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P is for PSALMS

In an era where distractions crowd out my ability to listen to God, the Psalms offer me a quick touch point, reminding me of who He is, and who I am in relation to Him and to others.

Within the Psalms, I find every emotion ever felt; love, contentment, triumph, rest, national pride, and the comfort of family and friends.

I can even find those emotions I’d rather not utter; rage, sadness, greed, the desire for revenge, laments of not fitting in, the fear of death, and the desire never to have been born.

The Psalms offer me a unique connection by way of the scarlet thread of human emotions that has persisted through time, and has remained mostly unchanged. The specific context may be different, but the emotions, common to all, are there in the Psalms.

As I read the Psalms, I am comforted by two things: first, that I am not alone in my feelings, whatever they are, others have felt them too. And second, it is okay to bring those feelings, no matter how confusing, or ugly, to God.

I am fortunate to read my Psalms from my mother’s Bible. She suffered with cancer for 20 months before dying. We never spoke about the Psalms, but I know she found solace in them, because she made notes in her Bible.

This morning, I am struck by several verses she underlined in Psalm 143.

 “… my spirit fails me and my heart is full of fear”

and

“Quick, Yahweh, answer me before my spirit fails; if you hide your face much longer, I shall go down to the Pit like the rest”

and

“Reach down your hand from above, save me, rescue me from deep waters…”

I can’t help noticing as she underlined, the force of her pencil scored through the pages that follow. As I imagine her struggle, my heart is pulled into a place I know, yet do not fully understand. I think on her fear, the fear of the one who wrote the psalm, and my own fear – the scarlet thread connecting us.

Together we struggle, yet together we seek God for help.  I rest in this comfort.


Below is a listing of psalms by type. Take a moment and consider one or two; there you will find lovely bits of wisdom and comfort!

Adapted from: http://bit.ly/quietshout_com

O is for OMNI-ness

In our efforts to Grow Spiritually, it is foundational that we understand who God really is.

A tool I have used in teaching about God is he THREE famous “omni” statements; Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence. I’m sure you’ve heard of these:

  • Omniscience – that part of God that is all-knowing. A comfort during time of or own uncertainty.
  • Omnipresence – that part of God that is everywhere, at all times.  A comfort when we feel like God might be busy, somewhere else, with more important things than our situation, and finally,
  • Omnipotence – that part of God that is all powerful! A comfort when life is overwhelming, and we feel like we have no control.

It was just this week that I learned a new Omni-attribute about God, Omnibenevolence. Doing a little research, I find a big, duh.

Omnibenevolence; from Latin omni meaning “all”, bene meaning “good”, and volent meaning “willing”

A new word to me, but certainly not a new concept. God is the source of all good things, but our ideas about “goodness” might vary from His.

As a Spiritual Director, I have found that this issue is the source of a lot of contention for a lot of us, as we attempt to understand God.

We’ve all asked, “If God is the source of all goodness, why does He allow, ______________?”  fill in the blank with your concern.

Spiritual Growth is all about the willingness to wrestle with these the contradictions. Contradictions between what we know about God and what we see around us. God’s shoulders are broad enough to take on your biggest questions. If you were to fill in the blank above, what would you say? Leave me a comment below!


N is for NOUWEN

I was intimidated by MERTON, but I would have like to have been friends with NOUWEN. His writings resonate with me on almost every level. They don’t necessarily confront me, rather I find in them an immense source of comfort.

I first met Henri Nouwen when a friend recommended a movie about his life. The film told the struggle of a soul who searched for belonging and acceptance, as most of us do.

I think his book, “The Living Reminder” has meant the most to me. Most people gravitate to “The Wounded Healer,” or “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” both excellent books!

Yet, I found a gentleness and a freedom in “The Living Reminder” that helped me overcome the idea that I had to be and do so much for others. It helped dissipate much of the anxiety I had over being a Spiritual leader. His teaching let me off the hook for being responsible for the world.

He has a genuineness about his teaching and his expression that reaches me.

You can actually experience some of his teachings on YouTube. He speaks in great depth about being “Beloved sons and daughters of God.” He calls to us a life, based on that knowledge.

“Easy?” he asks. “No.” he replies, in a thick Dutch accent.

Two of my favorite Nouwen quotes:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”

and

“Those who love us do not always love us well.”

I encourage you to seek out this great theologian, a humble catholic priest, author of some 39 books, and hundreds of articles on living a life of belonging. There is much you can lean.

 



M is for MERTON

It took me some time to actually sit down and read Merton. Honestly, I was intimidated by his reputation. I thought he might be too advance for me, so I began by trying to take in some of his quotes. Here’s a few of my favorites:

He wrote a lot on love:

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” 

He wrote a lot on silence and solitude:

“The world of men has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude which is necessary, to some extent, for the fullness of human living.” 

And he also wrote a lot on suffering:

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” 

Years ago, I was invited to a retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, in Conyers, GA. They had a beautiful exhibit all about the history of the monastery. I was surprised to find Brother Louis (Merton’s monk name) pictured among the monks who built the monastery. It was fascinating to see him, just one of the community, working to lay brick, or cut wood. It peaked my curiosity, and I began researching his life.

I noticed some time ago, it is difficult for me to learn from any theologian unless I experience them in the context of their life. Their story teaches me as much as their theology. Merton’s life story was no different. I found him to be a real person, with a real life. Complete with struggles, failures, and small triumphs, just like myself.

Since then I have read Merton’s work with a fresh perspective. I have found his most profound writing in a collection of his Journals, “Entering the Silence: Becoming A Monk and Writer,” edited by Jonathan Montaldo.

These personal reflections touch quiet places within me, and I find myself no longer in the presence of a man’s whose reputation intimidates me. No, I find myself in the presence of fellow traveler, on the same path to God as myself. He, obviously, is bit further on the road than me.


Tomorrow, N is for NOUWEN
(who was also influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton)


L is for LISTENING

I’m often asked, “How do you maintain the motivation for Spiritual Growth?”

Obviously, it’s about committing to it, and persisting in it, but there is also an aspect of listening that is required. Listening takes practice, and it must become a way of life.

We are not naturally inclined to this activity of listening to God. And the fault lies in us, not in him. God is always present, and always ready to give us what we need. Not only the physical provisions we keep lists about, but the emotional provision we crave as well.

Our problem isn’t simply that we refuse to listen, I think, we’ve forgotten how.

I began learning about Listening at the same time I began learning about Benedictine Spirituality. “Listen,” is the first word in St. Benedict’s Rule, his guidebook for communal living. “Listen, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart.”

Listening with the ear of your heart, is different than hearing with your ear. Hearing with your ear is passive; some sound disturbs the air and hits your ear drum. This causes a nerve to be stimulated, which is then processed by a speech center in your brain. And you hear.

Listening with the ear of your heart is active. There is a receptivity to it, a sensitivity. There must be a desire to hear God, a yearning of sorts.

Now, God isn’t a tricky god. No, He doesn’t want to make things difficult, but He also wants you to do the work. I think it’s because are aren’t really ready to hear, until we are really ready to listen. If you want to progress in the Spiritual Life, you will need to begin, and continue in the process of listening to God.

I want to encourage you that there are tools that will help. I shared several resources in my “E is for EXERCISE” piece. If you missed it, here’s a link. Make a commitment to your own growth, and try one of them out today! When you do, email me and tell me how it went!! I’m always inspired when I hear stories of how God shows up and uses my exercises to convey a message!

Want to know how to keep yourself motivated in your search for Spiritual Growth, practice listening! It will become, for you, a new way to seek God.

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Tomorrow: M is for Merton!



K is for (self) KINDNESS

It wasn’t until I began to understand God’s kindness towards me, that I began to extend that kindness to myself.

I found a quote from C.S. Lewis, that I customarily transferred into the opening page of each new journal I began – I did this for years, until the quote stuck fast in my heart,

The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men.  – C.S. Lewis, “Surprised by Joy.”

I grew up viewing God as continually disappointed with my lack of perfection. Something, I’m sure carried over from my childhood. Born in the late 50s, I was raised in the post WWII era, where everything in life, was tied – somehow – to my ability to live in response to the wonderfulness of my culture. A culture that had been protected by great, hardworking people. Many of them, gave their lives to protect me from the tyranny of Communism. I owed them my best.

Born with a temperamental inclination towards rule following, I mostly did a good job of being perfect, at least in my parents’ view. I was able to hold up the façade for some time.

Then the first big failure in college – then a series of choices, that compounded the failure – then the oppression of hiding my lack of perfection. And so, the ball of self-judgment and disappointment began to roll. It was easier to hide from God (and my parents) than admit my imperfection.

Then a season of desperation, and I returned to God in humility. In my weakness, I found Him to be a loving, forgiving God. A God that gently smiled when I explained the events that took me down the road, away from His light. He never beat me up, and has kindly guided me along my way.

Why are we so hard on ourselves, when God isn’t? Why do we insist on pursuing the image of who we think we’re supposed to be? I think the problem is that there’s still a little bit of the Garden of Eden in us. I think the problem is perfectionism.

When you think of it, perfection is in our DNA. We were created perfect, and designed to live in a perfect place, experiencing a perfect relationship with our Creator. Deep inside we KNOW perfection is the goal. But here’s the truth, we’re all on a journey to that GOAL. In theology, it’s called the Process of Sanctification. And here’s the kicker, God knows. He gets it.

At this writing, we’re right in the middle of Holy Week. The events of Christ’s betrayal, torture, and death, are upon us. As we walk through the ancient ritual of remembering what was done on our behalf, I believe we are required to show ourselves kindness. If God thought we were worth Christ’s great sacrifice, shouldn’t we live people who believe it too?

This week, ease up on the pressure, be kind to yourself, and rest in God’s love.



J is for JULIAN of Norwich

If you have never heard of Julian of Norwich, allow me the honor of introducing her. Born November of 1342, she is one of the great Christian mystics. She lived in England, among the widespread plagues in of the 14th century. Many scholars believe she may have lost her family during this time.

Little is actually known of her life, except for her great work, “Revelations of Divine Love.” Written in 1395, it is believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman. Although she minimizes herself due to a lack of education, her writing is full of deep theological truths and profound encouragement.

When Julian was 30 she experienced a life-threatening illness. Presumed to be near death, a priest was called in for “last rights.” An altar boy accompanied the priest to her bedside, carrying a large crucifix. When Julian saw the crucifix, she became transfixed, imagining that the body on the crucifix was bleeding. Over the next several hours, as she teetered between this life and the next, God gave her a series of 16 visions. These visions, or showings, as she called them, are theologically sound, yet profoundly personal.

Upon her recovery, she began recording these showings, creating what is known as the “Short Text” of her book. She spent the next 20 years expounding on what she had revealed to her, creating a fuller, more developed piece called, “Revelations of Divine Love.”

She lived in a time when religious leaders were criticizing people and blaming them for the plagues. While preachers railed that their sins were the cause of the plagues, Julian, “a simple and unlettered woman,” was sharing her visions. Visions that assured people of God’s profound love and care for them.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts:

“Right so He said in the last word, with true secureness, meaning us all: You shall not be overcome. And all this teaching in this true comfort, it is general, to all my fellow Christians, as it is aforesaid: and so is God’s will. And this word: You shall not be overcome, was said clearly and mightily, for assuredness and comfort against all tribulations that may come. He said not: You shall not be tempested, you shall not be travailed, you shall not be afflicted; but He said: You shall not be overcome. God wills that we take heed to these words, and that we be ever strong in sure trust, in well-being and woe. For He loves and enjoys us, and so wills He that we love and enjoy Him and mightily trust in Him; and all shall be well.”

God works in wondrous ways. Julian might not have been given these precious showings outside of her great suffering. If you’re searching for comfort in your struggles, you might take time to learn more about her “Revelations of Divine Love.” You can find the whole work as a .pdf on the internet!! Wonder what she would have thought of that?



I is for IMAGINATION

“For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Great quote from C.S. Lewis about the importance of the imagination. I love Lewis, not because he was a great theologian, but because he had an incredible imagination. Through his imagination, he made complex ideas and thoughts, real and understandable.

In my own study of God, little of what I read in the Bible meant much to me until I started thinking in terms of stories. Using my imagination to understand the people I found there.

I knew facts about Jesus, but He didn’t come alive until I spent time contemplating how he interacted with people. How He met each person where they were, how he treated them, how he showed them his love and acceptance.

As I started putting myself in their shoes, I gained a greater understanding of myself, and Him.

The story of the “Woman at the Well” has been a transformative story for me. I imagine how the woman must have felt. Busy with her mundane life, carrying water so that she can complete her domestic tasks. I imagine her back hurts, as does mine. I marvel at her ability to verbally spar with Jesus – and I marvel that He permits it.

Not having tools to draw water from the well, Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

Knowing her lowly state in life, and that she’s usually ignored or harassed, she retorts back,

“How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan Woman?”

When we hear that word Samaritan, we think on the story of the “Good Samaritan.” It’s a good thing, right? To be a Samaritan? Actually, no, it isn’t a good thing, especially to a Jew.

Jesus continues, almost teasing her,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who is it who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

She volleys back, I hear a bit of my own sarcasm in her response,

“Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” She forms a solid argument.

Jesus is about to unload some heavy theology on her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

She takes the bait,

“Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” She is tired.

Their back-and-forth gives me permission to spar with Jesus about my own issues. She shows me I don’t have to be afraid to confront the contradictions I see. Through my imagination, I identify with her, and I learn about myself, and Christ.

As you work to grow Spiritually, don’t neglect your imagination. Reason and imagination are both necessary to progress in the spiritual life.

Years ago, I learned about a modality that helps sharpen your imagination to the Gospel Stories. I created a worksheet that explains the process. It’s called Ignatian Contemplation. If you’re interested in giving it a try, use the box below, and I’ll send you a copy.




PS – I recently wrote about the difference between Meditation and Contemplation, you can read that here if you missed it.

H is for HUMILITY

When I selected HUMILITY as my “H” in this A to Z Blog Challenge, I didn’t realize that it would coincided with Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. At my church the service is full of readings, music, and images of a humble man, whose obedience leads him to His death. A behavior we’re asked to imitate in our daily lives.

As I sit with my thoughts about humility, I regret that I’m attempting to write about it. I don’t even know where to begin to explain the role humility plays in Spiritual Growth, but it does play a role, an all-encompassing one.

Saint Benedict probably gave us the most useful information about humility. In the seventh chapter of his famous guide for community life, “The Rule,” he says that the ascent into humility is like the movement through 12 rungs on a ladder.

In his teaching, the rungs resonate with ideas like: mindfulness, submission, detachment, confession, contentment, disentanglement, and unconditional trust.

This last one sticks with me. I think humility is more about trust, than anything else.

Even though Christ asked that God find another solution for the issue at hand, he accepts humbly, the consequences, set in motion by the actions of selfish men. He did so with full trust that God would bring something good from it. And He did.

It follows then, that as I attempt to imitate Christ’s humility, I must trust that God will bring good from my surrender. My trust in God is demonstrated by my humility.

Humility by letting go of my rights.

Humility by letting go of my desires.

Humility by letting go of my plans.

Humility by letting go of my preferences.

Humility by letting go of my opinions.

Humility by letting go of my demands.

Humility by letting go of my expectations.

As I stop insisting things go my way, I am saying to God, “I believe that you will work all things for my good.” Easy to do? No.

But be encouraged, growing in humility is part of the ongoing process of Spiritual Growth. It is moving forward, step-by-step, in the trust that I will be okay, no matter what happens to me.

 

G is for Germinating

Time, time, time … it’s all about time.

I remember as a kid, being fascinated by those time-lapse movies of a seedling pushing up through the dirt, their tender leaves stretching to the sun! I mean, you’d never be able to sit and actually watch that growth happen the way the camera can catch it.

Spiritual Growth is the same way. You can’t really see it happening in real-time, but growth is occurring nonetheless.

What happens during that season called “germinating”? Turns out that seeds are their own energy source, like a plant embryo. They hold on to their energy until water, oxygen, soil, and an ideal temperature all come into play, causing growth to begin.

Seems to me this works the same in Spiritual Growth. I believe we already have within us that embryo of who we are, and we need the outside elements to help move us forward in our own growth. I think our elements are a little different:

Water – the living water that Christ offers, refreshing and restful

Oxygen – the movement of the Holy Spirit, leading and corrective

Soil – the foundation of God’s Word, enduring and changeless, and

Temperature – the warmth provided by the love and companionship of other people in our lives.

My beloved Fr. Francis once told me, “It takes us a long time to become the person God sees.” This is the process of human germinating. God has that time-lapse vision of us. Outside of our time, he has already watched us grow and become fully ourselves. As far as He is concerned, it’s already happened.

Don’t be discourage in times where no growth is obvious. Trust the process, and continue surrounding yourself with the elements you need; Christ, the Spirit, God’s Word, and the people that provide you with the warmth required for your growth.


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