A Knowing That Goes Beyond Words

I am a learner by nature. I am always curious and always want to know everything about everything.
knowledge
It drives my husband a little crazy. He often feels that I am giving him the third degree about his opinions, while I think I am only being curious about why he thinks the way he thinks.
We’ve both had to learn a lot during our 17 years of marriage.
My penchant for learning and research serves me well in many areas.
In some ways, it also serves me well in my walk with God.
In other ways, however, this piece of who I am has shown itself to hinder my knowing God.
knowing
There are different ways of knowing someone.
It is helpful in a relationship to know about a person, to know their character, to know what they have done and how they think.
You do have to know about someone to be able to know them.
Yet this alone is insufficient.
This is not truly knowing someone.
knowledge
God delights in being known by us. He wants us to seek for Him, to seek after knowledge of Him.
He also wants to make Himself known to us, and He often makes Himself known through other means than our logical mind.
… (at times) God no longer communicates himself through the senses. He does not make himself known through the analytical mind, which synthesizes and divides ideas. Instead, he begins to come through pure spirit, through simple contemplation, untainted by discursive thought. ~ St. John of the Cross in Dark Night of the Soul
St. Ignatius of Loyola, an early 16th century Spanish priest and theologian, wrote a series of prayers and meditations to help people seek after the will of God and devote themselves wholly to Him. As a part of the instructions, he writes that it is by contemplating the nature of God that a person will deepen his understanding of God and divine grace,
… for it is not an abundance of knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul but rather an interior understanding and savoring of things.
I hunger after that abundance of knowledge, but God is teaching me that this kind of knowledge is not enough.
Hungering after the knowledge of God is good and right, and it is insufficient on its own.
knowing
There must be a knowing that goes beyond facts, beyond words. There must be a deeper knowing that leads to falling in love.
Madeleine L’Engle puts it this way:
There is a kind of knowing that comes in silence and not in words — but first we must be still. ~ in Walking on Water
I have been learning this way of knowing, this knowing that comes out of being still before God, and I will testify that it is deeply satisfying.
Knowing about God leaves me thirsty for more.
Knowing God fills me to overflowing.
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.

Art credits: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith; all other photographs are my own, copyright Made Sacred 2021

This is what we are desperate for in this chaotic world_ an inner peace and joy that remains in us as we begin to look more like Jesus. This is what God promises us as we learn to abide in him. copy
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When You Feel as Though Nothing Is Happening

The book I recently published, Beyond the Front Door: Cultivating Rhythms of Abiding in Jesus, says a lot about being still before God, about the practice of silence and solitude.
stillness
One of the cautions I give in the book is to understand that you will not always feel something during your times of stillness. The work of God is slow and subtle, and an emotional experience of God is a rare gift. A welcome gift, to be sure, but rare.
St. John of the Cross
I recently read Dark Night of the Soul by 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. I wish I had read it earlier. There was so much in his writings that I wanted to add to my book! It is too late for that, but I want, nevertheless, to share with you some of what he is teaching me.
St. John writes much about the beginners on this spiritual journey of knowing God and becoming like Him, and one of the points he continues to come back to is that beginners strain toward feelings of pleasure. They become so attached to the idea of experiencing God through their senses that when no feelings come they believe they have failed.
St. John admonishes us:
Don’t they realize that the sensory benefits are the least of the gifts offered by the divine? God often withdraws sensual sweetness just so that they might turn the eyes of faith upon him.
He notes that anyone who searches for “sensory sweetness” ends up turning their face away from the bitterness of self-denial. Rather than seeking after feelings, we are to simply offer humble praise and reverence to God within ourselves.
silence
I am certainly guilty of feeling as though my time with God was a failure because I did not feel anything. Because nothing seemed to happen. Yet St. John calls this a “negative judgement against God.”
It is a lack of trust that God will accomplish His promised work inside of us regardless of whether we see Him working.
The idea that there is great benefit to God removing any sense of His presence is another idea St. John returns to again and again. When we feel satisfied, we tend to move toward practicing our own inclinations and weaknesses rather than leaning wholly on God. When we lose the feeling of God being with us, we wake up to our deepest desire for Him.
Without the turnings away, they would never learn to reach for him.
I hope this encourages you as it does me.
solitude
When we feel as though nothing is happening in our time with God, it is most likely that we are receiving even greater gifts than pure sensory benefit.
When we cannot sense the presence of God, let His seeming absence force us to trust more deeply in His promises and rouse us to reach out for Him.
He is, after all, always there.
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.

Art credit: John of the Cross by Francisco de Zurbarán; all other photos are mine, Made Sacred copyright 2021

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Beyond the Front Door

Useful or True?

I often work through ideas by writing about them. Writing helps me to process what I am learning, consider what I am thinking, understand what I believe.
Sometimes this process shows up in my blog posts. I use my crafting of an essay as a way to work through what I think about an issue. This is one of those times.
I have been thinking through the idea that the way we speak of the world impacts the way we treat it.
Useful
I have heard a lot of language recently, in a number of arenas, that is very machine-like, very utilitarian.
Language of consuming and using, language that speaks of things in terms of how useful they are and how well they serve our needs.
I have heard this language used in regards to the natural world, to communities …
I have even heard it in reference to Christianity.
Useful
The hosts on a recent podcast were discussing the possibility of another Christian Reformation, and the main question they posed was whether Christianity is useful in our modern world. They discussed which elements of Christianity were outdated and which were still useful to us.
Now I do not deny that the Church in every age has blind spots, areas where we get it wrong. Perhaps a Reformation is needed.
But simply by using this mechanical language of what is working and what is useful, we miss the core of Christianity.
Christianity is not useful.
Christianity is true.
The kind of language we need is the language of reality, of being, of what is true, of joining in with what is already happening.
True
We need the language of creation.
When we speak of everything, from the natural world to the people around us to our faith, as being there to be useful to us, we have lost sight of the created nature of things. We are blinded to the truth of the world as Creation rather than material for man to act upon.
When we view everything around us as finding its purpose in satisfying our needs, we have lost something essential in ourselves and in our world and we become impoverished.
The remedy?
Worship.
Divine worship reminds us that we are created beings living among other created beings in the middle of a created world.
True
Worship creates an atmosphere of true wealth even in the middle of the direst material want because the living heart of worship is sacrifice,
a voluntary offering freely given. It … is in fact absolutely antithetic to utility. Thus, the act of worship creates a store of real wealth which cannot be consumed by the workaday world. It sets up an area where calculation is thrown to the winds …, where usefulness is forgotten and generosity reigns. ~ Josef Pieper (German theologian in the early to mid-20th century) in Leisure: The Basis of Culture
When we view everything around us in terms of use, when we falsely believe ourselves to be the master and owner of creation, we create an atmosphere of grasping for what will satisfy our needs, an atmosphere where we can never be content, an atmosphere of poverty regardless of our material condition.
If our world is a Creation, however, our true wealth consists in “seeing what is and the the whole of what is, in seeing things not as useful or useless, serviceable or not, but simple as being.” ~ Pieper
True
Language matters. I plan to spend time thinking this through more deeply, and as I do so I will attempt to use more words of joining, of generosity, of creation and what is rather than words of usefulness and ownership. Perhaps you will join me in paying more attention to the words we choose?
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.

Art Credit: Cogs photo by Marin Walls; Circuit Board photo by Nicolas Raymond; all other photos are my own, copyright 2021 Made Sacred

AbidingInChristCover

A Dark Good Friday

Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
Good Friday feels extra heavy this year.
Lent feels indistinct from the rest of this past year.
I don’t have a lot to say about this, but I wanted to tell you that I’ve been thinking about feet.
Jesus washing feet, of course, as we just passed Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper.
More specifically, though, I’ve been thinking about Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus.
Six days before Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, Mary pours out her most precious possession onto Jesus’s feet.
Fragrance fills the air, tears wash away the dirt, and her hair dries it all.
The next time Mary sees those same feet, they are covered in blood and nailed to the cross.
I’m thinking about pouring out all that I have and Jesus’s life being poured out for me.
I’m thinking about feet.
What are you meditating on in this season?

Experiencing God Part Two

Experiencing God
Last week I wrote that it is only in recent years that I have begun to experience God, to recognize His Presence around me and His voice within me.
I wrote of becoming aware of Him by degrees, by spending time listening to Him and simply being with Him.
I wrote of God showing Himself to me in soft and small ways rather than through some miraculous, mountain-top experience.
Experiencing God
This awareness of God can be, as A. W. Tozer wrote, “increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect.” It is not some God-experience achievement level that we unlock and then possess for all time. It is, rather, a relationship that can, like our earthly relationships, be cultivated and deepened or neglected and allowed to move back into the shallows.
Along with neglect and hurry, the sure way I have found to have God’s Presence hidden from me is to become unwilling to surrender to His Spirit.
Experiencing God
Sometimes this looks like some sin I am unwilling to let go of.
Sometimes this looks like a circumstance I desperately want to change and thus am unwilling to surrender to God.
Either way, my Self starts to become more important to me than God.
Tozer calls Self the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us.
The only way to remove this veil and regain my awareness of the Presence of God is to crucify it.
Experiencing God
Daily.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgement. We must prepare ourselves for an ordeal of suffering in some measure like that through which our Saviour passed … ~ Tozer
This is a hard truth. Crucifixion hurts. It desperately hurts.
It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free. ~ Tozer
Yet I have learned that there is nothing my Self can give me that can compare in any way to God Himself. How could it?
I forget, though. I start thinking about the pain and I dig my heels in and refuse to surrender.
When I do this, I lose God.
I don’t mean that He leaves me. He promised He never would.
But I lose the awareness of His Presence. I lose His voice. I lose the gift of experiencing God.
Experiencing God
Just as it takes being faithful to spend regular times of quiet with Him and His Word to cultivate my relationship with God and thus my receptivity to Him, it takes surrender to Him and to anything He chooses for me (whether through giving it to me or through not taking it away) to remove that veil of Self between us.
Let me be clear: God is the one who does the work of tearing away the veil. Our part is only to surrender and trust.
Experiencing God
This is important to understand, for we are forgetful and like to wrest away control for ourself. Our work is only to surrender to the Holy Spirit, whether that be in how we spend our time and cultivate our rhythms or in giving up what we want in a given circumstance or sinful way. The Spirit’s work is to show us the Father and the Son.
If we co-operate with Him in loving obedience God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face. ~ Tozer
Once again, if you hunger to know more about this, I have written about it more deeply in my book, Beyond the Front Door: Cultivating Rhythms of Abiding in Jesus. You can click here to find it on Amazon.
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Art credits: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer; all other photographs are my own — copyright Made Sacred 2021

Experiencing God

I have been a Jesus follower my entire life, yet it is only in recent years that I have begun to experience God.
Experiencing God
I should qualify that last assertion. It is only in recent years that I have begun to recognize my experience of God.
God is here and interacting with me even when I am wholly unaware of it. He is evident only when I am awake to His Presence.
I still have never had An Experience of God. Never a burning bush, a voice from the sky, a parting of the waters.
Thus far in my life, God has revealed Himself to me through the quiet, the small, the subtle. I have to pay attention.
In all my years of showing up to church, studying Scripture to gain understanding, and praying at God with all my words, I never learned how to slow down and look for God Himself.
Experiencing God
This kind of awareness of God’s presence comes slowly, by degrees. As A. W. Tozer writes:
It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray, for a more perfect consciousness of the divine Presence … He is nearer than our own soul …
This was certainly my own experience. It took an entire year of learning to be still and quiet before God in prayer, of learning to read Scripture in a deep and listening kind of way before I recognized God’s voice.
I pray I will never forget the first time I understood what it was I had been hearing my entire life.
Awareness of God, being awake to His Presence, comes in degrees. As I surrender to Him, being faithful to spend regular times of quiet with Him and His Word, I am more and more receptive to His Presence with and in and around me.
In the same way, when I allow my life to become too busy, neglecting my rhythms of being with God, it becomes more and more difficult to hear God and recognize His Presence.
Receptivity (to God’s Presence) … can be present in degrees … It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible force which comes upon us as a seizure from above. It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any other gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given. ~ Tozer
This is, after all, a relationship we are after, not a magic formula to the good life, and relationships take time to develop. Time spent together, talking, yes, but listening as well. Time simply being together.
I am learning that it is worth it. Every moment spent with God leads to more awareness of Him throughout the day, which leads to more time spent truly with Him, which leads to … simply more of Him.
Experiencing God
Which is what our hearts desire more than anything else.
This is what fills us up and satisfies us in the middle of this world that promises to fulfill us but ends up draining us instead.
Next week I’ll write about the other issue that keeps me from experiencing God. I hope you will join me.
In the meantime, if your heart thirsts to know more about this, I have written about it in even more depth in my book, Beyond the Front Door: Cultivating Rhythms of Abiding in Jesus. You can click here to find it on Amazon.
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.

Art credits: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer; Pathway of Life by Thomas De Witt Talmage; The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zünd

Jesus calls us to make him our home so that through us, others can come Home, too.

Beyond the Front Door: Cultivating Rhythms of Abiding in Jesus

A Great Lie of our Culture

One of the great lies of our time and place is the idea that there exists a separation between sacred and secular, that faith should be private, that what happens in religion has no bearing on the “real world.”
sacred
also sacred
We have decided it is acceptable for people to have faith as long as they keep it to themselves.
There’s no need, after all, to go crazy and foist your beliefs upon everyone else.
The very truth, however, that the physical body of man is now the temple of the Holy Spirit reveals this for the lie it is.
The whole man is now made the temple of God, and his whole life is from now on a liturgy. ~ Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World
It is through us that the temple of God is in the world.
sacred
sacred
Spiritual and material are not in opposition, but
each ounce of matter belongs to God and is to find in God its fulfillment. Each instant of time is God’s time and is to fulfill itself as God’s eternity. Nothing is ‘neutral.’
God reveals himself through the material and in Christ it all holds together.
When we assume there is no connection between the material world and the spiritual world, we live in agreement with our culture. We deem, as Schmemann writes, the world to be profane in the deepest sense of the word — incapable of any real communication with the divine or of any transformation.
sacred
sacred
Yet the material world is precisely the opposite of profane. It is sacred in the deepest sense of the word. The world was created as “the material for one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.”
The sacraments (such as the eucharist/communion, baptism) do not transform something “profane,” that is, religiously void or neutral, into something “sacred.” Rather the sacraments reveal the true nature or destiny of some material item such as bread or wine or water.
The sacraments restore the material world to its proper function, revealing it as true, full, adequate. The sacraments cause all matter to “become again a means of communion with and knowledge of God.”
sacred
sacred
This is what the world was created to be, and this is why the idea of a separation between sacred and secular is so monstrous a lie.
When we build a wall around our faith, denying it any relevance to the world outside our churches, what is denied is quite simply “the continuity between ‘religion’ and ‘life,’ the very function of worship as the power of transformation, judgement, and change.”
We deny the world its ability to be a means of communion with and knowledge of God.
We deny God the power to transform the world through his people.
In truth, we deny ourselves our roles as rulers and priests, the twin roles we were given from the very beginning.
We as Jesus-followers, we the Church, must begin to think differently, to speak differently of our faith and the world.
We must stop walling up our faith and instead allow it to permeate every ounce and instant of our lives and, through us, of the world all around.
sacred
sacred
If we do, both we and our world will find in God our fulfillment.
Our worship will again become the power of transformation, causing our world to again become a means of communion with and knowledge of God.
It begins with us, God’s rulers and priests in this world.
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.

Art credits: photographs of the cathedral, light through the tree limbs, and tulips are by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are my own, copyright Made Sacred 2021

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Marked with the Cross of Christ

 

I was able to attend an Ash Wednesday service this year.
Ash Wednesday
It looked much different than usual.
Registration required. Temperatures taken at the door. Masks on throughout the service.
Even the imposition of the ashes was different: the pastors used Q-tips instead of their finger.
But I was able to attend an Ash Wednesday service this year.
I didn’t know if that would happen.
So I choose to be grateful for what is rather than grumble about what is not.
When I went forward to receive the ashes from the burning of the Palm Sunday palm branches upon my forehead, the pastor looked me in the eyes and told me, You are marked with the cross of Christ …
the cross of Christ
Marked with the cross of Christ.
It overwhelms me every year.
Because, God help me, I forget.
I forget that I am marked with the cross of Christ, forget that the cross should be the center of everything, forget that my whole life should be cruciform.
Every year I am reminded, and every year I forget again.
The whole of my life should be a sacrifice, a laying down of myself, a turning away from the world and a turning towards what Matt Papa calls the blazing center.
My heart is fickle and forgetful and I desperately need this Lenten season every year to turn my heart back toward the One to whom it belongs.
marked with the cross of Christ
I am grateful for a Father who knows what we need, who graciously centers our lives around communal rhythms that continually remind us of who we are and whose we are.
If you, also, need the reminder:
You are marked with the cross of Christ.

What Is God Calling You Toward This Lent?

Lent began this week.
Lent
Lent, for any who are not so familiar with this time in the Church calendar, is a time to practice self-denial for the purpose of becoming more unified with Jesus.
Lent is a 40 day period in which we set aside time to gaze at the crucified Christ in order to awaken a sense of our sin, a sense of guilt and sorrow over our sin.
Lent
Why? In order to feel shame and a sense of not-enough?
Not at all.
Rather the purpose is to awaken a gratitude for the forgiveness of our sin and what that cost.
Again, why? In order to feel warm feelings of thankfulness and look-what-was-done-for-me?
This is also not the end towards which we are heading.
Rather the final purpose is to awaken and motivate the works of love and justice that are done in gratitude for the forgiveness of our sin, done to the glory of God.
Lent
Glorifying God is the end.
Before we can get to the glory, however, before we can get to the gratitude or the sorrow or the guilt or even the sense of our sin at all, we must begin with time.
Time.
Time spent gazing at Jesus.
Time spent gazing at Jesus’ life and, more specifically during this season of Lent, at his cross.
Before anything else at all can happen in our life-with-God, we must begin with a sacrifice of time.
Lent is, as I said in the beginning, a season of giving up. A season in which we practice the habit of denying ourselves in order to become more like Jesus.
I want to offer you a challenge this year. A challenge that I will be attempting right along with you.
Give up something for 40 days.
Not a purposeless sort of giving up, but a giving up for the purpose of gaining more of God.
Speak with the Holy Spirit about this before deciding. Sit for a time in silence before God and listen to what he might want to say about this.
Lent
What does this look like?
Perhaps it is giving up something in order to spend more time with God. Such as a show. Or a few minutes of sleep in order to be still before God.
Perhaps it is giving up something in order to become more aware of God’s presence. Such as fasting from food periodically or for a time. Or a podcast in order to have some silence in your day.
Perhaps you have been living in a particularly indulgent way lately and simply need to exercise your spiritual muscles of self-denial. Such as giving up one of those indulgences.
Traditionally, Sundays are feast days even during Lent. They are kind of a mini-Easter. Practically speaking, this means that whatever you are giving up, you gain it back on Sundays. Celebrate that and give thanks for the good things God has given us.
Will you join me?
Lent
Find a way, some way, any way, to spend time gazing at Jesus during these 40 days of Lent.
If you, like me, have been distracted lately, giving God only a part of your heart, join me in doing whatever it takes to return to him with your whole heart.
Listen to the promise he gives us through the prophet Joel:
Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
Use these 40 days of Lent wisely, using the rhythm of this season to return wholeheartedly back to the Lord your God.
He is waiting.
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.

all photographs are copyright 2021 Made Sacred

Waiting with Eyes Wide Open

We all go through times of waiting.
Waiting
Hoping
Perhaps all of our lives are spent waiting.
Patient
My waiting usually looks impatient and discontent.
My waiting usually is spent trying to arrive.
If all of our lives are supposed to be made sacred, how can this waiting become sacred? How can this waiting become beautiful?
If all of our lives are meant for God’s glory, how can we lean into this waiting instead of resisting and pulling back?
Lean in
Expectancy
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch theologian, writes about waiting as an active kind of waiting.
He speaks of those at the beginning of the Gospels (Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, Anna) as waiting with a sense of promise. A promise that allows them to wait. Nouwen says that the secret of waiting is the faith that something has already begun.
Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. ~ Waiting for God
It is a waiting that knows the waited-for thing has already begun.
Like planting a seed and waiting for it to emerge. Like seeing the plus sign on the pregnancy test and waiting to hold the baby in your arms.
It is a knowing that there are beautiful things happening in the darkness. It is a knowing that even though you cannot see, it is growing.
Growing
Becoming
It is a giving up of control because none of us quite know what we are waiting for when God is involved.
Rather than waiting for a job or a baby or a spouse, we are waiting for whatever God chooses to give. We hold our expectations and dreams lightly, with cupped open hands, knowing that whatever comes is ultimately the best thing of all.
It is a giving up of control but it is a gift of surprise and adventure, of something even better than what you had imagined.
Eyes wide open
It is a waiting with eyes open and breath held in expectation. Expectation of beauty and excitement.
Sacred waiting
This is a waiting I can lean in to. A beautiful, sacred waiting that glorifies God.
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.

Art credit: Final photograph of crab apple blossoms by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2021

edited from the archives, as I work on the release of my book, Beyond the Front Door, this week!