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Archive for September, 2015

Life Notes

Filling Space

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself… Philippians 2:5-7a

empty vesselLately, I have been contemplating space – not the space of the universe, but the space in my life – or, more accurately, the lack thereof. I consider myself a busy person, but my busyness is largely illusionary. When something comes along that I find desirable, I usually find time for it. Often, those desirable things are sporting events – Royal’s games, Jayhawk basketball, Chief’s football – hardly world-changing priorities. I fill the space in my life with all sorts of distractions – television, social media, and don’t get me started on the limitless and time-sucking distractions awaiting on my smart phone. In reality, I often find myself filling space by killing time, fully understanding that to be a form of murder – time past cannot be reclaimed any more than a homicide victim can be brought back to life.

In the Preface to his book Immortal Diamond, Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without discrimination or preference.” As I contemplate God filling the gaps of the universe, I realize that my obsession with filling the gaps in my life are preventing God from filling that space with grace. Why do I fear open space? Do I fear how God will fill that space if I do not keep myself occupied with lesser activities? Clearly, if God is to enter my life in any sort of meaningful way, there must be room for that entry.

Physicists tell us the universe, including the “solid” matter of the earth, is mostly space, within which is mass and energy. In 1905, Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity, expressed in the equation E = mc2, and defining the relationship between mass and energy. Mass, it has been said, is just energy that has been tightly compressed. In what may be a giant leap of simplistic reasoning, one could say that what we perceive as solid matter, such as our bodies, is compressed energy, with latent energy filling the spaces in between. Before I put anyone into a catatonic state of scientific indifference, let us substitute the word energy with the word spirit, as in the Spirit of God. What if our “solid” experience is just a condensed manifestation of the energy we call the Holy Spirit? Pervading the “space” between the solid objects in our world is Spirit, or in scientific terms, energy. This seems consistent with both science and theology, if only in my mind. Spirit/energy fills all the gaps with possibility and potential.

Rohr goes on to say, “Grace is not something God gives, grace is who God is.To experience that grace, we must allow ourselves the space for the Spirit to compress in us.

Come home to church this Sunday. Come empty; leave full.

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Life Notes

When God Answers

I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

A businessman, late for an important meeting, could not find a parking place. Finally, in desperation, he cried out to God: “If you’ll help me find a parking place, I will start going to church again.” Immediately, a car exited in front of him. While pulling into the now open space the man said, “Never mind. I found one!”

What is our response when God answers prayer? Honestly, I think most of us are reluctant to believe God answers prayer because it is safer to believe things happen randomly. Who am I that God would bless my life? We are more likely to note when God does not answer prayer – at least not in the way or the time we wished. Even the most optimistic of us find it easier to believe the unfortunate occurrences in life are more the “norm” than are the good things. It is as if we believe the good in life is an anomaly that will be paid for with bad – a self-fulfilling prophesy that seems to prove its own truth. In his book Immortal Diamond, Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “Humans find it easier to gather their energy around death, pain, and problems than around joy…It is joy that we hold lightly and victimhood that we grab onto.” Why would that be true? Why do I focus on the weeds in my flowerbeds instead of the brilliant colors shining out through the weeds?

flowers and weedsWhy am I surprised when good things happen to me? Why would I question whether the hand of God is at work in my life? As a father, it is expected that I care for my children in good ways – why would I expect less from God. If we are children of God, as the Bible says, why would we receive anything short of extraordinary blessings from God?

We cheat ourselves by not stopping to enjoy a beautiful sunset or by marveling at the dahlias peeking out through the crabgrass. We do others and ourselves a disservice by submitting to pessimism, under the guise of “realism,” expecting the worst. We are to be co-creators of beauty, not prognosticators of doom. Sometimes, we must force ourselves to find the blessings of every moment, believing they are there. Where we focus our attention is a choice. The writer of Ecclesiastes follows the verses above by saying, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live.” These are still solid words to guide our days, thousands of years after they were written. God has made everything suitable for its time. Looking for a blessing in life? Look closer – blessings are all around us, all of the time.

Come home to church this Sunday and be blessed.

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Fully Human

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Luke 1:35

For those of us with a religious or spiritual bent, there is no doubt we are an uneasy mix of earth and spirit. Our bodies are made from elements of the earth, and when we die, those elements remain with and return to the earth. Essentially everything that is visible to us is also of and belongs to the earth – our clothes, our cars, our homes, our money. One can say there is a clear distinction between what is of the earth and what is of the spirit because that which is of the earth is made from the earth and belongs to the earth. The common phrase about death, “You can’t take it with you,” applies only to the stuff of the earth. When Jesus tells us not to focus on treasures that “moth and rust” consume (Matthew 6:19), he is warning us not to become too attached to the stuff of the earth. Which is not to say our earthy incarnation is not without importance.

We all know people whose lives have a consuming focus on earthly matters – most of us fall into that category, at least occasionally. We become caught up in an obsession for a new car, a home, a pair of shoes, or a different job, and we grow inattentive to the spiritual matters around us. We spend less time in personal prayer and study, our relationships suffer, and we lose any sense of a stable, spiritual center.

man standingFor us to become fully human – to reach for the highest state we can attain – we must acknowledge that we are a physical and spiritual being. Not only must we acknowledge our dual nature, in my opinion, we must also celebrate and develop accordingly. Focusing too completely on our physical nature leads to perversions of our good and beautiful earth. We become gluttonous, greedy, and narcissistic. Focusing too completely on our spiritual nature, however, leads to detachment from our earthly incarnation. We risk becoming aloof, out of touch, and inaccessible. Either way, we are only developing part of our capacity.

Regardless of whether one accepts the factual nature of the Immaculate Conception (where Mary is impregnated by the Holy Spirit, resulting in the birth of Jesus), the symbolic message is instructive. The perfect mix of earth and spirit – Jesus – is the result of the impregnating of earth by spirit. It is when we grow our spiritual nature along with our physical nature – allowing the spirit to impregnate us – that we begin to become fully human. Prayer, study, reflection, fellowship, relationship-building, and humble service to others – these are food and exercise for the spirit.

Come home to church this Sunday. Awaken your full nature.

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Life Notes

Less Human

Terrors frighten them on every side, and chase them at their heels. Their strength is consumed by hunger, and calamity is ready for their stumbling. Surely such are the dwellings of the ungodly, such is the place of those who do not know God.  Job 18:11-12, 21

Maslow's Heirarchy of NeedsRecently, I heard a radio interview with a Syrian refugee. He had been displaced from his home and life by the intense violence and unrest there. In describing the desperate state of his homeland and fellow Syrians he said, “Nothing makes you less human than being hungry.” My life is so sheltered and blessed compared to the lives of so many that it is difficult to imagine being that ravenous. I recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which illustrates how we cannot strive for higher, more human traits when our most basic needs are left wanting. When a person has no sense of security – no food, roof over their head, or basic space of their own – they cannot worry about how their words or actions will impact others, and so they may act in ways less human. Fundamental needs must be met before other more human traits can manifest.

It is difficult for those of us in first world countries to imagine such a degree of desperation. Typically, when we say we are “starving” it means we have not eaten for several hours, not that we have not eaten in days, or that we have not eaten adequately – ever. When we say we need “space,” we do not mean we need protection from the elements or criminals as much as we need a break from the abundance of people and material goods around us. I recall the secured fortresses around most living spaces in Honduras and understand them to be the result of their desperate need for safety. It seemed to me, at first glance, there were many needs the money could be better spent meeting than on personal security, but basic needs always come first.

We all hunger for different things in our lives and some of our desires cause us to be less human to others. Obviously, not all of us hunger for things as basic as food and safety. Rampant gang violence, civil wars, and other acts of lethal violence seem to occur mostly in poor countries and in the poorest sections of first world countries. Perhaps the conditions that result in the widespread loss of innocent human lives continue because the basic needs of the perpetrators are not being met – and so they act in ways we consider less human. The finger of judgement I point at these wrongdoers, however, ultimately points back at me. What am I doing to assist with the basic needs of people less fortunate than I am? What am I doing to feed the hungry, care for the homeless, and protect the vulnerable? If I am honest with myself, I am doing far too little. The Job passage above implies these are the conditions of the “ungodly” or of “those who do not know God.” Perhaps we can best help them know God by finding ways to feed them.

Come home to church this Sunday. The body of Christ needs you.

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