The Reality of Grace

There are times that just listening to Dallas Willard refreshs the soul. Dallas is definitely a Friday Favorite.

 


 

A Quote for Today

It's a chilly day in Colorado. Chillier, even, than where my cousin finds himself at the moment—Siberia. It's not often that I get to say that!

Fellow spiritual director Leslie Stewart posted a quote from Evelyn Underhill that just must be shared… and it's much warmer than the temperature. Thank you, Leslie, and thank you, Evelyn!

 For a spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the center, where we are anchored in God: a life soaked through and through by a sense of God’s reality and claim, and self-given to the great movement of God’s will. ~ Evelyn Underhill

Nourishing Yourself In A Time of Sorrow

As we move toward the weekend, I can't help but share this beautiful post. You may be in a time of sorrow right now in your life, or you may be in a season of joy. Many of us in the northern hemisphere are feeling the darkness of winter lengthen before us. January 24, "Blue Monday," is often called the saddest day of the year. Wherever you are, these beautiful words on how a cup of tea can nourish the soul will feed you and bring you rest.

May your weekend be blessed with His love.

The Rest of Rest

Having spent the last week or so sick and alternately in bed or tottering around to my various commitments, I've had some time to think about rest. Add to this the ethos of this season, this dig-deep-place of Advent, and rest has been hard to avoid.

Oh, but avoid it we (and I) do.

One of the first things that I ask a new directee is about their sleeping habits. While that may seem a little bit outside of my purview as a spiritual director, I hold by the truth that, at least in North America, the number one enemy of spiritual growth is exhaustion. Last year, my lovely small group went through James Bryan Smith's The Good And Beautiful God: Falling In Love With the God Jesus Knows. Do you know what the first spiritual discipline Mr. Smith had us practice was?

Sleep.

Yes, sleep. The exercise involved picking a day (and enlisting help if necessary) where we could stay in bed until we were entirely sick of being in bed.

As a culture, we're so focused on being in control, accomplishing, making things happen. Rest and sleep are almost seen as defeat. Especially this time of year, when there so much to do, buy, arrange, bake, wrap, cook, send and give.

We often quote, "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength" from Isaiah 30:15, but no one seems to finish the verse. The last few words get left off… "but you would have none of it."

We like the idea, but we don't like being called to the carpet by God when we're not living the truth.

Well, I've been called to the carpet this past week. In the rest that my body as been forced into, I've been reminded that I'm not in control, that God is truly good, even if my circumstances seem snotty. And that, especially during Advent, God is reminding me, and the rest of His bride, that His rest is what He requires of us. We can wait on Him and rest in Him—He's trustworthy.

So how about it? Can you take up the challenge to choose rest this Advent season?

 

 

Further Resources:

The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan

The Good & Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith

We Seek Smooth Lines

A few years ago, I helped lead a six-week series called the Creativity Project at my church. The aim was to open a space for people to exercise the creativity that we have all (and I do mean all) been gifted with by God. During that time, a few poems presented themselves to me. They were unexpected and arrived all in a rush, which hasn’t happened to me for some time. This particular poem came while I was wrestling with the spiritual discipline of creating prayer ropes, maintaining the patience, focus and prayer to tie complex knots over and over again.

As I enter the Advent season, God has brought this discipline back to me. Advent is about waiting. Waiting with expectation. Waiting with hope. Waiting even though things don’t seem smooth or simple.

Thus, I share this poem with you. Let me know what it stirs in you, what you see and hear… what you are awakened to or waiting for this Advent.

* * *

We seek smooth lines, swift and silken,

things uncluttered and uncomplicated. Easy

beauty, a sense of peace—the humility

of knots undoes us. No doubt even the cross

was not truly straight, although that’s how

we like to make it, right-angled so we know

our place, can trace our salvation

with rulers and thick-tipped markers.

The first symbols were more

rounded and irresolute, the tail

of the fish crossing itself, a Father,

Son and Holy Spirit less precise,

that wandered across thoroughfares

like a lost child, a secret yet to be told.

Now, we pull at our lives, seeking

resolution, understanding, something

that might make sense of the paradox,

the absences, the dying children,

while old women whose lines have long

fallen, sagged into the corners

of their eyes, their lives, comfortable

with the tangles, weave our times

into prayers, letting the loose ends

fray into supplication.

Of Hubris, Hope and Telling A Better Story

If you've stood in line at a grocery store anywhere in the United States in the past week, you're probably aware of the story that's captured the world's attention for this moment and, I suspect, a few more moments to come. While it may be replaced now and again by more pressing current events, I expect that we'll all be hearing a great deal about Prince William and Kate Middleton's upcoming nuptuals through the week of their wedding, currently set to occur on April 29, 2011.

I've had a few friends complain bitterly and sometimes caustically about not only this story, but about the role of the British monarchy in general. Words like "disgusting", "hubris", "anachronism", "inbred" and "leeches" have been used. Being a British citizen myself, it might be easy (and believe me, it's been a temptation) to become defensive or even antagonistic in response. I've taken some time, though, and asked God what's going on—both within myself and within the reactions of others—that He'd like to talk about. While I don't even pretend to be God's voice on the issue, I do think there are a few things going on that can teach us about the story God's telling and our hearts within it.

On the eve of Advent, I know that I am longing for a fresh start and, paradoxically, a reminder of the His-story of which I'm a part. I suspect I'm not alone in this. In fact, I suspect that whether you would call yourself a person of faith or not, you're longing for a fresh start as well. It's been a rough few years, globally. Economic downturns, political polarization and name-calling, unstable global politics, and a sense of distrust for our leaders has created an environment of fear and, sadly, despair. Good people are going through difficult times. Hard work, prayer, and just 'pulling yourself up by your bootstraps' hasn't seemed to produce the results that we would have expected five years ago. While it never was, the world doesn't feel under our control any more, and that brings with it a low-level but pervasive sense of unease.

Do you know the difference between a Shakespearan tragedy and a Shakespearan comedy? Some would say death toll is the determining factor, and while that may be a good measure most of the time, it's not the only factor. Tragedies and comedies can sometimes have equal amounts of bloodshed on and off stage, but comedies end in resolution and, more often than not, they end with a wedding.

I'm sure you get where I'm going here.

With all that's been going on, you've probably been wondering if the story we're living in isn't a tragedy after all. There have been questions, quiet doubts, and outright fist-shaking-at-the-ceiling prayers. Anchored by the Word of God, we know that the story ends differently… but our emotions, and sometimes our hearts, have taken a beating. Those without the plumbline of faith have even greater struggles keeping purpose and hope about them.

Enter stage right: Prince William and his commoner-to-princess fiancée, Kate (who would like you to call her Catherine.) Prince William, tragic Diana's son. Prince William, heir to the throne of England. And Kate, beautiful, intelligent, young and… hopeful.

It's hard to say whether it's William, Kate, or the combination of the two that grab our hearts the most. William's story is one of adventure trumping breeding: rather than take the safe route, he's entered the RAF and flies helicopters, even against the advice of the royal family who would prefer him to be safe. William lost his mother, also a commoner-to-princess story, and has had to manage mourning and the public spotlight. Kate's parents are self-made millionaires, an air traffic controller and flight attendant who made good with a dream and some effort, very little in the way of royal blood to their names. Young, beautiful and dynamic, together the couple are engaging and compassionate. They feel like real people. They could be your cousin, your sister, your son or your best friend.

They could be you.

And that's where the story has us. Why we're enraptured, why we care about something that can feel as anachronistic as royalty. Just like professional sports and players, there's a story going on that echoes of the story that we all care about, the story we all secretly and not so secretly want to believe.

In the story of Kate & William, we're being reminded that this story isn't a tragedy after all. Things may look dire, but there's a wedding to look forward to, and this means that this story's got a comedic ending. Not necessarily one we'll be laughing at as hilariously funny, but one whose punchline will have us smiling and understanding all the twists and turns along the way had to lead us to this point, this happily ever after, this feast.

And what story does that sound like, hmm? What story begins with a wedding and ends with a wedding? (I am, by the way, indebted to John & Stasi Eldredge for first pointing that out, or at least first pointing that out to me.) It's God's story, echoing into our own, giving us reason to hope that things are going to be right with the world, right with our own story, after all. That God's in control, and the ending is going to be more beautiful than we'd hoped. Instead of just getting by, we're going to get more that: we're going to be adopted into royalty, given a title, a crown, and called heir to the throne (the real Throne, the path to which is the real Cross). Our suffering will have mattered, and there's a wedding feast at the end of things to celebrate the most royal of all weddings: that of the Lamb of God.

Whether you like the royal family or not (and, in interests of full disclosure, I will say I happen to like them), we need our stories. In difficult times, we need hope, and we need to remember. Yes, there are important things that resources can and should be spent on other than royal weddings or Super Bowls or all the other things that remind us that our story is epic after all.

The story of Prince William and Catherine may not be God's story, but it is one that He is using to echo, to re-awaken, to remind people of the Larger Story. He is using it to offer hope, and to deepen our longings enough that we might be brought back once again to the One who has already called us His royal priesthood, His heirs, His children.

Understanding The Church Year

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On the long list of things that I would like to blog about is the Church Calendar, and why it is important to our spirituality. While some would say it’s because I’m an Anglican that I care so deeply about liturgy, I believe that it’s because I’m a spiritual director and I’ve seen (again and again) how our calendars rule our lives.

The folks over at Internet Monk (bless them) have taken up the charge in a wonderful post today that talks about the value and shape of the Church Year. I’ll be following along this week as they explain and expand more on each of their points, but they make five important statements about the value and purpose of the the Church Calendar. I encourage you to read along.

Beautiful Words On Soul Friendship

Fellow spiritual director and owner of a cat named "Leftovers," Rev. Mary Earle has a beautiful article over at explorefaith.org today. It's an exploration (appropriately) of what it means to be a soul friend, or anam cara. Since that's so close to my heart as a spiritual director, I thought I'd share a little bit of the article, and then link to the rest so that you can enjoy Rev. Earle's lucid, deft writing.

 

A person without a soul friend is like a body without a head.
—attributed to St. Brigid of Kildare

Indeed we each need one special friend, who may be called a friend of the soul.  We must open our souls completely to this friend, hiding nothing and revealing everything.  And we must allow this friend to assess and judge what he sees.
—Pelagius 
The Letters of Pelagius: Celtic Soul Friend

In 1994, I found myself on pilgrimage in south Wales just after Easter.  Though it was April, and Soul Friendsas a Texan I am used to April being warm; the time in Wales was chilly and wet.  Daffodils did dot the countryside, fields of yellow shining through the rain.  Yet I kept wishing for a little warmth, a little sun.  

The warmth came in the form of fellow pilgrims I met in Wales, from open hearts and kind faces. Together, we visited ancient sacred wells and churches where the faithful have been baptized since the 5th and 6th centuries.  We worshiped in community and we reflected on the life of faith as a pilgrimage, a daily walking with one another and with Jesus.

Read the rest of this article here.

 

Spiritual Direction From A Two-Year Old

If you aren't yet familiar with Metamorpha.com and their great collection of reflections and thoughts on spiritual formation, then today's blog post is for you. Over at their network of blogs, I discovered a great post on how we can learn spiritual formation from a two-year old.

 

A Rule Of Life

Developing a rule of life is one of the most beneficial spiritual practices we can undertake. The rule could be detailed (such as St. Benedict's Rule, developed thousands of years ago) or simple, like this rule posted recently by spiritual writer Paula Huston:

From the Brief Rule of St. Romuald of Ravenna

Sit in your cell as in a paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms; never leave it . . . . Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attiude of one who stands before the emperor. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother gives him.