Archives For Spirituality

September 21, 2012

I always wonder how Quakers do it. Most of us Christians will complain every once in a while “not another extra-long sermon!” or “not that same song again…they played it last week!” But for Quakers, they do only one thing each week: sit in silence.

This mode of worship is something I have needed to ingrain in my work life, as where I work puts a tremendous focus on cultivating our own spiritual lives as we pour ourselves out for others.

It’s an awesome blessing. I am quite giddy about the time I get to spend reading, drawing and praying. But what does one do with the similarity? What does one do after three months? Three years? Three decades?

One has to learn to grow. The practice has to change you, shape you, mold you and establish you. That’s why it’s called a spiritual practice! Because the cliche is really true: practice makes perfect.

In all honesty, I will never have  this whole silence thing down pat, but what I do want to do is grow and endure, to not find monotony in the everyday rhythm but to live in a constancy that shapes the foundation of my spiritual life. Then I will be able to tackle the new with the strong foundation I have built during the quiet, steady, everyday habits of the heart like stillness.

What spiritual practices ground you?

What do you do when a rhythm in your life becomes too familiar?

September 20, 2012

There is a line in my favorite poem, ” As Kingfishers Catch Fire…,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, that calls out: “the just man justices.”

Straight to the heart of it, Hopkins connects the description of a person to their action. More than just a connection, Hopkins is pushing for spiritual embodiment.  If you are a “just” person do you practice justice? If you are an “honest” person do you exude honesty? If you are a “Christian,” do you embody Christ or are you just connected to Christianity?

We are all people in the flesh. You would be right to say I am a Thomas who Thomases. Who I am cannot be separated from what I do.

So pretend your name is a verb. If you are Sam what does it mean to Sam? If you are a Alex what does it mean to Alex?

St. James was the forerunner of this active embodiment with his understanding that faith without works is dead. To put it in Hopkins’ language, the faithful man faiths. It is so crucial that we learn to be who we are at all times, to actually embody the faith we have in our thought, word and work. This is the way that Christ is shown to the world, through the tireless acts of his body, the Church. We only have to look to his own incarnation, his spiritual embodiment of being Christ by acting like Christ, to see the path we must walk, one with joy but also repentance, as each day we become more truly who we really are.

If your name was a verb what would it mean?

How can you be more truly the person God has made you today?

What are you doing today to put your faith into practice?

August 28, 2012

“Here, go with daddy?” Plop. A kid is in bed next to me. The door closes.

“Hi!”

The word rattles around in my brain. I am not awake. I reach to my nightstand to check on the time. 3:45 AM. Perfect.

I roll over. The darling child snuggles with me. This is good. I nod off…then wake up to tugging. This kid is tugging on my hands. “Hi!” she says. She sits up looks at me, then stands. This repeats until 4:45. By this point I am not happy. I pick the kid up, place her in her own bed, and wander back into our bedroom. My wife has just come back in from our newborn’s room. I don’t remember what I said, but it was something to the effect of WHY? WHY, WHY, WHY? “She had been mixed up on the time,” she replied, before falling quickly asleep.

I stumbled downstairs and had a cup of coffee in my hand by five. One sip of that coffee and my whole perspective suddenly shifted. One cup of coffee can change your whole attitude. I was ready to tackle the day. When I went upstairs my wife apologized. I said, “don’t worry about it, it’s fine, mistakes happen.” Curious about my sudden change in tone, she asked me what I had done downstairs I just told her I had made coffee—and then she understood.

I recount all this to say that as I was journaling the morning this episode took place a question came to me: How does God show up in your life like a good cup of coffee?

What I had experienced through that cup of coffee in the morning was a reversal, a transition, a total change—a 180⁰. So, I began to wonder how is God showing up like that good cup of coffee in my life? Through simple mercies like a bagel or coffee, through a hug when you desperately need one, through a stranger who helps you fix a flat tire—there are so many ways that God can show up and deliver, restore, renew or refresh. God is good coffee, always present to renew us if we but ask.

So when I am bogged down or in need of an attitude adjustment, I can always remember that God is good coffee.

What are ways that God shows up like good coffee in your life?

 

August 7, 2012

I have thirty minutes of stillness at work every day.

I take my coffee, a journal and a devotional and go sit somewhere and be quiet.

It’s an odd feeling, to be at work, a place of busyness, constant activity and numerous interactions to go away to a quiet place each day and stop.

I can say that I have greatly desired this moment, that became all too infrequent with the advent of children in our life. I used to have silence at home, in the morning, and it was wonderful. But as St. John Chrysostom says that the family is a little church, cultivating a time of silence is not always possible, in the same way it is often hard to be silent in a corporate setting. There is a reason that Jesus went away by himself to be silent, and did not bring the whole gang of disciples with him.

Yet now that I have silence again it is just as hard to practice as it was a couple of years ago. My mind races to work, to family, to friends, to finances. I think about poems, or what I just read…

Words, words, words. Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. What if I did this? That would be great for the blog…

Umm, wait, I’m supposed to be silent right now.

This happens five or six times in twenty minutes. Journaling can help, but as I try to concentrate the thoughts still come.

The desert fathers called this acedia, and it’s a difficult disease to tackle.

The desert fathers used the Jesus Prayer (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) to combat acedia, and I have to say that it does wonders to return focus during silence.

Yet it is not a cure all.

The joy of stillness is the word that comes when you are still. It comes up from the center of your soul, and it is a gift from God. Like most spiritual matters though, it is easy to fall into a formulaic trap. Learning to be still is for me the same as learning to fast. Scot McKnight, in his book Fasting, instructs the reader to not expect anything in return. Fasting is a natural response to a sacred moment, McKnight argues, and the response is all we are called to participate in—God is not required to respond in anyway. A fast is a fast, not an action that demands a response or reaction.

The same goes for stillness. Learning to be still is just that: being still. Not being still to receive anything, although that may happen. It is just stillness for the sake of being still. That is all that God calls us to—but it is so hard to accept that simple admonition, as I find out every morning, coffee and pen in hand.

June 5, 2012

I had been restless for three years. I’d prayed, I’d fasted. I’d grown tired of waiting. The restlessness grew and grew, sometimes foaming over like a shook seltzer bottle. It was a cycle of growing and stretching and patience that I was growing tired of performing.

Yet, we waited. We accepted the restlessness as God’s call. We just didn’t know where the call was heading.

My family is currently living in an extreme point of clarity. All the restlessness has paid it’s fruit. We once had serious doubts whether patience and prayer would actually work. We were tested and we pulled through (by no strength of our own).

In restlessness I found a surprising comfort. It is frustrating to be restless, yet it is redeeming as well. It takes you to a place of non-conformity and non-complacency, keeps you on edge, helps you search and strive for something deeper, fuller, more true. Restlessness makes you a better person.

Restlessness is godliness because God doesn’t want us to be stuck. He wants us on the move. As the restlessness over my next step in my career was reaching a fever pitch I came across a fantastic and reaffirming article on Forbes. In “5 Reasons People Stay Stuck in Their Careers,” Glenn Llopis describes how you should “pay close attention to those that advance in their careers—they take chances, embrace risk and are not hesitant about putting ideas into action” because they are the ones who advance in careers. People become stuck in their careers when they become complacent, find comfort with the status quo and don’t want to rock the boat (of their job or their own life). Llopis goes on to say that “people complicate their careers because they would rather listen to what others think they should be doing with it, rather than using their time effectively to figure out the answers on their own.” Part of the restlessness that God gives us is when we use time to find the answers yet the answers don’t come. It’s a struggle, yet one that sharpens ultimately sharpens us and makes us more patient, purposeful and fulfilled people.

The impetus of this post was changing my bio on a guest post to say I work for International Justice Mission now. As I finished my first day of training today, I took some time to reflect on how long it took to get here, and how joyful it is to be here. And more importantly, how I now see the point of all the restlessness, even if it still causes my blood pressure to rise a bit thinking about all of the frustration and uncertainty my wife and I have experienced over the past few years. I never want to experience that kind of restlessness, but I know why it was there, and why God gave it to us. It kept us from becoming complacent, and kept us ever vigilant: we were ready to follow when God began to move us. And now that we’re on the move it feels awesome.

May 2, 2012

I had a really bad day yesterday.

Nothing bad happened per se, it’s just everything went wrong. It was a comedy of errors. I was a mistake magnet, and by 6 o’clock at night I had grown really tired and pissed off at the tumbleweeds that were blowing through my life and messing with everything.

Most people who know me think I am a very calm person, but I have my limits and my potential to snap. I think I said I wanted to punch a wall three times yesterday, and the first time was before 9:30 AM. Yet, unlike Amar’e Stoudemire, I can control the angry thoughts before acting on them (that poor fire extinguisher!). The fruit of the Spirit have wonderful effects, one of them is serious patience. So I calmed down, eventually.

We are reading through James as a family at night and we read this admonishment last night:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

My ears perked up a bit as I read this. I got the message. I am constantly learning to be slow to anger, only to find out that once I have mastered a certain level of slowness that it can always be improved upon.

My prayer in my journal this morning was this:

Gracious God,
I humbly ask
that you honor
my petitions,
that I may do
your will
and be a participant
in true religion,
to see the orphan
and the widow supported.

Amen

We will all have bad days. Let our anger always be slow, and may we remember that there are far more important things than bad days and petty anger: the orphans and widows who deal with incomprehensible oppression each day. May we slow ourselves down long enough to be the Kingdom.

April 3, 2012

Holy Week always feels like the eye of the storm. Lent has crescendoed to Palm Sunday, with the celebratory atmosphere. And now, this. The waiting. We all know what is coming when Thursday rolls around. But for now, it is waiting. It is the eye of the storm.

In the drama of God, there is a lot of waiting.

Israel constantly waits for salvation.

Christ waits in the desert, then waits during his ministry.

Paul waits around in prisons.

John waits around on an island.

In a church culture so focused on doing and mobility, waiting is a lost practice, especially when we are in the eye of a storm. We need to unlearn our first instincts—to engage, to fight, to fix, to solve—and learn the hard practice of patience, of waiting.

What Christ teaches us during Lent is that he took the time to prepare for the storm. He used the reprieve he was given in the desert to prepare for ministry. He used the time between Palm Sunday and the Last Supper to prepare his disciples for what was about to happen. As we follow Christ through his suffering, death and resurrection this week, we should also learn how he practiced patience during the eye of the storm.

March 21, 2012

Like most arguments between married couples, I forget what this one was about.

I know I was probably being impatient, angry and saying not so nice words.

I was most likely being what British people refer to as a prig.

My wife won the day though. She sounded off a rejoinder that stung: “You know sometimes I wish you were like the person who writes on your blog.”

Ouch.

I am a blogger who has spent over five years writing about spirituality, theology and worship.

I am also a hypocrite.

I write about praying the daily office or using prayer books. But sometimes I don’t pray for a few days in a row. I give tips and practical ideas that I do not always myself follow. What you see, dear reader, is the digital me, behind the LCD screen. You see me in pixels.

The real me is not different. Just fuller, deeper, more true.

It is something I have come to understand about myself. My identity is not my blog. It pains me when I fall short of my own advice, yet I cannot let that condemn me.

Words have a deeper meaning. What I write meets people in profound ways, ways that I cannot even imagine. Like a preacher or teacher, the truth is sometimes in what I say, and not always in what I do.

That disconnect is wrong. But it is inevitable.

As a blogger and writer I will always be stung by hypocrisy. One of the joys of writing is the wonder of the ideal, and I am by no means ideal. I have my flaws. What is important is that those who write learn to write through the stings. Do not ever give up. Your words are more powerful than you are. There will always be times when our actions do not rise to our words, but let these be lessons. One of the greatest spiritual lessons I have learned writing about spirituality is that it is not only cathartic but also a time of learning. Us writers should be open to the possibility that we can learn from ourselves and our own words. We can look back on what we have written and see the beauty and truth that is there, even when our own lives fall short.

I never want to discount hypocrisy. I know that when my wife said that I was not being the person who wrote that recent blog post that she was right. I was acting below the ideal and hope I had portrayed. I have learned to forgive myself and to ask for forgiveness.  But I will never ask for forgiveness for the words that I stooped below. Those words will stay there, an offering and pleasant fragrance. My actions will never damage my words.

For those of us who write and blog, write to glorify God. Let it be a sacrifice, an offering, an honor. Our words will sometimes fall short, and we can make amends for that. But more often, our lives can fall short of our words. When that happens, accept it—do not lose heart. If your words are worship they will stand true even when you sometimes fail.

March 13, 2012

I always told people that the practice of silence was easy. I am by nature a contemplative person, prone to long bouts of sitting in a rocking chair and reading or studying for hours in a library, isolated by piles of books in a tiny cubicle desk. It’s just who I am.

Then I had a kid.

These past two mornings since daylight savings time have been glorious. I am still waking up at six in the morning, but now instead of waking up with me, my dear child is sleeping until seven.

What to do with the extra hour? Definitely not sleep.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ecstasy of silence. I pray. I make coffee. I enjoy my read through Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me without an interruption, a scream or tiny fingers swatting pages and making me lose my place.

I might be feeling more joyful because of the sudden turn to good weather or the sun that is still up long enough to take a walk after work, but I have a suspicion that starting my day off in silence has done wonders for my spirits. Silence fell away as a practice for the simple reason that my house was no longer silent. But now that I have had it back for two whole days, I realize that silence is an essential part of my day, like breathing.

Other than the common sense “just always wake up earlier than your child,” what other ways have you found to practice silence in the midst of family life?

February 14, 2012

There are may reasons that I gravitate toward spiritual disciplines and ancient forms of spirituality and worship:

  • I think old things are cool.
  • I appreciate beauty over timeliness
  • I appreciate literary quality over marketing
  • I am a routine-oriented and enjoy discipline
  • I feel comfortable with repetition

But as I have spent time questioning why I gravitate towards having spiritual disciplines one answer kept rising to the surface of my heart:

I don’t trust myself.

At all.

One of the benefits of spiritual disciplines for me has always been that I am not in charge of them. I don’t make up my own way of prayer—instead, I pray guided by prayer books and ancient spiritual practices. I don’t make up my own way through the Bible—instead, I use the lectionary (or let my wife pick which book of the Bible I should read).

It’s true that I enjoy the beauty of ancient traditions, but I think it essential that contemporary Christianity continue to produce new forms of worship rooted in our ancient faith. What is really essential, I believe, is not the smells and bells. The guidance is the crucial part we have been missing. Without it, we are left with a me-centered form of spirituality. Part of discipleship should be to move from a vague, me-centered sense of spirituality into spiritual formation and spiritual discipline.

In most churches today we do a tremendous disservice to congregations by telling them to be in charge of their own spirituality. Go read your Bible, we say. Go pray for a few moments each day. But we don’t teach them how to do these things, and we let them choose their own ways. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book for spiritual growth.

I may come off as a liturgy snob. That’s not my intent. I do not really care how you implement spiritual practices in your church, family and personal devotions. What is most important to me is that you cede control of your own spirituality. Learn from others how to read and pray. Let others lead you for a while. Then you will be stretched and shaped by God’s story, and not your own.