What if Sin is Not the Problem?

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I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is just the first post containing some of what I have learned. I hope you gain as much as I have.

 

The word sin gets tossed around a lot these days.

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Yelled at by Mommy

Either we don’t put enough emphasis on sin and everyone is heading straight to hell, or we put too much emphasis on sin and everyone needs to offer a lot more grace to everyone else.
What if sin is not really the problem?
Of course there is plenty of moral misconduct happening all around us, ample wrongdoing both surrounding and within us, but what if that is just a symptom rather than the disease itself?

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We were created to be a royal priesthood, to reflect the worship of creation to the Creator and to reflect the wise rule of the Creator into the world.
We were, in short, created to worship God.
“Human beings, worshiping their Creator, were thus the intended key to the proper flourishing of the world.”
Yet we have all failed in this mission, this vocation.
When we worship anything other than the one true God, the trouble is not simply that we do bad things, although this certainly is what also happens, but that we hand over to whatever created thing we are worshiping the power that was given to us.

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We have turned over our ruling power to the very things we were meant to rule. This is the underlying disobedience we have committed: a failure to worship the Creator.
When we worship God, when we gaze “with delight, gratitude, and love at the creator God”, we are formed by our worship into wise stewards through whom God’s beautiful love is sent into the world.
This is how it was meant to be.
The cross, rather than only dealing with our individual sin symptoms (which it certainly also does), deals with the prior disease of our failure to worship.
If we reduce the cross to the divine answer to our problem with doing wrong things, we will miss the deep heart of it all.
If sin is only the breaking of God’s rules and death is only the severe penalty dealt out by a just God, it appears that the cross is Jesus inserting Himself in between God’s wrath and us.

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If sin is, however, the turning away from God’s intended role for the human race, then it is a choice to worship creation rather than the Creator. And death, then, is the natural consequence of that choice.
“Choosing to worship the creature rather than the Creator is the choice of death over life…deep down there is nothing arbitrary about sin or death. Choose the one and you choose the other…Obey the serpent’s voice, and you will forfeit the right to the Tree of life. You can’t have it both ways.”
Death is not the punishment of an angry God, it is the natural consequence of turning over our God-given power to the created things. It is the natural consequence of Sin.
For mankind to flourish, for creation itself to be as it was created to be, sin (as the choice to worship creation) must be dealt with.
“The purpose of the cross is to take us back, from where we presently are, to that intended goal” of being a royal priesthood.
The redemption and the restoration of the world comes back to a restoration of man’s vocation of being a royal priesthood.
To the restoration of man’s vocation of worship.
It all comes back to worship.

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

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The Role of the Spirit Within the Trinity

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I have always been a little hazy about the Holy Spirit, a little unclear about His role in the Trinity.
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Don’t misunderstand; I’m certainly not claiming to have obtained clear and certain understanding of the role of the Father or the Son. I simply am more unsure about the Spirit.
I grew up in a faith tradition in which the Holy Spirit was only mentioned in soft tones while the Father and the Son were proclaimed from the pulpit. Literally.
Yet I hunger for more. If the Spirit is the One who changes me to look like Jesus, I want to know Him more.
I recently read a book for a class that imparted more illumination of the Spirit than I had received during most of my growing up years put together.
Horton Holy Spirit
The book is Rediscovering the Holy Spirit by Michael Horton. I highly recommend it to anyone who desires to know the Spirit more.
This particular post will not be very long; I only wanted to share with you one piece of the knowledge I have gained.
The Trinity works as a whole in every act throughout history (and outside of history), yet each has a different role.
We encounter the Father as the origin of creation, redemption, and consummation, the Son as the mediator, and the Spirit as the one who brings every work to completion. ~ Horton
Take creation, for example. The Father spoke and creation began. All things were created through the Son. The Father breathed His Spirit into creation to complete it.
Or take redemption. The Father sent His Son. We are redeemed through the blood of the Son on the cross. God’s redemptive work is made complete when His Spirit comes to dwell in us.
The oneness and the individuality of the Trinity are beautiful.
Ponder the mystery of it all
and worship our God in awe and wonder.

Holy Spirit Merazhofen_Pfarrkirche_Josephsaltar_Altarblatt_Pfingstwunder

Art credits: Dove of the Holy Spirit by Bernini; Pentecost by Fidelis Schabet

The Givenness of Creation

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Creation is given.Planet Earth
It is made, created ex nihilo (out of nothing), yes, but it is also given.
In all of its beauty, in all of its glory, in all of its uncertainty, in all of its pain,
it is given.
beauty
The givenness of this creation is important.
The air we breathe, the spaces through which we move, the thoughts and emotions in which we dwell,
all of it is a gift.
Even our bodies.
artistry
Many of us are adept at seeing the gift of a sunset or a mountain range.
We are not so accomplished at acknowledging the givenness of our bodies.
Our world tells us that if we are not strong enough, thin enough, white enough, then we are not  enough.
And we believe it.
loveliness
We throw this gift of God back into His lap and tell Him that it is not enough.
We take the variety, creativity, artistry of God and diminish it by believing that it is not enough.
creativity
You who were always told that you were too weak
You who were always told that you were too fat
You who were always told that you were too dark, too other
God created you with the same brilliance as He did the stars.
created
He longs for you to love and care for this body He gave you as much as He longs for you to love and care for the piece of earth on which He placed you.
He desires for you to appreciate the beauty of it as much as you appreciate the beauty of a forest.
gift
Your body is just as given.
More so, perhaps, because no one else was given your exceptional body.
Only you.
It is a gift from the same Artist who crafted the rivers.
given
When you find yourself listening to the world and feeling that you are not enough,
ask God to remind you of the givenness of your body.
It is a gift.

Art credits: Earth and super nova photographs from NASA; mountain and river photographs from Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

What I Know

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This week I’m dusting off an old essay I wrote after my brother’s wife, Kristina, died of breast cancer just after watching her firstborn celebrate his first birthday. I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, probably because a woman with whom I used to sing is fighting the same thing. She is a mother of several young children and is watching the cancer spread rapidly all through her body. What do we do with circumstances such as these? Well, I don’t know much, and often there is nothing that we can say, but my thoughts from seven years ago haven’t changed much. I haven’t posted this since 2013, so here you go. Peace.
Through this long struggle, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?
When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think?
What do I really believe about God in all of this?
The Word of Life
God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world.  We should not be surprised.
More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.
I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  Here is my conclusion.
Ocean Waves
I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness.  I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love.  I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.
God promises that we will have trouble in this world.  He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace.  He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.
Isn’t that a much bigger promise?
No matter what, God is still God.
Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like?  Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?
When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.
How can I think that I know better than God what is good?  How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?
Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it?  Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.
…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either.  He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do.  If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
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can trust God, trust in His nature.
Of course he’s not safe.  Who said anything about being safe?  But he’s good.  He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 Fiery Furnace
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.
God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole.
And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives.
Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.
And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
Bearing the Cross
I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah.  In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die.  God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life.  And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born.  This son that wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9
Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending.
Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best.  Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people.
Light Shines Through
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)

credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

A Prayer to the Light of the World

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My Lord, sometimes the words You speak seem cryptic.
You said that You are the light of the world.
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I don’t know what that means.
Does it mean that You show me the way to live or that You show me my sin?
Perhaps it means that You help me not to fall flat on my face as I stumble through life.
The king who fell flat on his face for a woman and yet still was Your king said that Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
O Word of God, show me the way I should walk and I will follow that path.
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Master, You said that whoever follows You will not walk in darkness.
This world is full of darkness. Sometimes it is hard to believe that You can keep all of it at bay.
Hard to believe, that is, with all of my heart.
The darkness feels so weighty. Perhaps if I could ever truly follow you I would find that all darkness had been banished to my peripheral vision.
O King, show me how to follow and I will not stray to the right or to the left.
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Giver, You said that whoever follows You will have the light of life.
I don’t know what that means.
If it is a gift from You, however, I know that I desperately desire to have it.
Your blessed brother said that through You the Father is able to keep me from stumbling and to present me blameless before the presence of God’s glory with great joy.
O Sacrifice, if this blessed assurance is what it means to follow You, my eyes will remain fixed.
O Light, if being the Light of the world means that I have a way to walk through life, that the darkness of this world is defeated, that I will make it safely to the end of all things in Your care,
follow the Light
I will step full into the Light and never again glance back into the shadows.
my Savior and my Lord.

A reflection on John 8.12

Art Credits: final photograph is by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

Less a Command than a Promise

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I keep coming back to the idea of trust these days.
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It is difficult to trust God in so many different areas sometimes.
We sing songs that speak things like take my life and let it be all for You and for Your glory. In a song I recently played at church, Grateful, there is a line that says, Whatever comes I won’t complain.
Do I really mean that?
Will I truly tell God that He can have my life for His glory? Am I able to tell God that He can give me cancer, take away my sight, or, as it says in Job, “stretch out (His) hand and strike (my) flesh and bones” if doing so will bring Him glory?
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Perhaps.
After all, this life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Of what importance is my body compared to my or anyone else’s soul?
strike my family
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What about my family?
They are just as much a part of my life as my physical body. Am I able to tell God that He can have my family, do to them what He wills, even take them away from me if doing so will bring Him glory?
This is much harder.
Could I say with Job, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised?
Frightening questions.
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Yet why should I be afraid? Isn’t this the same God of Whom was said, “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing”? Isn’t this the same God Who “did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”
Yet it IS frightening. It is so difficult to truly and deeply trust God.
Yet one thing that I am learning is that when God gives commands, He also gives power.
Teresa of Avila
Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Carmelite nun, writes of when the Lord appeared to His disciples after the resurrection and said to them, “Peace be with you.” and she writes,
It has occurred to me that this salutation of the Lord must mean much more than the words suggest, as must also His telling the glorious Magdalen to go in peace; for the words of the Lord are like acts wrought in us.
When God commands us to be Holy as He is holy, when He commands us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, when He commands us to trust in Him with all our heart,
it is less a command than a promise.
Frederick Buechner puts it this way:
The final secret, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise.  And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us.  He has been in the wilderness for us.
Because at its heart the gospel is about God moving toward us, doing for us what we are incapable of doing on our own.  
So trust God.
And when you can’t trust God, ask Him to carry you the rest of the way into the promise of that trust.
I think we will find that God has not only moved toward us but has lifted us up and carried us the rest of the way toward Himself, even in the middle of our fear and doubt.

Art Credits: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Henryk Siemiradzki; Santa Teresa de Jesus by Alonso del Arco; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

The Poison and Peace of Words

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Our words have power.
It was so from the beginning.
The Word
The Word spoke and it was done. The Word breathed and life was bestowed.
We are created and we have His image and like our Father, our words make things happen.
Just as His words go out and do not return empty, neither can we throw heedless words to the wind. Just as all He speaks has deliberation and purpose, so should we have careful thought bolstering what we say. So should we speak with wisdom, with peace.
The Word peace
Too often we talk, we rant, we fill up the air with our words. And our words are not of grace.
Poison
When we who pray the Lord’s Prayer also write ugly in online spaces, when we who sing of God’s love also snip at our family at home, when we who praise His servant-love also speak short and proud to those who serve us,
we pump poison into our world.
We forget that those on the receiving end of our arrows are just as beloved as we. When truth is forgotten, we who are called to reign and serve, to glorify and praise, we set the name of our King afire in the eyes of this world.
fire
Words exist for a different purpose.
God’s Word created man. He created man and then God’s Word became a man. He put on flesh and dwelt among us.
The Word flesh
The Word incarnate.
The Word came so that the incarnation can continue, so that our lives can become incarnate, the whole of life an incarnation of the Word.
The Word came to be wisdom and peace, and that is what we should speak into our world, with our mouths and with our lives, into this space we are given to influence.
The Word peace
So speak with wisdom and with peace rather than with poison and with fire.
the Word harvest
Our harvest of righteousness is waiting.

 

Art credits: Holy Night by Antonio da Correggio; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Jan Vermeer; all other photos copyright by Made Sacred 2017

 

Today’s guest post is by Elizabeth Giger who writes weekly on her blog, Made Sacred (madesacred.com).

Our Manner of Death

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Death
We all will experience it.
Does it matter?
Does it matter how we die?
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Death is something we all must think about, especially as physician assisted suicide becomes more and more accepted in our world.
If, as I argued last week, there is a created order to all things and therefore the way we think about and live out all things matters, then it matters how we think about death and dying.
If we do not, our culture will.
And we may not like our culture’s decisions.
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As life becomes more individualistic, so does death.
Most of us, when asked our preferred manner of dying, would say that we would rather slip away peacefully in our sleep without any warning.
For most of Christian history, the answer would have been different.
A common prayer was A subitanea morte, liber nos, Domine – From a sudden death, deliver us, O Lord.
Why? Christians understood that they existed in community. They understood that they were interwoven with the people around them and they wanted the chance to say their goodbyes, to make right any lingering feuds.
We seem to have become more frightened of death.
God in our death
There are two extremes in our culture, neither of which seem to fall within the confines of our Christian faith.
The first is to preserve life at all costs.
The quality of that life receives no consideration; doctors are asked to keep people alive regardless of the misery in which they may be existing.
It is a fear of death that keeps people clinging to a pale semblance of life.
The second is to end life prematurely.
It is autonomy run amok, autonomy that says I have the right to do whatever I wish with my life, including the right to end it, autonomy that rejects our creatureliness, our dependence on God.
It is a fear of a life that is “less than” that sends people seeking the oblivion of death.
trust in our death
We, as Christians, can accept death. We can recognize that God holds all times in His hands, that there is a time to live and a time to die, and when it is our time to die we are held close in those hands.
I have watched one I love recognize this and choose quality of his last days over the miserable clinging to a side-effect filled life that might have gained him a few months in the span of a full life well lived.
We, as Christians, can resist death. We can use the power of medicine to heal and see it as a gift of God for gaining more time to love those around us and to do His work, to bring His kingdom rule here on earth.
I have watched many I love fight for life while there was still hope and accept whatever was given to them by the hands of God.
death in God's hands
What we, as Christians, cannot do is to accept either extreme of avoiding death at all costs or aiming at death with all purpose.
Death
We must all consider it.
Does the manner of our death matter?
Culture is making its decisions.
Will we make ours?
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Thanks to Dr. Todd Daly for his research and thoughts on this topic.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

The Implications of a Created Order

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There is a created order.
order to nature
order to family
order to government
order to food
There is an outward created order. This is what scientists attempt to discover.
There is an inward created order. This is what poets attempt to discover.
The truth of this created order is what we Christ followers attempt to discover.
discovering the created order
If it is true that there is a created order to everything (and I do believe that this is indeed what Scripture indicates), then the way we think about everything matters.
Every aspect of the way we live matters.
There is no separation between God and work or family or government or health or…
anything.
If there is a created order then there are implications for all spheres of life.
order to home
order to agriculture
order to family
There is a way we were meant to consume food and material things.
There is a way we were meant to grow crops and tend animals.
There is a way we were meant to shepherd our imaginations and order our emotions.
If there is a created order then we should be seeking the truth of how we should follow that order in more areas than simply our churches and our private worship.
order to home
order to study
order to the earth
We should be seeking to know and have the mind of Christ, to see all things through Christ’s eyes.
Living a cruciform life involves all the nooks and crannies of our lives.
order to music
order to art
order to chores and service
order to nature
order to death
order to neighborhoods
order to government
order to food
This takes a great bending of our wills.
It is a bending that I, admittedly, am not ready to undertake in all of my crevices.
I think it is worth contemplating, however.
Perhaps the contemplation is the precursor to the work of bending my will so that I am able to live out this created order in all things.
This beautiful, created order.

The Tension in Desiring Solitude

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I am nearing the end of this first year of a two year long journey through my Spiritual Formation course of study.  It has already been a difficult and beautiful journey.
Aren’t most beautiful things in life also difficult?
Hard Beauty
In my most recent class I learned much about solitude and silence. I recently wrote a piece that shared a little of what I learned; I’d like to share a bit more today.
As a part of this class, I read a book by Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart. Perhaps you are already familiar with his writings, but this was my first Nouwen book. I am already hungry for more.
He placed great emphasis on what must be the origin of our words, which spoke deeply to my own writer’s heart. His stress on carrying our solitude, silence, and prayer out into the world around us spoke deeply to my mother’s heart.
I want very much to take what I learn through these classes and allow it to permeate my writing.
I want desperately to take what I learn through these classes and allow it to permeate my parenting. 
Let the Little Ones Thirst
Nouwen writes that our words must be birthed out of silence, in the same manner as God’s Word.
The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God, and it is to this Word out of silence that we want to be witnesses.
This is my prayer and my hope, that my words will be witness to the Word. I am learning that for my words to have meaning, for them to bear fruit, they must come from a place of solitude and silence.
Words out of Silence
My tendency, like many other writers, is toward verbosity. I love language, love how words work and play together, love to craft a sentence in just the right way. Often I err on the side of long-windedness.
Nouwen, again, writes directly about this tendency:
As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a guard of the Holy Spirit.
I am intrigued by the idea that too many words weaken our faith.
Perhaps convicted is a better word than intrigued.
I am convicted by the thought that when I am not certain of my own convictions regarding this huge, holy, and terrifying God of ours, I write more than I ought in an attempt to enshroud my doubts in eloquent language.
Words out of Solitude
I am convicted by the thought that when I am doubtful of the Holy Spirit’s ability to reach someone’s heart, I pour out my own words in an attempt, as ridiculous as it is, to be the Holy Spirit myself.
Nouwen speaks, it seems, directly to me:
Sometimes it seems that our many words are more an expression of our doubt than of our faith. It is as if we are not sure that God’s Spirit can touch the hearts of people: we have to help him out and, with many words, convince others of his power. But it is precisely this wordy unbelief that quenches the fire.
I am convicted by my own “wordy unbelief”.
Nouwen unequivocally writes that solitude and silence and prayer must result in a greater compassion towards those whom God has placed in our little piece of the world.
As a mother who stays home to school her children, this profoundly moves my heart. I understand that my children need my presence in their daily lives, and I desire that my children know God, that they thirst for Him. It is difficult sometimes to trust that leaving them for a period to spend wilderness time with God is in their best interest.
Parenting out of Solitude
Nouwen’s emphasis on the service aspect of wilderness time is helping my heart to agree with my mind:
Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry. The purification and transformation that take place in solitude manifest themselves in compassion.
Nouwen also writes of the way our world creates for us a false identity.
He says that we fall into the world’s version of best because we want to be perceived in a certain way by those around us. He teaches me that solitude (and silence and prayer) is the way in which I encounter a God who loves me enough to offer me a new self. It is this new self that has the capacity for having compassion on the broken people around me.
It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in brokenness with all of humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need.
It is in the wilderness that I become deeply aware of my solidarity with my children, with my husband, with my neighbors.
I am quite often a prideful and self-righteous person, and I desperately need this “solitude that molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own sinfulness and so fully aware of God’s even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry.”
I need to become more gentle; I need my very life to become ministry. Everyone around me needs this too.
I am far from understanding all of this, far from being able to put it all into practice. 
Yet I will continue reading as I struggle to understand the importance of wilderness time, as I search for what it looks like to spend long stretches of time alone with God.
I will continue to seek ways to put these ideas into practice, even with little ones running around my feet.
Will you continue to join me in this journey?