Saturday, February 16, 2013

What is and What can be.

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 

 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Matthew 16:13-17, 21-23

One moment Peter is told that he has learned things that God has revealed to him, and the next moment he is called Satan and a stumbling block. That's quite a shift in one day! He gets things right, and he gets things wrong. He may be spending his days walking around Israel with the Son of God, but Peter is as human as the rest of us. Moments of transcendence, moments of self centeredness. All of this is the stuff of life and all of if is within Peter and is within us.

We all live at different places on this spectrum, often shifting as quickly as Peter does in this encounter. I'd love to live at one end of the spectrum, and ignore the other, but right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy, selfish and selfless, all live within me and I have the capacity to react to every encounter in multiple ways. On reflection I find that ways of responding that I thought were good, Godly, healthy and whole were actually being driven more by my own insecurities and selfishness. Sometimes what I label as selfishness is, upon reflection, self care.

Lent is an opportunity to reflect and surrender. How can we offer the whole spectrum of our humanity to God when we don't even like to admit parts of it exist?

I offer to God the real me, because that is the only me there is.

The work of God is to transform us from 'What is' into 'What can be'

When you reflect back on encounters you have had this past week how have you responded? Where do you see this spectrum at work in your life?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

40 Journaling Questions for Lent

“Lent is the shadow the Cross makes on the world in the light of the Resurrection”.

Traditionally Lent is a time for reflection and commitment. These questions are designed to be used as springboards for your personal journaling. Attempt to write an answer to one question a day and also try to write a prayer a day as a response to your own journaling (you get Sundays off). If you feel a question does not apply to you or you are unwilling or unable to answer it, journal about why this is so.

Wed Feb 13th 1. How would you describe your current relationship with God?
Thurs 2. What activities help you connect with God?
Fri 3. Where are you encountering joy in your life at the moment?
Sat 4. What gives you delight and how is God in that experience?

Mon Feb 18th  5. Describe a time you felt especially close to God.
Tues. 6. Describe a time you felt especially far from God.
Wed. 7. How does God delight in you?
Thurs. 8. What does God say when He looks at you?
Fri. 9. What emotions arise when you think about God? Why?
Sat 10. What has shaped your image of God?

Mon Feb 25th 11. What strengths do you have?
Tues 12. How are you unique?
Wed. 13. What are you afraid of?
Thurs. 14. What do you dislike about yourself?
Fri. 15. What do you like about yourself?
Sat. 16. Write about one aspect of yourself you would like to change.

Mon March 4th 17. What was one great thing about growing up in your family?
Tues. 18. What was one frustrating thing about growing up in your family?
Wed 19. How are you like your parents?
Thurs. 20. How are you different from your parents?
Fri. 21. How have your parents influenced your perception of God?
Sat. 22. What are your favorite memories of your childhood?

Mon March 11th 23. What are you angry with God about at the moment?
Tues. 24. How do you feel God has let you down?
Wed. 25. Where do you need to experience God at the moment?
Thurs. 26. What kind of person feels ‘unsafe’ to you?
Fri. 27. How do you react when you feel threatened?
Sat. 28. How does God feel ‘unsafe’ to you?

Mon March 18th 29. What is your favorite bible verse and why?
Tues. 30. Are there any parts of the bible you wish weren’t there? Why?
Wed. 31. What is your favorite bible story and why?
Thurs. 32. What lies do you tell yourself?
Fri. 33. What do you want people to say about you when you die?
Sat. 34. What is your biggest struggle and how have you encountered God through it?

Mon March 25th 35. What image comes to mind when you think of God?
Tues. 36. How has God used you recently?
Wed. 37. How has God shown His love for you during this season?
Thurs. 38. What is God trying to say to you at the moment?
Fri. 39. Which question was the hardest to answer honestly?
Sat. 40. How have you changed/grown through answering these questions?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

I believe in Four Gods

I believe in four Gods.

Let me clarify:
When I think about Propositional Truths I believe in one God.
When I think about Experiential Truths then I believe in four Gods.

1. The God who Loves

This is the God who must closely aligns with my propositional truth. He/She is loving, compassionate, forgiving and generous. This is the God I want to spend time with and also the one that I seem to encounter the least frequently. I have no formula for stepping into God's presence. The meditation that works one day leaves me cold the next. The music that has done nothing for years suddenly helps me encounter the divine. I do wonder though, how many of these moments are real and how many are just wish fulfillment? How much do I crave connection with the God who Loves, and how much of my desire is an addiction to an emotional state?

2. The God who is Indifferent

The world is so big and I am just one small segment. This God is like the familiar face at the grocery store I frequent. There might be a head nod and a glimmer of recognition, but they are free to shop their aisle while I wander mine. We may recognize each other, but there is no conversation or true connection. I believe that in an emergency I could shout and God would come running, but most of the time I am left to my own devices. I try and trust that God doesn't intervene or comment because He/She is happy with how I am doing, but there is that gnawing part of me that longs for heavenly affirmation.

3. The God who Smites.

It seems to be part of my wiring. Something bad happens to me and I immediately look for how I 'sinned' so I can connect the punishment to the crime. God is vengeful and angry and must be appeased. ...He sees me when I'm sleeping he knows when I'm awake. He knows if I've been bad or good so I better be good for goodness sake. This is the God who lurks in my depression, who whispers in my loneliness and revels in my despair. This is the God who tells me that if I am truly holy then I should feel guilty all the time. There are always more sins to confess, more attitudes to feel bad about, more people I've hurt, more needs I've ignored than I can ever know. I should quite whining about how pitiful my life is and feel guilty that I've never experienced true suffering, because if I keep up the complaining God will give me something to truly complain about.

4. The God who Does Not Exist.

I think on those days that I wake up and feel like God doesn't exist I should be able to call into the church where I work and say 'I can't lead worship today, I woke up Atheist'. The God who Does Not Exist is different from the God who is Indifferent as there is no distant recognition, no possibility of divine rescue. I am alone. I think some of my belief in the God who Does Not Exist is a knee jerk reaction to the God who Smites. I feel so bad being around Him/Her that I eradicate the existence of all Gods from my life.

Four Gods, and only one of them - the most infrequent one, leaves me feeling good about myself. I cling to 'Never will I leave you or forsake you' desperately trying to forget 'My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me.' I use the Hope of Resurrection to avoid feeling the Horror of Crucifixion. Nietzsche believed in 'The Horror of Existence' - a world of meaningless suffering.  Maybe my belief in God is my way of avoiding that horror.

My experience tells me that something exists outside of myself. I've had moments of transcendence that I hunger for when they are over. Brief times where I feel I have touched something larger than myself, a light that keeps the darkness at bay.

All four of my 'Gods' fall short of the ultimate reality of God. They must. My mind is finite....God is not, but somehow he /she dwells within me like an infinite fractal contained in finite space. I must surrender the Gods I imagine - both good and bad, to encounter the God beyond my image of God.

This surrender feels like Apostasy.
It feels like Atheism
It feels like a deliberate denial and betrayal of all I have known.
I am Judas. I am Peter.

This surrender feels, awesome, intimidating. It feels like the Hero's journey of lore. Leaving behind the known and the familiar to venture into the unknown, to face nameless terrors, to atone and be transformed and emerge anew.

This surrender feels like a return to dust. It feels like Lent. 'From Dust I have come, to dust I will return' ~ If I cling to what is, I will never crumble to dust.

Most of all this surrender feels small and lonely. A stumbling around in the dark in a strange house. Banging into chairs and tables, limping in pain desperately seeking a light switch.

I am tempted to cling to the 4 Gods - even with their flaws, as a way of avoidance.

I guess I know what I should give up for Lent.