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Posts Tagged ‘seeking’

Ask, Search, Knock

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

These words are among the most quoted and familiar of everything Jesus said. They are also among the most misleading. If they were literally true, we could win the lottery by asking God; the 16th Century explorer, Ponce De Leon, would have found the Fountain of Youth; and we could knock on the door of the White House and be granted entry. There is a lot of evidence that Jesus is wrong.

Jesus seems to double-down on these thoughts, however, in the verses that follow. In verse 9, he asks what parent would give a stone to a child asking for bread. In verse 10, he asks what parent would give a snake to a child asking for a fish. In verse 11, he explains that if we know how to give good gifts to our children, “how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” In other words, what sort of parent would not try to give his or her children the good things they desire? That being the case, why would not God, our divine parent, do the same for us? As with much of what Jesus says, however, we must look deeper than the literal translation of his words in order to understand the life-giving spirit behind them. God is not Santa Claus, and the asking, searching, and knocking Jesus references are not a Christmas list.

If we learn anything from the life and teachings of Jesus it is that he manifested a perfect unity of body and spirit, a unity he invites us also to attain. If we picture our life on a continuum, stretching from completely materialistic on the far left to completely spiritual on the far right, we can imagine this inclusive unity in the middle of that space. Anything that pulls us to the far left draws us toward materialism and away from our spiritual nature. Likewise, anything that pulls us to the far right draws us toward spiritualism and away from our bodily nature. God gave us both a body and a spirit for a reason, and they are both good.

When we consider the continuum of our physical and spiritual nature, it goes against our created nature to be drawn overly much to either. The problem with focusing on either end to the exclusion of the other is that we become less and less satisfied, less and less at peace, the farther we go in either direction. Both ends are seductive, but neither without the other is healthy. We think, “If I only had a              , then I would be happy;” but we learn it is not true. The more stuff we have, the more we desire. Likewise, the more enlightening spiritual experiences we have, the more we desire. There is no satisfaction at either end. It is not that our physical and spiritual natures should not be sufficiently nourished – certainly they should. But they should not be fed to where they bloat out of proportion to the other.

The unsolvable human mystery is how, when, or even if God grants requests – providing what we ask for, revealing the object of our search, opening the door upon which we knock. There is evidence that God does grant our wishes, as I have seen people healed whose outlook was dismal. Alternatively, I have seen others waste away and die, in spite of countless, heartfelt prayers. I think the sweet spot in gaining what we wish for is in aligning our desires with God’s will, with what is. Only then will our petitions be granted as naturally as Jesus implies in these verses. Paradoxically, that requires us to change our desires. And yet, is that not the point, for us to be drawn closer to God in our humanity? It seems safe to assume God’s will is not for us to dwell overly much at either end of life’s spectrum, but to deeply experience both body and spirit as one.

Yes, we can and should ask, search, and knock, but we do so with the knowledge that God will not answer, reveal, or open that which is inconsistent with attaining unity within ourselves, with others, and with God. God granting an un-unifying wish would be akin to giving a child a snake when he or she asked for a fish.

This is the 29th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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Come and See

 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”  John 1:38-39

In John 1:35-42, Jesus walks by John the Baptist and a couple of his disciples and John says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” John’s two disciples begin following Jesus, who turns around and asks, “What are you looking for?” The men ask where he is staying, and Jesus says, “Come and see.” This directive to Jesus’ first disciples two thousand years ago remains a directive to those of us wishing to follow Jesus today: Come and see.

To “come” implies we must leave wherever we are, and to “see” means to open our eyes, heart, and mind to what is revealed in our coming. Those who wish to see must first come. Another important word in this story is the word translated as “staying,” which can also be translated as abiding. There is a way to consider this encounter that I find instructive. When John’s disciples saw Jesus, identified as the Lamb of God, they immediately wanted to know more. Something about Jesus intrigued them. Perhaps they saw something in him they were missing in themselves. Therefore, they asked where he was staying. Personally, I think what they asked was more along the lines of Where do you abide? The difference is significant because if, indeed, the disciples were drawn to Jesus, they would want to know about his spiritual nature, or certainly something deeper than his physical habitation.

Where we abide can refer to our state of consciousness and/or a state of relationship. It is our go-to mode for living. It is where we reside internally, as in the center point from which we live and move and have our being. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, was in a relationship with God that these men wanted to experience for themselves. Thus they ask, where are you abiding? Those of us who seek to follow Jesus will eventually ask the same question. If this interpretation of the story is reasonable, the journey Jesus invites us to is an internal journey more than an external one. Jesus invites us not to a different geographic state, but to a different state of conscious awareness.

Jesus tells the men, “Come.” That means to leave wherever you are. In this case, it meant for the disciples to leave their current lives, including leaving their mentor, John. For us, it may mean many things, but wherever it is Jesus invites us, it is not our life as it is today. To come somewhere is to leave one’s current abode. Jesus might as easily have said, “Leave!” The command requires an affirmative decision, followed by action on our part to accomplish.

Finally, Jesus says, “See.” Only after we have come to where he abides can we begin to see what he wishes to reveal. To witness the inner reality of Jesus is to experience what it means to live in unity with God. It is not enough to listen, nor is it sufficient to read or talk it out with others. We only experience this divine reality by trusting, following, and committing to this new type of freedom, this new state of being.

Here is the problem for many of us: our lives are like a hamster wheel in that we confuse activity with progress. We are worried and distracted over many things and overwhelmed with the day’s demands. We run faster and faster, but at the end of the day/week/year we have progressed no farther along any road upon which we wish to be traveling. This is completely discouraging because no matter how hard we work, neither the scenery nor the schedule changes, and the only tangible result we have to show is total exhaustion! I understand Jesus’ invitation to come and see as one to step off the hamster wheel, leave the cage, and enter a new, expanded reality. How we actually do this, from a practical standpoint, is another matter that each of us must figure out for ourselves – just as Jesus’ disciples had to figure out how to leave their former lives in order to attain a new one.

Either way, all who want off their current hamster-wheel-abode are invited: Come and See!

This is the 7th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

 Prefer to listen? Check out Life Notes Podcasts at www.ContemplatingGrace.com/podcasts

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 29: The Road to Nowhere…

 I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. Isaiah 42:16

Several decades ago, a friend and mentor introduced me to Eastern philosophy. Much of it seemed nonsensical at first. It was full of circular, impossible-to-fathom sayings that were intriguing, but seemed not to lead anywhere, at least not that I could see. Being a child of the West, I learned to discern fact from fiction, right from wrong, north from south. There were important distinctions to recognize and lines to be drawn between this and that. The great Eastern teachers’ lessons were mostly vague and noncommittal. What drew me to their words, however, was the way they grabbed something inside of me and held on until I engaged, like a wrestling match with one’s shadow. A paraphrase of one of my favorite sayings (from an unremembered author) is: “If you cannot find happiness where you are standing, where do you expect to wander in search of it?” In retrospect, that sounds exactly like the sort of thing Jesus would say. Of course, Jesus was from the Middle East.

Many of us feel we simply must change our physical location, our job, or our significant other in order to find happiness or personal fulfillment. Sometimes, as in cases of professional opportunities or abusive relationships, that may be true. If we have always dreamed of living near an ocean or in the mountains, staying in Kansas may not be a good choice. The point, however, is that happiness, fulfillment, and contentment are primarily internal states that have little to do with our external environment. Often, when we feel we simply must go somewhere else, we are only running from something inside ourselves that will follow us and manifest again, no matter how far away we run. At some point, we are better off to stay put, honestly and openly reflect on our life, and take the road to nowhere.

The road within may not be an actual road; but it is a journey – a journey of self-discovery. Eastern philosophy helped me understand the importance of looking within for the source of love, strife, strength, and life in ways that my Western upbringing seemed to disavow. Virtual roads to happiness extend in every direction from where we stand at any given moment. These roads are internal, and we find them as we face our own demons and learn to be content with what we have, even as we strive for more. Happiness and contentment are not out there, somewhere; they are always in here. Our creator planted them where they lurk closer than our next breath. It may seem bad news that we cannot run from ourselves. The good news is that we take the road to happiness with us wherever we go.

The road to nowhere is the road to everywhere. How did I miss that?

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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.

For 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

 

Cures That Do not Heal

Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Matthew 10:8

On the afternoons of my recent mission trip to Honduras, several of us led Vacation Bible School for the kids. It was a blessing to have fun with the children, even though we could not understand most of what they said. For my daughter, Grace, and me, the interactions with the children were among the most enjoyable.

Honduran homesThe picture on the left is of three Honduran homes located beside the church where we worked. On the left, above and below, are two homes, with a third under the tin roof on the right. More homes are in the background. Although the condition of these homes is worse than some we saw, this scene is common. There were two boys in Bible School who lived next door to these houses. Angel and Daniel, aged about 6 and 4, were happy, cute, well-behaved, slightly ornery boys, not unlike typical youngsters in my hometown. They did not appear undernourished or under-loved, and I have no reason to believe they were. They lived in conditions like those pictured, however. I did not see the inside of their home, but it is likely they had little of the “stuff” we consider necessary for a normal upbringing in the U.S. Did they have TVs or Internet access? Could they watch movies or play video games?

Grace and I talked about how easy it would be to “rescue” one or more of these children into our home, where they would have access to our abundance. Wouldn’t their lives be improved? As the week progressed, the answer seemed clear: No, probably not. Different, yes; better, no. One of the many realizations I made in Honduras is that our “first world” lives are largely lived vicariously in the past and the future. We relive the past and dream of the future, often missing the present moment. Many Hondurans do not have that luxury. The realities of their environment force them to live in the moment, focusing on the needs of now – food, water, work, togetherness, etc. – so there is little energy left to regret the past or ponder the future.

We worry about the future of Angel, Daniel, and the other children. Will they become victims of the prevalent gang violence? Will they be sold into sex trafficking? Will they live their entire lives in housing conditions like these? We cannot know. We also rejoice, however, in the pure joy Angel, Daniel, and the other kids found in the moments of Bible School. Singing, coloring, jumping rope, kicking a soccer ball – they savored moments fully. Their depth of being and their joy in fellowship with us and the other children was beautiful and inspiring. I doubt that could be duplicated here.

I am convinced the solution to the dilemmas in Honduras is not to (north) “Americanize” the people. Rather, we must find ways to preserve the uniquely beautiful parts of their lives and culture, while moderating the violence and poverty that so endanger them. Otherwise, the cures we export may be worse than the illnesses we attempt to heal.

Come home to church this Sunday. Join with others to heal our broken world.

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Life Notes

Let My Words Be Few

Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few.

Ecclesiastes 5:2

Since the season of Lent, I have been practicing the spiritual discipline of silence. I am an early riser, and I begin my days sitting quietly in God’s presence. I relax and quiet my mind, which is no easy task. Random thoughts pop in and out of my head constantly. I acknowledge them and let them pass, determined not to engage in an internal dialogue with any of them.

I have always considered prayer as a conversation with God, so silence is not a typical sort of prayer. Some classify the practice of silence as contemplation or meditation, although I think of those as states of focusing on something in particular. Being in silence is different, not unlike the difference between talking to a person and simply sitting in their presence. In her final days of life, I sat in the presence of my mother quite a lot. She could not communicate, nor was she conscious of her surroundings, except in brief episodes. I would talk to her, but I would quickly run out of things to say and fall into silence. In retrospect, I think I felt closer to mom during the times of silence.

Talking to God, as in prayer, is a comforting and healing practice. Particularly when no one else will listen or understand, we always know we can go to God. I think, however, there is an additional level of communing with God, and that is in silence. When we are silent, when our thoughts have stopped and there are no distractions, we begin to feel the deep, loving presence of God around and in us in ways we cannot otherwise perceive it. Words cannot describe the presence of God because it is beyond words. There is no need to talk, no need to listen, no need to analyze – only to be.

Clearly, I could drone on about silence and stray even farther from the core message of this Life Note; but I will not. Except to say, in keeping with the theme of letting my words be few, that Life Notes will not be published again until June 18. If you experience withdrawal, there are years of Life Notes in the archives on my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. Otherwise, enter the silence and be.

Come home to church this Sunday. Shhhh!

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The Truth about Truth

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  John 8:31-32

When I first learned the truth about fertilizer, I was aghast. How could something so good and necessary for healthy plants come from such nasty raw materials? As our home was being built, I watched as the exposed lumber, nails, pipes, and wires that form the shell of our home were covered over, the dirt and debris removed, and a beautiful home took shape from its messy, ugly beginnings. In Government class, my instructor taught “If you love breakfast and love your country, never watch sausage or laws being made.” Having had the opportunity to witness the law-making process, I wholeheartedly agree.

We uncover truth not as a destination but as a journey. Parts of most worthwhile journeys are difficult, and often unpleasant, even though the end may be beautiful. Jesus says the truth will make us free. Just because we know the truth, however, and just because the truth makes us free does not mean knowing the truth makes our lives easier. In order to get beyond whatever holds us in bondage, we must first experience, understand, and acknowledge the sometimes-hurtful realities that lead us to truth.

In his booklet The Servant as Leader, Robert Greenleaf writes, “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener.” Becoming aware is not necessarily a freeing experience. It is, however, a necessary part of our growth. We cannot begin to understand human behavior without taking a deep dive into the complex and bothersome web of cause and effect that underlies our decision-making. Without acknowledging the good, bad, and ugly of human motivation, however, we will never comprehend the “truths” from which people act, particularly those closest to us.

While knowing the truth makes us free, in one sense, it obligates us to action in another. One can argue that if truth does not motivate us to action, then our understanding of truth is not complete. As we grasp the truth about our world, we can no longer not act. We cannot pretend not to see the desperate circumstances of some of our brothers and sisters.

Significantly, our truths evolve as we grow. My truths are more encompassing today than they once were. Holding lightly to our understanding of truth is a desirable trait. Jesus tells us to continue in the way of discipleship, and we will know the truth. That implies the journey to truth is a lifelong road. It requires an expansive perspective. The minutia of life blocks the view of truth because truth is a product of the forest, not the trees.

Come home to church this Sunday. Building a beautiful life can get ugly at times.

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