Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Author: Circle of Hope (Page 1 of 451)

January 19, 2021 – The knowing of self acceptance

Today’s Bible reading

John 14:16-17: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. … You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 

Thoughts for Meditation

I just learned about this pearl of Buddhist wisdom and am working to integrate it into my life: If you’re falling, go ahead and dive. 

This phrase distills something complex for me. In this picture, the one who is falling has to be aware of their downward trajectory, they have to acknowledge it, and then they have to use their body’s energy to transform this fall into an intentional dive. When we go through years or moments of disintegration or doubt, fear can take hold. But we have the Spirit of truth living with us and in us. Even when we are falling. This concept, by the way, also works for when we are rising.

The act of acceptance of the self might first begin with humor.  At least for me, when I am afraid of acknowledging my shortcomings, my neuroses, my annoying habits, my ugly tendencies, my doubts or failures, usually it is because I want to maintain an image (not necessarily to others, but most often- to myself). I want to maintain the narrative of who I am, even when it does not fit with my present reality. The incongruence of this is in fact more painful than the recognition of the truth! But lately, I’ve tried to laugh at myself. This has worked primarily when I imagine God seeing me as a child. Which God does. When I rest in the loving and empathic arms of God, who has hope for me to grow and change but no frustration when I’m not, then self-damnation and prideful positioning fall away and I can experience joy. 

My spiritual director suggested one day that I, instead of my idea to seek forgiveness for the faults or behaviors that I deemed incompatible with the life I wanted to be living, potentially try to ask God for forgiveness for not seeing myself as God sees me.  Could it grieve God that we might not see ourselves how God sees us?

Suggestions for action

What is true about who you are today? Who or where or how are you now? Can you explore some of the beautiful parts of yourself- knowing that God loves them and wants you to feel that way too? Can you explore some of the places where you might be “falling”? Can you embrace that downward motion and move it into a dive? Can you ask the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth for help to see yourself as God sees you? 

“Who are you Lord, and who am I?”

January 18, 2021 – Remembering as a path to knowledge

If we believe that God knows our “inmost being”, does it ultimately matter to God if we know who we are: if we know our “inmost being”? Why would or should this matter? Could this self-knowing (or, knowledge of self) potentially lead us onto the pathway of greater dependence, greater peace, greater strength, and greater love? Our friend, Gwen White, often references St. Francis’s prayer: “Who are you, Lord, and who am I?” as a gateway to connection and openness with God. This prayer might carry the answers to the questions above. This week, we will try out different lenses or frameworks as we explore together how the quest of knowing ourselves might help us to access more of God living in and among us. 

Today’s Bible reading
These four verses are quoted or referenced in Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and seem today like an appropriate way to help us think about how our collective and individual past (in societal, personal, institutional, and generational ways) can impact what we know about ourselves. 

Amos 5:21-24 :  “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;  your assemblies are a stench to me.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Isaiah 40: 3-8:  A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert  a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places plain.  And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out.”  And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass,  and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.  The grass withers and the flowers fall,   because the breath of the Lord blows on them.  Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

Psalm 30: 1-5:  I will exalt you, Lord,   for you lifted me out of the depths  and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name.  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Galatians 3:23-28: Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Thoughts for Meditation

Christianity relies, in part, on remembering. Remembering our past, remembering Jesus, remembering stories and narratives about God’s movement and identity, all of which inform our understanding of the present. Rev. Dr. King knew his past; he perhaps didn’t have the luxury (or desire) to ignore or forget his and this country’s past. Yet, his intentional remembering of history did not create in him a paralysis that some might worry could settle in if they really began to explore their past. His awareness gave him energy, power, and focus. I wonder what, if anything, stops us from considering our past: noticing it, learning from it, accepting it, fighting it, embracing it, forgiving it, imagining how it impacts us today. So often we ignore our past. Are we worried that it will trap us? Are we worried that it will prohibit us from growth and change going forward? Is it too painful? Does it feel too big? Are we ashamed or prideful about it? Are we simply just hyper-focused on the future? Is there anything that stops us from really facing our past? Do we need help to do this work? Sometimes we may because it really is work.

The brain tends to work in patterns. Our thoughts tend to follow along the familiar routes that we have established and cemented over many years of collected experiences, stories, and beliefs. Then our bodies and our emotions follow along that route as well. This is the framework for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: that our past, our patterns of thought that we’ve gathered over years of life, ultimately guide our decisions, our emotional responses, even our moods and choices today. This is where the exploration and research around neuroplasticity (or the brain’s ability to change the “wiring” or the pattern of thought) has come into its fullest importance. It seems to be that when we can uncover our past, understand our patterns, our defenses, our tendencies of thought, and when we invite change (in a variety of ways), we literally have the possibility to heal. Neuroscience! What a gift!

As a nation, we are being invited to look at our past. To look at it with courage and honesty and to feel the brutal pain of a country built upon the institution of slavery and colonialism and violence. Some of our sisters and brothers don’t need an invitation to look at it, the realities of racism slap them in their face day after day, and some of our sisters and brothers live in the privilege of forgetting. Some people in our country intend to ignore it, to minimize it, and this ultimately causes the inability to see racism and oppression in all forms as they are actively at play in today’s world. A person who is ignoring their past does not clearly see their present, they can not clearly see other people or themselves and they are unable to fully embrace compassion or empathy. We can use this macro picture of what is happening all over the country and we can point it inward for deeper understanding of what also happens for us on a personal or even a spiritual level. We must remember our past- it allows us to open our eyes to our present, where people and God live.

Suggestions for Action

Consider if there are parts of your past that you are ignoring. Can you identify what might stop you from acknowledging it? Do you need some help? Counselors or spiritual directors are people who can help bring awareness to your past and help unlink the ways that your past could be impacting your awareness of yourself today. Or, turn to your cell group or a good friend. If you want a private first step, begin by just saying out loud to God the piece of your past that you might be afraid of touching. Even just naming it can be a powerful step. God is waiting to meet you with compassion, forgiveness, justice, gentleness and love. Listen to how God responds to you and take God’s cue on how you could understand yourself through God’s response. 

“Who are you Lord, and who am I?”

It’s Martin Luther King Day and Amy Carmichael Day! Learn and pray about Dr. King and his legacy, and Carmichael, a well known missionary on our sister blog, Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

January 17, 2021 – Life is its own restraint

This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I still forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times.—Matthew 18:21-22

More thoughts for meditation

“It is clear that before love can operate, there is the necessity for forgiveness of injury perpetuated against a person by a group. This is the issue for the disinherited. Once again the answer is not simple. Perhaps there is no answer that is completely satisfying from the point of view of rational reflection. Can the mouse forgive the cat for eating him? It does seem that Jesus dealt with every act of forgiveness as one who was convinced that there is in every act of injury an element that is irresponsible and irrational. No evil deed—and no good deed, either—was named by him as an expression of the total mind of the doer. Once, when someone addressed him as ‘Good Master,’ Jesus is quoted as having said, ‘Why callest thou me good? There is none good, but… God.’

“In Jesus’ insistence that we should forgive seventy times seven, there seems to be the assumption that forgiveness is mandatory for three reasons. First, God forgives us again and again for what we do intentionally and unintentionally. There is present an element that is contingent upon our attitude. Forgiveness beyond this is interpreted as the work of divine grace. Second, no evil deed represents the full intent of the doer. Third, the evildoer does not go un- punished. Life is its own restraint. In the wide sweep of the ebb and flow of moral law our deeds track us down, and doer and deed meet. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” At the moment of injury or in the slow burning fires of resentment this may be poor comfort. This is the ultimate ground in which finally a profound, unrelieved in- jury is absorbed. When all other means have been exhausted, each in his own tongue whispers, “There is forgiveness with God” (ibid., 96-97)

Suggestions for action

“What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs against the wall? There must be the clearest possible understanding of the anatomy of the issues facing them. They must recognize fear, deception, hatred, each for what it is. Once having done this, they must learn how to destroy these or to render themselves immune to their domination. In so great an undertaking it will become increasingly clear that the contradictions of life are not ultimate. The disinherited will know for themselves that there is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men” (ibid., 98).

The contradictions of life are not ultimate. Though it seems that to love and forgive our enemy is a contradiction, for the disinherited, it is a path to their fullness and the fullness of their enemies. Love is transformative. Pray for that courage.

It’s Anthony of Egypt Day on our sister blog, Celebrating Our Transhitorical Body. This guy almost invented monasticism and learned much directly from the Holy Spirit in the desert.

January 16, 2021 – Hatred denies life

This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”—Matthew 5:43-46

More thoughts for meditation

“Thus hatred becomes a device by which an individual seeks to protect himself against moral disintegration He does to other human beings what he could not ordinarily do to them without losing his self-respect. This is an aspect of hatred that has almost universal application during a time of war and national crisis. Doubtless you will recall that during the last war a very interesting defense of hatred appeared in America. The reasoning ran something like this: American boys have grown up in a culture and a civilization in which they have absorbed certain broad attitudes of respect for human personality, and other traits characteristic of gentlemen of refinement and dignity. Therefore they are not prepared psychologically or emotionally to become human war machines, to make themselves conscious instruments of death. Something radical has to happen to their personality and their over-all outlook to render them more effective tools of destruction. The most effective way by which this transformation can be brought about is through discipline in hatred; for if they hate the enemy, then that hatred will immunize them from a loss of moral self-respect as they do to the enemy what is demanded of them in the successful prosecution of the war” (ibid., 72-73).

“What thoughts raced through his mind when Judas of Galilee raised his rallying banner of defiance, sucking into the tempest of his embittered spirit many of the sons of Judah? Is it reasonable to assume that Jesus did not understand the anatomy of hatred? In the face of the obvious facts of his environment he counseled against hatred, and his word is, ‘Love your enemies…that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he taketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and senders rain on the just and the unjust.’ Despite all the positive psychological attributes of hatred we have outlined, hatred destroys finally the core of the life of the hater. While it lasts, burns in white heat, its effect seems positive and dynamic. But at last it turns to ash, for it guarantees a final isolation from one’s fellows. It blinds the individual to all values of worth, even as they apply to himself and to his fellows. Hatred bears deadly and bitter fruit. It is blind and nondiscrimination. True, it begins by exercising specific discrimination. This it does by centering upon the persons responsible for the situations which create the reaction of resentment, bitterness, and hatred. But once hatred is released, it cannot be confined to the offenders alone” (ibid., 75-76).

Suggestions for action

“Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial” (ibid., 77-78).

Thurman is careful when he addresses hatred; he argues that it has a specific utility, but that it’s too dangerous to use because it overtakes the one who is using it. You may think you hate one thing, but soon you will hate everything, and yourself. Hatred can’t be contained and it will overwhelm you. This is why Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, because if we start to hate them, we will soon hate our neighbors too. Pray that you can see the ones whom you target with specific hatred, and consider them today. Pray that you might turn to truth and love.

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