Abiding in Great Storms Part Two

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For the past several weeks in this space we have been talking about the vital importance of abiding in Jesus. This will be the last week of this series until after Christmas, when I hope to begin writing about a few specific Spiritual Disciplines. Perfect, perhaps, for the New Year.
If you would like to catch up, you can read the introduction here, the first part of abiding in daily life here, the second part of abiding in daily life here, and the first part of abiding in great storms here.
John Donne shows us how beautiful and natural it can be when we have steeped ourselves in Holy Habits and are thus able to allow God to transform us through our sufferings rather than to turn away from God in our bitterness or anger.
suffering
Donne is best known as a great English poet, but he was also a cleric in the Church of England. In 1623, he suffered through a serious illness. So serious, in fact, that he believed he was on his deathbed. During this illness he wrote Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, a book that combines Donne’s brilliant writing with his devotion to Christ to illuminate the ways in which we can respond to suffering when we have deliberately given over the time in our days to the Holy Spirit.
John_Donne_by_Isaac_Oliver
John Donne had a love for and a knowledge of Scripture that is stunning. He interacted with Scripture throughout his book as the Word of God to him, asking a question, quoting a Scripture in return, then responding once again. It is not as though he left all fear behind – he was honest about his weaknesses and his doubts – yet the Holy Spirit clearly was strengthening him, giving him hope, holding out truth to sustain him.
When he wrote of pain and tragedy, he admitted that he was fearful, but emphasized the hope also contained within: …because Thy hand being upon me, Thou wilt never let me fall out of Thy hand.
He understood the hope in death that we have in Christ: When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. 
Donne also wrote of the way God uses suffering to shape us, to mold the dark and dull thing that we are into something extraordinary, something full of light: Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. 
beauty in pain
Peter Kreeft, in Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing says something similar: (It is) all for our good, the finished product, God’s work of art, the Kingdom of Heaven. There is nothing outside heaven except hell. Earth is not outside heaven; it is heaven’s workshop, heaven’s womb. 
heaven's womb
The point, after all, of the Spiritual Disciplines is to allow God to reveal Himself to us, to give us Himself, to change us into the likeness of His own Self. When we are faithful to practice the Disciplines, the Holy Spirit changes our own self in a way that allows God to fill us with His presence when we are experiencing pain and suffering.
This, God’s presence, is what we need when we are struck by a sudden storm, but it is not what we desire. What we desire is for the storm to vanish, leaving sunshine and rainbows in its wake.
our storms
When we are not abiding in Christ, we can be blindsided when the storm does not vanish after we have prayed.
When Christ’s words are not abiding in us, we can deceive ourselves into believing that we are safe and when the ugly occurs to us or those we love, we are surprised and angry. We strike back at God, even if we claimed not to have believed in Him before, putting Him on trial for the brokenness we see around us.
Job did the same.
When disaster struck, stripping him of material possessions, his children, even his health, he demanded answers from God.
If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what He would answer me and consider what He would say.
Job demanded explanation and God responded not by answering his demands but by giving him a guided tour of creation.
creation
creation
creation
creation
It seems unsatisfactory. Job wanted to know why his world is burning to ashes around him and God showed Job the wonders of the zoological world and the stunning beauties of the galaxies and told him, I did this! He showed Job the mysteries of our world and our universe and said to him, I did this!
When Job wanted, even demanded, an answer from God, God gave him something much more beautiful than a simple answer.
He gave Job the same answer that He gives to all who ask, to all who seek: Himself.
After God had revealed Himself to Job through all of His wonders, Job said,
My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.
His seeing, his knowing came only through great pain.
seeing pain
Is this the only way to know?  I truly believe that when we choose a holy kind of suffering, a suffering that Jesus also chose, a suffering through the Holy Disciplines, we can know God in a more beautiful and less scarring way.
The Holy Habits can also lead to a darkness of their own.
We are, after all, in a spiritual war, and God wants us, in the end, to love Him rather than only what comfort He brings to us.
Yet whether our suffering is chosen or unwelcomed, at just the right time, just when we think that we will never find a way out of the darkness and are ready to give up all hope of ever catching a glimpse of light or beauty again, God responds by disclosing not explanation, but the light of the world in a deeper way than we have ever seen before.
seeing God
This is what the Spiritual Disciplines do: they allow the Holy Spirit to change our very hearts so that God can use the ugliness of this world to open us up so that we can receive what is truly the deepest desire of our hearts.
God Himself.
Conclusion
There are things in life which are common to us all.
We all have pieces of our lives that are ordinary, common, and mundane.
We all have pieces of our lives that bring pain, suffering, and ugliness.
We all dream of home.
Whether we have experienced a true home or have only read about such things, we all dream of a place where we are loved unconditionally and are safe. We dream of a place of light and warmth, of comfort and contentment.
home
We dream, whether we know it or not, of finding our home in Jesus.
We must be taught how to abide in Christ. We cannot even do this much on our own. We must watch Jesus, imitate His life, do the things He did in order to learn how to abide in Him as He abides in the Father. What we call the Spiritual Disciplines are simply the spiritual activities that Jesus practiced while on this earth.
When we weave these same Habits into our days we are simply following Jesus. We are following Jesus as He lived out His everyday life and we are following Jesus as He went through the kind of suffering most of us will never know. We are following Jesus as He lived the life of all humanity.
It is this following after Jesus that opens us up to knowing God.
disciplines
These Holy Habits allow the space in our lives and our hearts for the Holy Spirit to transform us into the people God created us to be, the people who know God and dwell in Him and look just like Him.
Our world desperately needs “little Christs”, people who bear much fruit because they are abiding in Jesus.
Our world, the little piece of the world where we live, is full of people who are drowning in the loneliness of the ordinary.
Our world is full of people who are being crushed by the ugliness of pain.
Jesus is the light of home that shines out, drawing us into Himself.
abide in Jesus
He calls us who claim to follow Him to be the people who abide, the people who reflect His light to the bit of world in which He placed us.
Jesus calls us to make Him our home so that through us, others can come Home too.

Art credits: painting of John Donne by Isaac Oliver; storm, river, and mountain photos by Kirk Sewell; first home photo by Maria Langer from www.aneclecticmind.com; second home photo from www.oliverstravels.com; all other photos copyright Made Sacred 2017

Abiding in Great Storms

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

For the past several weeks in this space we have been talking about the vital importance of abiding in Jesus. If you would like to catch up, you can read the introduction here, the first part of abiding in daily life here, and the second part of abiding in daily life here. This week we will speak about how the practice of abiding in daily life gives us roots and a safe place when the storms come.
It is this daily abiding in Christ, largely through the Spiritual Disciplines, that keeps us safe in Him when storms come.
Storm Clouds
Jesus certainly promised that storms would come.
storms
When we have made Jesus our home through the mundane, yet sacred routines of daily life, we have His peace and His joy deep within us. We emerge safely on the other side, though perhaps a bit battered and wind-torn.
When we have neglected these Habits, however, when we have claimed busyness as a reason for leaving them behind, we are left out on the doorstep to bear the full brunt of the storm. We may eventually still emerge on the other side, but will carry many more wounds into the rest of our lives.
suffering
One thing that is certain in this world is that life is full of pain. Our world is broken, and time is broken, and we are broken, and the result of all the brokenness is pain. From loneliness to cancer, from dealing with tantrums to fleeing from hurricanes, we are all suffering.
pain
Jesus didn’t try to hide this from us. In this world you will have trouble. He didn’t pull a bait-and-switch to convince us that following Him would make our lives rosy. In fact, He talks a lot about carrying a cross around as we follow Him.
Some of this suffering is chosen. Fasting. Simplicity. Solitude. This kind of holy suffering is what we choose when we decide to practice the Spiritual Disciplines.
Some would go so far as to say that suffering is necessary to living a holy life. Jesus’ own words seem to bear this out: If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself…
cross
This chosen suffering is what creates the space for the Holy Spirit to transform and strengthen our interior world so that we are able to stand up under the pain of the exterior world in order to serve it.
An Abba (an older, spiritual mentor) from the 5th century A.D., St. Mark the Ascetic, put it this way:
He who does not choose to suffer for the sake of truth will be chastened more painfully by suffering he has not chosen. 
Whether our suffering is chosen or unwelcomed, the way we choose to respond to suffering matters.
Chosen suffering
Over and over, Scripture tells us that the choices we make in this life ripple forward into the next (Matthew 25.31-46, as an example). What we do with the ebbs and flows in our lives matter.
From interruptions to worries, from marriage to loss, every choice we make in response to our circumstances is changing us. Changing the very essence of ourselves into something different than what we are now.
C. S. Lewis said it best:
Taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.
Choosing to live these Holy Habits, activities like Scripture reading and prayer, solitude and worship, are how God the Holy Spirit transforms us into people of His Kingdom. People who, by obedience and love, are helping the Kingdom, God’s rule, to break through here and now.
Prayer
Scripture
Solitude
Paul speaks all through Philippians of living now as though we were already perfected. One habit leads to another which leads to another which suddenly leads to hope and love breaking through into our world. When we deliberately choose these Disciplines, we slowly become the sort of person who naturally and authentically follows after God.
It takes work, it takes choice by painful choice to build these habits, but the more work we put in, the more natural it becomes, and the easier it is to abide when the world is hurling its worst at us.
Next week, if you are gracious enough to join me, I will give some specific examples of people who abide through great storms in their lives.

Art credits: both storm photographs are by Kirk Sewell; photograph of Christ on the cross sculpture by asta kr; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

Abiding in our Daily Lives Part Two

If you missed my introduction to practicing the Spiritual Disciplines or part one of using the Spiritual Disciplines to help us abide with Christ in our everyday lives, you can click on the links to read or listen to those.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

One example of using the Holy Habits to remain mindful of God throughout our days, even in the most mindless of chores, comes from the writings of Brother Lawrence.
Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen
Many have found wisdom in the actions and words of the seventeenth century monk.  Brother Lawrence wasn’t the most important monk in the monastery; on the contrary, he was the dishwasher.
This dishwasher for an entire monastery certainly knew how commonplace and uninteresting such tasks could be, yet his thoughts and writings about living in the presence of God at all times, even while washing dishes, influenced many around him and have continued to influence Christ-followers to this day. 
For Brother Lawrence, standing at the kitchen sink was as sacred as kneeling at the altar.  Both were opportunities to commune with Christ in an uninterrupted fellowship, both brought him a flow of peace as ceaseless as a river.
The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great  tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament. ~ Practicing the Presence of God
In the same passage from the gospel of John in which Jesus speaks of abiding in Him, He reminds us that apart from Me you can do nothing. Whether you are able to find large spaces of time in which to practice these Habits regularly or whether you simply wrap your day in them through small ways, God the Holy Spirit uses this regular abiding in Him to increase our dependence on Him.
abide in Him
They force us to rely on God to provide for this day only.
God transforms us in the now, through the present moment, and this sacred routine keeps us rooted in this present moment when we mostly desire either to dwell in the past or fret about the future.
Thomas Moore spoke of the sacredness of this routine when he said that “the ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”  
daily life
daily routine
Frederick Buechner also spoke of ordinary life as a fathomless mystery.  He admonishes us to listen to the ordinary, everyday life and see it for what it truly is:
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
When we find our way to the holy and hidden heart of our daily routine, we find that Jesus truly is before all things, that Christianity is not compartmentalized and relegated to a few hours on Sunday.  Our Christian faith is a way of life.  It is a way of doing life, a way of living life in relationship to the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Caravaggio
God asks not for a few hours on Sunday.  He asks not even for a few moments each day.  He is Lord and He demands nothing less than all of us.  It seems arduous, yet He promises that His burden is light and so we find, after all, that our greatest joy and our deepest peace is found on those days during which we are most successful in inviting Him into every moment of our day.
We find, too, that His command to abide in Him is, in the end, a promise. A promise that one day we will be fully His, transformed to be fully like Him, and we cooperate with this transformation as we do the things that Jesus did, watching to see what His habits and practices were and imitating them.
abide in Christ
Christ is before all things, even toilets, and in Him all things hold together.  All things were created by Him and for Him. If all things are created, then all things are sacred and can be used by God to awaken us to His presence and to transform us into His likeness.

Art credit: Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

The Importance of Abiding

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Imagine you are driving down a dark, winding road, far from any city or town.
Van Gogh Dark Road
You have been driving all day and the sun set an hour ago. You are tired and stiff, there is a hollow feeling in your stomach, and a stale, recycled-air scent in your nostrils. As you make your last turn, you catch a faint glow ahead of you and suddenly the stiffness disappears, your shoulders straighten, and your foot presses just a bit more firmly on the accelerator.
Home.
As you pull up in front of the house, windows glowing with a light that makes the darkness flee, the front door flies open and people run out to greet you. Your people. Their arms grab you and hug you, they tug you towards the open door, the warmth and light draws you farther in, and the smell of your favorite meal is an almost tangible rope that pulls you the rest of the way.
Home.
abide
It is the place where you live, dwell, abide. The place in which you are safe and joyful and comforted. The place where you live your mundane kind of life as well as the place to which you cling when trouble comes.
Home.
dwell
Jesus says that we must abide in Him in order to bear fruit, in order to be transformed into His likeness. That word, abide, is such a rich word, containing the ideas of peace, comfort, fulfilled needs, constancy, and close relationships, to name just a few.
Home.
John tells us in his gospel that Jesus used the word abide repeatedly during His last night with His disciples. Jesus spoke of abiding in Him, of abiding in His love, of allowing His words to abide in us. If we do this work of abiding, Jesus promises, then the Father will be glorified and we will bear much fruit. Fruit that, among other things, allows us to love one another in the same way that Jesus loves us.
We are, in other words, to make Jesus our home.
Vermeer
We are to make Him the place where we live out our ordinary, everyday lives and the place where we dwell in times of great storms. We are to make Him the place we remain every moment of every day.
This happens largely through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. Weaving these Holy Habits into our lives awakens us to the presence and workings of God all around us. Jesus promised that He would never leave us , but we are creatures who lean into our physicality more than our spirituality, and so the Spiritual Disciplines help us to be more aware of the ways in which Jesus fulfills His promise.
The more we practice these Habits, the more we move ourselves into a place where the Holy Spirit can work to transform us to look like Jesus. 
Then we will truly be Home.
Home
I have been learning about the Spiritual Disciplines in a two-year course in Spiritual Formation that I have just begun. I will continue, in the next weeks, to write more about what I have learned so far. I pray that it will transform you as much as it has transformed me.

Art Credits: Country Road in Provence by Night by Van Gogh; first home photo from www.oliverstravels.com; second home photo by Maria Langer from www.aneclecticmind.com; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer; Welcome Home by Thomas Kinkade

Love Your Neighbor

Love.
Love God.
Love people.
“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
Could it really be that simple?  That to love God and love people is the greatest and most important of anything we can do? That if we focus on love, everything else will fall into place?
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Could it really be that easy?
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Simple? Yes.
Rembrandt The Three Crosses
Easy? Most emphatically no.
To truly love everyone around you: To think of others more highly than yourself. To put the needs of others ahead of your own. To always act in the best interest of those around you. To neglect nothing that would care for the needs of others.
Loving Friendship
To love hoping for nothing in return. To love even those who do not deserve it and never will do anything to deserve it.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Michelangelo's Pieta
To love, in short, as God loves us.
Love waits patiently while the person ahead of us in the checkout line drops all of the coupons on the floor and is kind to bend down and help pick them up.  It does not envy the possessions or well-behaved children of its neighbors or brag about the vacation it is about to take with its perfect family; it does not view itself as better than the church member without a college degree or speak rudely to the clerk or waiter trying to serve.  Love does not insist on going to its favorite restaurant; it does not snap at its spouse when something doesn’t get done quite right or harbor resentment when the neighbor’s cat digs up the roses and poops in the broccoli; it does not rejoice in the immorality on Downton Abbey, but rejoices in the C.S. Lewis book that speaks truth.  Love bears the inattention of a husband or friend, believes that a church member truly had the best intentions even though his actions spoke otherwise, hopes that God will bring a family member back to His way, endures all kinds of rudeness and selfishness.  Love never ends.
Simple, yet so very difficult.
How, then? How to love?
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world…We love because he first loved us.
Siemiradzki's Christ with Martha and Mary
Ah. To be able to love like God we must abide in God. Abide in God, allow Christ’s words to abide in us, as branches abide in the vine.
As He has done for us so we are to do for this world.
Cross
A heavy burden? Not if we are abiding. Not if we are surrounding ourselves with Him so that He can fill us up beyond measure with His love.
We love because He first loved us.
Abba, give me the desire for nothing more than to abide in You. Help me to burden myself with nothing else but to love You and to love those You place in my path.
Simple.

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; The Palsied Man Let Down through the Roof by James Tissot; Pieta by Michelangelo; Christ with Martha and Mary by Siemiradzki