Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Original blessedness (Page 1 of 2)

September 30, 2018 — Re-Creation

Today’s Bible reading

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. — Genesis 2:7 

Just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ out Lord. — Romans 5:21 

More thoughts for meditation

Since we are born into time, we are always in a process of becoming one thing or another. “Who we are” is not quite ever found in an exhaustive or complete sense. It is something which is yet to be known, something that we are in transit toward. Finally, it is something which will be revealed to us.

“To be or not to be” is really the question. Will we face reality, or will we not? If we do not, if we choose to live out of our own private ideas and subjective experience, then we will have to remain isolated and small, “safe” in an ever-shrinking sphere of relatedness. Paul describes such a life as living in the “dominion of death,” because it is in thrall to death.

Sin, for Paul, is not really the bad stuff we do. It is more like a journey, whose shape is determined by the destination – death. This journey is one of disintegration: moving out of harmony with God, with ourselves, and with others. The journey towards integration is also possible. That is the journey we were created for.

Properly speaking, the movement toward death is not a journey at all, but the abandonment of our journey toward union with God. It is sheer negation of any journey. Yet, even in the specific acts of sin there is something positive which is looking for God, even if it is distorted and hidden beneath our addictions. Pleasure is part of creation, and everything in creation tends (or journeys) toward the creator, even pleasure. These acts, however, can become an occasion for us to flee from God instead of journeying toward Him

Grace is the great antidote to the dominion of death. It works all the while in and through us, drawing us toward the purposes we were created for. It invites us into the life of God. The life of God is the depth of the present moment. As we sink more deeply into the abiding presence, grace is at work drawing out of us our true and original humanity, expressed ever more richly in the moments of our life. Who we are unfolds through time, bearing with ever greater clarity and color the imprint of the image of God.

Suggestions for action

Choice is our dignity as well as our tragedy. We are human, so ultimately we have to contend with our own will. What do we want? What do we love? It is a great blessing to reach the point where we see that our choices are actually a matter of life and death. This is the so-called “rock bottom” of AA. It is a blessing, because most of us remain blissfully unaware of the havoc that our addictions are wreaking on our lives.

We can actually pray for this saving knowledge. It is the prayer for true awareness of our selves and our position in life. It is not prayer that seeks false experiences of guilt or shame, as though we need to trump up some over-the-top image of how bad we are. It is rather prayer that only wants to face reality. It is prayer that seeks the quality of heart that Jesus describes in the Beatitudes – hungering for righteousness, mourning, aware of its own limitations.

We can not create for ourselves this kind of heart. But we can ask God for it, daily. The fruit of such earnestness and sincerity is re-creation. As we become more open and receptive to grace, God breathes into us the same breath that He blew into our nostrils the day we were created. The spirit of God brings to life all the dead and dying parts of our soul, re-integrates us with ourselves, with others, and most of all with God Himself. So ask.


September 29, 2018 — Our Flight; God’s Pursuit

Today’s Bible reading

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” — Genesis 3:9

More thoughts for meditation

Max Picard, a Swiss philosopher who lived in the beginning half of the 20th century, described Western society as a people and culture in flight from God. The flight has always been a part of human history. But, in the past, if someone wanted to flee from God they had to do it with great intention. They had to overcome the inertia of their society. In other words, they had to become apostate. Today, the flight is waiting for us the moment we are born. So, instead, the act of faith requires great effort. There are forces constantly at work pulling on us and dislocating us; to be still requires a specific act of the will.

Being constantly in flight takes its toll on the human spirit. We are awash in half-hearted possibilities and suggestions. Ideas have nothing to do with what is real; they only are useful for getting us somewhere. Our minds constantly pull us away from the simple and plain reality that is directly in front of us. We do one thing, but think about all the other things that we could/should be doing instead. Very little invites us to slow down, to ponder, to consider what is rather than what could be. It is hard to trust that a plain, simple, and small life could be worth living.

Picard, though, also wrote of the Pursuer. We flee, but God flies all the swifter after us.

Such is the nature of this pursuer that He fills all the corners of the world. There is nowhere that His presence is not, because He is Reality Itself. He is the still thing, in whose presence all flights eventually become homeward bound journeys — as though a planet which spun off into orbit is only describing another orbit which eventually draws it back to the sun.

As long as we exist, as long as we have some ounce of breath still in us, there is something in us which remembers our connection to God and yearns to be found by Him. No matter how far away we go, we still belong to our home. It is hard out here in the lonely reaches of space. There are so many reasons to run away, so many people who have let us down, so many things about our life that do not make sense. God constantly offers the invitation to come out of hiding, to stop fleeing and to rest in Him.

Suggestions for action

Consider some of Thomas Hopko’s suggestions for living the Christian life:

  • face reality
  • be awake and attentive, fully present where you are
  • live a day, even a part of a day, at a time
  • be an ordinary person, one of the human race
  • be totally honest, first of all with yourself

These suggestions all point to the need to simply be present. The present is where we are. There is no other place we can be. It is the place where we meet reality. It is also the place where God meets us.

What have you learned about being present? Is there anything that you’ve learned, say a discipline of meditation of prayer, that you’ve forgotten about or let fall to disuse? Or maybe even a regular activity, like exercise or listening to music, that helps you to be present? It is different for everyone, which is why its helpful to start with what you already know. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you are interested in learning an easy prayer discipline that is about being present, there is a group that meets for centering prayer every other Saturday morning at 2007 Frankford Ave.

September 28, 2018 — The Flight from God

Today’s Bible reading

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. — Genesis 3:8

More thoughts for meditation

The Garden of Eden story was first presented to me as a literal story of the first people on earth, which proceeded from there to the rest of human history. As an adult, I’ve tended to see it more as a metaphor – true because of how it resonates with my own experience. Lately I’ve been exposed to what ancient theologians called allegorical reading, but which we might call mythological or even supra-literal. Such a reading suggests that Adam is both a man, but also man itself; just as Eve is both a woman and also woman.

Adam and Eve, after they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, hid from the LORD God. This is also to say that humanity hides from God. I would suggest that “and they hid” is a nothing less than a three word summation of all of human history. Everything we experience is taking place in those trees. Max Picard calls it the “flight from God.” Our own specific experiences of hiding are refractions of that one act. Our individual flights are only specific instances of the one great Flight.

Hiding is a response of shame. We avert our eyes. We are unable to bear the presence of the others. We feel that there is something wrong or ugly about ourselves that requires our removal. The automatic response is of flushed cheeks and downcast eyes. It is incredibly painful. No one can endure it for very long. Unsurprisingly, we try to avoid it as much as possible. We replace it with feelings that are more easy to manage, such as guilt or anger.

Many people have experiences of shame buried deep within their pasts. Often it is the result of traumas we have experienced throughout our life, big or small. Depending on when they happened and how severe they were, the hurt can be quite deep and painful, and can color our everyday experience of ourselves. God does see our hurt, despite the defenses that we hide behind. He desires our healing. And She is patient; God will stay with us as long as it takes for us to come out from the bushes.

Suggestions for action

Look for small opportunities to make yourself known, to yourself, others, or God. It doesn’t need to be over-the-top. You are just looking for little places where you can be sincere when you otherwise would have been sarcastic, or direct when you would have been passive-aggressive. Keep trying, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

You can try the same thing in prayer. Let your prayer just being an exercise in saying out loud how you are actually feeling, or what you want, regardless of how silly or unimportant it might seem. Who you are now, at this moment, is important to God.


September 27, 2018 — The Peace of Wild Things

Today’s Bible reading

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. — Genesis 2:19-20

More thoughts for meditation

“The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

~Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things, captures something of the harmony that we were created for. The “peace of wild things” stands as a testimony beside our own life of anxiety and noise. The drake and the heron are not complicated by out of season thoughts. They still have the internal harmony between what they are and how they live. Yesterday I mentioned that when God made us He uttered the subjunctive “Let us make,” which suggests possibility and imagination. We are subjunctive beings. We can imagine possible futures, not all of them good. We can create alternative selves and live by them instead of honoring our true self. It is indeed exhausting. Yet, we can let ourselves come into the presence of stillness wherever we can find it. Trees, rivers, mountains – even cats 🙂 – hold the blessing for us when we can not find it ourselves.

When we were created, God tasked us with tending the living things of the world. We have not done such a great job at this, and in fact have done quite a decent work at destroying them. Ironically, they are the things which now, in their harmony of their being, show us a path back to God.

Suggestion for action

Nature writer David James Duncan wondered whether mountains and rivers are really the soul turned inside out, or possibly the other way around. This is a marvelously intuitive insight. It expresses something that ancient philosophers and theologians have considered – that there is a fundamental link between our minds and the world. It seems we were made to see and understand things, and also give thanks for them. Can you recall a time in your life when you felt the peace of the world? Connecting to the feelings that that experience brought to you can help you to see where that same peace is possible today.

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