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Posts Tagged ‘holiness’

Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 10: We are to Become Christ-Like

Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12

Author, teacher, and speaker Fr. Richard Rohr likes to remind us that Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Christ is a designation for one in whom spirit and body are perfectly integrated and manifested. Christ consciousness is a state of being that has existed as part of the Godhead since the beginning of creation. Jesus was 100% human and 100% God – a perfect expression of body and spirit, and he invited us to become the same. His oft-repeated mandate, “Follow me,” did not mean to go where he went, but to become who he became – to do what he did, to love as he loved, and to heal as he healed. How did I miss that?

I find ample evidence to justify that Jesus encouraged us to fully develop our spiritual natures, even as we develop our human nature. For example, beginning with John 17:20, “I ask not only on behalf of these (his disciples), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…” Those who have come to believe in Jesus through the words of his disciples, i.e., the Gospels, are invited to become one with God, Jesus, and with each other. That proclamation of oneness with God is what got Jesus crucified.

Whether by teaching or by imagination, I grew up assuming Jesus the Christ was a larger-than-life figure that I could never aspire to imitating. I, after all, am a lowly and unworthy sinner. It is evident to me now that Jesus believed differently. He not only loves us, but he envisions a divine destiny for and with every one of us. He clearly directed his disciples to continue his work, and we are the current day descendants of those disciples.

To imagine becoming one with Christ while still on earth is difficult to grasp. And yet, with God all things are possible. Clearly, we underestimate our capability and our possibilities. Science has shown that we only develop a fraction of our intellectual capacity. What portion of our spiritual capacity is ever realized? Likely, it is minuscule. What if we were to truly surrender what have become the driving forces in our lives – prestige, possessions, and power – and unwaveringly centered our lives on service to others, as Jesus did? What if we became such pure and empty vessels that Christ could work through us without resistance? Dare we believe we could heal illness with a word or a touch? Dare we believe we could lift the weight of sin from another’s shoulders? Dare we believe the limitless possibilities? I think Jesus urged us so to dare.

We are to become like Christ. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

Love Never Ends

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

The last of the specific characteristics of love, as described by Paul, is that love never ends. Love is eternal. It existed before we were born, and love will continue beyond our individual lives. This endless flow of love allows us to participate as individuals during our life on earth – or not – but the flow does not go or stop depending on our participation. Love endures, which is an expression of its flowing and eternal nature. Just because an object of our love moves on to another lover or to another stage of life does not mean that love has ended, only that one particular expression of love has taken another shape – painful as that can be.

As we explore Paul’s writings about love in the 13th Chapter of 1 Corinthians, it becomes increasingly clear that love permeates every aspect of our being. Love animates every part of creation. Because God is love, love is ever-present, everywhere, always and forever. Too often, we limit love to an emotional expression we feel and share with a limited subset of people. In reality, how we love any one person is how we love everyone. Love is a state of being with, not a transient state of feeling.

Least it seem I am making love out to be cold and impersonal, let me emphatically state that love is intensely personal. Love recognizes and celebrates our individual natures – but true, lasting love is a celebration in communion with others. It is not so much that we are not special and unique creations in and of ourselves, but so is everyone else! We are special and lovable in relation to and with others. Remember, love requires relationship; it is not a reward for individuality. When we do not feel the love around us, it does not mean we do not live surrounded by love. It only means we are not in a state of being to recognize or accept it. Sometimes our lives become so distracted by our busy-ness or by our self-centered distractedness that there is no room left for love to penetrate. We seek love in the wrong places, or our understanding of love is too limited to perceive it. Love is always expansive in nature, seeking to include more of others and of ourselves.

Love never ends, just as God never ends. Our individual lives will end, but our loving relationships continue to impact generations after us. I believe, at physical death, our soul enters this eternal flow of love that we only sense dimly from earth. It is a blessing to be participative co-creators in the river of love that is always and ever available to us.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Life Notes

Original Love

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:5b

The essence of Emmanuel is love, and love manifests in relationships. Through the birth of Jesus, God chose to be in relationship, physically, with the people of the time. Today, God chooses to be in relationship with us, spiritually. God reaches to us, but until we reach back and accept God’s invitation, there can be no relationship. At the point of our reciprocating, we come to know, recognize, and respond to God’s favor. Otherwise, God’s love is like a radio wave being transmitted, but not received. God speaks, but the message is not heard.

On this Christmas Eve, I wish to share a song of Love-come-to-earth. You can listen to it on my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. Go to the “Music” page, select “Songs of Christmas,” and click on “The Love That You Are.” Here are the lyrics:

The Love That You Are 

On this night, in the holy silence

Bright star light, pierce the deepest, darkest heart

With the Love that you are… 

Baby’s cry, from a lowly manger

Brand new life, come this night to save us all,

With the Love that you are… 

Holy Savior, Prince of Peace

Love incarnate, sin redeemed. 

Emmanuel, our Messiah

Here on earth to dwell, with a new life to impart,

From the Love that you are… 

Holy Savior, Prince of Peace

Love incarnate, sin redeemed. 

On this night, in the holy silence

Bright star light, pierce the deepest, darkest heart

With the Love that you are,

With the Love that you are.

This Christmas, may you fall into a relationship with Love: Emmanuel – God with us; God with you! That relationship is where true love originates.

Merry Christmas!

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An Allegorical Christmas, Part 3 

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

“Big things come in small packages,” we sometimes say. Regarding the Christmas season, we are often referring to jewelry, gift cards, and other items that may have great value belying their small size. The Christmas story tells of another small package – the birth of the Christ child. In Luke 2:10-11, the shepherds hear from an angel: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The story of the worship of a newborn — deemed as our Messiah before the child can even speak – is difficult for some to accept. Where does this part of the Christmas story leave those who doubt its historical validity? Fortunately, as with most of the Bible’s seminal teachings, there is a profound message in the story regardless of whether we accept it as fact. In the case of the boy King, there are at least two common misunderstandings: the deeper relevance of “a child” and the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

The deeper aspect of smallness has to do with being childlike. This does not mean being in a child’s body, but perceiving with the openness of a child’s mind. Young children have few preconceived notions about life and about others. A childlike brain is like a sponge that soaks up everything around it, free of judgment or prejudice. As we age, and certainly by the time we are teenagers, many of us have our minds made up about most things in very divisive ways – I like this, I do not like that; that person is my friend; that person is my enemy. As adults, some of us simply solidify our adolescent biases. We close our minds to other options and influences and call it wisdom or steadfastness. Truly, it is neither. There is nothing wise about a closed mind. One lesson of the boy King is that we need to redevelop the openness and curiosity of a childlike mind.

As we consider God coming to earth as a baby, we are encouraged to remember that small is not insignificant. Meek does not mean weak. Caring for others does not include being abused by them. The peaceful imagery of Isaiah – of the wolf living with the lamb, and the calf with the lion – must be perceived through the mind of a child to be believed. The story reads more like a Disney movie than an adult narrative. With our fixed vision, there is no hope for peace. We cannot imagine the possibilities because that type of imagination requires a child. “A little child shall lead them.” Yes, a little child shall lead us, but that little child is not insignificant, weak, or an easy target for abuse. That little child is a King, and we must become like little children to gain the wisdom to follow.

Come home to church this Sunday. Allegorical Christmas blessings!

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Life Notes

Old Prayers

There was a tree at the center of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth. Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, and it provided food for all. The animals of the field found shade under it, the birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed. Daniel 4:10-12 

An ancient chant begins: Silence my soul, these trees are prayers. I have had a life-long love affair with trees. I climbed them as a child, built tree-houses in their branches, swung from their limbs, and researched them in college. I have admired, planted, and cared for trees all my life. I love gazing through their branches and watching the sunlight dance from leaf to leaf. I love the sound of the breeze meandering through them. I am spellbound, walking through forests of trees. I am in awe of the stark contrast their dark, barren branches create against the cold blue of a winter sky, like cracks across a plate of glass. I love trees, but I have never considered them prayers.

And so, when I read the chant: Silence my soul, these trees are prayers, I was intrigued by the possibilities. First of all, I associate trees with silence. Certainly, many trees grow in noisy environments, but they rise above the noise and bustle of the lives they cover. They stand still, unnoticed, watchful, and mostly unaffected by the chaos below. Second, trees – particularly old trees – reach up to the heavens, weather storms (although most bare scars), and meticulously record and secure each year of their lives in the rings of their wood. They provide shade and shelter for all types of living creatures. We say of old homes, “If these walls could talk…” The same can be said of trees: “If these trees could talk…” If these trees could talk, we might hear an old prayer.

What would the prayer of a tree sound like? I suspect it would include the passionate promises of young lovers and the wordless grief of the widow. Such a prayer would stretch across years and generations, and so capture moments measured in decades, not minutes. The prayer of a tree would not be caught up in the now, but in the then and now. It would be a long, deliberate prayer, and it would resonate with a timeless beauty. To hear such a prayer would require listening with the heart and not with the ears…

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.

I asked the tree, ‘Tell me about God;’ and then it blossomed.

Come home to church this Sunday. You may hear a tree blossom.

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Life Notes

 

Beyond Words

Be still, and know that I am God!  Psalm 46:1a

Be StillI am a man of too many words. I think in words, I speak in words, and, too often, I experience life through the filter of words. I attempt to capture beauty in words and in doing so I invariably lose much of the wonder I try to describe. There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I experienced the sunset in this picture a couple of weeks ago at the Lake of the Ozarks. I would only detract from the splendor by trying to describe it. Even the picture does not capture the experience, however. A picture is a two-dimensional recreation of a single moment. A sunset occurs in four dimensions, the fourth being the 30 or so minutes it requires to manifest fully.

I enjoy using words to share the insights and wisdom I occasionally find. A part of me knows, however, that the more words I use, the farther I stray from the essence of what I attempt to share. Consider a finger pointing at the moon, where the moon is truth and the finger is its description. The purpose of the finger is to point, to lead others to experience the moon for themselves. Unfortunately, we too readily focus on the words – the finger – instead of the truth – the moon – to which they point. I fall into this trap regularly. I tell myself if I can only find the right combination of words, I will capture an experience for eternity. Certainly, the written word can be beautiful, inspiring, and artful. But words cannot capture the totality of a beautiful experience.

Words are symbols we create to represent something else. The word rock describes a part of creation. Adjectives can make it more precise: a small, smooth, round, brown rock. Even so, the rock and the description of the rock are not the same. We simply cannot capture reality in words. Reality is experiential, and words are just marks on paper. Like the sunset above, reality happens in space over a span of time. If we want a description of an experience, words are great. If we want the experience, however, we must be present. Words can lead us to believe we have experienced something we have only read about.

Saint Francis of Assisi, a 13th Century monk, wrote, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” In general, we talk too much, and our words can actually inhibit understanding. The Psalmist tells us to “Be still” if we wish to know God. We cannot find God in a dictionary. Neither does God live in books, including the Bible, even though that text is our primary resource for learning about God. We experience God by seeking and listening, not to the words of the voice in our head, but by responding to the pull on our heart. To find God, we must eventually move beyond words.

Come home to church this Sunday. Be still and know.

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Been There, Done That

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  John 17:1b-3

Today is Holy Thursday, the day the church remembers the Last Supper and the betrayal by Judas. Jesus and his disciples gather in a room for the Passover meal. Jesus washes their feet and gives them a new commandment – to love one another. Finally, he establishes a new covenant, one indemnified by his body and blood. Christians know the rest of the gruesome story – the sham trials, beatings, flogging, crown of thorns, carrying his cross, and the crucifixion. There are many lessons of importance here, including these two: (1) Jesus came so we could know God through him; and (2) Jesus suffered so we would know that God understands our pain.

A common illustration of the generation gap occurs when a parent tells a suffering child, “I know what you are going through.” Children do not believe it. They believe the world has changed dramatically since their parents were kids, so parents cannot possibly understand contemporary challenges. Our children do not grasp that although time may put new clothes on life’s challenges, the essence of the experience does not change. Similarly, some may assume God cannot understand our pain because Jesus’ trials were 2000 years ago. Suffering is suffering, however, regardless of age, socio-economic status, geographic location, or any other variable. Pain is an equal opportunity experience. Jesus suffered horribly near the end, both physically and emotionally. No matter what we go through, we have assurance that God has experienced it, because God was there in Jesus. And God is with us today. In order to finish his “work” on earth, God-in-Jesus experienced the worst. Jesus went through death’s door and came back to show that death is not the end. Our suffering will end, but our existence continues. Hope springs eternal.

Jesus drew all people to himself – the outcasts, the poor, the sick, the foreigners, and the unpopular. He knew what we only pretend to know, that higher levels of life and truth must contain and embrace all lower levels. We cannot overcome evil by ostracizing it, nor can we overcome suffering by ignoring its existence. We overcome less-than-desirable parts of our lives by loving them, by living a better way, and by accepting all into our circle of awareness and blessing. Jesus invites us to bring our earthly trials and lay them at the foot of his cross, where he will bear them with us. We are not alone. He has been there and done that. At the Last Supper, Jesus told us to remember – remember he has been there; remember this life is not all there is; remember we are loved beyond imagination. There is light on the other side of the cross.

Come home to church this Sunday. Be there and do that.

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