Archive for April, 2009

Holy Stillness

Eighteen months ago I was in a very different place in my life. Ministry responsibilities were overwhelming. Family obligations constantly beckoned. My life rhythm was way out of whack. I was staring burnout right in the face. Late one evening I finally hit a wall. Mentally exhausted, emotionally spent, and physically drained, I found myself in a spiritual desert with no oasis in sight. I reached out to a friend and spiritual mentor for help. 

I was reminded of this painful period when I read a quote this week from Thomas Merton: “As rays of sun do not set fire to anything by themselves, so God does not touch our souls with the fire without Christ.” In my desert place the Christ connection was missing. Not in the sense that I had abandoned my belief in the God-man but that I needed daily quiet space in my life – an oasis –  in which to abide in the Vine. My friend said it this way: “you must lead from a quiet center.”  In the words of poet T.S. Eliot I needed to be still and still moving.”  

Alice Fryling, in her book The Art of Spiritual Listening, suggests setting aside time to sit with the verse “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), repeating it over and over, leaving off a word or phrase each time your repeat. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am. Be still and know. Be still. Be. My friend introduced me to the idea of using this as a way to settle into my centering prayer time. I’ve been doing it ever since. It is from the well of this holy stillness that I draw for the strength to abide.

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Pondering Sacred Triduum

The clock continues to count down to Easter Sunday, the most sacred of all Christian holy days. I have found this Lenten season to be one of the most profound of my christian experience. I credit this to the new awareness practices God has been cultivating within me this year. 

Today we enter the Sacred Triduum – the three days beginning Maundy Thursday evening – that  lead up to the Easter Sunday celebration.  These three days draw us deeper into the mystery of death and resurrection life. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each give an account of the Passover Seder that fateful night in the Upper Room. Only John’s gospel omits the details of that Last Supper, making only a passing mention of the meal. No passing of the bread. No passing of the cup. Instead we find Jesus with a towel wrapped around his waist bending to wash the disciples feet. 

I connect with Peter in this narrative. His protest – “you will never wash my feet” – would be my protest. Jesus patiently explains to Peter that unless he allows him to make him clean, Peter could have no part with him. Even his impetuous reply – “then not just my feet but my hands and feet as well” –  would be mine as well. 

Richard Rohr suggests we think we’re being heroic in not letting God love us. We want to do the loving thing all on our own. It’s not until Peter capitulates and allows Jesus to lovingly wash his feet that he experiences the fullness of that moment. The same is true for us today. Will you surrender to the mysterious beauty of Maundy Thursday?

Preface to Recovery

Just like any good novel or gripping biography, the story of my religious recovery has a preface. It occurred seventeen years ago while I was deep in course work for a masters degree in education at Western Michigan University. I had taken the position of headmaster at a small Christian Academy. One of the weekly assignments given the students was to memorize a scripture verse a day and be prepared to be quizzed over any of them on Friday afternoon before dismissal. After listening to the drone of kids reciting verse after verse in monotone, I was drawn by the careful, melodic recitation of one especially bright student. Quoting Romans 7 from an archaic translation he said, “not in the lust of evil concupiscence…” I stopped him there. Resisting the urge to ask him to spell concupiscence I asked him if he could define concupiscence. As you might guess, he could not. I recognized then the nearly infinitesimal value of committing to memory words that have no meaning. 

Propitiation is one of those words. Its importance to Christian doctrine is undeniable. Its meaning to most Christians is undiscovered. To put it in terms you may have learned as a young child, propitiation means Jesus died for your sins. This is a foundational truth of historic Christianity – one I fully affirm. The way you’ve most likely heard it is something along these lines: Jesus died because you’re bad, Jesus died because you’re a thief, Jesus died because you’re an alcoholic, Jesus died because you’re whatever. Propitiation doesn’t work on that purely individual level. Jesus died for – meaning “because of” or “on behalf of” – humanity in the collective sense. That he died on behalf of us means that he died to reverse the universal affects of sin on our lives and in our world. His death empowers us to live within our humanity the life that He himself had lived.