Oct
13
2013
0

Yes, God Still Speaks: A New Testament–aka ‘Some Stuff That Happened’

God still speaks. All of the time. To each of us, in amazingly unexpected and beautiful ways.

Last week, we asked the question, “Does God still speak?” and thought about the ways we still experience God in ways just as miraculous as those mentioned in “The Book” (aka The Bible), only we don’t document these moments anymore in scripture, as the biblical canon was unfortunately and untimely closed off to new stories, a long time ago, in an ancient galaxy far, far away.  ;)

God lives and moves in our own personal lives each day, and we talked about the benefits that come with the spiritual practice of writing this stuff down. If no one else will put it into a sacred text, where these moments belong, it’s up to us to record and document when these things happen in our own lives, so we can remember, and maybe flip back to those times in moments of questioning or struggle, and recall in comfort that God lives with us every hour, and is more deeply involved in our experiences than we can ever imagine.

So I thought I’d do this myself, here, just to give you guys an example. I hope you gain some benefit from reading this, and can apply it to your own moments of spiritual connection.

I’d mentioned in our last blog that God had worked and moved a whole lot in my life over the past month and a half, but didn’t mention how.  Here’s what happened (some of it, anyway).  Bare bones. And we can look into these things more, after I type those moments into this box.

Some brief back story: I’d been experiencing some frustration, recently, over where my life was going. Nothing new. Happens to us all at different times. I was called into the ministry when I was very young and have lived into that call since; but I was plagued by doubts, not too long ago, as to whether or not this was still the right path. I knew I’d been called, and answered that call the best I could; but I just wasn’t sure if where I was heading was still where God wanted me to go.

Overwhelmed with the question, I got down on my knees, in my study. Face-planted to the floor, arms spread long in front of my prostrated body.  Laying it all out on the line. And I talked to God. Deeply. Personally. Sometimes I didn’t even think a word, knowing God knew what was in my mind, already.  But through all, the conversation I had with God started with me asking God (Life) to show me where to go from here.  I asked God to talk to me, and to talk LOUD, so I could hear past all of the clutter in my mind.

Blinking away the darkness of my eyelids, I finally stood from that rug, my early-thirties bones cracking from bending so low. The blood hadn’t even flushed from my face back down to my legs, before my phone rang on the desk. My mind still in that limbo state between prayer and the day-to-day, I staggered over to answer the call.

It was one of my parishioners. One I hadn’t heard from in long, long time. One I’d thought I’d lost from the congregation awhile ago.  One whose recent absence on Sunday mornings had contributed to my sense that maybe I needed to journey on a different way. In that moment, just after I’d asked God to talk loud, his/her voice rang through my ear, telling me how excited he/she was about the ministry I was doing at the church, and about how confident he/she was that beautiful things would come from my working as a minister in the parish. In that conversation, all of the insecurities and doubts which had so heavily plagued my mind—each of the things I’d mentioned to God, only minutes before—were addressed. Spoken to. Eased. In audible words I could hear, and not confuse.

This was the first moment God spoke to me, in response to what I’d just said while my face buried in the floor.  And it was loud, alright. Instantaneous, even. Beautiful, and breathtaking.  I thought this was the end of the conversation, but I was wrong.

Only three days later:

I received another call.  Very similar. Another congregant who I’d never before spoken with on the phone, called me in the middle of the day. Once again reaffirming and repeating what had been said in the last conversation. Once again—as if they’d been eavesdropping on my silent prayer—addressing each of my fears and doubts, like a subtle reminder from God, in case the effect of the first moment had worn off and faded away.

Seven days later, that following Sunday:

Our general church attendance had been another factor causing me worry about the effectiveness of staying this course in God’s ministry.  Dropping numbers, across the board—in every church—had caused me to wonder if there was a different way I could be in ministry. A different way to answer God’s call that might be more effective.

The Sunday after I got down on my knees, our sanctuary *flooded* with people. Now, this is unusual, folks. Our “Little Green Church on the Hill” is a small one—our congregation intimate.  But we had more inside our church walls that day than we had bulletins to hand out. Overwhelmed by the sight of all of these faces,  I stood up to lead the congregation in prayer; and when I looked down at the pulpit, “randomly” splayed beside the prayer I’d written, were the words,  “Don’t worry, He understands all of your frustrations.” I saw those words laid out right there, for me to see, at the pulpit where I’ve worked all of this time, and tears filled my eyes before I snapped myself back into focus to lead the group in prayer.

At this point, I could barely believe God was still talking to me—and at such mind-blowing volume. I’d thought Life had made Its point pretty clearly, but this still wasn’t the end. God was still speaking to me, even louder than I’d asked.

And I can’t for sure say why, but I think God understood better than I could myself, that even through all of this, my confusion was still with me. Because we’re stubborn people, right?

Even after all of this, about half a week later (I suppose, again, about three days—interesting),  I laid it all out on the table in front of me in the family room, and I stood up, prepared to tell my husband I’d made a final decision. After this appointment, I was going to move on from parish work, into something else. It hurts to even type the words, now… but those were the words that filled me up in that moment, in front of the coffee table; and I’ll admit them.  Ky walked into the kitchen, and I followed him. I breathed deep, and started the sentence. “I’ve made my decision,” I said to him, my voice almost pompous–belligerent—with my confidence in the choice.  “I’m moving on from—-”

Before I could speak another word, the entire room fell pitch black. I kid you not. Every light in the house went away. Every sound disappeared. In that millisecond of shock, I waited for the lights to flicker back on so I could finish the thought. Nothing. Pitch black. I couldn’t even see Ky’s face in front of mine, less than a foot away.  This was a moment of biblical proportions, in my book. I could barely believe it… but just because I couldn’t believe it, didn’t mean it wasn’t the truth, all the same.  In that moment, God stopped me. God interrupted our conversation, like someone jumping in to save a close friend from accidentally playing the fool.

The lights didn’t come back on. Not for the rest of the night. We had no candles in the house (all of ours being burned down to the wick), and the only place we could find light was from inside of the church. There was a big box of candles in the fellowship hall, so with our flashlights, we walked through the dark into the church walls to find the light we needed, then returned home, to the parsonage. All night, our sight and footsteps illuminated only with the light used for Holy Service.

And friends, there was more. So much more. God kept talking with me, still in higher volume than I’d ever asked, through the rest of that month. Each time, the words coming louder, and louder, and louder again.  I haven’t even yet come to the best parts; but this blog box is filling up fast.

I could write a book on what happened. Maybe one that, back in the day, would’ve made it into the canon. But I wanted to share at least those few moments with you, so you can gather a feel for what I’m saying when I mention that God still speaks.

We just don’t write this stuff down anymore, and we unfortunately can’t add them to our scriptures.

These were moments of miracle. Of course, we perceive and communicate things differently, now. If I’d been a biblical author of antiquity, when I first received that phone call after standing up from that prayer,  I might have written:

I fell to my knees, beseeching the Lord, and behold, God’s voice rang from the heavens, saying, “I am the LORD your God. The father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have heard your prayers and will answer them with mighty deeds. You have been charged to proclaim the name of the Lord from this day forth, and I command that you live each of the days I have given you, speaking of the truth and love which I have shown you.” (Miracles 1:1-4)

But ya see, we just don’t talk like that anymore. Instead, I say, “I  got down on my knees and talked to God. Then my iPhone rang on my desk, and I heard exactly the words I’d told God I needed to hear, in order to keep going.”

God works in the world today, still, in biblical proportions. Miracle after miracle, God lives and breathes in our lives in moments that stun us to silence and move our hearts in unimaginable ways.

God still speaks. The question is, do we still listen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jul
14
2013
0

The Importance of Gathering for God

Let’s face it, we live in an age of isolation.

These days, even when we’re surrounded by people, our heads bend into our palms as we so often prefer typing to distant others, over speaking to the faces in front of our own. Retail outlets are closing down, due to the  ease of buying and receiving at home, verses the strain of sitting in traffic and standing in line behind others in the middle of town.    We don’t even need to sit around a table anymore to play a game of cards or scrabble—the apps are right there in the left column of our facebook homepage! Self checkout lanes.  Online video rentals.  And if you get hungry, King Soopers delivers!

And, friends, we’re even communicating in isolation right now—myself, alone, typing and you, alone, reading.

These trends don’t stop with the ordinary, but mix just as thoroughly with our experience of the extraordinary—with our experience of God—as people lean more and more toward personal spirituality, and away from church membership.

Just recently, I wrote about the benefits of this personal spirituality, and the fact of God being everywhere, leaving anywhere as not only a suitable, but holy place of worship. And my heart still holds true to that fact; but, today, I’d like to touch into the reasons why being personally spiritual during the week, and together in spirit on Sunday, are equally as good for our lives, and our relationship with Life, as a whole. In fact, I do believe that these two things, together, are not only equally good, but equally necessary for the health of our spirit in relationship with the greater soul of God.

This Sunday, we all gathered together outside for our service. The wind blew our readings around, we sang sort of clumsily to songs of praise on a boombox, some were asked to come up and receive recognition for their work, embarrassed to be dragged into the spotlight.  There were definitely some awkward moments for us all as we fumbled around out there, and it didn’t go all that smoothly; but it went well, because we went to that place together. And that fact, alone, is what makes Sunday worship what it is. That’s what makes the time holy.

As a semi-reclusive, slightly dorky writer and reader, I definitely understand the inner-strain of being around people in large groups, and the relief felt when once again alone; but being a pastor and a friend to God, I also understand the overwhelming importance of all of us coming together in one place to stand side-by-side in a moment set apart. Even when those moments don’t flow as smoothly as we hoped. Even when we feel stiff and strange rising to shake hands during greeting time. Even when we feel we surely played a fool in each one of the conversations we shared over food and coffee, afterward.  And I can understand this, not just because it’s my job, but because of the very real and beautiful need that exists inside each one of us to connect with the greater Life around us, and give ourselves up to God, together, to celebrate the holiness which gives breath to our daily lives while we live every other moment off on our own.

It’s a time of commemoration, celebration, recognition. A time of lifting our voices loud with the voices of others to sing in joy for the life we’re blessed to live, and the for the Life that brought us here. I don’t mean to trivialize , but we come together for moments of worship for the same reasons we feel driven to invite people over for a birthday. We might love that person turning 9, or 17, or 49,  and we might be in extraordinarily deep relationship with that person every other day, on our own; but when it comes time to commemorate, recognize, and celebrate that life, we add into this personal relationship by gathering together with others to share in the joy of our experience of that person. And we do the same for God each Sunday.

Gathering sometimes awkwardly with the people around us for this reason not only lifts up our love for God in larger, clearer, longer recognition than we can normally give, but it also keeps us connected with the life around us, and sustains inside of us the knowledge that though we live in isolation in so many other ways, we are never alone—not in our personal lives, and not in that inkling we feel in our soul telling us there’s something more to this life, past our experience of the typical.  When we unite in body, we unite in mind, strengthening the personal urges we feel privately in our soul into something larger, something shared, something moving while alone, and powerful in plurality.

Anyway… I hope that makes some sense. I’m glad we got to talk about in here; but I think I’m going to lift my eyes up from this box, and head outside. There are people waiting for me, past my door.

God bless you, take care, and celebrate the life inside of you with the One who gave it, with all of your heart, all of your strength, all of your soul, and all of your mind, in all ways you can; because that holy Source Of All Things that gifts us with this vital breath we pull into our lungs and let out through our lips is something to commemorate. Something to recognize. Something to celebrate. Something worthy of the worship of our souls.

 

 

 

May
23
2013
0

Tending the Fire

Our experience of God is one of relationship.  This spiritual connection defines our relationship with Life, and as a result, who and how we are with each little piece of it: the people we meet, the grass and dirt we walk over, the other creatures we make eye contact with as we pass by.

Considering this relationship we share with God, we see to it just as we do with each little piece (romantic relationships, friendships, environmental upkeep, care for those in need)—moment by moment, action by action, word by word.

In short, it takes maintenance. Without repeated contact and care, there is no relationship, only the memory of one. Our relationship with God (with Life) asks our constant connection and focus. It requires the care of our heart, and when we care deep down about something, it’s always in our thoughts. It’s the shadow of all of our movements.  It goes with us to all places, even when we’re away from closest contact.

This week after Pentecost, we’ll be discussing the ways we tend to our relationship with God (with Life), and how that tending is so much like the heat we continuously work to sustain/maintain in a fire.  The ways we can’t just walk away from what’s been built… or it will either die, or spread irresponsibly out of hand. The ways we must always maintain the shape of it, rotating the burning sides in and out, to keep the flame and heat in balance and in a continual burn. The ways we need to add new substance to the heat, so what started it all doesn’t eventually just smolder into cold ash.

We tend to our relationship with God by rendering loving reverence to the Life in all things—in all of those tiny bits that make up the Whole; and this weekend, we’ll explore some of the ways we do this together, as we keep the fire of Pentecost alive in the church, and continue on in our friendship and love with the Spirit of Life in all.

Feb
15
2013
0

Keep Riding

Your dad’s hands on the bike handles and the rear of the seat, while you awkwardly wobble.

Your small fingers squeezing tight to the grooves of the rubber grip, your feet peddling harder.

You remember that feeling? So unsure.  But even then, so young, you know it’s got to be done.

So you keep going. You keep your eyes forward. You pick up speed to move you faster and faster ahead.

And soon, you no longer feel that wobble.  You’re really moving! You can feel it! Something is finally carrying you along reliably— smoothly—letting you glide forward into all of those places ahead you strained so desperately to reach, just before.

You look back to the handle bars to make sure you still see those hands holding you tight, and find only your own.  Your face jerks to the left. Nothing but rushing trees and bushes.  Your dad’s not there. In fact, there’s no person there at all! It’s only you! Panic overtakes, until you realize something else is holding you up. Something powerful. Something you can’t see. Something that’s a part of all of the movement you’re now a part of, too. Something that if you trust, and realize is there, and let yourself feel and accept with each turn and each movement of your legs, it will hold you up steady as you go, no doubt.  So you move with whatever that silent, invisible force is. You embrace that fact of the universe, you feel both around you and inside of you. And you go with it. Letting it carry you as far as you’ll go.

How do you feel God in your life? How do you trust God to move you forward to the places far and close ahead?

Where do you find your faith?

 

A thought to meditate on this week:

On Faith and Doubt:
“An act of faith is an act of a finite being who is grasped by and turned to the infinite. It is a finite act with all the limitations of a finite act, and it is an act in which the infinite participates beyond the limitations of a finite act. Faith is certain in so far as it is an experience of the holy. But faith is uncertain in so far as the infinite to which it is related is received by the finite being. This element of uncertainty cannot be removed, it must be accepted. And the element in faith which accepts this is courage.” –Paul Tillich (Dynamics of Faith)

 

 

 

Nov
30
2011
0

Letting Our Eyes See the Light

So, my husband Ky took vacation the first week of November, and decided at that time to go nuts decorating all of the borders of the walls with garland and lights while he had the time and passion. He took down all of our typical knick-knacks and replaced them with Christmas themed objects of religious and secular varieties; and covered all of the large paintings and pictures in our home with wrapping paper and bows.

 

All the while, of course, I had to stand in the corner covering my eyes.  I come from a family of highly neurotic people (my older brother being the worst—shhh. Please don’t tell him I said that in a reading which is actually being printed on paper and posted online!); and in a psycho-light version of what would have been my brother’s total nervous breakdown, all I could think about the entire time Ky was decorating, was that I would have to try my best not to look at the lights or walls for the next three weeks!  For me, hanging Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving is like a groom sneaking into a bride’s closet the night before the wedding to have a look at the dress. It just shouldn’t be done!

 

The days passed, and just as I feared, it was impossible not to see the decorations over the last three weeks, no matter how hard I tried to keep my eyes toward the floor; and I eventually grew numb to them. I resigned myself to having a senseless Christmas, until the day Ky returned home with our Christmas tree (several days after Thanksgiving), and we spent the night decorating its branches, and listening to Christmas carols with Chevy Chase on mute in the background.

 

As Ralphie said, “All was right with the world.”

 

I could finally look at the Christmas lights my husband hung early, and allow my mind to not only accept their place in our home, but to embrace it, and stare long and deep into their warm colors bouncing from glass, and splashing over walls.

 

As I wove the Christmas lights through the branches of the tree, I realized my situation with the Christmas decorations in many ways reflects our experience of our spiritual beliefs throughout the year. We’re surrounded always by our Christian beliefs, and our love and passion toward the life of Christ; but over the course of the year, our minds sometimes grow numb to these things. We take these feelings for granted—as a given. We’re used to seeing them—to being around them.  The season of Advent—Christmas time—is a set of days and weeks in the year when we can allow ourselves to finally let ourselves take a look around at the beauty of the love and life of Christ and let our eyes bathe in the light, and our hearts warm at the thought.  It’s a time we can let our minds delve deep into why and how we came to feels so connected to this person, and the things he said, and meditate on our thankfulness for receiving such a wonderful gift from God.

 

Throughout Advent, each service at Deer Park UMC will be a meditation on what we received when we were given the gift of Christ’s company in the world, as we let our eyes settle on the beauty of his life, and finally open our minds to the celebration and joy at the sight of it.

 

I hope you all have a wonderful, and soul-warming Christmas season shared with friends and the people you love.

 

Take care, and God Bless!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nov
04
2011
0

Some Food for Thought

Not too long ago, one of our closest friends came up to the parsonage to meet me and my husband for a weekend camping trip into the hills. He showed up a little earlier than expected so we killed some time outside on the dirt while we waited for my husband to pull up from his long commute.   As we talked about all of the random things we tend to discuss together, one of the volunteers pulled up to the food pantry below the house to unload the many boxes of food we’d so thankfully received from Food Bank of the Rockies to supply the people around us who’ve had a hard time making ends meet (like so many people these days), with food for their families.

I looked down at the truck, then back to my friend; and he knew before I said a word that I was hoping we could head down together to help.

Immediately he shook his head. “Huh-uh. I’m not going down there with all of those Churchies around.”

I “lol’ed” just now, typing the word.  “Churchies” is what this good friend of ours calls people who regularly show up at services on Sundays.  He knows I’m a pastor, of course, and we mutually respect the details of each other’s lives; but you’d be hard pressed to find someone more against organized religion than “Jim” (this isn’t his name, but for the sake of privacy, this is the name we’ll give him for the blog).

His reasons for being against organized religion are legit. He’s aware of the ways Christian history has played out in the world over the centuries, and of how the various, and unfortunately, multiple moments of corruption have hurt good people.  As a result he’s become deeply jaded.  No surprise there.  I hope we all are, to a certain extent, or else we’d have to wonder whether or not we’ve been fully informed about the details of our own religion, and the accuracy of that nagging needle on our proverbial moral compasses, right?

On top of all of this, Jim was hesitant to head down because he tends to rattle more traditional church-goers with his tattoo sleeves, which on one arm extends into the second knuckles of his right hand.  He didn’t want to go through the awkward pains of being judged.

I assured him the people down there were laid back, and absolutely wouldn’t push him away—that they were down there to help people who needed some support, and wouldn’t shove pamphlets into his pockets or bible verses into his brain.

With one last look of hesitation, Jim nodded his head, gave me some chuckled grief on the way down the stairs, and walked with me to the bed of the truck to unload. Inside the pantry, Jim helped the kids move containers of frozen food to the freezer, worked at organizing the non-perishables, and broke down boxes.  The volunteer downstairs burst out with endless thanks for us coming down to help, and gratefully let Jim know how much time he took off the task by lending a hand.  No one looked twice at his well-crafted tattoos (at least not in any way a person could notice from the outside).

As we all worked together, I noticed Jim smiling—often. He isn’t the type to grin without reason.

With all hands together, the time we spent in the pantry was short and sweet; but to my complete shock, the impact was long.  Jim talked about the experience of being down there on and off for almost the entire hour before we finally got on the road to go camp. As he later sat down with my husband by the fire, he brought it up again, cautiously mentioning how good it made him feel to do something to help people who were down on their luck.

The afternoon highlighted very brightly in my mind the fact that so many people these days (of my age, or younger, or older) stay away from Christianity for what Christians have done, but I think something inside – some spiritual spot which sits in the deep parts of us all— still wants to be filled with these moments of doing something they know is right and good to do in bringing loving support to the people around us.

Ironically enough, being a part of the moments of doing something good—of bringing loving support—to the people around us, is the very heart of that Christianity so many people have labeled as a spiritually superficial and socially destructive religion.

Where does this leave us, as Christians, then? And where does this leave all of the people who share the very well-founded opinions floating around in Jim’s mind?

Some food for thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Oct
13
2011
0

Stepping Outside of Our Open Doors: A Meditation on our Vital Congregations

While my feet trudged through the thousands of frail wafers of yellow and white dropped by the aspen trees surrounding my home,  a fellow seeker of God walked beside and behind me, filling the quiet with news and info about the current state of things for the people who come to sit in the chairs together each Sunday.

Our conversation was supposed to take place inside of a big room under florescent lights, with multiple folders and papers; but we decided to ditch the rug and metal and head up the side of the mountain across from the church.  The conversation was, at first, business. As planned, we went over the news we’d received from the bishop, who’d provided guidelines for each congregation, each year, regarding our growth and calculating all of those nice statistical digits congregants and clergy hope will fill their eyes each week, but prefer not to see on paper.

The two of us quickly tossed between each other the numbers and projections; but  as our legs moved over the dirt, lifting us higher through the trees, our conversation changed.

The cold crunch of the  fall air had finally reached down to the bottoms of our lungs, deepening our talk with the color of the leaves under our shoes; and our minds pushed past the conference room jargon to consider where we’re supposed to go, as people who hope and yearn to find a closeness with this beautiful force of Life we call God.

We talked about a lot of things.  The history of the church, the old ways of missionaries, and all of the ways people, over the years, had come to resent the church for its role amongst people; and how this history — which stands as flawed as each one of us— had worked, over time, to actually isolate people from their natural movement toward God.

What a horrible and wonderful thing to let ourselves consider.

Acknowledging this truth is horrible, because it leaves us with a sense of fear and anxiety toward what has already been done; but it is simultaneously beautiful and wonderful for us to let this truth enter, because it allows us more clearly, and with more bravery, and strength, to walk ahead from where we are.

People still search. People still yearn to be closer with the Higher Force of Life we’ve all felt invisibly present inside and around us since the beginning of our human experience on the dirt.  Sit down at any table with any group of intoxicated college kids (funny, I just turned thirty, and now find it natural to call these adults, “kids.” Oof.), and you’ll find this deep yearning and searching in each of the words expelled from their souls, as long as you don’t ruin the conversation early, by safely and simply regurgitating dogmas and creeds.

People want God.  People search for the God they sense in the deepest parts of who they are; but they haven’t yet found a place to go, where they feel they will find what they seek.

The church is not the church if it is not this place.

While I walked with this other seeker through the trees on the mountain, I couldn’t help but feel a connection with those yellow-white wafers dropped from the aspens to the ground, blowing without attachment to the source of their natural life.

In that cold fall air, I also couldn’t help but remember that life moves in cycles, each beautiful, and necessary, and unique as they are; and that though this seeker and I moved through leaves which right now lied scattered and dry all around us, a time is coming soon, when our eyes will again fill with the green connected strong to each branch of the tree which grows and spreads life through each extended wafer.

As a church, as a branch reaching out from the life of God, we are vital.

And all of us seeking the sight of growth and change, will find it, as long as we’re willing to take a step outside of the conference room, and surround ourselves with the life outside of our open doors.

Sep
30
2011
0

A Conversation Over Coffee

We all get tired.

You’d think exhaustion should only be a physically-based problem, and that our thoughts, being made of who-knows-what invisible substance of existence, should be exempt from running out of energy. … But it certainly happens.  And it usually happens when we need them most, doesn’t it?  This loss of thought-strength comes just as our loss of physical strength occurs– at the point of being taxed by situations outside of ourselves which demand repeated, and consistent use.

Yesterday morning I woke up to my alarm at five o’clock (I know this sounds ridiculously early for someone who works from home, but strangely, when the only face you have to answer to in the morning is your own reflection, you for some reason no longer mind waking up in the dark). After situating my feet in my slippers, I performed my same routine of folding the blankets on my couch, feeding my fish, putting wet food in the bowl for my cat, Beans, and unloading the dishwasher from the night before.

Everything was mechanically following the usual process, until I sat down to prepare for my day’s work.

As a pastor, my “day’s work,” blessedly is doing work for God, and working to help people feel closer to God in their own hours; but when I flipped open my bible (and accompanying “scholarly” resources handed down from my over-priced seminary tuition), I found myself hesitant to look at the print. I found my eyes skimming the words of scripture like a text book of boring material I resented being forced to stare into.  At first, I didn’t even realize this was happening; but the moment the reality struck me, I burst up from my chair in the kitchen as if I’d just found a black widow spider by my foot.

At that moment, I wasn’t looking into The Book, but into the very heart of spiritual exhaustion. And I didn’t want to see it.  I couldn’t see it. I had too much work to do.

Feeling like a complete schmuck, I paced over to the kitchen sink, and stared into nothing for a moment; when all of the sudden, my mouth moved and words pushed persistently out from my mind like typed paper from a printer.  I was talking with God, with no barriers, and certainly no specific intention. I wasn’t trying to pray. This was not a moment of set-aside meditation. It was a moment of needful interaction—like one of those moments, when you’ve been holding something in for too long that you’ve needed to say to your spouse, and it suddenly just bursts out while you’re grabbing a box of cereal from the shelf at the grocery store.

As absurd as it might sound, I found myself talking to God for so long in fact, that I eventually wound up pouring myself a cup of coffee as I spoke, staring up and out the window.  This conversation over coffee lasted a while, and I call it a “conversation,” because the expression, and understanding, and communication, was not a one-way rant, but a two-way time of connection between myself and the Life around me. In this conversation I told God I couldn’t lose It (God/You/”Him”)—-that I couldn’t let the fact that I had responded to God’s call, cause me to fall away from God, or become detached from God. I told God that I understood “Him” (“Him” being used here and after only for the sake of structural ease) to be the very Life inside of me, and that I could not live without that Life for the sake of trying to help others find that Life for themselves. It simply wouldn’t and couldn’t work that way.

In saying these things, my words then fell to fear and skepticism. I asked God what the point of being in ministry was, anyway–and why He’d called me to such a strange and seemingly futile task. I asked God, how many people really felt Him in the world; and how many people even could feel Him in the world; and if most ever did at all, no matter how often you spoke about “Him” with each other in a sanctuary or on couches at each other’s homes.

Between all of these comments and questions, I sat still, and let myself connect with the loud silence of the presence of God.

As I stood there, staring out while absurdly sipping from my coffee mug like God was sitting across a table, God shared God’s Peace with me, and responded to the words which pushed out from my mind.

It was a long conversation, but there was one bold and blunt truth God’s Silence told me so loudly, that  the words were strangely and clearly defined in my mind, as if my ears had actually heard them through sound.

When I asked if people experienced God,  God told me this:

‘Some never do. Sometimes it’s only our own experience of God which allows them to even come close to feeling the presence of God while they’re alive.’ God said, ‘And that’s why you are a minister.

…So get back to work.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep
14
2011
1

Adding by Subtraction: Reflecting on an Experience of God

Life is complicated.

…Nothing new, right?  And it seems too, for us humans, we feel the need to make it more and more complicated as each year passes. Somehow, while we were developing as mammals, we came up with this crazy idea that adding meant we’d get more out of our experience of living. But I think we’ve all found, at different times in our lives, that this existence is strange; and you can’t always count on linear reality being the only reality which guides us, or impacts us. Sometimes life seems to contradict itself; and that’s okay.  Because in the end, what’s happening is our perception or understanding of what living is, is being changed, or contradicted, not the essence of living itself.

I know that sounds kind of strange and vague, but I think it winds around to make sense if we let our minds wander a while.

The point I’m circling around right now is actually a lot simpler than I just made it sound, which brings us back to the point; and that is I believe by doing all of this adding, we often subtract from our quality of living. It’s a strange and paradoxical truth, but a truth all the same.  Sometimes we need to pull ourselves away from the millions of things cluttering our days and our minds. We need to pull ourselves away from our e-mails, and our smartphones, and our lists of the thousands of things we mistakenly believe we need to do in order to keep our lives from falling apart, and just let ourselves be.

I experienced the blessing of doing this tonight, and I can say that I returned home with my chest breathing deeper; my arms, my back, and my muscles resting looser; and my mind and heart moving calmer and more peacefully than I’ve felt in quite a while.

What I was blessed to do tonight, was spend some time with God.

At six o’clock, I sat down with a friend and several strangers in a circle. I was invited to a group in a denomination I’m unfamiliar with, so it was a very cool journey of surprises, and wondering what on earth was going on.  As I seated myself in the circle, almost immediately, we all went from exchanging small talk to quiet. Everyone started settling themselves deeper into the cushions of their chairs, and the minister in charge of this particular gathering looked to me (the only new face), and told me we’d go immediately into meditation.  She held a bell up in her hand, and said, “The bell will ring, and that will start our time of silence. After the twenty minutes has passed, the bell will ring again, and we’ll all regroup.”

My first reaction was a nod, then immediately my brain rewound her words and played them back. The next thought which went through my mind was, “—Jesus Christ! Did she say twenty minutes??”  (We were meditating in a sanctuary, of course, so don’t worry, those words were not spoken in vain!)

The idea of being in quiet for so long was at first daunting, but became quickly enticing. I hadn’t allowed myself to be still for that amount of time in quite a while, and looked forward to the chance to relax.  So I settled back, and stared out for a bit.  At first I was extremely cognizant of the sound of my swallowing.  After this, I noticed my teeth trying to clench, as they clicked against each other on and off while I tilted my head down. At first I believed this to be a sign of mounting stress, then realized it was only because I was unwinding, that I noticed my teeth clenching at all, and that I must often grind them unconsciously. As I realized this, the clicking stopped.

Time went on, and my mind started calming slightly more, though still a thousand thoughts ran.  Being a pastor, I found myself trying to think of the ways I could apply this experience to a spiritual lesson. I found myself actually trying to organize my thoughts for this blog!  Each time this inclination came, I had to stop myself. I had to force myself to let my thoughts go, and to search for God, rather than lose the experience by trying to capture it as a way to help other people search themselves. The thoughts still ran, but over time, I allowed them to get away, instead of trying to catch them; and soon my mind began settling to peace. My breathing slowed and deepened, and I finally saw only the dark, bringing a peaceful, and unfortunately seldom-felt, light to my mind.

In the stillness,  I began to approach the presence of God.

In the silence, I was finally opening myself to hear God speak.

Removing ourselves from the pile of things which bury us each day, and remembering who we are after subtracting all of the extra stuff, adds to our experience and understanding of ourselves. Detaching ourselves from all of the distractions of this complicated world helps us to connect more fully with God (with Life), and pay more attention to the peace of simply being.

I was blessed by God tonight to find a place to let this happen.

Starting at the end of this month, we’ll be gathering together like this each week at Deer Park. The first time will be at 7:00pm on Wednesday, September 28th, if you’d like to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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