Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Life Transitions (Page 2 of 2)

September 19, 2018 – Longings and Life Structures

Image result for spiritual longing

Today’s Bible reading

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’  The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:1-8

More thoughts for meditation

The story of Nicodemus is famous for including the phrase “You must be born again.”  Some Christians boiled that phrase down to mean, “You must receive Jesus as Savior.” But the phrase needs boiling up, not down. The Greek word might be translated: born “from above, from a higher place, of things which come from God” (like the NRSV does above), or born “from the first” or “from the beginning,“ or born “anew, over again,” as if starting from the first cause or first place. It is quite dynamic, isn’t it? Being born into the life of the Spirit is not a onetime event, it is an ongoing experience.

As Nicodemus learns, to dwell in the life of the Spirit is to be subject to the Spirit’s creative promptings, which are like wind – constant newness emanating from the source. Again that is very dynamic, like a tree bending — sometimes in a breeze, sometimes in a hurricane.

Nicodemus had a very stable faith structure (and a life structure to go with it) when Jesus came into his life and disrupted it all. The well-respected Pharisee had to find a way to get to know Jesus; so he went to see him after dark, apparently so no one would see him and his structures would not be too disrupted. But everything Jesus said to Nicodemus was destabilizing and re-creative. His story gets retold because we all have to face similar challenges when our longing to know Jesus disrupts the life we have been living. We often do not attend to our longings at all because we sense that following them will appear crazy in our present circumstances. So Nicodemus must have been overwhelmed by the revelation of Jesus, very brave or just plain desperate.

In Romans 8 Paul describes his own sense of longing that he can see built right into the world. Even though we experience sin and destruction, we can affirm these things — especially in times of transition:

  • It is possible to love God and discern God’s ways for us
  • Our own intentions can cooperate with God’s redemption project.
  • We can wait patiently for what is to be revealed about us and the world.
  • The groanings “too deep for words” in us are part of our Spirit-to-spirit dialogue with God and they help us discern the way.

The affirmations above are important. They are key to seeing beyond our present circumstances. What we would hope is that we can progress toward what is next within a stable life structure: job, family and finances all allowing us to proceed. But our advancement within a life structure may actually produce change: a move to more responsibility in the job, children growing up, or the need to care for parents. Or there may be failure within a life structure: immorality, an economic or health crisis, downsizing or termination, retirement. A sense of adventure or extraordinary difficulties can cause people to break out of their life structure: relocation, going back to school, marrying or remarrying. And some of us experience unstable life structures: we may experience difficulty; we may not have put in enough work to create stability; mental disorders or addictions may deter the development of practical skills, so we may need to rely on the stability of family or the government.

Suggestions for action

Pray: My longing is sometimes beyond my awareness and understanding. Bless me with the wind of your Spirit.

The idea of having a life structure can also be applied to our faith structure. Is yours adequate? Can you sustain ongoing growth? Are there discrepancies between what you practice and your soul’s longings? How long has it been since you grappled with your basic personal theology? We often rely on our church to provide this structure, but since we each make up the church together, it is hard to have a good church structure if the members are destabilized and out of process.

What we would hope is that we can progress within a stable faith structure: we can see how things are working for good in our inner and outer life. Our advancement within our faith structure may cause disruption: going to church might not do it for us anymore and we need to seek further ways to go deeper in prayer and understanding or find new ways to serve. Circle of Hope is structured to rely on people doing the word and leading, not just consuming church meetings. There may be a breakdown of the faith structure: cultural norms change, psychological scars surface, our sin puts us in a new relationships with others, our leaders seem unhelpful. A sense of adventure or extraordinary difficulties can cause people to break out of their faith structure: perhaps it is time to explore seminary, or workshops, new books, new practices, or maybe a new church. And some of us experience unstable faith structures: you may have never experienced stable Christian community for any number of personal or corporate reasons. You may be in a wilderness time. You may be gaining new psychological understanding that gives you more autonomy. You may be getting a concept of God more appropriate to your age and place. You may just be confused.

No matter the place, the wind of the Spirit is moving us and goodness is possible. This exercise might help you place your longings in relation to the structures that propel them or keep them waiting on the runway.

Think about your current life structure

  • Describe your current living situation – with whom and where.
  • Describe your job – satisfaction level, what you enjoy , what are problems.
  • Describe your financial resources – feel stable or unstable?
  • Describe your relationship network – do you find it supportive?
  • What are your hobbies and leisure activities?
  • What else locates you in your life structure?

Consider your faith structure.

  • Describe your relationship to the church.
  • Describe your faith practices
  • Use just a few words to describe your understanding of God.
  • Do you actively use symbols, practices, images from your faith to help you sort out meaning/ How so?
  • What is the state of your personal relationship with God at this point?

Pick a significantly different point in your past and consider your life and faith structures then. How have you changed? How has your faith grown or diminished?

Return to the affirmations from above and today’s prayer.

September 18, 2018 – Consider your destiny

Image result for And know the place for the first time.

And know the place for the first time — Bobbi Baugh

Today’s Bible reading

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. – Genesis 12:1

More thoughts for meditation

When God called Abram out of his ancestral home it was as big a deal as many of us coming to Philly from Lancaster or Mexico or Africa. Many of us did not just change locations, we transitioned into a deeper representation of our true selves. All the hardship of moving, and relating to new people, failing and succeeding, helped make us who we are. Abram, whose name meant something like “exalted ancestor” when he began his adventure, got a new name after he arrived in the promised land: Abraham “ancestor of multitudes.” Ever since, people have been pondering their own sense of destiny and that new place they might end up with God as they consider Abraham’s transition.

There is something in us destined to meet God and move into love. We are not self-made. When Paul talks about Abraham in Galatians 3 and 4 he talks about the “seed” in us. Factually, he is talking about the multitude who are Abraham’s offspring, if they walk in faith like his. Metaphorically, he is talking about semen, the generative juice that mysteriously combines with an egg and causes more birth. Something in us yearns for God and responds to God’s call. “Deep calls to deep” even when it is hard to hear or we feel like we might be swept away by strong forces (Ps. 42).  Our connection bears the fruit of love.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells the story of the generous but frustrated king who sends his servants to invite people to his son’s wedding banquet. But the invited guests just go about their normal pursuits. So the servants round up whoever is on the street. It appears that one person tries to get in because there is free food and is thrown out. The story answers the questions: “Why are so many invited and so few end up chosen?” And “Can I hope to be like Abraham? Do I have a destiny planted in me?”

The answer to the first question remains a troubling mystery. The answer the other questions is a simple, “Yes.” But, like Abraham, we will need to learn to listen, and we will have to go on quite a journey in order to cooperate with the invitation God is extending to us.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Encourage me on my journey today Lord. I long for the feast.

Joseph Campbell popularized a way to see the process of attending to our destiny by describing “the hero’s journey.” Christians immediately saw how well he had distilled the process described in the Old Testament and demonstrated by Jesus (not to mention all our spiritual ancestors). In brief, the story goes like this. The “hero” (you, in this case) 1. Begins with something of a spiritual amnesia, thinking their present circumstances are normative, unaware of their divine DNA. 2. Something calls them into an act of courage or adventure and they leave their comfort zone. 3. They are wounded. Their epiphany is that their wound is a key to a deeper world. They become larger. 4. They discover, beyond what they thought was normal and beyond the task that called them out, their real life, their soul life. 5. The return home and “know the place for the first time” (T.S. Eliot).

This exercise can help you see where you are on the journey. First, see which of these general life circumstances seems most important to you right now.

  1. Career/Vocation – Where are you in your cycle of satisfaction/achievement?
  2. Immediate family/community – How is your relationship with your spouse? How are the children progressing. Are you in a new cycle with aging parents? How are your friendships? What is the state of your covenant with the church and your place in the community?
  3. Spiritual experience – Where is the next adventure? Are you plateaued? Are you starting out, wounded, finding a new place to rest?
  4. Health – Have you or family members had to deal with major illness? Are your recovering? Are you addicted?

Choose one of the areas (or your own, of course) and see if these questions about the “ journey” help you get anywhere. Any one of them or all of them might speak to where you are right now.

  • Is there a call to “adventure” in this area?
  • On the threshold of change, how do you feel equipped, how do you feel ill-equipped?
  • Do you have a vision of where you are headed, even if the steps seem unclear?
  • What is testing your vision: people who are difficult, problem circumstances that are not solved?
  • Who or what might become helpers in the adventure?
  • What is your image of fulfilling your destiny through this adventure? Be as specific as possible.
  • How do you imagine “returning” to your homeplace and loved ones as a deeper person?
  • How do you envision sharing what you have been given?

September 17, 2018 – Life transitions

Image result for life cycle of an apple

Today’s Bible reading

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my  own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. – John 8:42-44

More thoughts for meditation

Many people think “change” and “transition” are synonyms. But maybe not. Change is more situational and external—like the weather, while transition is more psychological and internal—like fruit ripening, perhaps. The weather is important for the ripening process, but transition from blossom to apple to seed is deeper, kicked off by a mysterious hormone, resulting in a shriveled ball that falls into the earth with the expectation of new life. Change happens to us all. For people seeking life in the Spirit, there is more to life than just fighting or avoiding external forces. We are all about transition: becoming, dying and being born again in hope.

Jesus puts his own transition into a sentence in the Gospel of John (today’s reading). “I was one place and now I am here. I was sent. That movement is all about the love of God, to us and from us.” He goes on to note, “I you were not subject to the father of lies, you would see that.”

We wish we could see our transition clearly while we were going through it! But quite often, we fondly remember the times in our lives when we ripened into an edible fruit, after we had complained the whole way through the process. Some of us missed most of our Sunday meetings this summer when it was raining—changes in the weather lock us up. Much more does transition frighten most of us. If we did not believe the lie of our own control, we might have an easier time hearing from God and coming to see what is going on with us.  We’d be able to say things like Jesus: “I have not come on my  own; God sent me.” 

This week, let’s listen even harder. Our church is in a major transition, as are many of us individually (what else should be happening?). We not only face weather, we face climate change! Our government is so full of liars it is hard to miss it! Let’s listen for the promise beyond our troubles that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to [God’s ] purpose” (Romans 8:28). We can discern how God is working to bring about good in all things. As we continue to have our hopes and dreams shaped by Jesus, we can come to see life through God’s hope for goodness for the world. Each of us on our own path can make choices to move with God in hope. Let’s listen in hope.

Suggestions for action

Pray: I came from you and now I am here. I am not on my own. Send me into goodness.

Some days this week, there will be a lot of suggestions. If you don’t have time right now, maybe the prayer was enough. You can come back later if it seems right to you.

Today’s exercise tries to tease out some themes that might be running through your mind and heart that relate to a transition you are in. The themes might be the thoughts you realize are from God or close to God when you are praying. Take your journal and answer the following questions. You could answer them according to a transition you are in: “I got fired, now what?” or “We are divorced, where next?” or “I finished school, what do I mean now?” Those are all kind of “weather-related,” aren’t they? You can also answer them without any external, maybe only internal, motivation. “I feel unhappy/disquieted/bored/angsty. What is happening?” Or “I need a change/I’m burned out/I’ve reached the end of this era. What shall I do?”

These questions might help you to begin discerning the good.

  • What are you and God talking about? What is activated? What keeps coming up? What are you avoiding?
  • What details seem important in order to know what the outcome is going to be?
  • Is there some kind of financial issue that is pushing a transition or inhibiting it?
  • If you were sent into some new expression of your life in faith what would it mean to your family and friends?
  • What image or images would describe your present emotional and spiritual relationship to what needs to be discerned? Can you draw a picture of how you feel?

FYI: Much of this week’s content is inspired by Dwight Judy’s book: Discerning Life Transitions: Listening Together in Spiritual Direction

Today is Hildegard of Bingen Day! Admire her contributions at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body!

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