Things are Not Set in Stone

sodomThere is a tension that exists in our faith.

On the one hand, we are told that God has a plan. Often when tragedy strikes and we wonder at how this or that thing has befallen us, others are quick to point out “God works in mysterious ways” and the platitude that “we can’t know the full plan of God”.

This all leads to the conclusion that on the one hand it’s all ordained. Life is nothing more than our living out what has already been decided. Taken to its logical conclusion, we don’t have to feel responsible for anything we do, for “it’s all part of God’s plan”.

Yet we are told that we have free will.

And the two seem in utter conflict. Either we decide our own fate on a daily basis or we don’t. God announces his intent, and Abraham begins to dicker with God.  By the end of his discourse, Abraham has whittled down those to save Sodom to ten. In the end there are only four.  God has changed his mind.

These are amazing things in and of themselves. This God of ours doesn’t know everything! He can be reasoned with! He can be led to change his mind!

What kind of God is this?

It’s hard to know. We are not asked to dwell on those questions of course. We are rather to dwell on how wonderful it is that we have a God that we can talk to and we can “make our case to”. We have a God who responds to calls for justice, and if our cause is just, and if we make it fairly and honestly, we will be heard! Our God is not arbitrary nor capricious.

In the Gospel reading, we are told exactly how to go about that. Jesus gives us the Our Father prayer, the one perfect introduction to discourse with God. Not only that, we are told that far from being wrong, persistence is favored by God. As we read of Abraham’s continuing to push at God over Sodom, we winced, silently saying, “oh goodness Abraham, stop now. Don’t make God mad! It’s enough that you got him to twenty! Don’t push your luck!”

Yet Jesus tells us that God doesn’t get angry at our persistence, quite the contrary. He is impressed perhaps by our willingness to not give up. Will he repay our persistence with with a scorpion? No Jesus insists. The squeaky wheel gets the grease it calls out for.

By our persistence we show to God our commitment. And by our commitment, we show our sincerity. We aren’t just giving our weekly laundry list of desires. We mean it! Needless to say, this is not always enough. If our desires are still frivolous we may find an unhearing ear in God. Wish for a million dollars because you want to be rich, and I’m thinking you won’t get a very positive reception. Saint Monica, it is said, prayed for years for the conversion of her son Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine, by his own admissions, was not a poster child of piety. Yet, he became one of the churches most revered doctors. He speaks to many exactly because of his personal story of what God can do to change one’s life. He is proof of the efficacy of prayer.

It has always been the case that humans have struggled with “fate” versus human control. We have established elaborate priesthoods, investing these people with special abilities to talk to God on our behalf. Jesus brings this down to each of us, and says, no, you too, by your humble asking will be heard and answered. If you are sincere and persistent, God will hear you. He will answer you. If you think that you are not Abraham and will be ignored, you are simply wrong. God doesn’t define worthiness in that way. Humans do.

The door is only closed because we have failed to realize that God waits with even greater patience than we can ever exhibit in our waiting. He will wait infinitely for us to knock. Will you wait another moment?

Amen.

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Faith and Truth

Today’s Gospel from Mark (6: 1-6) tells us the familiar tale of Jesus’ attempt to teach in his hometown of Nazareth. He is met with lukewarm response.

While his neighbors acknowledge his wisdom, they are stymied by his ordinary background. After all, he is but “the carpenter, son of Mary”.

This gives pause to those who are listening.

Should it?

If you are inclined to think them parochial for their lack of faith, think of your own neighborhood, and imagine what you might think of the neighbor’s son or daughter up the block suddenly holding court on their front porch, preaching about God and explaining the bible in a new and extraordinary way. You might too be skeptical.

Which brings us to the dilemma–when can we be sure that we are receiving the “word of God”?

Being Roman Catholic, it is easy to answer simplistically–simply adhere to whatever the Magisterium announces as “truth” and one can safely go about one’s business.

One could make similar arguments regarding any number of Christian denominations no doubt–adhere to whatever are the general teachings of your church–be they Presbyterian, Methodist, Jehovah’s Witness and on and on through the 30,000 plus divisions among us.

As you can readily see, we don’t agree about what scripture means. Catholics and Protestants don’t even agree on what books should belong to the canon of sacred text. That’s a pretty big difference of opinion I’d say, since the “word of God” arguably resides within that canon and no where else, by some definitions at least.

And once we transcend that mountain, we get into the inter-denominational disputes of what scripture means. Catholics write books by the tens of hundreds every year about various books of the bible, offering their expertise of analysis. Years of study in universities across the world give them  the tools to view text in a way that the ordinary person lacks.

Protestants are no different in that regard. There is an ongoing dispute about what Paul’s remarks in Romans regarding faith mean. Gays and straights  argue what a line or two from Leviticus, and a few lines in pseudo-Pauline books might mean as regards homosexuality. We dispute, both within our own faith traditions and among those traditions, exactly what are the rules of marriage and so forth.

We can, as I said, take the easy way–simply accept the “rules” of our tradition.

But I do not think that is acceptable. While I hazard to speak for God, I submit, that we are each responsible in the final analysis to think for ourselves. Why else this marvelous brain, and this seemingly inborn sense of conscious?

I think Mark (and the parallel versions in Luke and Matthew) should point us to the question–how do we decide?

And the answer is obvious in a sense: faith.

If we continue in the passage, we discover that those who relied on faith opened themselves up to the answer: healing.

Jesus could work no wonders of healing among the unbelievers, or those who doubted. Healing is a two-fold process we learn requiring the offering of the healing and the acceptance in faith by the recipient.

We must approach our questions of “truth” in faith that with an honest heart, and a willing mind to see truth, God will guide us aright. What that means practically to me at least is this: When I am in conflict over what my heart tells me “should” be, and my Church tells me “is”, then I have a responsibility to do the following:

  • Thoroughly understand the position of the Church. This requires some serious work to determine when, why and how the Church has come to the conclusion it now claims is truth. No small deference must be given to thousands of years of development involving learned individuals, who would ask for and receive the  benefit of the Holy Spirit–whether interpreted correctly or not.
  • A conscious “listening” to the “small still voice” within that nags at the self, advising that this proposition or that is “just right” or “just wrong”.
  • A long-going period of taking the issue to prayer–asking always not to be “found right” but to be led to truth. One must also, so it seems to me, recognize that truth grows over time. We are given only that which we can absorb. As we grow more knowledgeable and adept, greater and more full truth may come. Prayer thus becomes a constant in our lives.
  • Stand up and proclaim the truth as you honestly see it after this process, even when it is at odds with most or many. Maintain the willingness to listen to opposition, reflect, re-examine, and pray for further guidance.

If we do these things, I trust that a loving God forgives us our honest errors. We live in faith.

Amen.

Let Us Pray

Let Us Pray by gongfuren at Deviant ArtI’ve been thinking about prayer. I guess somebody out there might suggest that I DO more of it and not talk about it.

As I’ve often said, my mind tells me that faith must be logical. Therefore prayer, in some ways seems a fairly illogical thing. Let me explain.

I believe that God exists within me as Spirit. That spirit experiences life through me. As such, God is aware of every thought, every nuance of my life. He knows what I really believe, feel, desire, fear, in a more complete way that perhaps even I do.

That always begs the question of why pray? God already knows. No doubt there are a number of “Christians” (those who if asked do they believe in God would answer yes, but won’t think about God again until someone brings up the subject) find this pretty darn convenient. No reason to spend the time, God is already aware.

Christians are mighty good at making excuses. You’re prayer not answered? Why that’s simply.

  1. God works in mysterious ways.
  2. Sometimes God answers by “unanswered” prayers.
  3. Give God more time.
  4. God knows best, you’re asking for something that would be against your interests in the long run, or against God’s plan.

The point is, is there a point?

The conventional answer is that we pray because it is good for us. We find peace in the action. We feel the  burden of problems lighten when we turn them over to God. More importantly, we turn our minds from the world and enter into the realm of the transcendent.

What to pray about?

That becomes even more troublesome. I heard a man speak thusly:

My infant daughter was in the hospital and she was dying. She has been suddenly struck down by a genetic heart defect. Her time was short and the only treatment, her only chance, was a heart transplant. The chances were slim that a heart so tiny would be found. And I began to pray, until I was literally frozen still. How, I agonized, could I pray for a new heart for my baby daughter, when it must mean that some other father must lose his own child? How can I pray for that?

Indeed, we are often (or we should be) faced in prayer with the question–am I praying for some selfish thing that will benefit me and will be a burden to another? Even in the silliness of praying for our “team to win” aren’t we praying that others suffer disappointment?

Are we praying only for things and outcomes that make our lives happier and more manageable?

Do we spend much time in thanking God for what is? Need we? Doesn’t he already know? Back to that again! Yes he does know, but in the act of thanking, we remind ourself of our blessings. We remove ourselves out of ourselves so to speak and can see the bigger picture. We have perspective. Our problems shrink, and we can realize that others in our world suffer real maladies such as hunger and lack of shelter.

If you are at all like me, you might find that you talk a mile a minute to God. This is neither good nor bad. But it needs be tempered, I would argue, with some just “being in the presence” quiet.

I talk to our Brandy every morning and every night. I go out on the porch and I chat with her for a minute or two. I have no illusions about this, I realize that I am doing something that soothes me, making me feel close to her. I tease her about taking up flying as I watch a bird or butterfly flutter by. I feel close to her spirit. I realize in some hidden place that I am really talking to God, and he is comforting my hurt at losing my dog by this “conversation” each morning and night.

It is no different from discussing philosophy with the jade plant as I water it. God knows, and reaches out in the most gentle and tender ways to be “with us.” A formal prayer is simply one way to reach out, or reach in.

Amen.

 

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

I was about to start my morning prayers and petitions, when suddenly, I just sighed. What good was all this? I mean, every day, I pray that “all who are hungry are fed” and of course, they aren’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t questioning whether God hears or why God doesn’t answer. I’ve long ago worked through all that “stuff.”

If God grants prayers, such as “cure Robbie’s cancer” but he doesn’t answer a similar prayer for an equally deserving victim, then, well, a lot of twisting has to be done.

We have to fall back on trite phrases such as “God’s ways are mysterious” or “we can’t know God’s plan,” or “God had other plans for ________.” They don’t satisfy. In fact the whole issue of how a loving God can allow such unspeakable pain and suffering in the world needs be addressed.

I believe prayer is efficacious because it brings us into direct, knowing, conscious contact with God, and because it makes us feel better to share our burdens and fears. I believe God does work in the world but not by miraculous cures. Rather he operates through those persons who open themselves to God working within them, as them. We do the miracles by allowing God to use us.

My sigh was in the forgetting of all this, more than anything else, and realizing that prayers can become formulaic and mindlessly offered. As such, they fail to achieve any purpose at all. So my sigh was much more to my own failure to make the moment sacred as anything else.

Life is not easy, not for anyone. There are long stretches perhaps when mostly things go okay, but problems, big or small will always be just around the corner. My family has run into one in the last few days. It will work itself out in time–patience is what is really needed.

As I found myself about to ask God to “work this out, and quickly too!”, I recognized my error. Back up girl, rewind.

God is not going to “work this out” God is going to be there in the messiness of life with me. It is how I decide to handle the “problem” that matters. How I do this will define just how much I trust in God’s presence in this problem.

The question becomes: Where is God in this trouble? How do I choose to respond to pressures to fix it. How to fix it? In what manner to fix it? Other people will be affected, or could be. How I see God, and what I see God to be, determines the choices I will make.

Seeing that God is squarely in the picture changes everything. It becomes the main factor in decisions.

My prayer becomes one of asking God to help me remain open to his transforming work within me. My goal is to do his will in all things.

I am always bemused by those who demand proof that all their faith is not in vain. This usually from ex-fundamentalists. No longer able to cling to a book of Holy Writ to give them specific answers to specific questions, they still demand that through some means of logic or reasoning God be perfectly deduced.

Fool me once, they say. Not again will they fall for faith that is not a sure thing.

Well, don’t count on it happening. Faith is messy. It’s full of sureties tested and found wanting, by insights gained, and lost, by faith soaring and at times pitifully weak and transparent.

I am so thoroughly convinced that it must be this way. Our relationship with God is of little value and is certainly not authentic if handed to us as a fait accompli. It is the mountain we must climb. We are not God, we are not entitled to this perfect unity of creature and Creator by simple virtue of being alive.

This is not some punishment being imposed by God, but rather it is God calling us forth to be really and truly human, something we have but a glimmer of. We sense we are much more than we see ourselves as, yet we don’t know how to become that on our own. God does. Jesus showed us the Way.

Believers by virtue of being such, don’t get a free ride. We don’t get to cut to the head of the line. Our lives are as chaotic and filled with ups and downs as anyone elses. We simply know that deep within us God waits for us, always offering wisdom, solace, and peace. We have a place to turn where we are never turned away.

Amen.

Will You Know Him?

Most everyone is familiar with the story of the two disciples who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

We are told the trip is some seven miles, so we may assume the trip took a good two hours, and probably a bit more. Moreover, Jesus stayed and had dinner with the two.

It was in the “breaking of the bread” that the eyes of the disciples was opened, and they realized it had been Jesus who had been with them.

Always a strange story. Yet, the post resurrection stories seem to reflect this kind of mystery again and again. We are forced to conclude that Jesus in his risen state is somehow different. Even Mary does not recognize him at first, thinking him the gardener.

We ask ourselves why is the glorified Jesus so very different from the earthly one? And I am forced to conclude that this is really not the case. What is going on here, in my opinion, is the author’s attempt to present the Christ as something quite different from what was imagined or thought of as Jesus the Nazarene.

What do I mean by this?

No more than what Jesus preached again and again–those who were caught up in old ways of thinking cannot “see” what he is talking about. They were limited by their “world view” in deciphering his message.

We see this in the rather amusing aside of the disciples telling Jesus what happened to Him in Jerusalem. At one point they say: “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.”

These two saw Jesus as the traditional Messiah, predicted to one day come and defeat the powers of Rome.

And we have seen, that to some degree, all the disciples for some period of time, minutes or hours, also did not “see” the risen Christ.

They were looking for Jesus, and were blind to the Christ before them.

We too can fail to “see”.

We too have our own worldview. Our own conceptions of who this man Jesus was and is. We have expectations of how and when he will “return”, as if he is somehow not yet here.

Some of us spend altogether too much time reading and studying, attempting to define Him, attempting to discover the definitive Jesus, the definitive sayings of Jesus. We seek to “know” Him perfectly.

More and more, I am convinced that we never will by this method. Not that it is not a laudable thing to do, for it certainly is. But it will only take us so far.

The Jesus who lives today is not discernible through a book or even through scripture. He is known only within us and in others. He lives forever in our hearts and souls and awaits us there. If we are to know him, we must become silent and then we must wait.

We must wait, even when nothing at all seems to be happening. We must trust that it is happening. We must let the healing and the teaching go on within, in a mind quieted of all the noise of everyday affairs.

We most assuredly must seek him in the depths of every being we encounter, for he is there, perhaps buried deep, but still there.

We must seek him in events, awful and wondrous.

We must seek him in the birds of the sky, and the chipmunk on the stump.

We must seek him in the storm and in the clouds.

In the oceans, streams and vast sands of the desert.

In the rocks and canyons, in vistas breathtaking.

In the dandelion and in the ditch lily.

Will you know Him?

Amen.

**Luke 24:13-35

The Truth Will Make You Free

John tells us:

If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free.” [Jn 8-31]

These much quoted words echo in these last days of the desert walk. And yet, we remain ofttimes unsure of their meaning.

Do we, like the Jews listening to Jesus immediately exclaim, “We are the descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone, . . .” or do we sense as Jesus suggests that this is not the kind of freedom he is talking about?

When Jesus, by way of example, says that sin is slavery, most of us stop there. “Oh,” we say, “this means that we are to try to be as sinless as possible in our lives.”

Well, yes that is true. But too often that simply means to many, that they follow the dictates of their church teachings. Be good orthodox Catholics or Methodists.

I think this is not at all what Jesus was getting at. Notice he uses the phrase, “make my word your home,” and if we do so, “you will learn the truth. In other words, internalize what I have been saying to you, stop trying to be “good” religious folk, instead love God and love  your neighbor as yourself.

This internalization is what we call “putting on the mind of Christ’  and is nothing less than a total immersion in God, until the false ego gives way to the Spiritual Self united to God eternally. When we can do that, we will learn the truth. We will learn the truth from the Father, and Jesus makes that clear in verse 40,  “[truth].  . .as I have learnt  it from God.”

Where we err is, I think, in looking for some “interpretation” of truth. Another blogger pointed this out. Wherever we go, to theologians, biblical scholars, faith creeds across Christendom, we find different opinions. There is no unanimity as to “what Scripture means” and we look to scripture to determine “what God wants.”

We are looking in the wrong place. Scripture is a guide. It reflects work already done in reflecting on who God is and what God wants. But it is not definitive. It attempts to give us the “words of Christ” but only through the lens of what the writer is trying to get across. We must take all such things “with a grain of salt” therefore. They help in not having  to redo work already done, and they serve as a guide to “The Way.”

Can there be any doubt that if we dwell within, loving God, loving neighbor, that truth will emerge? Love is the truth, and until we embrace that love into every fiber of our being, we will not know the truth that Jesus received from the God, that we too can receive from God by following as his disciple.

The freedom offered by Jesus, is the freedom to live life in utter freedom, freedom from fear, from want, from any desire no in keeping with the good of all creation.  It is the freedom to be fully human, secure that we are united with all of creation and with the Creator, eternally. That freedom is the ultimate freedom.

Come, follow me!

Amen.

Thy Kingdom Come

Our Father, who are in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

                                                                                                     And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive

                                                                                                      those who trespass against us.

                                                                                                      And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us

                                                                                                      from evil.

We say the “Lord’s Prayer” as our most frequent petition to God. Many of us say it many times a day, others more infrequently. No matter how often or little, most all of us tend to recite it without much thought.

When we do, we usually think of it as a prayer that the Kingdom of God be realized. But what do we mean by this?

Certainly to Christian meditators and increasingly biblical exegetes, the Kingdom is not either a physical location we hope to arrive at after death, or the final glorious Earth transformed when Jesus returns. Rather, it is an interior place within each of us, where our Divine Center is.

We believe that that is what Jesus was trying to teach us. How to access that Divine Spark of God and unite ourselves to it. Once we do, we are transformed into consciously aware spiritual beings, and we automatically transform Earth to conform to the inner kingdom.

Thus we pray the prayer thusly:

Our Father, who are within me,

Hallowed be thy name.

Let me enter into the Kingdom of  You,

where your will is done,

and  let be done on earth as well.

Give us this day, your gift of life and direction.

Forgive us for sometimes turning away,

As we seek to forgive and help those who have turned away too.

And hold tight to us as we are tempted to stray,

And return us to perfect union in You.

For you are the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever!

Amen

Rediscovering Ourselves

One of the complaints against meditation, is that it is seen as self-involved. In other words, it is perceived as all about me. And many in the religious world don’t like that.

Which is ironic in a sense, since so much of Christian teaching is all about personal salvation–what to do to get to heaven. If that isn’t me oriented, I don’t know what is.

Meditation is often seen as but a different method of psychoanalysis, a way to integrate the total personality, stirring up the dark sides of ourselves, healing and putting ourselves all back together in a package that can more successfully live.

Meditation does function in this way, or can, but it is but a stepping stone. It is a dangerous one in that some folks think that this is the goal, when they are still far from the end of the journey.

We often think of meditation as breaking down and eliminating that “ego” self that is afraid, that is needy, that is demanding of protection at all costs. Yet this is wrong too. It is truly to integrate those aspects of our “public” persona with the real “me” deeply in touch  with the divine, but submerged under layers of sludge that is the ego.

If this were not the case, if the real point was the destruction of the ego as a false image, then every “successful” practitioner of meditation, would be a carbon copy of every other practitioner. All uniqueness would have vanished. Surely this is not what God intends.

So the true end of the journey is the integration of the perfect divine me still much hidden to me, with those aspects of personality that make me unique and special. Thus unified, the “new person” in Christ goes forth to act in the world with the “mind of Christ” firmly in charge and operational.

Centering Prayer, with its devotion to self-emptying,  is the perfect vehicle for this transformation and reunion. All is let go, both good and bad thoughts, to allow the work of the Spirit to proceed with vigor. Each release is a new “yes” to God that we are willing to be led.

Say yes today.

Amen.

Listening

“Listen to instruction and be wise, . . .Blessed, whoever listens to me, who day after day keeps watch at my gates. . . .For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains the favor of Yahweh; but whoever misses me harms himself, . . . [Prv 8: 33-35]

Listen, obey, seek. These are the words that guide us through the desert of Lent.

We listen best by reading scripture every day, by reading other spiritual works, and by listening to those around us who speak.

This requires an attention locked onto the present moment. We “internalize” what we read, we ponder it, we seek its meaning for us at this juncture of our lives.

When we believe we have received the message, we act upon it. We alter our inner being, we actively do all manner of things that turn our beliefs into concrete results.

We seek, ever seek God. We spend more time gazing out windows, looking deeply into our family and friends and every stranger we encounter. We recognize love offered to us from pets and the tiniest of insects. We relax into the community of life that we exist within. We recognize the cosmic unity of which we are a part.

We return, again and again to this moment, this precious moment that is the past the very instant we recognize it. We return to it as often as we can throughout our busy days, for we find within this moment the very essence of listening, obeying, and seeking. It is a wheel of divine interchange.

Stop. Listen. Obey. Seek.

Amen

Now is the Winter of Our Discontent

May nothing disturb you.

May nothing astonish you.

Everything passes.

God does not go away.

Patience

can attain anything.

He who has God within,

does not lack anything.

God is enough!”  [St. Theresa of Avila]

We have been engaged in Lent for a while now. The newness, the excitement of our dedication, the solemnity with which we approached each discipline, are waning. We are feeling dry. We find excuses–“I just don’t have time today,” or “I don’t think this is a meaningful practice after all.”

We see the long path still ahead. We are weary already.

Imagine how Jesus felt. Whether his 40-day trek in the desert, or his never-ending mission of radical openness. A friend pointed this out to me recently. Jesus was the Outsider, the one misunderstood by almost everyone, vilified by some, ignored utterly by others. How broad and endless must his desert have seemed to him.

St. Teresa informs us how to handle this difficult time. It is not very different from what we learn in Centering Prayer. Surrender, be patient, let nothing disturb you, either good or bad. It is all the same. God is within, fall into the heart. God is ever there.

I’ve received conflicting advice as to how to  handle the dry times. My inclination is to become more intense and devoted to ritual. It is the doing, rather than the meaningfulness (for that is never there in times of dryness) that is key.

Others have advised that one strip away all but essential practice, clear the decks if you will.

Perhaps both are equally valid, one works one time, another, another.

What is essential I feel, is what Teresa suggests, let nothing disturb you. Lent is the time of introspection, reflection and quiet.

Her remark that “everything passes” is excellent advice. Everyone from Buddha to your neighborhood psychoanalysist would tell you that. It is the way of getting past our melancholia. We who have lived sufficient years know how very true this is. Our dryness too will pass.

Soon, we will begin to feel the stirring of the coming Easter, that which we have waited for. Until then, rest. For God is within.

Amen.

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