Category Archives: Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual Disciplines are techniques that expand our understanding and experience of prayer and scripture and help us to deepen of our faith.

From Secular to Sacred

From Secular to Sacred

forest road 2

A favorite worship practice we experienced while living in Tucson was the regular use of secular music. My kids easily identified with many of the popular songs shared and when we’d hear that song again on the radio, they’d remember our worship time.

Brilliant.  Truly brilliant.

It taught me, and hopefully planted spiritual seeds within my son and daughter, that faith and daily life should be inseparable.  Messages of hope, or solace, or inspiration are all around us.  We simply need to pay attention.

Our move to Oregon three years ago had a rocky start.

I came up a month ahead of my family to prepare the way–to find housing and have it up an running by the time they arrived.  And I did just that.  Well… half of that.  I found a house and after a very quick tour, rented it.  I would discover, only after picking up the house keys three weeks later, just a few days before my family with all our belongings were to show up, that the home was mold-infested.   My family arrived Christmas Day to the news that we were temporarily homeless.

A very stressful week followed, a far more expensive rental was found, and our lives began to take on a new rhythm.  For a few month at least. And then my husband’s job abruptly ended.  Higher rent, less wages.  Not exactly what I had planned for my family and me.

And a song, which I’d heard dozens of times before, struck me with new meaning one dreary morning on the way to work :

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Suddenly I was being serenaded by God.

I’m going to make this place your home…”  I needed to hear that. I needed to be assured that I had not made another mistake by once again uprooting my family.

And then these words followed.

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place

(Song title: Home,  co-written by Drew Pearson and Greg Holdensong)

The overwhelming negative thoughts were certainly filling me with fear.  I was running scared, afraid to face another day of uncertainty.  “Settle down,” whispered God’s spirit in that familiar melody, “it’ll all be clear.”

As we rapidly approach our third anniversary here in Eugene, we have indeed made this place our home. It was a rough and tumble first year but we are making our way.  I am ever grateful for the many ways God whispered “You are not alone.  Keep the faith, be at peace, and have hope” in the times when I languished and longed for such assurances.

As I think about my children whose young lives are unfolding, it is my vision that they will have a faith so imbedded in their very beings that they too will constantly sense in the midst of the Secular that which is Sacred and be carried by this Presence through the easiest and hardest of times.

The Salvation Message of Limitations

The Salvation Message of Limitations

Occasionally it happens that an unintentional theme emerges out of the random radio programs I happen upon throughout the week while driving to and from the homes of hospice patients.

LimitationsMost recent theme? Creativity out of limitations.

Perhaps along the lines of Necessity is the Mother of Invention, two stories of creative solutions stood out. One article covered the success of students at the Northwest Indian College in Washington. What started out as a simple water bottle rocket project tranformed into the robotics club’s run for national recognition for serious rocket science. The students from Northwest Indian College successfully competed against those from well financially supported colleges and universities like MIT and Vanderbilt University. Their rocket team especially stood out to NASA because of their ingenuity. Due to budget constraints, these student were using items like discarded computer parts and mouse traps to make their rockets work. “That resourcefulness, borne out of poverty, has helped the Northwest Indian College Space Center outperform some schools with far greater resources. That gumption is what caught NASA’s attention”(Why NASA Called The Northwest Indian College Space Center).

That exact concept stood out in the article that followed the next day about medical discoveries in Cuba. Unable to network with other professionals outside of Cuba, those seeking cures to diseases like cancer worked with what they had and…succeeded. The world is now looking to that small island nation for more understanding of a lung cancer vaccine that Cuban researchers have been working on. “In other words, sometimes limitations result in more creativity”(Americans could soon benefit from a lung cancer vaccine developed in Cuba ).

As I considered these stories, I couldn’t help but call to mind another article I heard in March. It spoke of the creative necessity of rumination. Studies were done that showed that employees who took lunch breaks away from their desks were more creative and productive than those who skipped lunch or at ate their desks. “So staying inside, in the same location,” according to Kimberly Elsbach, a professor at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, who studies workplace psychology, “is really detrimental to creative thinking. It’s also detrimental to doing that rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an ‘aha’ moment,” (We’re Not Taking Enough Lunch Breaks. Why That’s Bad For Business.)

In this era of material gluttony, data overload, and so-called multitasking, how can we even begin to believe that poverty, limitations, minimal resources, or down time could lead to creativity? How do we counter the belief that more technology, more resources and information, more accessibility, and more productivity is better and preach instead the salvation message of limitations? In a society that tells us NOT having enough is bad, could we ever be convinced that having less actually means having more?

And how does this culture of overload influence our spiritual health? Is there a benefit spiritually to simplifying our lives? Is less, more when it comes to our faith?

Absolutely!

When Jesus was asked by a rich man how he might inherit eternal life, it was confirmed by the man that he had been living by the commandments since he was a boy. As a response, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’” (Mark 10:21). Go…simplify your life, and THEN you will “enter the Kingdom of God” (vs. 23).

Again and again, in scriptures it is the ones with so-called limitations–the physically ill or handicapped, the widow, the social outcast–whom Jesus singles out as the people who have the authentic, life saving faith. (And don’t forget the cast of characters in the Hebrew scriptures who all lacked something, but were called nonetheless to serve God!)

The Apostle Paul, “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” comes to an understanding that it is only when he is weak that he is actually strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

This is one of the couter-intuitive things I love about Christianity.  It tells me that when I am at my lowest—when my limitations seem too many or too heavy—it is then that I will encounter ever more the creative, transformative force of my faith .  And what I know to be true in my life is that when I have placed limitations on myself—less mindless busy-ness, less keeping-up-with-the-Jones’, and less self-criticism—I open myself up to all the more possibilites of experiencing God’s presence in my day-to-day living.

In your own faith walk, do not hesitate to see your limitations as direct access to God’s grace.  Take time out from your busy-ness to be still and know God (Psalm 46:10). Let your mind wander, that your soul might discover the “ah-ha” moments just waiting around every corner.

Tar Pits and Dungeons

Tar Pits and Dungeons

Ouch!  My forgiveness class recently exposed me as quite the correction officer.  I wasn’t even aware I had taken up this career.

After a week of spiritual exercises to assist us in identifying those who have sinned against us, we gathered two weeks ago for a time of communial reflection on the forgiveness of others. The scripture that evening came from the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 19:21-35).

After listening to this parable in which a servant, who has been forgiven by the King of all his royal debts, turns around and beats a fellow servant who owes him money.  Worse, the ungrateful man has the other servant thrown in jail until the debt is repaid.

We were asked to consider who the “debtors” are in our lives and visualize the prisons that we have constructed within us and how we have used these dungeons or jails to detain our debtors.

I have never, ever considered the folks who have hurt me or let me down as prisoners, let alone MY prisoners!  Impossible, I first thought.

But if even the memory of these hurts remains festering in me, am I not in some way imprisoning, if anything, the memory?  And if I cannot let go of the hurt—if I am thinking of various individuals with “angry thoughts, bad wishes, or telling them off in my imagination”* then are they not indeed prisoners under my mental lock and key?

It was clear that night that I am also guilty of treating these people with “avoidance, emotional distancing and sniping remarks.”* Clearly my prison walls had long ago been constructed and cells, occupied!

I envisioned this prison of mine as a tar pit—sticky and nearly impossible to climb out of.  To make things worse, a beautiful garden surrounds the pit so that no one might suspect such a trecherous trap.  I have a reputation as a loving, peacekeeper to maintain, after all.

As our evening meditation continued I realized that I had many of my prisoners blindfolded, signifying their lack of awareness of their transgressions against me.  Imagine.  They don’t even know that they have caused me harm yet I have imprisoned them nonetheless.  Unwilling to speak my truth and expose my pain, I allow myself to suffer, then turn around and blame these individuals and refuse to grant them mercy.

So why do I keep my tar pit prison open?

Sadly, I admit I am drawn to picking at my emotional scabs.  See?  See the pain those people caused?  See how I still bleed?  Don’t you feel sorry for me?

I am attached and too invested in the emotional damage I’ve experienced.

“What would it be like,” we were asked  “to release all these prisoners, to forgive their debts, and set them free?  What would it feel like to come back tomorrow and find the dungeon empty?” *

In truth? My first thought was, “I’d be a jailer out of a job.  I’d have to repurpose my tar pit or labor to fill it in. Outrageous!”

Honestly at the time, I did not know if I could surrender my reasons for feeling sorry for myself or release my self-righteous anger.  The thought of letting my prisoners go began to feel like my tar pit would become my grave if I did.

Can you imagine?  I had become so attached to my pain that I was convinced it would be the death of me to give it all up!

Brutal, raw honesty.

That night as I fell asleep I prayerfully and courageously released my prisoners and set them free.  I pictured each person climbing out of that pit, myself included, for in truth this jailer had been imprisoned as well.

I woke up the next morning truly with a lighter heart.

Okay, so being the work in progress that I am, I may in time find reason to declare them all parole violators and haul them back to the pit, but for now…I am feeling an incredible sense of grace and peace and for this I am ever grateful.

“The Spirit of THE LORD JEHOVAH is upon me, and because of this he has anointed me to preach The Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal broken hearts and to proclaim liberty to captives, vision to the blind, and to restore the crushed with forgiveness…” Luke 4:18, From the Aramaic Bible in Plain English

* From Companions in Christ, Way of Forgiveness, study guide.

Guilt, Shame, and the Search for an Absorbent Heart

Guilt, Shame, and the Search for an Absorbent Heart
The forgiveness class I’m taking is kicking my spiritual ass.

Two weeks ago, at the start of Lent, we looked at shame and guilt in our lives.  And this past week? Anger.

Super light topics of introspection, to be sure.  I mean, who doesn’t LOVE dredging up past ridicule, regrets, humiliation, scandal, embarrassments, family secrets, and mistakes?  Who in their right mind would pass up the opportunity to admit one’s propensity for irritation, frustration, or rage?

Truth be told, dredging and admitting is exactly what we must do.  “Why?” you ask.

A significant part of spiritual growth is seeing ourselves from a fresh and honest perspective.

It is certainly NOT easy.

Being exposed to hidden truths is often agonizing and emotionally exhausting.  Why else would most people chose denial over self-awareness, to remain emotionally unconcious instead of becoming spiritually wakened?

Believe me, during that first week of Lent, denial was looking rather tempting.  Me? Live with guilt or shame? That’s ridiculous!

Courageously, however, with each daily spiritual exercise I began to expose the guilt and shame in my life and observe an interconnection between the two.  It was curious to notice how one would often bleed into the other as my life’s story unfolded.  At times shame led to feelings of guilt; in others, guilt reemerged as shame .

I was shamed in front of my family by my grandmother, for instance, for throwing out shriveled up carrots which she in turn pulled out of the compost and served for dinner. Each time I am wasteful now, I am aware that the guilt I feel is associated with that childhood shame.

And that’s just over carrots!  Imagine the emotional impact of the larger, even irreversible mistakes I have made.

As a final exercise, we were to consider what it would take to be more deeply steeped in Jesus’ love.

Steeped in Divine Love?

Impossible, I thought.    In the areas of my greatest shame or guilt,  I have coated myself in a layer of unworthiness, making me nothing short of nonabsorbent.

Ultimately, I have allowed myself to become love-proof, unwilling to receive God’s healing grace.

At the closing of our weekly time together, we were asked to select a small stone from a basket and after some time in silence, return it to the altar naming that which we seek to release or gain this Lent.

I laid my stone down, desiring a more permeable self—an absorbent heart eager to steep in God’s Divine Love.

Before departing that evening, at least one of the participants retrieved her stone from the altar. I’ll admit, I was tempted to do the same. Mine was a beautiful rock after all.

But it dawned on me that there are too many things I’ve been carrying around.  I opted instead to travel a bit lighter this Lent, leaving room for the Holy Spirit to do her work.

 

Forgiveness Made Easy

Forgiveness Made Easy
Rembrandt's Prodigal Son

Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son, 1669

I am participating in an 8-week Companions in Christ Bible study on forgiveness offered by my church.

At our first gathering last Wednesday we spent time with this painting by Rembrandt depicting the return of the prodigal son ( Luke 15:11-32).

We were asked to meditate on the painting as we listened to the story three separate times.

First, we were to imagine ourselves as the prodigal son, then as the older brother, and finally as the father.

What struck me the most was the parable seen from the parent’s perspective.

I’ve heard this story endless times.  With each telling I always assumed that the father knew his boy had returned in a spirit of repentance.  The son regrets his selfish actions. Of course it comes easy for the father to wholeheartedly welcome and forgive his wayward child.

But listening to the story this last time I realized that the young man confesses his wrong doings BEFORE he returns home and AFTER he falls at his dad’s feet.

In truth, that father runs out to eagerly greet his son not knowing why he is back or what will happen next.

Perhaps the son has come home only to demand more money. Maybe the young man is planning to free load, quickly establishing himself as an unwanted squatter on the man’s land.

But the father doesn’t care.

He is not concerned with his son’s motives.  I’m not even convinced he fully hears his son’s confession.  His heart is too overflowing with joy. He rejoices saying, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The Parable of the Prodigal Son ultimately speaks of the Loving God who welcomes all God’s wayward children home in loving kindness and forgiveness. Sounds pretty good when it is us that have missed the mark and seek God’s grace and re-conciliatory spirit.

But here’s the kicker.

We are not just God’s wayward children.  Scripture often calls us to be like God. Here’s one of my favorites from Ephesians 4:31-5:1:

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 

In light of the story of the prodigal son, this means that long before we, God’s beloved imitators, have received any confession or heard any words of regret from an aggressor, we are called to forgive.

(I’m going to let that sink in for a while….)

Listen again:

As imitators of the forgiving and gracious Spirit of God, we too must offer forgiveness to the wayward souls in our lives.

That’s what cut to the core last week.

I can forgive the people in my life whom I love when mistakes are made.  That’s forgiveness made easy.

But the few people in my life who have not realized or admitted to causing me or my family harm?  Damn.  According to my faith, I’m supposed to forgive them as well. Hmmm….These are the times being a Christian challenges my very being.

We’ve got seven more weeks in the class.

As I wrestle in the weeks to come with forgiving others, accepting God’s forgiveness, and reconciling with myself,  I pray that a Divine Love sweeps through my soul and enables me to live as the best imitator of God I can be.

May we all strive each day to live a little more into God’s love.