are the result of some “sin” that he has committed.  If you read the entire book, you know that God himself refutes this argument!  And if Jesus didn’t believe that evil was real then why did he bother sending the demons into the pigs in Mark chapter 5?   Why would John Wesley preach so strongly, a caution about evil, if he didn’t believe that it existed?  Evil is real, and it is a force that is separate from God!

Believing that evil is real does not imply a “dualism” within God, which is the argument that is made to explain the belief that evil is simply thought gone wrong.  Yes, God is good and what he created is good!  God did not create evil.  Evil simply exists.  And that is an important point to remember if one intends to attempt Christian Meditation!

It is no wonder that Morton Kelsey, in his book, “The Other Side of Silence” warns that meditation is not for everyone!  If an individual does not have a thorough grounding in scripture, they could easily open themselves up to more problems then they had before!  Mr. Kelsey says this on the topic on page 52:
“The idea that we have outgrown our need to turn to God for help in dealing with evil, or the idea, in fact that there is no such thing as cosmic evil, would be funny if it did not show such a tragic lack of understanding.”  
Or this comment on page 74:
  “As long as one believes that there is no evil and that spiritual reality is relatively benign, there is no particular reason for caution.  This is why our belief systems are so important.”  (emphasis mine)
I have been impressed by the fact that throughout his book, Mr. Kelsey has emphasized that Christian Meditation is meant to help you discover deeper truths that can be practiced and applied in the here and now.  It is meant to strengthen your faith and it is meant to be used in practical ways to help others!

He also strongly suggests that a person doesn’t “go it alone.”  Yes, meditation is an inward journey but, you need a firm anchor in the world.  A mentor, a prayer group, family, close friends that you can talk to, are all incredibly important!  In taking this journey inward, you may discover things about yourself that are shocking or disturbing and there is a real need to have a support network around you to help “bring you down to earth.”  (On a personal note, I am discovering just how true this is!  I am my own worst critic, and that trait is even more intense in meditation.  My family and friends are far more forgiving of my flaws, as is God, which can be hard to fathom!)

Now, you may read this and think “well that’s just crazy!  Don’t we want to encourage people to go deeper in their spiritual walk?”  Of course we do!  But, the fact remains, it is important to prepare for that journey first.  I’m reminded of what Isaiah says in chapter 28, starting at verse 24:
“Do those who plow for sowing plow continually?  Do they continually open and harrow their ground?  When they have leveled its surface, do they not scatter dill, sow cumin, and plant wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and spelt as the border?  For they are well instructed; their God teaches them.” (Again, emphasis mine.)
It is important to plant, but FIRST they have to plow and harrow and level.  They have to be instructed well by God.  Otherwise, you can end up with weeds planted with the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) and as the parable illustrates, it can cause a whole lot of problems!

So am I suggesting that Christian Meditation is a bad thing to try?  No.  What I am saying though is be certain that you are as prepared as you can be before you try!  Mr. Kelsey opens chapter 8 with this paragraph.  I am going to close with it as an important reminder.
“Meditation is not something one should do simply because others are doing it.  It can not be undertaken like an aesthetic exercise or merely for diversion.  Whether we expect it or not, in meditation we are opening the door to another aspect of reality, potentially just as rewarding and sometimes even more dangerous than the physical world.  Not many of us would turn a child loose in the physical world without teaching that child, as best we can, how to get around safely in it.”
Wise words indeed!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Quest is Afoot! Journey in to Christian Mysticism

Have you ever wondered if there was something more to life than what you see or hear or feel?  Is there something deeper, more meaningful than can be experienced through your senses?  If you have asked those questions, then you will understand my quest, my search for that deeper meaning!  That deeper understanding is a bit of a mystery for me.  And in this age of “knowledge at your fingertips” with a few strokes of the keyboard and a search on the internet, you can find a lot of information!

Now, initially, I thought I was looking for the way of a Prophet.  When I would read about the Prophets in the Bible, they always seemed to possess a mystical quality-a knowing beyond knowing.  I wasn’t looking for the great sage who sat on a hillside, cross legged, uttering “ohm” over and over again.  They reminded me of that phrase about people who are “so heavenly minded, that they were no earthly good.”  No, what I was looking for, was a way to grab on to the truths that meant something in the here and now and could be used for good in the here and now!  And that is when I discovered the distinct difference between mysticism and prophecy.

Webster’s dictionary defines mysticism as “the doctrine or belief that direct spiritual apprehension of truth or union with God may be obtained through contemplation or insight in ways inaccessible to the senses or reason.”  So a “mystic” is someone who practices this belief.  A Prophet, on the other hand, as defined in Webster’s dictionary is “a person who by divine inspiration, declares to the world the divine will, judgments, etc.”  So, the way I understand this, is that, a mystic does not necessarily “declare” anything to the world, like a Prophet.  They are on a spiritual quest.    So far, so good!  This made sense.

I soon discovered though, in our modern world, mystic and mysticism, are terms loosely used!  They run the gamut of philosophies and practices!  That was not what I was looking for!  I was looking for a Christ centered, Christian based example-Christian Mysticism.  Did I mention that this is almost as muddy and undefined?  It runs the gamut from Leslie Weatherhead and Norman Vincent Peale to Ernest Holmes with C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton thrown in, for good measure.  If you go back to ancient times, the names that come up range from St. John of the Cross to Jeanne Guyon.  Yes, clear as mud!  I was about to throw up my hands in defeat!

Fortunately, this is the point when I came in to possession of Morton T. Kelsey’s book “The Other Side of Silence.”  Although the book was published back in 1976, his words are as true for today as when he wrote the book!  From the very beginning, I discovered that he put in to words, what I had been feeling.  In the very first chapter he says this: “I found that I could read the Scriptures and say my prayers and offices with little sense of contact, almost no experience.  Most of this activity came from my conscious mind.  I was reading the bible like a student, voicing the prayers mostly as thought forms, and more and more the feeling grew of something lacking, of facing a dead end.”

This perfectly described my feelings about prayer and meditation!  Why was it, that I could read the Bible and get so much out of it, but trying to follow all of the various forms of prayer left me feeling empty?  He addresses this point in chapter 2:  “…the meditative process is a many-faceted jewel…So many people like to emphasize certain forms of prayer or meditation such as prayer of thanksgiving or adoration.  But these are completed only when one’s prayer life involves all the other aspects of his life, from one’s anguish and despair to volcanic and explosive anger.”  (This is probably why I fell in love with Leslie Weatherhead’s book “A Private House of Prayer” because his imaginative room layout allows for such breadth of prayer and meditation.)

Further on, in chapter two, I experienced my biggest “ah-ha” moment, so far.  He discusses the differences between introverts and extroverts.  He starts off by saying that God “…wants each of us to seek Him in whatever way is the best for us individually, and He honors each personality and does not try to force us into any particular pattern or mold in order to relate to Him.”  He then gives some examples of the different ways that each type experiences prayer and meditation, “…extroverts find meaning among people and in doing things, their prayer life will probably be geared to service with and to others….Introverts…find the inner world fascinating and easy to deal with.  They are very likely to have no trouble finding an inner experience of God’s presence…Since they enjoy quiet, it is relatively easy for them to find time to meditate…”

Ah ha!  Most of the books on prayer are written by individuals who find quiet, contemplative prayer as easy as breathing!  I, on the other hand, try to sit quietly and hold a thought in my head but end up running a shopping list of thoughts through my head instead!  Quiet contemplation is not my strength.

However, if I am in the garden pulling weeds, looking after plants, doing something active, I suddenly find myself with all sorts of insight into things that I might have been trying to pray about or that I had been struggling with!  For me, gardening is a form of meditation!  It wasn’t that I was a failure at prayer and meditation.  The problem was that the methods I was trying to use were not the methods that worked best for me!  That one realization was such an Eureka moment for me that I was astounded that I had not discovered this on my own!  I felt like a weight had suddenly been lifted off of my shoulders!

And so, the mystical journey begins!  I’m not sure where it will lead.  I am positive that it will not always be easy.  But knowing that God honors the journey is priceless!  I’ll keep you posted.