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

BTFD Instagram Post Updated

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 Season of Right Doubt

Christmas is hard when your world is full of doubt.
jangle
When the world’s darkness seems to encircle the pinpricks of real light, your eyes squint tight against the harsh-colored glow;
your ears are cotton-shielded against the dissonant jangle of happiness and cheer.
dissonant
Christmas is jarring when your life is full of darkness.
Elizabeth Jennings, in her poem November Sonnet, writes “This is the season of right doubt/While that elected child waits to be born.”
The season of right doubt.
Do you know that there is such a thing?
season of right doubt
“Right doubt” is, in part, what this season of Advent is about.
There is a rightness about searching and uncertainty. Nature reflects God’s truth, and so this rightness is reflected in the seasonal increasing of the cold and the dark.
We do, after all, see darkly and in a mirror, so we should never feel too certain about every aspect of this mystery who is God.
We can know, of course, that God is Love, but what does Love look like? What does Love do? How does Love act?
a good uncertainty
It can be good to let go of all your certainty and surrender to what is unknown and unsure.
It can be good to let go of your need for knowing and controlling all the answers.
The darkness has been defeated but has not yet been banished.
Death does not get the final word, but it has not yet been muted.
It is good and right to feel the weight of Advent, the weight of not yet,
the weight of our waiting.
There is a doubt that is good and proper. A right doubt.
Yet never forget that the Christ child was born and because he was born, because God fulfilled his first promise, we can be certain that he will fulfill the rest of his promises.
The Light will come again.
Light
“Tall shadows step and strut/Facing the big wind daily coming on/Faster. This is the season of right doubt/While that elected child waits to be born.” ~ Elizabeth Jennings
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: Christmas photos by Kirk Sewell; Nativity by Charles Le Brun; all other photos copyright 2020 Made Sacred

Hope for this Hard Season

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.

 

Sometimes you live in a season of hard.
season of hard
season of gray
Weeks, or months, or sometimes years of walking through a gray kind of life.
Sometimes it is living through a crisis.
Cancer. Grief. Debt.
Sometimes it is simply day by day trudging through a wearying routine.
Loneliness. Parenting. Career.
hard life
You know that you cannot do this life on your own.
At least, that you cannot do it well on your own.
You pray for the Holy Spirit to help.
You plead for God to change your heart and produce fruit in your life.
You confess that you cannot do anything without Him.
Yet you do not become more gentle. You do not become more loving. You do not become more self-controlled.
hard events
You fast in appeal for a transformed heart.
You search the Word for guidance.
You beseech the Spirit for wisdom and discernment.
Yet you gain no understanding. You acquire no flashes of insight. You feel just as lost as before.
hard path
Sometimes you cry out to God in the middle of your season of hard.
Sometimes you cry out at God.
Sometimes you cry and shout in helpless anger.
I know that I cannot do this on my own, but I feel like I have to do it by myself. You promised to help me. You promised that Your Spirit would be in me, giving me the strength and power to do what I cannot do on my own. You are not keeping Your promises. I am trying so hard, and I cannot do it. I pray and I beg and I fast but You are still silent. This is not easy and Your burden is not light. I confess that I need You and You don’t seem to be with me.
hard moment
Sometimes, perhaps not very often, but sometimes God answers your cry.
Perhaps it is a phone call
or a card
or a text.
God brought you to mind and I prayed for you.
I specifically prayed for you in…
I feel prompted to share this verse with you.
God breathes hope
Sometimes God breathes a little hope in your direction.
Nothing changes.
Everything changes.
Perhaps not very often, yet perhaps it should be more often.
Perhaps we should all listen a little more carefully.
Perhaps we should all leave a little more space for promptings.
Sometimes God might want to breathe a little hope through us for someone else’s hard season.

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

The Mystery of Prayer

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.

 

So much of this kingdom-living life is mystifying.
We are given a magnificent vision of being made priests and kings. We are told to go out into the world and live in a way that brings God’s rule to earth and creation’s praise to heaven.
IMG_2786
IMG_0462
So much of the time we wander around, having no earthly idea what to do.
Yet here we are.
This is our mission whether or not we understand it completely.
This is our goal whether or not we can perceive the next step.
This is our purpose and we may not set it aside every time we fail to discern the way forward.
IMG_3421
Part of the answer to finding our way is in prayer.
Prayer itself is a mystery, however central to our lives as Christ followers. Perhaps it wouldn’t be prayer without also being a mystery.
Yet it is a mystery we can, in our own fumbling way, find the shape of. This mystery of prayer has the shape of heaven and earth joining together in Jesus and our sharing in that joining through the Spirit.
The very act of prayer says that we stand in the space between heaven and earth. Prayer says that, in some mysterious way, we are called to stand for God on earth and to stand for creation in heaven.
But again the very practice of prayer, before we even begin to think about the content, says in and of itself: we are people who live at the interface between God’s world and the life of this present world. We are people who belong in that uncomfortable borderland. We are called to stay at this post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe
Remaining at our post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on takes humility and patience. It takes faith and hope. It takes the living out of virtue, as I discussed recently.
Yet doing this, remaining at our post, continuing to pray even when you don’t understand how any of it works or what on earth you are supposed to say, trains our hearts.
IMG_7339
Even if we gain no clarity at all, our hearts are being trained in humility and patience, in faith and hope.
Prayer changes us. It is a piece of what transforms us into the people God created us to be.
Prayer is one of the disciplines which, when practiced regularly both in public and in private, builds our character, habit by habit and virtue by virtue, into the royal priesthood through which God will restore the world.
But it means that we come to prayer knowing that we’re to reinforce the heart habits that make us, by second nature, who we are. And we rise from prayer with the heart formed that bit more securely in its settled second nature of trust and obedience. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe

 

links to N.T. Wright’s book, After You Believe, are Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

Emmanuel on the Cross

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.

 

The beauty of Lent is the demonstration of God’s presence in all circumstances.
Lent
The beauty of the cross is the proof that God is with us.
cross
Wherever you are, whatever your cross is today, God is with you.
Emmanuel. God with us.
From Advent to Lent, God stepped into His world and submitted to the same rules we must follow.
Whatever the reason we all suffer, whatever the purpose, we cannot say that God did not play fair by asking us to be subject to something He was not willing to experience.
broken
Are you broken? Jesus is broken with you.
Are you lonely? Jesus was despised and rejected by men.
Are you betrayed by your closest loved ones? Jesus, too, was betrayed by those He loved.
Does grief seem your closest and most constant companion? Jesus grieved and wept over those who would not accept Him.
In the words of Corrie ten Boom from the hell of a Nazi concentration camp: No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.
deeper
When it feels as though life is beating you into the ground, when the weight of your burden does not allow you to rise from your bed in the morning, when you cannot carry your cross for one more step, you can know that He is here with you, carrying your cross with you, taking your burden on Himself.
Every tear we shed becomes His tear. He may not yet wipe them away, but He makes them His. Would we rather have our own dry eyes, or His tear-filled ones?
He came to us. He is here with us. We can be certain of Emmanuel in all circumstances.
If He does not heal all our broken bones and loves and lives now, He comes into them and is broken, like bread, and we are nourished.
Emmanuel
Be nourished by the bread of life and know that He is with you.
Peace to you.

Final two quotes and many of the thoughts in this post are by Peter Kreeft in Bread and Wine

All photographs are copyrighted by Made Sacred, 2017.

Finding the And

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.

 

What is this proclivity of ours to divide ourselves? What is this propensity to force a choice, to say it must be either-or rather than and?
Reading Others
The more I read and listen to church leaders in other countries, in other faith traditions, in other times, the more I see our especially American tendency to eschew the middle of a continuum for the outer reaches.
We do this in religion and we do this in politics. Fundamentalism vs Liberalism. Republican vs Democrat. Often we confuse the whole thing completely and mix both religion and politics all up together in an inseparable soup of extremes.
Why can’t it be and?
Why can’t some of what fundamentalists teach and some of what liberals teach both be true? Is there truly no middle ground, no and?
N. T. Wright
N.T. Wright, a bishop in the Church of England and a respected theologian/historian who specializes in studying and writing about Jesus and 1st century Judaism and Christianity, spoke at a conference in America of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Eucharist
Wright described how the Roman Catholic church made the Lord’s Supper more and more mystical and ritual, almost turning it into something magical that had to be done with just exactly the proper rites in order for the bread and wine to become body and blood, and how the Protestant church reacted so strongly against this that they turned the Lord’s Supper into merely a symbol, a sign of something that happened a long time ago and nothing more.
communion_sepia
communion_baptist
Wright suggested that perhaps it is both. Perhaps instead of either the Catholic view or the Protestant view, it is and.
The Lord’s Supper, as Jesus gave it to the disciples and instructed them to continue to practice it, was simple. There was no formula that had to be done in order to make it work correctly. Yet it also was  more than a symbol.
3544_-_milano_s-_carlo_al_c-so_-_s-_carlo_comunica_s-_luigi_gonzaga_-_arazzo_-_foto_giovanni_dallorto_22-jun-2007
In some mysterious way, when we take the bread and the wine, we are taking into ourselves the body and blood of the risen Jesus. We are taking into ourselves the presence of the living Lord which then gives us the power and strength we need to go out into our community and meet the needs of those around us.
This view harmonizes with the other things that Jesus did and said, such as his imagery of the vine and the branches, saying that we must abide in Him and He must abide in us, otherwise we can do nothing (John 15).
Of course, God can find other ways of giving us the power we need to bring His kingdom here on earth, but this is the primary, continuous way that Jesus gave us.
the_last_supper_-_so-called_hours_of_philip_the_fair_c-1495_f-96v_-_bl_add_ms_17280
If we open our hearts and minds, there are so many more and‘s to be found. There are many more ways in which the theology insisted upon by fundamentalism and the social justice insisted upon by liberalism are essential to each other rather than pressed up hard against one another.
If we find them, perhaps we can move one more step closer to the unity that Jesus prayed for us to have.
If we can only seek out the and.

 

Art credits: Eucharist relief; Catholic EucharistProtestant Eucharist; Eucharist tapestry; Eucharist in Prayer Book

An Unexpected Pause

cropped-Logo-Final.jpg

Made Sacred must go on hiatus.

I hope you will wait for me.

I understand if you will not.

Winner!

PresenceofGod
The winner of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence is Andy Dunham! Congratulations!
Thank you all for sharing and subscribing. Look for the next giveaway on Friday (which you can still enter even if you’ve already subscribed and followed), when I also share some of my purpose behind writing this book.
A hint about the next giveaway…something to adorn your home…
Peace,
Elizabeth

Seeking God’s Will

I have to give my two year old a lot of specific instructions throughout her day.
Two year old
I have to tell her which arm to put in which arm hole, how to get a blanket pulled over her legs, where each toy should go when cleaning up.
Needs lots of help
And she’s two, so I’m okay with this.
My seven year old, however, I expect to have a general idea of what I want from her.

Seven year old

More independent
I would feel disappointed if I had to give her as many minute directions as I do her younger sister. As my eldest matures and as our own relationship grows, one of my hopes is for her to know me well enough to know what I want from her without me having to detail it out.
Age gap
Help each other
I have spent much of my life wanting to know God’s will for me.
Seeking God's will
I wanted to know what college to attend, which career I should pursue, whom I should date, whom I should marry. Much of my relationship with God was consumed with begging Him to tell me what He wanted me to do.
I told myself that I was seeking God’s will in order to please Him and bring Him glory, but in truth I wanted to know His will in order to protect myself. I wanted to be sure that I would be successful, that I wouldn’t make any mistakes that would cause me lasting pain.
I am learning.
I am learning that God’s relationship with me is much like my relationships with my daughters. The more I know God, the more our relationship grows and the less He has to direct my every move.
Only asking God to tell me about His will does not constitute a growing relationship. That amounts to not much more than a dictatorship.
When I am with my husband, I don’t want either of us to order the other about. I want us to understand each other deeply so that orders are not necessary.
And so it is in our union with God, a person both loving and beloved. He does not delight in having to always explain what His will is; He enjoys it when we understand and act upon His will. Our highest calling and opportunity in life is to love Him with all our being. ~ Dallas Willard in Hearing God
In recent years, rather than seeking God’s will for my life, I’ve spent my time seeking God.
I seek to know Him, to understand Him, to love Him more. In that loving, I trust that He will let me know if there is something specific I need to hear. I trust His Spirit in me to guide me when either I am beginning to head in the wrong direction or there is a specific thing He wants me to do.
And He does. He fulfills that trust.
I have a long way to go. I have not yet grown to the point of having an easy, conversational relationship with God throughout every day. But I want that. Oh, how I long for that kind of relationship with the One I love.
Rather than praying “God, help me to know Your will so that I can do what you want me to do”, my new prayer is “God, help me to know You more so that I can love you more.”
Seeking God
That is a prayer I believe He delights in answering.
And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. I Chronicles 28.9