values

January 9, 2008

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lessons

I’ve come to realize one of the hardest lessons for the spiritual life isn’t about the internal state nor is it even directly related to our perception of God. The hardest lesson of the spiritual life has to do with that oft source of frustration — other people. It’s hard because we’re always around people, and it’s hard because this is the area of life in which life with the Spirit goes so much against our natural inclinations that it requires a constant and steady work of the Spirit in order to keep us in line with Christ.

What are our natural inclinations? We want to control people. We want to judge people. We want to rate people. We want something from people. We have expectations of people. We have demands. We have desires. We want people to make sense. We want them to agree with us. We think God should be doing the same thing in other people that he is doing in us. We want respect. In short, there’s a quality in which we want to be a little god to other people, God’s own representative so that we can manage people to be the way they should be. Even if there’s only a few Mugabes and Pol Pots in history, we’ve all a bit of the tyrant in us. Which is expressed in anger, or depression, or a maybe, if we’re really trying hard, just a mild form of irritation. We get out of sorts.

And yet, Paul wrote in Philippians 2:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!

We are not called to be little gods, but rather to follow the lead of Christ in letting go our insistence on our supposed dues and becoming a servant.

Servant is an overused word in Christian culture. Everyone wants to be a leader, everyone wants to be a servant. We all want to be the kind of servants who get to tell other people how and when we will serve them, lording over them with our service. But, Jesus, though Lord, didn’t lord over anyone. He didn’t assert his authority but did something else.

He remained open to people. And that is one of the most profound spiritual acts a person can do. Why? Because people hurt, insult, fight, ignore, crush, use, abuse, dismiss. People have mixed motives. They fail. They have different goals and different hopes and different expectations. They might not share our feelings, or our yearnings, or our dreams. People can be fickle. They can be flighty. They can be ignorant. Indeed, God might even just be talking to those other people as much as he is talking to us, and what he is saying to them isn’t the same.

In the face of this, where other people for whatever reason don’t match up us, it is extremely natural to let the ego have its way. The ego is that part of us that defends our supposed identity. It provokes anger and frustration when people don’t match what we want them to match. It stirs up jealousy and fear and provokes us to go on the attack, rejecting or denying another before they get the chance to do anything to us.

And so in the face of natural inclination we have to be thoroughly unnatural. We have to risk being hurt. We have to enter into interactions in which there is a possibility for heartache. We have to set aside our ego’s attempt to defend our innermost self, and let our innermost self face the brunt force of other people’s egos. We have to trust. We have to help. We have to give. We have to love. Even when this might not return to us. Even when our being open might deliver to us sadness, or hurt, or emptiness.

That is Jesus on the cross. That is our call, to carry the cross, not the cross of our own sinfulness or our own faults, we have to carry the cross that others build. In remaining open, even and especially in the face of potential hurt, we become conduits of the Spirit to move within a situation, taking hold of faith’s promises rather than our ego’s fears.

This is, frankly, humanly impossible. Which is why I think of this as being one of the more advanced spiritual lessons. Learn this and there is nothing anyone can do to removed us from God’s presence, nor are we battered by the fierce storms of others. This is the love of the martyr for their persecutor and the love of Jesus for all of us. It is the openness of love, that transcends our ego and places us within the community of the Spirit who seeks the wholeness of all people.

That sounds nice theologically. Practically? It means getting the heart crushed and broken but still not crawling into a shell. It means understanding when someone else is hearing from God and that means a limitation or a separation or a silence, while still praying for their best and knowing that they are walking with God. It means listening to those in pain, and offering assistance to those who hurt when there’s not a bit of chance they offer anything in return. It means being a friend and risking unshared feelings, doing the part God asks. It means letting go of the often right perceptions of slights and insults and dismissals, washing the past from all regrets and ill will. It means acknowledging all the hurts that have been caused, understanding these as being real and true, but not letting any of this guide future actions. Bless those who curse. Honor those who insult. Make peace with those who yearn for war. Turn the other cheek.

This isn’t an exhortation for national policy, this is how I am supposed to live as a disciple of Jesus. I have to remain open to people, even and especially after being hurt, knowing I probably will be hurt, and while being hurt. I have to let even that go for the sake of Christ, always seeing others as Jesus sees them, and hopes for them, and yearns for them. The Jesus who welcomed the denying Peter back into the fold is the model for my own personal interactions.

And God has been teaching me this lesson, certainly through my life, more explicitly over the last year.

But sometimes it’s too hard. Sometimes I close off. In the absence of palpable sources of renewal sometimes I lose heart, and hope, and so struggle to maintain my openness. Sometimes it’s too hard. That’s not a sign of someone else. That’s a reminder of my own immaturity.

Tonight I see the ways in which I have remained open in the face of potential hurt. And I see the ways I have remained open in the face of recent hurts, knowing friendships served purposes even as they took part of my soul with them. And I see the ways in which I couldn’t sustain it and lost my perspective, lost my openness and likely contributed to hurt, and the hardening of other egos.

I pray that I do more of the former and less of the latter, taking on hurt so as to help be a beacon of peace and openness to others.

I think at that point I will truly see Jesus, for I will have finally grasped his attitude.

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evening

What is this day? What was yesterday? I don’t know. Sad to say. I didn’t notice very well. The computer took most of my time, and fell into repairing and redoing various parts of this site, and what with the dross and flotsam which had built up, I barely turned my head to notice the chipmunks or birds which surely were about. Not a thing did I notice today, not a thing.

But for a good cause and a cause which reminds me why God has me so without much else. I would eagerly grasp ahold of that which would buy my time and which, it seems, would by notice from those who I would want some return.

That’s my weakness in all of this, you see. I walk close to the line of vainglory, and as one person recently noted, I want to prove myself too much.

This is a distinction from me and a real religious, something I know, and ponder, but do not change.

If only I could be the kind who would pray for prayer alone, or seek God for who he is more than for what he can do.

I am weak, and shallow, and too eager to wander, so God builds a fence around me and has hidden the key in a secret place. Where is this key, who has it? All mysteries which remain, though I continually eagerly send out the raven to fly about and see if there is land anywhere to set down this heavily laden ship. Only water remains, the raven flies about, the dove in reserve waiting for confirmation, always waiting.

But first I have to begin noticing again. Not for the vague ‘something’ but for myself, for my own soul to find peace and joy which computer work or other occupying ventures never bring.

Now that part is done, and so I can move on, or move back maybe, to where my soul resides and again seek up and outwards. I pray God meets me there, I sure would like to find him once more.

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evening

Space, the final frontier. No, not the starry void. I’m talking about Time. It is space in time which defines and shapes the spiritual life. Take this morning for instance. I woke up early… quite early. It was dark, quiet, with only a slight breeze bringing movement outside, where the shadows of undulating branches seemed to emphasize the stillness more than disturb it. This space I used well, for prayer and for consideration.

Yesterday I had space, carved out due to the comments below. Delving deeply requires a person pause in consideration at times, allowing space for contemplation of place. It’s so easy to get off track and much easier to stay there. The Space in my present life allows for immediate response, if I am diligent. I can pause, step back, sift through the various tools I have acquired to determine my state.

Once again, my dissolution was halted by meditation on the desert fathers. What I realized when I felt my heart turn back towards God is that our path is so often solitary in this world and always distinct from this world. Even in a church setting, which I am not in, it is easy to get trapped in a milieu of worldly concerns. Then the concerns of the Spirit begin to drift, our souls seek after that which is no longer before us.

Hearing the concerns and remedies of those who have gone before is balm for this malaise, both in action and in awareness. We realize our selves are not fighting a new battle but one which is expected for those on the Spiritual path. It is a comfort and an exhortation all at once.

Syncletia said, “We have no security in this world.” The Apostle said, “Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” We are sailing on uncharted seas, as the psalmist David said, “Our life is like a sea.” Yet some seas have dangerous reefs, some are full of sharks, some seas are calm. It seems as if we are sailing in calm waters, while men of the world are sailing in rough weather. We are sailing in daylight, led by the sun of righteousness, while they are being driven along in the night of ignorance. Yet it often happens that worldly men, sailing in darkness and through storms, are so afraid of danger that they save the ship by calling upon God and by watchfulness, while we, in our calm waters, become careless, leave the proper course of righteousness and are sunk.

The most spiritual thing we can do sometimes it let go of everything, step back a while, and approach it all new after a worthwhile pause in our souls. I found this again yesterday and note this because I so often forget the vital need for space, and am too eager to fill it with whatever presents itself. Because this is what the world tells me is right. Those who have walked the Spiritual path before me say different words, and I am better and fuller when I surround myself with their wisdom.

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evening

Let go and be thankful, and “know that I am God.”

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evening

Just let go.

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evening

The moon has risen and passed overheard, the night has grown chill, after a chilly day. It was a mix of a day, frustrations interspersed with occasional curiosities.

I spent two hours vacuuming my truck. That should say something of the day. Then I spent four hours breaking and partially fixing a section of this website. My eyes are glazed with computer glare.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night, and prayed for a bit as I’m getting better at doing. I realized I was hearing a rustling outside, near my window. Wind? It was breezy, but this sound was something else. A racoon? A bear? I was hoping it was a bear. I walked to my window and looked out. The full moon was shining and showering its pale light across the hill from the west. Shadows were thick still and my eyes were not ready to see into the night. I continued to hear the rustling. Then I saw two triangle ears coming into the light, a long muzzle, thin body, long legs. A coyote was casually rummaging about in the brush.

I walked outside onto the balcony and said, “hello coyote.” It leaped away, though not far, out of sight, mine at least. I knew it had turned and was watching me. I didn’t want it to feel safe around our house, but I wasn’t going to spend all night at the job. So I went back to bed. As my prayers were renewed I heard the rustling again, continuing until I fell asleep not too long later.

This afternoon, while writing a little bit which has nothing to do with what I should be writing I leaned back in my chair and looked outside. The sky is boldly blue, the air crisp, the trees strongly green from the chill and recent downpour. Not a couple of seconds into my gazing I see a black shape high, very high, in the sky. At first I assume it to be a raven. Though a big raven. And a raven with a bright white head. It was a bald eagle flying southwest, maybe the same one I saw in a tree yesterday when I was kayaking.

Spiritually, I remain in a doldrums… well a doldrums that encompasses all my -allys, I press onwards but feel a dullness to my heart, and pray both for renewed excitement and delight. I am getting things done, though not the things I necessarily want to get done, so find myself in a curious state of listless productivity… feeling like I am moving no where while getting to things that have been needed doing for a long while. Just not those things I want to do, maybe that’s the source of the confusion.

Ah well, there is only forward, whether slogging or running, in light or darkness.

Maybe I’ll look into new paths tomorrow. We’ll see. I didn’t even think I was going to write tonight… so things change when we simply get started.

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evening

Very early Thanksgiving morning yesterday, around four am, I woke up feeling very thankful. For what? That’s always the question, and something I can easily beat myself down with. This wasn’t the point in that moment. There wasn’t a ‘for what’ there was simply a thankfulness, a full, cleansing thankfulness that had no object only a direction, and so I prayed and prayed for others.

I spent the morning cooking, something I don’t do very often, so I try to have a bit of adventure when I try it. So, my contribution to the family feast was salmon cakes with a walnut and pomegranate sauce. It indeed turned out well, better than I thought. The whole morning was filled with delight, and the day went by with that glow of thankfulness.

Then evening came, brother and sister in law came over, and I slowly descended. Until today when a fog rolled in over my soul, clouding my insights and delights. It was the kind of day that wanted to be wasted, which wanted to waste me. But, someone I pressed on, turned direction, and spent the day building a renewed spiritual habit. I didn’t feel the pull of the Spirit, nor did my soul look outwards and upwards, but I did work to facilitate the habits which would keep my eyes focused even during the days of storm and fog.

I looked to the Daily Hours for inspiration and renewed the habit of posting the daily Bible. So, the fog rolled in, and I rolled onwards, seeking God and Christ and the Holy Spirit no matter the emotion or frame of mind.

Tonight there is a full moon reflecting on the snow which still fairly covers the land. It is an eery glow, a mystical light that the soul embraces without knowing why, or caring. A breeze picks up every once in a while, catching me by surprise as it stirs the branches and rattles the needles in the trees. I love the sound of the wind rushing through the trees at night, I love to look at the wan light of the moon reflecting palely off the snow. I need to dwell on this more, and dwell less on those things which God has called me towards but has not revealed. I need to dwell in the present, and embrace the work of the Spirit in the now.

This is the goal of time formatted to reflect a Spiritual yearning, and one which has encouraged countless seekers after Christ to find their rest in him. So, given that I was going to end the day with no thoughts and little encouragement, and after reading my though the evening prayers by candelight I sit and write this with a kernel of delight renewing in my soul, I figure it is precisely the course I was supposed to take.

God calls, and it does us well to listen.

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evening

The snow is melting, but there’s so much of it it’s going to take a while. The world is still white, with brown flecks and green highlights. The trees are bare, the roofs are not. The roads are icy, until late morning at least.

A cold caught up with me and now lingers. My car was taken to the mechanic where my window was smashed and my radio was stolen, something which ended up saving me money oddly enough. The rule continues…. never trust me with a car, it often becomes a victim of the swirling maelstrom. It’s back now, parked in the icy driveway, fixed and in shape to get a new registration… but can’t move as the emergency brake release snapped, thus leaving the brake permanently on, until I have a look at it later tonight. At which point it may or may not be fixed.

There is much swirling about, and this is merely one point of where it broke into physical reality. One wonders if this is simply an irritation or something more pointed. There are no answers to this question, and the headache I have pushes any analysis away for the moment.

Still, there’s hope. And before the dawn comes, before light is shown, before all we wait for is revealed… it’s good to say that I have hope in that which I cannot see and do not know.

Blindly through the cave, bumps and bruises along the way. That is often the story of faith. Pressing on.

Then there’s this, something I wrote earlier in the year:

I am basically a very shallow person. If given the chance, I will happily not delve into the deep end of life, and can be contented with simple entertainments. Some folks are naturally deep, naturally religious, naturally philosophical. These people are oftentimes often bores, but that’s beside the point. I, however, was thrown into the deep end, and have spent years now flailing about, trying to find my way, becoming ever more adept all the while. Which is likely a good thing, as my natural shallowness would have never forced me out to where I am pleased to be. God, there is no doubt, wants me to be more than I want to be. That’s his way, though, so no surprise. I just have to remind myself of the fact.

The sad thing is that once in the deep end of life, one can’t go back to being purely shallow, even though one might try it for a while. The brain works against a person in these cases, and happily, eagerly, makes for cognitive dissonance at the most inopportune times. There is a bliss about ignorance, but there’s a quality about depth which while not bliss, can be epiphanic. I live for those times, which pull me through the times in which wrestling with unknowable things becomes too much a burden. Heaven can be found in those moments, and will be those moments continually. It’s not about harps and clouds, it’s about being fully everything we were always meant to be for all time, without our own failings constantly tripping us up. Choose God, and choose yourself — that’s the basics of the Christian message.

I think I’ll stick with it for a while longer yet, just to see what happens mind you. Wisdom awaits I hear. Though my own shallowness still wants to keep me away. Someday, I’ll become deep, I think, Someday. Until then, I must learn to ride the waves, and catch the wind.

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thoughts

Who knew this much snow would come down? The most snow in twenty years or more, I’ve heard it said. For certain those in northern climates would seem nothing unusual in the snowfall. But this is Southern California. It’s been since 1997 since I had this much snow around me, and never this light of snow. It is like the air itself decided to lay down it is so light.

Because of the snow this day remained simple. I didn’t work. I mostly stared outside, even went outside for a bit of a walk. And I prayed. Little prayers throughout the day for those who did not have the leisure to take the day off. I could not toil for them, so I participated through prayer, praying their time was productive and grace filled.

It is my part.

Though I think I’ll be a little more active tomorrow in my own pursuits.

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