Shifting Perspective

A shift has slowly been taking place in my perspective of life.  When I was younger, I was proud and naive and relied much on my own self-righteousness.  Of course, this youthful way of life shrouded my ability to see my own pride especially because there was no outright malicious intent in my actions I believed, but they were selfish none the less.  I thought and acted in a way meant to glorify God and of course, his grace was always to love me and bless what little I offered him of myself, but I’m thankful that he didn’t leave me in this state.

The ego breaks down at some point and we are all faced with a mirror, will I continue to keep living this way or will I put my hope into something else, a life promised to each of us, but we realize will not come about on our own efforts.  Jesus’ words that if we try to save our own life we will lose it, but if we choose to lose our life, for his sake, we will live, begins to take on a whole new meaning, and slowly, slowly, the ego drowns in the fount of baptism and we begin to emerge into the true life.

Before my ego fell I remember reading Ann Voskamp’s words of a life of gratitude, the Eucharistic life and thinking if I just start keeping a daily journal of gratitude then I will transform.  It helped for a time of course but my efforts lost their steam.  Now, I take in the Eucharist every time it’s offered to me, drinking and eating it up.  I’m learning the fullness and richness of a Eucharistic life now, not because I did something but because I’m making space and communion with the Eucharist itself, and he, in turn, is transforming me so that my actions are becoming his actions.  What a different way to approach this life.

Before my ego fell, my heart ached with the word “present”, to be present in the current moment of my life and to be present to the Presence.  Again I read words of great saints who lived this life I puzzled to learn their secrets but not much was revealed or changed so that longing for presence sat inside of me for years.  You see before I was preoccupied by what was next, whether a small mundane task or the grander plans of life.  I said it was so I wouldn’t squander a moment or the gifts and talents given to me but ego once again shrouded the real reasons.  Really, I sought my own fame and the glory the accolades I would receive to feed my inner god.  Then the shroud fell and I was forced to confess my own sinful nature to myself.  It doesn’t seem like much but the more and more I sit in this humble state of confession, repeating the Our Father over and over, I make room for the Presence in my life and he shifts my perspective onto the present.  The funny thing, I didn’t try to do this on my own, nor was I aware of it.  God graciously pointed it out to me through my dear Spiritual Director.

I look back now and am so grateful for the perspective of time.  Before I thought if I could just read a book or intently study the Scripture or put into place new habits and disciplines I would bring about my transformation.  These things did produce beautiful fruit in my life but still, that veil existed and I was blind that my own pursuits which mostly came from my self-will which would only take transformation so far.  This is the state of our youthful, dare I say, adolescent mind state, which puts ego in the center and allows the Pharisaical mindset to dominate.

I encourage you if you’re tired of doing things your way, thinking they are God’s way and you’re coming up short, don’t be afraid to face the mirror and try something new, something different.  Many will walk away from the mirror and try a little harder or try something different but I promise it will all lead back to the same roadblock.  To truly live, do as Jesus instructed and lose your life.  Sit with God and ask him how.  Sitting in silence and solitude is the start and it is the end of a life well-lived in love.

 

I come to the end…

It’s been a month of sad news, almost daily it seems.  The unexpected death of a dear, sweet man, who came back from the pit of death once before only to be led there once again, far too soon.  A young woman who’s womb will no longer be able to bear life as she and her family wait with bated breath hoping her one child will live.  A mother and father who wait vigilant at their young son’s bedside, a little boy younger than mine, who is battling for his life.  The solemn words, “stage 4” that punch you in the gut when they are uttered and wondering what the journey will be ahead.  A young woman’s life, who on the outside is articulate, strong, hospitable and full of love, but who’s heart on the inside is weighed down with grief and despair that is too hard to carry on anymore.  And for me, saying goodbye to yet another dear friend, and all this news stirring up the grief I have borne myself over these last years.

How is it with my soul?  I feel sorrow and I mourn.  The pain and brokenness of this life felt acutely on the surface.  And I cry out as the Psalmist did, why O Lord, why?

scenic photo of mountain during dawn

Photo by Rizknas on Pexels.com

I sat with Psalm 139 today.  It’s words familiar and safe, a warm blanket to wrap around a tired soul.  God’s answer to my why, today and every day, look up dear child, look up and know that I AM.  When the days seem dark, they are light to me.  When you do not know, I have already written it.  When you don’t even know yourself, I formed you when you were nothing, knitting every detail together into a wonderful work, a person of beauty.  I AM.

Lately, I’ve been embracing the word mystery.  To embrace mystery means to let go of control.  To embrace mystery means to sink deeper into Love.  To embrace mystery means to plant myself more strongly onto the foundation of Hope.  To embrace mystery is to trust.

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them–they are more than the sand;

I come to the end–I am still with you.”

Work that glorifies

Yesterday I spent a lovely day with my dear friends at Coracle.  We sat around a large board room overlooking the city of DC to discuss the topic of work.    As I’ve talked before work is not some hardship meant to just fill our time up here on earth.  Work is a God-ordained gift, given to us his image bearers at the dawn of creation.  Genesis 2:15 instructs us that God gave us the garden to work, (cultivate is the actual word here) and to care for.  It wasn’t till after the curse in Genesis 3 that our work was cursed as well, our food to come from the sweat of our brow because the land had been infested with thorns and thistles.

But of course, God never ends the story there.  Jesus comes to this world to bring dignity and meaning back to our work, to redeem it.  He works most of his life as a carpenter, a ‘tekton‘ I learned yesterday, which has a much fuller meaning I knew before.  He spent the majority of his time, not with the professional religious folks but with the everyday workers, tax collectors, fishermen.  Then on the cross, he took the thorns and thistles, the full measure of sin and he defeated it.  Our lives now are redeemed to the fullest meaning that even our work done now can take on its original intent, to glorify God and prepare us all, this whole creation for the new earth to come.

I heard this complete gospel in my college days.  It was a way of life that ignited me to see each task I performed, each paper I wrote, each exam I studied for, each job I took on to be done to the glory of God.  Colossians 3:17 became my mantra, “and whatever you do, in word or action, do everything in the name of the master, Jesus, giving thanks to him through God the father.”  I was introduced to a gentleman named Brother Lawrence, a monk known for how he lived each and every day doing what he called, practicing the presence of God.  Brother Lawrence lived his days in a continual awareness of God with him.  He is also well known for saying that he could peel potatoes even to the glory of God since all work was done for God.  I wanted to live this way, knowing that even peeling potatoes was God ordained and glorifying, living into my image bearing identity.

And I did.  I set about my years post-college in passionate pursuit of serving God through all my actions and sharing this complete gospel with everyone I could, that the lie of the dualistic life, the sacred and secular divide was false when it came to our lives, our whole lives, including our work.  I was busy doing, doing doing, for God trying to please him through my work each day.  But these seasons of doing don’t last forever and I found myself lost wondering if I’m not doing for God or serving him as I once thought was the only way possible, am I still glorifying him?  What does he think about that?  What does he think about me?

In my later years now I revisited my old friend Brother Lawrence and sat as he instructed me on his life, through his words.  I began to see his life and his practice completely differently.  Brother Lawrence didn’t start with his doing to glorify God, he started with his being to glorify God.  That constant awareness he lived into of the presence of God, the presence of Love with him always grounded him in his identity as a child of God.  His practice was neither fancy nor complicated, just a centering of himself on God so that no matter what he did, “in word or action,” he did for God not through his doing but through his being.

These days I’m switching things around.  My primary task each day is not centered on doing anything but sitting with my God who is always with me.  He gently reminds me who I am, his child and image bearer in this world.  Sitting sweetly with my Lord I am able to hear his voice and the instruction he has for me that day, the work that he will offer to me to do, whether it be washing clothes, running my son to baseball practice, writing this blog entry and yes, even peeling potatoes for an evening meal.  Living into the constant presence of God, abiding in the Vine and his word is what makes my branch fruitful and ultimately glorifying to God.

The Present Moment

Too often when I stop and catch my thought pattern I find I am distracted by what has happened, reliving the what and when and how over and over, or I’m preoccupied with what is coming ahead, the to-do list, the maybe, the unknown I’m trying to control.  In either instance I am very rarely focused on where God is with me.  My thoughts are inward.

God’s gentle voice calls me out of that headspace and slowly I am attuning my heart to follow where it leads, and often where it leads it to the moment right before my eyes.  The more I discipline myself to practice the present moment I see that it has nothing to do with the human construct of time, instead, it draws our attention to the thin veil that separates our world with heaven and in that space, we meet God and we experience joy.

God has given me wise teachers in life who are always attuned to the present in the form of my three small children.  Children are not distracted with what has been or what the future might hold, they have no concept of time.  At any given moment I know exactly what my children are thinking and feeling, engrossed in story time, building a world of make-believe, feeling the deep hurt after falling off a bike, or the disappointment of no dessert.  They feel happiness and fear and sadness and all the things I believe because they are so present to their true selves at that moment.

One day I was playing with my three year old and he kept getting frustrated with me.  I realized I wasn’t having much fun either and then I realized it was because I wasn’t actually playing.  I was thinking of all the things I should be doing, could be doing.  And then it hit me, be present to this moment, the one that is gifted me right now.  As I could fully give myself over to play I felt peace and I felt joy and happiness and fun.  I connected with myself and my son deeply and when we do that, we always connect with God as well.

I think back to the moment I sat at my father’s death bed and watched his last breaths slip away.  I characterize that moment as feeling the deepest joy and deepest sorrow in my life.  I felt deeply because I was present deeply to the thin veil.  At that moment I knew God presence and I knew my true self to be present.

If we want to be people who are fully alive then I believe we must be people who are fully present.  Perhaps this is just one more way we must become like little children to inherit the kingdom of God.  The smaller the child the less the false self has guarded them off and so the easier it is for them to just be present.  Today let us listen to the gentle voice that calls us to him.

Not even you

A Sunday morning many years ago I was singing the words in a bridge of a song that had been plucked from the book of Romans, “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?”  As I passionately belted out the words I heard a whisper in my heart, “You Kelly, you are the only thing standing in the way of me working in your life.”

I stood in shock as those words soaked into my heart, I was what held me back from reaching the true potential that God had created in me.  And I was sad because I knew they were true.  And they weren’t spoken in acquisition or anger but in gentle conviction, which I think made me even sadder.

Well, I continued to walk around with those words year after year.  I couldn’t quite shake the weight of them.  At first, they felt like a prescription to a problem.  The state of my being was one of fear, that held me back from taking challenges, resign to the notion that this was just life, accept my place and position for what it was.  Then as time went on they prompted me to inquire further, why were they true and for that matter what did they mean?

As we self reflect we are able to find the image bearer in us that shows us who we are in Christ.  I was able to weed through all this to realize that the Kelly that held me back was not the Kelly that imaged Christ.  And if it was a false me, well then she could be pushed aside so that Paul’s words would manifest into truth, that nothing could stop me if God is for me.

I began to believe that God was really for me, that he loved me beyond measure.  As love permeates us it drives out the fear that stops us.  This involves a lot of truth-telling, a healthy dose of confession, a posture of humility and a willingness to walk in the light, let it shine so that it can heal.  And with that healing comes hope, because God’s last word is always hope.

A few weeks ago I was listening to another song, but the same words from Romans 8.  In this new place of healing and hope with God, “If God be for us,” rang out from the third part of Handel’s Messiah.  As the words echoed in my heart, the voice whispered to me again, “And now not even you can stop you or me dear one.”  God took my sadness and filled me with tears of joy.

We all come to places where we feel stuck, like we are our own worst enemy.  Even Paul says in the chapter before that he finds himself in this cycle of doing what he doesn’t want to do and not doing what he does want to do.  But if we let ourselves become aware, then we can become engaged, we can wrestle with God in these places in our lives.  We must strive ahead and remember that we are Easter people, people of hope and that if God is for us, then who could stop us?

Receive

I found myself in a familiar passage in Luke’s gospel this morning.  Luke begins the story with the people bringing their tiny babies to Jesus for him to touch.  In a society where children were neither seen nor heard, it doesn’t seem out of place for his disciples to shoo the people away.  Jesus as always has a counter culture, unexpected response.  He not only receives these little ones, but he also embraces them and blesses them and then says something that I’m sure was quite confusing.

Receive the kingdom of God as a child or else you will never enter.  Jesus tells us, this is the truth, a sure foundation to stand upon.  So it got me wondering, how does a child receive?  I’m fortunate to have a handful of kids running around my house at any moment so I pondered, how do my children receive a gift or really any good thing that’s been presented to them?  I thought of words like excitement, wonder, joy.  Small children have the ability to immerse themselves so fully in the moment they are in and so feel these things to the fullest measure.  Children have no fear of good gifts given to them from their loving parent, and never wonder if any strings are attached.  Children receive with open hands and open hearts.

Do I receive the good gift, the invitation to enter my true home, God’s kingdom, in this way?

Luke then immediately goes into the next story and so I continued to read.  A man Luke calls a ruler, comes to ask Jesus a question that is important to him.  I imagine this man has it all together given the nature of his questioning and responses.  He thinks he has life all figured out, he’s rich, he’s young, he’s a ruler, and he’s kept all the commandments.  Now he wants to know how to get everything in order for life in the age to come.  Jesus tells him to sell everything he owns, distribute it to the poor and then come and follow him.  The man is sad, Jesus can tell and he says to the people how hard it will be for those with many possessions to enter God’s kingdom.  Their reaction, well then who can be saved?

I have many possessions and a life that seems pretty together, will I enter God’s kingdom?

At first glance, it’s easy to read these two stories as separate, each with their own meaning but then why did Luke tell them back to back and why did some person decide centuries ago to group them together under one heading?  And then I made a connection.  Why does a child receive with wonder and excitement and joy?  Because they possess nothing.  There is room in their heart to receive and they are totally dependent on their parents to provide for them.  When that parent-child relationship is one of love and security the child trusts and their heart is open wide.

Jesus looked beyond the exterior of the rich, young ruler, of his life all put together.  Jesus perceived a heart that was full already.  Perhaps full of pride and self-sufficiency.  The man found security in his possessions and wealth.  Through his acts of doing, he was able to achieve the life he wanted and now he thought through his own actions and work he could achieve the life he wanted in the age to come as well.  But that’s not how God’s kingdom works and that was what Jesus was telling the people when he said they must receive as a child.

By giving away his possessions to the poor the young ruler would make room in his heart to receive.  By seeing himself dependent on his heavenly Father, he would run to him for what he needed.  By following Jesus he would see what the relationship between the father and son is to be, an exchange of love and grace and trust.  The young ruler could see that his security comes in his identity, a child of God, and he would receive life to the fullest in this age and the one to come.

Do I have room in my heart to receive?  Where do I find my security?  Do I see myself as a child, totally dependent on my Father?  What possessions must I give away to the poor, so that I might become poor and receive the kingdom of God?

The tree of life

We read in Genesis chapter 2 that in the Garden of Eden, man’s first home, God grew up every tree producing fruit pleasing to the sight.  In the middle of the Garden grew two very specific trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  After placing man in the garden God gave him as a gift to eat of every tree in the garden except one, the tree of the knowledge of good evil, “for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”  So that leads me to believe that Adam and Eve were permitted to eat of the fruit of the tree of life.

As the story continues along though, the serpent, Satan comes to deceive our first father and mother to eat from the tree that would bring death.  The fruit was pleasing to the eye afterall and so they ate, ignoring the bring death warning and instead believing the lie that they would be like God, knowing good and bad.  And so the curse of sin enters God’s perfect world because of a choice to feed the flesh and ignore the divine order that sends a ripple effect throughout all of creation, ushering in a new age that we still feel the effects of today.  No longer are they permitted in this state to eat of the fruit of life and so they and we are banished from the garden, but not forgotten.

It was praying the Our Father, the line, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” that got me thinking of these two trees, two trees that we are still presented with today, now that we live in the age of redemption.  In every situation we are presented to choose between life and death.  Will we react in a way that we pluck the fruit of the tree of life to eat and taste and be nourished from, or will do we listen to a lie of our flesh calling out to be fed from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thinking it will make us divine beings on our own terms?  I think that’s why Jesus asks us to pray these words.  He knows our flesh is tempted and weak, desiring to be satiated in any way possible and so to remind us of what that choice brought to Adam and Eve and the rest of creation he calls us to plead with God to lead us away from that tree and to the tree of life.

And what does the fruit from the tree of life look like, why the fruit of the Spirit of course, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The more we eat this fruit, it’s seeds are planted in us to grow and produce more of it in our lives.  In turn, it will be the fruit that we have to offer all those around us so that a cycle of life continues on.  As long as we stay connected to the true Vine then the Gardener will cultivate the fruit of life in us and through us.

When I pray that line, to lead me from temptation, I add in that God would lead me instead to life.  I imagine myself before these two trees in the garden and physically turning from the one that will lead to my death and towards the one that will give me life.  I ask that I will intentionally pluck its fruit and be satisfied by its taste, and let its goodness fill me to overflowing.  I want to choose the nourishment that my Creator made for me to not only live on but to thrive on.

Both/And

I’m reminded often as of late of approaching life with the lens of “both/and”, not “either/or”.  I first put on these new lenses while I sat at my father’s bedside as he died.  Up until that day I thought life could only exist in “either/or”, I could feel one way or I could feel the other.  But at dad’s side, simultaneously I felt both the greatest sorrow I had experienced to that point in my life at the loss of my father, but also the deepest joy and peace that dad was free from the chains of this life and I was so glad for him.  In my grief that followed, I also experienced at the same time the awakening of my soul.  Perhaps I could feel two things at once, and perhaps I could feel them more deeply when experienced together.

As I live with my new lenses I am seeing that this new approach lives out in many ways.  I notice for instance that if I seek to bestow true forgiveness to others in life and the freedom that it will give me, I must at the same time delve deep into the pains and hurt that caused the wounds in the first place.  I don’t know about you but that pain and hurt were enough to experience the initial time around, why go poking around into the mess again?  This time around I don’t go by myself though.

My Brother offers to hold my hand, illuminating our path as we enter into parts of my heart that have been locked away.  I offer the key and we go together.  God shows me where He was present all along before, I was just blind to His presence, and where He is now, His Love large enough to catch every tear and heal every wound.  When the great Healer comes in to make me whole again, my new self is what identifies me, not the old self of victim and shame.  Forgiveness can come from this new place, with these new lenses.

I learn along the way though, that a companion of forgiveness is confession, my own confession, “both/and”.  I must reach a place where I see the depravity of my own sin, the plank sticking out of my own eye.  The more deeply I confess my own sin, to own it, I can receive forgiveness myself.  The Healer comes to me in a different way, to remove my plank and set me free.  What I learn from the gift of mercy is how it is bestowed, with gentleness and with compassion.  This was a “both/and” I could not see before.

I hid away my confession because I thought it would be met with judgment and anger, I was bound by fear.  The longer I have spent in the embrace of Love I rest in its assurance so fear is driven out and I can let my guard down.  Confession can flow more naturally because now I know the “both/and” it is accompanied by is more Love.  How is that possible?  Because it is Divine Love, not human love.  As I confess myself and receive compassion the more willing and able I am to grant forgiveness.  A snowball starts rolling and just won’t stop.

If I desire more good in my life, more love, more freedom than I must be willing to experience the “and”, the suffering, the loss, the pain, the death at the same time.  I can not separate the two any longer.  If I fear the pain then I will settle for a shallow love, “either/or”.  Instead, I can choose courageously to step deeper into Love but then Love will also call me to step deeper into the pain, I will have to experience “both”.  But deeper, Holy Love promises this, to never leave me or forsake me.  It promises me to see life with this new set of lenses, a new teaching, a new yoke, that will not burden me any longer, and with it my new self, my soul will find rest.  It is in giving that we receive and it is in dying that we are born again into something new, into the eternal.

Holy and Love

Ten years ago I had a conversation with a young woman, we were discussing the characteristics of God.  She said she had a heard a speaker one-time share that yes, people go around saying that God is love but first and foremost we must always remember that God is holy.  Hmm, God is holy.  Holy.  Set apart.

Well, I clung onto that thought and somewhere in it set apart transformed into far apart.  His holiness, His perfection was distant from my sin and couldn’t draw near.  And when God is far away He sits in judgment.  There fear steps into the place of love, but isn’t fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom?  True, but if you can’t draw near to wisdom, then how can you obtain it?

With this transformation my faith became transactional, to get to the love I so desperately sought after, I would need to perform to do to obey because Jesus instructed that if we loved Him then we would obey Him.  Obedience is easy because you can tell when you’re doing right and doing wrong, hoping that the doing right was inching you close enough to the favor you sought and the love that you hoped for.  But to view God as far away meant that love was always far away too and no amount of transactions would get me to the point of satisfaction to a judgmental God or a judgemental self.

Now, well now I’m seeing that maybe I got everything all wrong.  It started with this notion that God is Love.  I had focused so much on holiness that I left off in discovering Love but thankfully it never left seeking after me.  When Love began to awaken me I could finally sit in its presence, in all its glory and beauty.  And for the first time, it wasn’t distant but it was still holy.

I couldn’t understand Love or God in His totality because I was trying to understand Him with human constructs and beliefs.  I realized that when I thought of love I thought of the sinful way we use love, love as merely a feeling of the heart or give me love and I’ll show you love in return, hurt or harm me and I withdraw.  This is not God’s Love.  God’s Love is holy, it is set apart and that’s what makes it beautiful and life-giving.  I start to start secure in Holy Love first.

To immerse myself in a Holy Love I must die to myself though, the self that clings to the human construct of love.  If I continue to try and squeeze love into those standards no fruit will flourish into abundance and I would never truly love God, my neighbor or myself.  I have begun to have a foretaste to what taking up my cross and dying to this false self will mean.  It means seeing the true depth to the depravity of my own sin so that Holy Love can bestow compassion and grace and gentleness to me.  It means bringing Light to old wounds, as painful as that might be so forgiveness, that is bathed in compassion can be truly bestowed and so I can stop living in denial and instead know healing and freedom.

So in my transforming view of life from the “either/or” to the “both/and” I am seeing that God is both Holy and Love, He’s actually Holy Love.  We can not separate the two lest we get hung up on the one characteristic apart from the other.  No, they must be married together.  He must be Holy and He must Love, but it must be Holy Love.  I still have much to learn about Holy Love but for now, I’m enjoying just being with Him and letting that gentle truth wash over me.

(Meditate on 1 John 4 to sit with Holy Love.)

The other cheek

As I step deeper into Love and let it transform me I have become aware that I see things differently, read things differently because this Love is different and is giving me a new lens to look at life.  I’m reading through the gospel of Luke right now and came to a place where Jesus is teaching his disciples what Love looks like.  He tells them (and us) that Love loves their enemies, that when someone strikes your cheek, you offer them the other cheek in return.  Love is helping me to understand this differently.

My oldest son gives into the fruit of the flesh with bursts of anger and rage from time to time.  He might have partaken of this fruit through generational sin, maybe.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  But the good news is, some new fruit is growing on my tree, the kind from the Spirit that is uprooting this generational sin.  One day during one of his outbursts instead of offering anger back I let Love step in and it felt like I was absorbing that anger, not feeding off of it like before, and then I was able to offer my other cheek to my son that came in the form of open arms ready for an embrace.  I encouraged him to let it out, that I could take it, Love could take it and when he was done we hugged in a deep hold.

Now my son is certainly not my enemy, far from it, but I think God is giving me an easy start into this whole love your enemies sort of thing.  It was easier to offer love back to my son’s anger because of the relationship we already have established.  I can see how practicing in this kind of Love will help when the real enemies come my way.

I also saw in a very tangible way how God’s love absorbs our anger that we throw at Him every day while like the Prodigal Father, He stands there with open arms ready to embrace us.  In the passage of Luke, I was referring to earlier at the end of this section Jesus states that if we are able to love our enemies, (and do good and lend without expecting a thing in return) our reward will be great because we will truly be children of God.  Jesus says we must be merciful, just as our father is merciful (Luke 6:36).  I think this is because we first let Love transform us so that we become Love itself.

The only way this Love will transform us is if we spend time together, in new ways, in real ways, in quiet, be still kind of ways.  I’m asking more and more every day what it means that God is Love, so that I might be a Love incarnate that can offer my other cheek.  How will you spend time with Love today?