Category Archives: A life in the Spirit

Dreams can deepen your life — 4 steps to understanding them

Spanish woman asleep on the train.

Dreams are a handy, important doorway into our unconscious process. During the pandemic many people have been sleeping more. As a result they are remembering their dreams more, too.

Most people don’t typically remember their dreams. Living through the coronavirus pandemic might be changing that due to heightened isolation and stress, influencing the content of dreams and allowing some dreamers to remember more of them. For one, anxiety and lack of activity decrease sleep quality. Frequent awakenings, also called parasomnias, are associated with increased dream recall. Latent emotions and memories from the previous day can also influence the content of dreams and one’s emotional response within the dream itself. (National Geographic)

Some of these dreams are as frightening as the pandemic and as anxiety-provoking as societal and economic changes that have accompanied it. But all of them are instructive and help us use our wakeful times to learn about ourselves and grow deeper in grace.

Inner Work provides a useful approach

Robert A. Johnson

I think I have been remembering more of my dreams because I decided to do so. I have often gone to bed and told myself, even prayed, to remember a useful dream. This month I read a new book that deepened my capacity to explore my inner life in this way. The book is by one of my favorite authors: Robert A. Johnson’s Inner Work. I recommended it to a friend with two caveats: 1) It is Christian-adjacent, but sympathetic enough to orthodoxy for me; 2) It is a book on DIY Jungian dream work and active imagination and such work should never really be done on one’s own. It would be best to work with a partner.

That being said, I think this book is about as practical as a book on dreams can be. It provides a simple (but deep) approach to understanding one’s dreams and applying their meaning. It also details the process of active imagination (which I might outline for you next week). There are many ways to cooperate with our transformation. We can hire a professional to help us with most of them. Among the many ways, I think dream work is an important element. I have enjoyed my own version of it for many years and Johnson has improved my understanding greatly. I highlighted so much of Inner Work, I will be reading most of the book again when I look at my notes — that might be a good thing.

You should read the book for the full treatment, of course. But I want to outline his steps for you so you can get started. There is no cut-and-dried approach to interpreting dreams, internet summaries notwithstanding. The true meaning of our dreams is mainly in how we personally interact with them. That relationship is changeable and ongoing, since our dreams contain elements as vast as our unconscious experience. We have to do our own work. But it is pleasant work.

Before I get to the four steps, I think it is important to repeat that reading books and interpreting dreams is best done with someone who loves you while holding Jesus’ hand. Do-it-yourself is not the same as being personally responsible. So imagine the following steps happening in a community in which Jesus is the center, not in your own personal universe with your ego in charge.

Four steps toward understanding your dreams

Johnson’s four step process is

  • Step One: Associations
  • Step 2: Dynamics
  • Step 3: Interpretations
  • Step 4: Rituals

You will note right away that this looks like a process you have encountered in different areas when teachers were helping you take steps into depth or wholeness (like the Flow Questions our pastors offer cell leaders or the 2PROAPT method for personal or group Bible study). The process starts with observing without judgment. Then it moves to relating to what is “on the table” so to speak. Then it brings the process to an interpretation that is the main take away. Finally, it leads us to doing something about it, like we always remind ourselves to “do the word.”

Step 1 – Associations

The first step begins with writing out the dream and thinking about it. Many dreams will be quite short, not a movie script. They are essentially a series of images connected as a story which doesn’t need to be rational – some of us fly, or swim like fish, or experience mayhem in our dreams. So write out the dream and then go through it again, noting every association that comes to mind for every image. Each image is a symbol of something occurring in the unconscious. A dream may contain persons, objects, situations, colors, sounds, or speech. Each of these, for the purpose of step one, is a distinct image and needs to be looked at specifically for its symbolic value.

Write down the first image that appears in the dream. Then ask yourself, “What feeling do I have about this image? What words or ideas come to mind when I look at it?” Your association is any word, idea, mental picture, feeling or memory that pops into your mind, anything you spontaneously connect with the image. (Inner Work)

You can see why this is called dream work. It takes a bit of effort but it bears a lot of fruit. Collect as many associations as you can before you sort them out. The first one or most likely one might not be the most relevant. In the next step we will be looking for the energy of the dream, the association that “clicks.”

Step 2: Dynamics

In the second step we connect each dream image we have identified with the parts of our inner self it represents. In our dreams we meet our many selves. This concept is a major Jungian viewpoint that trips some people up. They sometimes think seeing different parts of oneself as different people turns them into a scattered mess. Maybe for some people that could happen! But for most of us, it is a short trip from seeing how we have internal conversations within ourselves all the time (“That was stupid, Rod!” Or “If you do that you will be sorry” to “Why did you never learn the piano?”) to dialoguing more consciously with “selves” who are less conscious and making themselves known in our dreams.

God may meet us in our dreams, but most of the time our dreams are contained within our nightly brain-ordering process. So when we see each image we ask things like “”What part of me is that? Where have I seen it functioning in my life lately? Where do I see that in my personality? Who is it, in me, who feels of behaves like that?” (Inner Work) First we gathered the facts, now we add the feelings, the relating to the dynamics, or energies. (See 1 Cor 12 – our bodies work like the Body of Christ).  There are dynamics surging in us – an emotional event, an inner conflict, an unloved personality, and attitude or mood.

Step 3: Interpretation

This step is the end result of all the work of the first two steps. We put together the information we have gleaned and arrive at a view of the dream’s meaning when taken as a whole. Like we skim much of the media we encounter and find shortcuts for our video games, it is tempting to take our first impression of a dream as a decent interpretation – “That was a bad dream!” But that is like taking our first impression of a person as all there is to them. It is not a very respectful way to treat your inner process by just making a snap judgment about yourself. If you are listening to your dreams well, your dream journal could end up with quite a bit of process on the way to coming to a “simple statement of the one, main idea that the dream communicates. Ask yourself: ‘What is the single most important insight that the dream is trying to get across to me?’” (Inner Work) Johnson has a LOT more help to give, but that gets you started.

Step 4: Rituals

This step is a physical act that affirms the message of the dream. A ceremonious action makes the dream more conscious and imprints its meaning more clearly in the here and now. The action could be very practical: “I will restrict TV to an hour a day,” or it could be symbolic: You buy a hamburger that represents your “junk-food relating” and bury it in the backyard. You can see that we are taking ourselves very seriously if we do this. Some people might be afraid they would be mocked if they were caught being this heartfelt – like some people never take communion for similar reasons.

Johnson recommends,

“Keep you physical rituals small and subtle, and they will be more powerful. The ritual is a physical representation of the inner attitude change that the dream called for, and it is this level of change that is requested by the dream…It is also a not a good idea to try to make a ritual out of talking about your dream or trying to explain yourself to people. Talking tends to put the whole experience back on an abstract level…Instead of a vivid private experience, you wind up with an amorphous collective chat. The best rituals are physical, solitary, and silent. These are the ones that register most deeply with the unconscious.” (Inner Work)

Find your contemplation where you can

I have enjoyed getting to know spiritual direction students and teachers over the past semester. My cohort is a diverse, sincere bunch of people that always remind me of God’s goodness and humanity’s capacity for compassion and hope.

There is only one thing about my new group of friends that is funny. Many of them remind me a lot of the old SNL skits about NPR.

Sometimes that NPR voice is such a wonder, like on my favorite WHYY voice, Jennifer Lynn. Other times the special character of that voice makes me wonder if the sincerity of it is just another act of branding. With everything on ZOOM now, a lot of us now have ring lights and new microphones. And I think a lot of us have started to wonder how to act on screen, including how to sound.

What does the voice mean, now?  My spiritual direction teachers and many of their students seem to have learned to speak with an NPR voice. Is that a thing, or is it just me? I know I’ve been tagged with a “Mr. Rogers” voice, so maybe I learned it a long time ago.

Voice command

Our voice is a powerful instrument. We had four children before the oldest turned 4. I developed their attention to my voice as a high priority, especially my command voice: “Do not step off that curb!” and “Let go of your brother’s neck, now!” Since we were often in a church meeting, I could turn the command volume down very low, “Give me that marker!”

Humanity continues to prove it is hell-bent on emulating the perceived power of God  through its own control and manipulation. This is kind of a leap, but I think the medium of radio does its control and manipulation via voice command. As my children tell me I did, I think NPR commands with an iron fist in a velvet glove. By this time, many of us fans can seem very empathetic and nonthreatening while advancing the same old domination.

I bring this up because my teachers, and most of the authors they suggest, basically move with Eurocentric, privileged assumptions that leak out as “best practices” for spiritual formation and direction. There is usually a candle. There is often Taize music (from France) or classical music (based in Europe), there is aloneness and silence, which, in themselves, are often hard-to-find luxuries. There is often a call to “let go,” which is hard to do if your are barely hanging on. There are often calls to “submit” or “surrender” since they are in charge and conquering something by nature. And when they speak it could be right out of NPR.

I have spent decades perfecting all the spiritual practices practices that come with the dominant culture – and to a good end. I think my teachers last semester were great. Candles, Taize, silence in solitude, and submission are all elemental to my spiritual practice.

reaching for the edge of contemplation

There is another side

I also have enjoyed the luxury of getting to know other ways to contemplate contributed by the nondominant cultures around me. Fortunately for me, my parents came from the U.S. underclass and felt blessed to have clawed themselves into the lower middle class. So when I brought classical music home from college as the first to attend one, it did not go over well. I was called on to let go of the pride of thinking I was better than someone else, rather than called on to let go of the assumption I was better than most of the world, like most world-dominating Americans assume.

Many people from nondominant cultures are invited into contemplation by Eurocentric people and the “hospitality offered may be more stifling than respiting, more harm than blessing…The ways that marginalized groups answer the question of who God is needs to be contemplated in a more authentic way than the ‘average’ contemporary expression of spirituality might expect” (Ruth Takiko West*). So true. Besides, members of the so-called “dominant culture” are also very diverse, so forcing them into learning the Eurocentric practices as if they are “best practices” could be a mistake. Leaders need a lot of intentional introspection if they hope to alleviate the problem of merely dominating instead of liberating. The image of God does not just reside in people such as oneself.

Your culture is fine, as is mine. But Jesus is transcultural, even though he comes from a culture, in a gender, and is born into a family system. He experienced the dominant culture providing some kind of general order. But he insisted on enacting the liberative, reconciling work of the Spirit by giving preference to the poorer or more distant, as well as those yet to be included.

The ever-accepting Savior calls us into a mutually accepting relationship with Him and everyone else. Jesus is the Spirit in a body, the body of Christ is the Spirit making all of us into family: the body of Christ. This works out in all cultures. One does not need to look outside of one’s culture or outside of oneself to meet God. Henri Nouwen said, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that declares we are loved. Being the beloved expresses the core truth of our existence” (see Spiritual Direction).

The presence of the Spirit transcends and infuses culture

We don’t need to act one way or another to develop intimacy with God, and though Jesus came one way, the Spirit of God with which he graced us is as multifaceted as the Creator. If God speaks to you in an NPR voice, wonderful; it is a sweet voice. But it can be a dominating voice, especially when white teachers unwittingly erase other sounds by making it prescriptive.

The rich experience of Black Americans, even those who understand Taize, Thomas Merton, and such, is often run over by the soft tones of people in charge, even though they have a rich tradition of their own that might be even better. James Cone writes, “The spirituals were a ritualization of God in song. They are not documents for philosophy; they are material for worship and praise for the One who had continued to be present with black humanity despite European insanity” (in The Spirituals and the Blues). Solitude in silence is to be treasured but contemplation is bigger. It is purpose, intention and deep consideration. As such it comes in many forms in as many cultures. Takiko West describes the Black experience in community where contemplation is exercised in the singing and the hearing of songs like the spirituals:

The presence of God is evidenced by the movement of the Spirit that causes one to jump to their feet, hands thrown up in the air when the soloist hits that one note and sustains it as if he/she needed to make sure the sound would reach heaven. It is within that moment that there is communal solidarity around the awareness of God’s grace.*

Cone writes, “The certain fact is always that God is present with them and trouble will not have the last word.”

I’ve had the privilege of being invited into this kind of contemplation in cultures other than my own all over the world. I have a feel for NPR’s more Eurocentric contemplation and I have also been blessed by Aretha Franklin’s. In the following video from Franklin’s 1972 live album, Amazing Grace, she manages to lead the moment of contemplation in a setting of a live recording. In it she bridges the societal divides, as she was so good at, by taking a Carol King song and combining it with a familiar gospel tune, in a South LA church. The album is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Aretha Franklin demonstrates how the nondominant find their place in the culture and how they keep a hold of their dignity and affirm their identity as the beloved.  The contemplative scene she leads is just as useful as the singular, quiet, secure-that-your-body-will-be-there-when-you-get-back-to-it, Eurocentric contemplation. We don’t need to choose. There is one body, one faith, one Lord. No one is excluded.

* From her essay in Kaleidescope: Broadening the Palette in the Art of Spiritual Direction. Ineda P. Adesanya, editor.

Lament for the climate

Trees Clapping by Brenda Bogart

There’s Wendell Berry writing,
quill plucked from a wild turkey with thanks,
sitting in his Kentucky cabin
voting absentee for Amy McGrath.

“When despair 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 for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Take a deep breath

Because among us normals,
ballpoint crushed into the back seat rug,
sitting on 95 smelling fumes,
we’re sipping sodas with plastic straws.

When despair grows in us
and we wake in the night to gunshot pops
in fear of what our lives and our children’s lives may be,
we go and lie down where the AC
hums with a restful buzz in the night air, while the great sirens blare
to disturb to pieces the silence
that might settle on the neighborhood
of grief. They come into the presence of street trees
feeling above the light pollution
for a twinkling star. For a time
we listen for them to leave our block, and we sleep.

Take a deep breath.
Yes take a deep breath.

Because over all the world
prophets fill up reams of webpages;
they ponder and sip imported wine,
pen warnings under pics of burned pines.

The despair grows in the world
when we see another shot of a seal
chewing on a plastic bottle on a littered beach
while powers dash to sign the first lease
on a wild Alaskan landscape, elk breath groaning into cold air,
snorting clouds up like morning prayers,
their bodies sensing the immanence
of grief. And we too buy a window with better seal,
hoping a child doesn’t breathe the air,
or hear the dire prayers. For a time
we watch them sleep, then order a tree. We’ll plant it.

Take a deep breath
a breath of the world’s breath,
and dream of God’s future in that tree.

Help for the meditation-challenged

In January, I tried to help people work with their desire for a helpful meditation practice from a Christian foundation. I shared this speech with a couple of friends today and i thought it might prove useful for you, too.

If you would like the transcript, here it is. There were many visuals, so you’ll be missing that element.

Help for the meditation challenged.                               1-12-20

So I hear it is rather sexy when your husband is spiritual. At least that is what someone told me not long ago. She was kind of dishing on her mate, which was not totally nice. Because she hadn’t really told him that if he prayed, she would find that arousing. She thought it would give him more substance. Some spiritual abs would be nice. Or so she thought.

It is no surprise that her husband was a bit meditation-challenged. It is kind of a secret people keep that there is not as much prayer going on as people would like. Maybe you thought I was going to say there is not as much sex going on as people would like, that too. In a lot of intimate areas we feel like things are lacking. So this speech is all about hope for the meditation challenged. Before I am finished I hope you’ll get some encouragement to keep going, get going or get going again on that aspect of prayer, that multi-faceted personal connection we get to have with God.

A friend wrote to me a couple of weeks ago to thank me for Circle of Hope Daily Prayer [Here is a picture of today’s entry for Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WIND, which is designed for people who are new to faith or new to Circle of Hope. Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WATER, is designed for people who are along the road in their spiritual development]. Being contacted by my old friend in this way was kind of out of the blue, since I did not even know she knew about our blogs and she lives about 3000 miles from Pennsauken. She said she was thankful for the resource because she is “meditation challenged.” What she specifically meant was she could not read the Bible and get all the stuff out of it that Circle of Hope Daily Prayer can get.

That is one big reason the body of Christ is supposed to rely on each other. Some people can figure out the Bible better than others, some teach better than others, some put together resources better than others, some pray more than others. Nobody is supposed to have a life in Christ alone – it is unthinkable and probably impossible. So she was relying on us and wanted me to know she is grateful.

Our daily prayer blogs are designed to be so simple a newbie could dig in right away on some level and deep enough that the most mature among us won’t mind joining in with others who use the resource. Which resource is not a requirement, by that way. [slide] But why would you go by a plate of snickerdoodles with a sign that said, “Please eat one,” and not do it? The Daily Prayer is just a nice little spiritual meal to feed your heart soul mind and strength that someone made for you — why not eat it?

Growing in one’s capacity to pray is sexy, and the offerings of our Daily Prayer blogs are like a plate of cookies. What could go wrong, here?

Prayer is for everyone who follows Jesus, even if you don’t think God is very interested in your ongoing dialogue. So  if you are new to faith or very experienced, prayer, and so our daily prayer blogs, are for you.

The blogs are good for the meditation challenged. When I say meditation a picture might come to your head about someone who meditates. I am not even going to put one up so it does not get stuck. I would rather you, yourself, come to mind, so the picture is of you thinking and feeling with God. You might be thinking and feeling about God and that’s meditation too. But the goal of meditation in Christ is oneness, communion, integration, love. Meditation is turning toward God who is with us. I’ll briefly talk about how a lot of meditation is taught as turning away from anxiety as the main role of the practice. But Christians turn away in order to turn toward. Our meditation has an object: our loving God and our true selves.

Sometime meditation sounds complex, but maybe it is not. We all meditate on other things besides God, too. I meditate on my wife, Gwen. I wonder what she is thinking, how she is feeling. I fondly remember her and love her even though she is across town, or making snickerdoodles downstairs. In that case the fragrance of Gwen comes to me and I remember what it is like to be loved by her and feel close to her. We do similar things with God. The Daily Prayer blog leads us through a simple format, which I hope will inspire you.

We always start with the Bible. Of course you don’t need to start with the Bible to pray or meditate. I turn to God on the train and I don’t need a format to do so.

We start with the Bible when we are in our disciplined time for meditation because we are not turning into nothingness or just considering how we feel or how we intend not to feel. We are turning to love and truth and opening to it. So this morning we started with a Bible reading on Daily Prayer :: WIND.  See that orange “Today’s Bible reading.” We had a section of the Bible that worked with the theme of today’s entry, but I want to give you this Bible reading to go with what I am trying to offer for the meditation challenged..

The mind at peace

If you understood what I was saying earlier, you’ll probably agree that this is one of the sexiest verses in the Bible

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3  Say it.

“Steadfast” literally has to do with being “Sturdily formed.” We’re talking about how minds are formed, and we hope they will be sturdy.

Don’t just think of “mind” here as your brain or your reasoning ability or even your thoughts. When Jesus says to love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, he’s piling up words to describe us, not creating thick boundaries between categories. So you could say, those of steadfast consciousness, attentiveness, connectedness or mind you keep in peace, Lord, because they trust in you.

Your mind is steadfast, your inner life is sturdily formed, when it is turned toward and attentive to your trustworthy creator and your friend and brother, Jesus. We’re talking about an active trust. Meditation is an active trust which forms a character of steadfastness, secure vision, hope, all with a heart of love born of being heart-to-heart with the great lover who we love back, heart, soul, mind and strength

In this one line about meditation from Isaiah, you can see some very basic things. And each one of them makes a difference as to whether you will get to that peace you crave.

  • We are having a relationship. It is because they “trust in you.” We are talking to God.
  • It assumes a mind that is one’s own. You have an interior life that can be kept in peace.
  • We’re talking about “those of steadfast mind.” We are imagining people in a place and time and in a body.
  • It is all in the present. The time is now. I’d say an eternal now connected to the Creator of our now.

Trusting and staying is water for the soul. Learning to trust God is swimming in the deep water. Turning into trust, determining to stay — that is meditation.

So we start with the Bible because it is arrogant to try a variation before you’ve learned the basics. Trying to meditate before you’ve been attentive to what our predecessors have taught us  kind of like putting your bear on your bicycle before you’ve taught her to pedal. You just saw that the Bible teaches about the pedaling of meditation before it just throws you on a spiritual bike. That doesn’t mean we won’t need to get used to how a meditation bike feels. But it does mean we have some trustworthy guidance as we pray.

So the next section of Daily Prayer is all about more guidance and getting a feels for things. Here is the Meditation section from today’s Daily Prayer: WIND entry

As far as this speech about help for the meditation-challenged, here are some of my thoughts for meditation.

Meditation is not just mindfulness, which is basically being in charge of your own relaxation. Mindfulness is a big term, and a popular one these days, so it can mean a lot of things. Have any of you received any mindfulness training at work? Have your kids received any training in school? A lot of what we mean when we say meditation could coincide with mindfulness, since settling down is settling down as far as humankind goes. But the godless techniques most people are probably teaching your children need some unpacking. Because even though they present themselves as conviction-neutral, they have some assumptions behind them.

I think most mindfulness training is more in line with Dom Peringnon philosophy rather than in line with Jesus. Check this out https://youtu.be/RJnbkl_WX5s  The first gobsmacking version of this I saw said “Life is what we create each day out of nothing.” A lot of mindfulness teaching goes this exact direction.

Now let me go off on this for a minute. Mindfulness claims to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions. So it oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. It fits neatly into a culture of techno-fixes, easy answers and self-hacks, where we can all just tinker with the contents of our heads to solve problems, instead of probing why we’re so anxious or dissatisfied with our lives in the first place.

In particular, almost all mindfulness training is grounded in the Buddhist doctrine of anattā, or the ‘no-self’. In most mindfulness teaching, what the Bible just taught about a mind steadfast on God  is not “right understanding.” In Buddhist teaching, there is no God or self, just a collection of factors, the experience of which is impermanent. So life is what you create out of nothing every day.

Like their Buddhist predecessors, contemporary mindfulness practitioners teach that nothing is  permanent or personal – thus we’ve come to handle conflict by saying, “No worries” and “It’s nothing personal.” Whereas Jesus followers know that everything matters and it is all personal.

Mindfulness exercises repeatedly draw attention to the transitory nature of what is being observed in the present moment. Explicit directions (‘see how thoughts seem to simply arise and cease’) and visual imagery (‘think of your thoughts like clouds drifting away in the sky’) reinforce ideas of transience, and encourage us to detach ourselves from getting too caught up in our own experience (‘You are not your thoughts; you are not your pain’ are common mantras). These things are not all bad, of course, unless you think they are what meditation is in total, instead of just the first steps of turning toward God.

With its promises of assisting everyone with anything and everything, the mistake of the mindfulness movement is to present its impersonal mode of awareness as a superior or universally useful one. Its roots in the Buddhist doctrine of anattā mean that it sidelines a certain kind of deep, deliberative reflection that’s required for unpicking which of our thoughts and emotions are reflective of our true selves in relation to God, which are responses to the environment, and – the most difficult question of all – what we should be doing about it. How we should relate to God and others. [Aeon essay]

Mindfulness is taking over the meditation landscape and teaching everyone basic Buddhist doctrine — although Buddhists object to the watered-down version, too. I tried out a mindfulness app on the trolley the other day. I had discovered such apps are multiplying. You probably already knew about all of them. Americans can commodify anything. I tried this one called Headspace. Very nice. Its main competitor is Calm. And there are Christian versions, too. One is called Abide. I did not try them all because I don’t want to. But I am trying to understand them – someone asked me to record Daily Prayer so they could listen to it.

Andy Puddicombe came back to Britain to create Headspace after being a Tibetan monk for 10 years. Here he is getting his head shaved for his commitment ceremony. When he was twenty he lost friends in an accident and found peace in Asia.

The BBC calls him: “The former monk who runs a 100 million dollar meditation firm” with Rich Pierson, who is responsible for the technical side. Here is Rick holding the app up in China. Puddicombe’s 2013 TedTalk has been viewed 3 million times. [Which seems like a lot until you know that Justin put out a video for Yummy on Jan 4 and it had 40 million views as of yesterday morning]

Here is a little come on for Headspace. https://youtu.be/pDm_na_Blq8. Not all bad. But one takeaway is that it all happens on the train to make you present to yourself in your moment. But not necessarily present to God or anyone else.

If you don’t have time for Headspace’s ten-minute meditations you can pick up an app from Dan Harris, the Good Morning America anchor, called 10% Happier. He’s devoted to getting in two hours of meditation each day in short bits while he is being fabulous.

You can see I am skeptical of commodified, Buddhist mindfulness that could masquerade as Christian meditation. So let me briefly get to the last section of where a Daily Prayer entry leads:  Suggestions for action

Just do it. Don’t give up, God will show up if you learn to show up. I think one of the main reasons people never get into daily prayer of any kind is they don’t think they can do it right or don’t think God will do it right.  Will God show up if I show up? Will my expectations be met? We’ll have to risk it to find out. I say yes, God will show up. I have lots of stories about that, but I’m about out of time.

Don’t start with your expectations, find God somewhere and start there, but never stay there. Everyone, whether they follow Jesus or not, have a sense of God, they carry the image of God. There is some experience, knowledge, intuition, capacity that draws us to know God and be our true selves. Feel OK about starting where you are. Turn toward your fullness.

Let’s try it. It is like getting on the bike and feeling it for the first time like my granddaughter Hannah did not long ago.

This is a very simple exercise. Try to be mindful and centered in your place. Breathe deeply and notice your breath. It will settle you down. Now just let your self wander through the last hour with Jesus and note the different things you have experienced, thought or felt. If one particular thing sticks out, focus on it. Got one? Let it mean what it means: encouraging, convicted, enlightening, disgusting, hope-building, confusing. Trust God for it, however you understand that. Let your trusting experience of it make you steadfast, more connected, loved, truthful and trusting.

This group meditation in song helps too. This weekly meeting is a suggestion for action.

Thou wilt keep [them] in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because [they] trusteth in thee. (KJV)

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I

File:Meteora`s monastery 2.jpg
Meteora, Greece: ancient thin place

I was praying with the Jesus Prayer this morning:

Jesus, son of God, Savior, have mercy on me.

While I was sinking into contemplation, my attention was invaded by an old song lyric. That isn’t unheard of, but it seemed unusual. I turned my attention away from it and back to the breath of life I often experience in the Jesus Prayer. But the lyric would not go away. So I followed it:

Hear my cry, O God;
…..give heed to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint;
…..Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For You have been a refuge for me, — Psalm 61:1-3 (NASB)

I used to sing this song on the way from San Diego to Pasadena for my last year of seminary at Fuller. I about wore out the 4-track tape. The song, based on Psalm 61, often arises when I need it the most.

I searched myself to figure out why I had been led to that old path. I did not feel like I was in danger.  I was not faint. My heart was actually full, affirmed by many voices during the Sunday meeting, among other things. So the usual uses for the song were unnecessary. So I searched the psalm again and this line caught my eye:

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

The original song is a prayer for help from the God who provides a stronghold in the face of the enemy. The Candle song is a sweet plea, full of yearning and assurance, knowing that Jesus is that refuge.

I decided the one line that caught my attention was about all the ways I had experienced “spiritual” or “good-hearted” people weighing down conversations with their immanent frame [see the end of this post] — people with no rock higher than the one they can learn, label or own. I discovered how weighed down a felt from recent experiences with:

  • Evangelicals schooled to pray right, to pray for things and to suspect relating to the Spirit who is unbound by their theology and emanating from not trapped in the Bible.
  • good-hearted poets finding spiritual experiences in nature without the Spirit, luring the unsuspecting into their salvation by aesthetics.
  • psychology researchers leading people to solve their grief by accepting ambiguity and relying on their capacity to choose something better than meaningless suffering.

I don’t think I realized just how weighed down I was under the pressure of the antiChrist movement in our polluted air. I was going with a flow that did not feel joyful. The Spirit was gently leading me toward recognition and renewed hope.

I am sure you may feel hemmed in by lies, by confidence in illusions, by outright hostility undoing love every day. I feel hemmed in by Christians with a morality of anger who are willing to kill relationships for their righteousness, both left and right. Thank God for this sweet, humble song, ancient and new, which quietly lifts up a faint heart from the end of the earth to Someone greater than their heart and larger than the understanding of humans.

There is a rock higher than than mine, a love wilder, a truth larger and a hope eternal. In Jesus we meet such love in our history and by the Spirit he is even larger, reaching to the ends of the earth and into my meditation.

We’re listening, Lord: Post-election direction for keeping faith

You gotta find a way to forgive each other. Gotta find joy in your existence in spite of that feeling.

I feel encouraged to discover that many people share my sense of what has happened in 2020 and what we need to do about it. I wrote about it last week.

My friend, Michiko, wrote this on her Facebook page

Don’t be lulled. 70 million people still voted for racism, homophobia and white terror. The work is only now begun. We must heal the spiritual wounds wrought by genocide and slavery, which as Dave Chappelle likes to say “was only 3 people ago” or we will repeat this process. [SNL this week] I like this message [below] because it’s been resonating with what I believe God is saying to me which is…throw spiritual water on the fire, speak the history back to the earth, let her absorb it and reconfigure it and put out the flames of hatred, human classification and human division. This is the work I feel called to do.

I think all of us probably have some variation on her calling. Can we all agree to:

  1. Throw spiritual water on the fire?
  2. Live in creation and not in our classifications and divisions?

Michiko’s friend, Spencer Clayton, spoke a creative sermon after the election that was on a similar wavelength: When your faith is misplaced –1 Samuel 4:1-11. He says:

Stay vigilant. Our actions add up.

Three things that can happen as a result of misplaced faith.

1) If our faith is not in God, we are putting ourselves in danger.

    • Jeffrey Epstein put his faith in money and political connections, but it did not save him.
    • Young people put their faith in their health but Covid-19 kills people as a result.
    • Symbols are not God. Applying your ignorant ways harder in hope of a better result could be deadly.

2) Premature celebration can attract attention that invites even more challenges.

    • Trump declared victory before the votes were counted. He stirred up opposition.
    • Democrats advertised some radical plans and invited opposition.
    • Moving in silence is often better. Let your character and actions speak, not just your advertising.

3) Results of our misapplied faith are often much worse than we needed faith to address.

    • Plenty of pastors asserted that Trump would win easily. Paula White, one of the president’s spiritual advisors, has become famous for her televised prayer for Trump’s God-ordained victory. The parodies of it abound. As a result, the church becomes a joke and evangelism becomes very difficult.  People feel like Christians are crazy.
    • Be careful in public.

I think it is a good time in the history of Eurocentric Christianity to finally listen to historically marginalized people and hear what they have been saying all along. Now that mostly a bunch of old “white” men have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an inconclusive election it is time for the church to return to Jesus. We can get over Donald Trump, Paula White and our lust for power (from political conservatives clear to revolutionaries) and come up with what Jesus wants to come up with.

It is still all there in the Bible:

  • It is living water poured on the fires of hatred.
  • It is the stones crying out for the restoration of shalom in creation.
  • It is faith in God and not all the others things empire-lovers cherish.

Like Michiko and Spencer say, the work is beginning. Let’s get reoriented now that the results of all our societal nonsense are becoming clear. The church will survive and we will carry the seeds of transformation into the new territory we are entering. The Spirit of God will not abandon us.

The parable of the pins

The glory of 59th and Baltimore

Yesterday I spontaneously decided to remove the last vestige of our two-month sojourn upstairs at Circle Counseling South Broad. It is a blessing to have one’s own private homeless shelter, when needed. Our house sold and we needed to move out. The contractor at our new place had to be fired because the contract reached its six-month end and no finish was in sight. Chaos, Covid-19 and anxiety ensued.

Now that we are a couple of months settled in our new place, which was somehow finished, infection-free, under exemption from lockdown restrictions, we are feeling better. So I felt enough energy to drag our old mattress to the street for disposal and take apart the bed frame in our former shelter.

All the time I was doing that I was on a deadline and few of my errands were working out as planned. For instance, the libraries reopened, but not the one to which I was headed. The next closest one at 59th and Baltimore did, however, face the glorious front yard above. By the time I was putting away my bed-removal tools, I was getting a bit nervous about navigating around whatever road closures I would encounter on the way back to more screen work. But the Lord shows up in remarkable ways — in a way that I find profound enough to share with you even though my blog is on hiatus. It is my own little parable.

For some reason I had a little plastic container of pins in my tool box at the counseling offices. As I hurriedly reassembled the items in the tray I hit the container and it fell to the floor, scattering pins everywhere. I just sighed and thought, “Of course.” But as I bent down to hold the dust pan, I thought, “You need to slow down and be more careful.” It was my mother popping up to provide her instruction! Once the pins were in the dust pan, I took the lid off the trash can and there was no liner. I thought, “See. We think ahead and stay prepared because we are going to need things later.” There was my father!

I went over to the open door where the lone therapist in the building was typing. I told her my tale to affirm our work with clients when they have inner voices from their parents stuck in their brains. My voices were amusing. They were only a bit shame-inducing — I did scatter pins everywhere, after all! They are probably stuck under the baseboards and ready to gravitate under bare feet that shouldn’t be uncovered to begin with and likely to contract tetanus — or so my inner parent would predict. I told my colleague about what I named “the wisdom from the plains” and she said, “Rod, Stuff happens.” It was the wisdom from the city!

I love the Lord’s parables. They are about everyday life where we are most likely to see the glory of God. They are so profound and so well-considered over centuries that they all have many layers of meaning. I have been pondering my little parable ever since it came to a pleasant ending. My friend tried to comfort me and release me from my shame.

Jesus might tell it in just a few lines. The kingdom of God is like an old man dropping pins from his toolbox. As he swept them up, the voice of his parents came to him, scolding him for his haste and carelessness. When he spoke of this to his younger friend, she led him to not care at all. “Stuff happens,” she said. But he went away rejoicing over the transcendent love that peeked through the clouds of their wisdom.

My friend’s encouragement might have been the best thing to offer when I was much younger and definitely run around by my shame. I felt like I was in charge of making sure nothing wrong happened. And I did fail at that quest every day and didn’t want my inner parents or my true self to know about any of it. But at this point I am more amused than anxiety-ridden when mom and dad show up randomly. And as I look back on the pin drop, I actually miss them more than resent their intrusion into my thoughts.

The traumatizing move and project, the sojourn in the upper room, wrestling the mattress to the street, dropping the pins and having loved ones, past and present, older and younger, interpret the moment all happened in Christ. All were touched with love, if my ego was porous enough to receive it. As it turns out this time, it was.

John Lewis: “Love is the better way.”

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In 2016, John Lewis led a sit-in on the Senate floor to demand common-sense gun-control. He did not get what he wanted, but he never gave up. And he never gave up his remarkable love as he did it.

I watched almost all of his funeral last Thursday. I was repeatedly moved by the saint being honored in Martin Luther King’s church.

I even praised George Bush

I was flabbergasted by George Bush’s tender speech. In the spirit of John Lewis’ “love first and let the rest follow” Christianity I ventured a rare Facebook entry to be amazed about Bush. I just felt like saying something not-quite-nice-but-good about a man about whom, Lord knows, I have said about a million extremely negative things.  I was taken up by the way of love.

I am not sure how people found this FB entry, since they did not comment on my next entry about St. Ignatius (who has plenty to criticize, as well). But they countered my little love with quite a bit of hate for Bush. In their defense, the bombers who flew over my Facebook page were probably just standing up for what they believe in. I think they were trying to make sure George Bush was not exonerated by being likable, which is his go-to. I did question their love, but they also reflect my hero in their stubborn refusal to give in to the lies that are destroying the beloved community. I’m not sure they are building such a community with their judgment, but at least they are on some frontier shooting at its enemies.

The better way of John Lewis

John Lewis had a better way and it made me cry to hear about it, even from George Bush. Lewis let his little light shine right to the end. When he knew he was dying, he asked the NYTimes to print his final words, and they did. Obama essentially riffed on Lewis’ exhortation in his eulogy. Here’s part of his parting words:

I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself

I have no faith in the American state. And I think democracy based on capitalism is absurd. But I do know what Lewis is saying when he says “beloved community.” And the fact that he wouldn’t give up until the godless American government reflected it is beautiful. I have given myself to a much smaller goal: that the church of Jesus Christ would be a beloved community that contrasts with the world as it demonstrates the heart of its alternativity. One would think I have a much easier row to hoe than Lewis was given. Some days Facebook mocks me for my hope, but I don’t think we should give up. Lewis didn’t:

In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

I wish he would  have mentioned Jesus in there. But MLK and his crew did not want to leave anyone out — and everyone is made in the image of God, after all. Their relentless love and their nonviolent pressure had core values that everyone could understand, whether they were committed to Jesus or not. I think it is clear that their values require resurrection power to implement and sustain, since John Lewis died in the same year as George Floyd. But ascending into generous inclusion is a lot better than the usual descent into our present hate-filled particularity.

Thank you Jesus for John Lewis and thank you John Lewis for being Jesus among us. I hope people listen to you even more, now that you have received a lot of media attention. The church should lead the way to truth and justice as it lets love guide it. In  Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, Lewis said:

“It was no accident that the movement was led primarily by ministers—not politicians, presidents or even community activists—but ministers first, who believed they were called to the work of civil rights as an expression of their faith.”…“Religious faith is a powerful connecting force for any group of people who are working toward social change.”

I am grateful for his example. Love is the way. As he demonstrated, it didn’t even matter if the society changed, since it did, but it also didn’t. Self-giving love will always be the core value of the way of Jesus no matter what we face next, right up to the end.

 

Will people grow up before the church gets wrecked?: Eliza’s question and Janet’s answer

Eliza wins a Pulitzer Prize

A few days ago I was talking to Eliza Griswold. She is writing a book about Circle of Hope — along with other churches on our wavelength and the future of the Church in general. She was recording me.

When we got to the part about turmoil in our church (there is a little), which makes for a better book, after all,  and turmoil in the larger Church (there is quite a bit), I looked at the phone for a second. “Am I going to say something dumb?”

I took a deep breath. Our turmoil is all for the best. Most of the controversies we face are about causes that should cause turmoil. Some of them are either over the tipping point or about to go over the tipping point into full scale change, which would be worth a lot of trouble. For instance, a school in Virginia just got a name change from Robert E. Lee to John Lewis last week – so things could be looking up (and I mean looking “as God sees things” in the case of that school, not IMO).

Eliza lamented in her inquisitive way about some of the strident discourse she was hearing in our church. It scared her, since she is well acquainted with church controversy. She tagged the young ones as responsible for most of it, I think (I didn’t record her). And the phrase “social justice warriors” seems like it was used, although I’m not sure either of us said it. The angry-sounding, division-threatening dialogue made her wonder if we would even survive! So she wanted to hear what an old head like me would say about it.

I told her (I guess she could check the tape about this) I thought old people should be the last to judge the young. My job is to help everyone get into a sustainable stage in their faith so they are not run over by the deceitful world – otherwise, what is the point of walking with Jesus for 50 years — so young people can look dumb in comparison? People don’t start where they end up, even if they think where they are now is a fine achievement. I want to affirm their achievements and help them get into what is next, since none of us is going to stop developing, in one way or another. It was something like that.

Janet Hagberg and her inspiring books

Janet Hagberg

Janet Hagberg is all about development and she has been influencing me again, lately.

When I was in my twenties I heard Janet Hagberg speak. As I recall, she was testing out some material she was collecting for how to implement James Fowler’s seminal work on the Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Later on I read Hagberg’s book Real Power and it made so much difference to me, I basically installed it in Circle of Hope. I was so impressed with Real Power, I went back and read James Fowler, the basis, which was tough but productive sledding. After that, I laced the “stages of faith” into most of my thinking about growing in faith: I put it in workshops, I blogged about it, and I engineered a version of it, with the pastors, that became the outline for the  Way of Jesus site – when you go to it you’ll see me ready to talk about the stages of faith right there on the intro page.

Just lately, I found a book that had been languishing on my selves for a long time, undiscovered, until I took it out of a packing box to reshelve it. It was Hagberg’s book The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith. God drew her into a deeper rendition of Real Power later on in life. Real Power was for the corporate world; and though spirituality is present, it isn’t focused on Jesus, per se. The Critical Journey is for Jesus followers (and anyone who wants to follow along with them). I think she might say this book “ruined her life” – at least it “ruined” the previous life that was headed for success in the corporate world.

Instead, Hagberg became a spiritual director and a mentor to many disciples. Last week I wrote to her with a question about the spiritual stages inventory in her book and she wrote back! That was unexpected, as it always is for me when a hero notices me. (That desire to be seen might be why I always get so choked up when cast members in the Disney parade break ranks to come over and wish my grandchild a “magical birthday”). I am pondering whether to accept her invitation to travel with a small group she is forming for next year as a means for spiritual development.

Time to grow and time for social action

I was fresh from reading The Critical Journey when I sat in the heat with Eliza (who has a Wikipedia page BTW). And she was wondering about what twentysomethings would do to the church. I started formulating my feelings into a theory in their defense.

I think young people should get involved with the power struggles of the world to express their undeserved powerlessness (stage one) and fully explore the energizing experiences of exercising power in stage two. Many derisively-labeled “social justice warriors” are criticized for being one-way know-it-alls who will cancel someone who does not agree with them. People do dumb stuff at every stage of life. I think stage two people often act like they know it all because they just learned a huge amount of meaningful material that is forming their future. Unlike a lot of burned out old people, they think life is important and they are going to make something out of it. Any twenty-something who is not on some bandwagon in the name of great causes should catch up. Their cohort is fueling some wonderful development in themselves and the world, whether they know what they are doing or not!

The observations of the stages of faith usually place most twentysomethings in stage two of their adult development, as humans, but also as people of faith.

  • One of the main characteristics of people in stage two (whenever they get there) is finding meaning in belonging. They may like a denominational way of being the church, but they are more likely to attach to a local church, and even within that church they are most likely to find a small group of people to whom they belong. Pastors may not like this, but that’s how people are. The group shapes our identity, we find power in association with others.
  • No one comes out fully formed, so in stage two people connect to a leader, a system or a cause, sometimes many before they zero in. The sense of enlightenment from sharing the leader’s/author’s/system’s wisdom is intoxicating. The same experience can be found by having a cause be the leader and not a person. A sense of being right, now that they have found the right stuff, often breeds a feeling of security –- which can sometimes come off as too secure, and exclusive of others who aren’t at the same place, or stage.

Calling something a stage implies that we are moving through it. Thus Hagberg calls our development a critical “journey.” People can get stuck in stage two for a number of reasons. The major reasons are

  • They get rigid: legalistic and moralistic. When someone complains about getting taken out by a “my way or the highway” SJW I can acknowledge the danger of people acting that way, but I am just so happy they have gotten far enough in life to find something outside themselves to care about! Audacity is underrated.
  • A sense of belonging can end up with being part of a closed, paranoid, “us against them” group. America, in general seems to have regressed into this trap,
  • A group can end up not being as attractive as expected so people can keep switching groups and doing the same thing over and over. They don’t move forward, just move around.
  • People who have been injured in groups, especially in churches, can spend a lifetime searching for a group that won’t hurt them. They need to move inward — that was the invitation when the leader, group or theory proved faulty, instead they blame the group and move on to have a similar experience, quite often, in the next one.

How does one avoid getting stuck in stage 2 or get unstuck? Moving on usually means becoming a producer instead of a product. When it comes to life in Christ, that movement is sort of inevitable. People joke that if you have a good idea in Circle of Hope, you’ll probably end up in charge of it. That’s not necessarily so, but maybe it should be. We formed cells and teams so people could be in charge of something and grow up in faith. Jesus wants friends, not slaves who only do what they’re told. In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us not to be infants, but grow up into Christ!

A lot of us find this need for development satisfied at work and in our own family. That’s where we take on responsibility and produce something – like offspring, a mortgage and profits for the company. The movement from Stage 2 to 3 in the Spirit is deeper. Women risk to be valuable. So-called minorities insist they matter and deserve a voice in  the dialogue. Young people seek responsibility the old guard thinks they don’t deserve. We discover our gifts and are moved to enact them. We rejoice in the fact that we can develop and become all we are called to be.

I rejoice. I vividly remember being in stage two. At that time in my life, a 70something elder in the church I was serving took me aside one day and said, “Rod, you have great ideas, but you have terrible PR.” He went on. I listened to him. But I essentially thought, “The hell with PR! I don’t see Jesus taking cues from his media advisors!” I was right, but I later realized that I wanted to build something, not spend my life rebelling against what someone else built. I got some new skills, eventually. I’m still grateful for people like Janet Hagberg and that fed-up elder who cared enough to open up the possibility of development in critical ways — in both the positive and negative senses of that word.

Scrape, scrape, scrape: The deposits on my soul

scrape
I always own five of these and can find zero.

The metaphor for my life this week has been scraping the mineral deposits off my new counters in my newly-rehabbed condo. We noticed when the light shines just right we can see stuff left on the counter we just wiped off. Come to find out, if we leave water or juice to dry on the counter, it will leave a crust that cannot be dissolved by a cleaner! One of the ways to be rid of it or diminish it is to scrape it with a razor blade. Some advisors say, “Just get used to it (and have a life, already!).” So far, I guess I am not the “get used to it” kind of guy. I’m scraping, and meditating as I do.

Now that the nearly-year-old rehab project and move is nearing some finality, I am finding some blessed room for feeling my post-transition life. Scraping my counter is an activity that slows me down and teaches me lessons. I’ve been scraping paint residue from floors and now mineral deposits from counters and it feels like my soul is getting a good scrape, too.

Failures like mineral deposits on my soul

It feels like a failure to have mineral deposits on the brand-new counters! Quartz is expensive. Finding out quartz is not really indestructible hurts. It all begs a lot of questions: Why didn’t I read everything on Google about quartz counters before I messed them up? Did I buy substandard stuff and get ripped off? Did I saddle myself with a maintenance job I will never do? Am I just the world’s worst consumer and should have stayed on a lower level of American household splendor, since I can’t get enough obsession going to take care of things?

I was telling Rachel last week that my life seems like a series of failures. I feel like a poster child for Falling Upward at times. My spiritual gift might be getting myself into trouble, or in over my head, or in a situation that will require reconciliation at best or miracle at worst. As I scrape the counter I have a familiar choice: am I going to meet Jesus on this counter or get back to him when I feel a little better after fixing the problem? – if that ever happens.

Scraping my life has also been a meditation on race, like for many of us these days. I have certainly been committed to failing at racial reconciliation in many ways since I moved to Philly. My dried up relationships are like mineral stains on my past. In a certain light they make me wince a little.

The passing away illusions of the perfect present

While I am scraping the counter I am tempted to damn the counter and condemn myself for having one. “Why did I buy this nice thing to oppress me, anyway?” I have a very strong inner Franciscan. The other argument goes, “Why are you worrying about scraping the counter? Just do it.  Be in the moment of this scrape. Or don’t scrape and be there.” That’s the side that usually wins (thus this blog post).

We were talking over successes and failures the other night with some friends (with whom we were not successful at social distance, so I’ll add “catching Covid-19” to my failure list, shortly) and began to ponder the reality that we can’t understand the next stage of our development, spiritually, until we get into it. The tipping point moment of development usually feels like we’re in the fog, upended, even headed in a wrong direction. The future feels like an illusion, maybe even an apparition – something to be feared. Sometimes we get so scared we won’t even go, even though we are ready for what’s next.

Pin on TattoosScraping my life right now feels like part of that kind of foggy transition. I begin to see the deposits on my counter like deposits of the past on my soul, dried up relationships that feel like scars, dried up work that left a mark, memories of goodness that are fading. For some reason, the old slogan of the much-maligned Robert Schuller keeps coming to my mind. He used to preach “turn your scars into stars.” The illusion of the perfect counter and successfully buying just what I want in a new home is a new scar in the night sky of my development. Every time I look at that counter, and myself, in a certain light, I need to get saved.

Gratitude really is the beginning and end of seeing clearly

I am scraping, scraping, scraping my condo, which was supposed to be all perfect long before the pandemic started. It is tempting to have my only prayer be, “Oh my God!” That is a prayer in the spirit of, “Now what?” as if I were Job, or something – albeit a Job scraping in his high rise looking out over a shining city. Eventually, my loving friend, Jesus, gets down on the floor with me, or sits at a barstool fingering a water stain and says something like, “Isn’t it great you are healthy enough to do this?” or “Remember that pilgrimage we took to Africa and were invited into some homes?” If I resist temptation, my prayer graduates to “Thanks.”

Gratitude is a good scraper. I keep talking about my recent experience with some wonderful people in my small-group “hub” connected to the Jesus Collective. The getting-to-know-you time was a blessing. One of my takeaways from our first meeting, however, was to get a better picture of the church in which I live. The leader of our group offered us some of the recent development in his spiritual life to use in our prayer together. It was a nice gift and I used it. But it was at a level I thought our pastors and all of our Leadership Team, maybe most of our cell leaders, had probably surpassed. I shouldn’t compare people, but I thought I knew maybe thirty people in our church who were much better prepared to lead this “hub,” which was culled from great people from all over the world! Like Paul, the “scales” fell from my eyes — the dried-up residue of not seeing my situation with a Jesus lens (or maybe seeing it with a Covid-19 lens). I was grateful. Maybe I should say I was reduced to gratitude.

Even pop stars tell us they are learning gratitude. It is not just a cliché; gratitude makes everything better. If we are grateful, we exercise humility and don’t fall prey to the dark side of our reality: the hubris of autonomy and rapacity of greed. Some time ago, I decided to start every day in my journal with a list of thanks. It is often amazing how hard it is to settle in to the blessings of my life. Often, especially in the depressing time of the virus, I need to force myself to see the wonders in and around me. I try not to wait for Jesus to open my eyes, or for the weight of creation to tip my scales. I need to be honest about what I feel. But I also need to be honest about what God feels. I need to go through a process of confession and restoration. But I also need to learn how to do that in the presence of Love, with trust and hope. Dwelling on the good with gratitude is a very effective soul scraper.

I think I’m learning. How are you doing? Got any scraping going on in your territory? Or what is your metaphor of the week? I would love to hear some more of your story about how Jesus is leading you through your troubles.