Poulsbo-ing, the Beginning

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            We’ve been addressing a particular trajectory to our lives.

Longing/Desire           Awakening/Awareness       Union/Formation

We’re going to backwards engineer the gospel. We’re going to do this in a couple ways. We’ll read a few key scriptures, lean into some key concepts and hopefully come out with a more suitable language for gospel enterprise than has typically been presented.

Something a little yummier.

Genesis 3:1-13: Original Sin Is Secondary Fixation

So, what is “original sin?”

Why do you think the serpent went first to the woman? I had a short-lived career in sales. My training was clear. Always aim for the decision-maker, the alpha in any group. The serpent needed to break the hard one first. Destroy the tougher of the two.

It well knew that Adam would cave like a frightened little boy (which, of course, he did). When approached, Eve perfectly parrots what God had just told them. She remembered word for word God’s explicit instructions.

Women listen. They remember. Best of all, they fight well when cornered. She puts up a good struggle against the serpent’s clever quips and subtleties. She dodges and weaves with a sense of duty and obligation. Responsibility.

But, alas, in the end she succumbs.

But she fought well first! Adam, dumb shit-head that he was, says not a word when she hands him the fruit. Drooling and hungry, he says not a word. He just eats. One can hear the serpent thinking to itself, “hmm, no challenge there.”

Sin entered the world when lesser longings became enshrined as fully satisfactory to the human experience. We would forever experience a distance between what we long for, struggle for, and our actual experience. It’s really more about idolatry than pride. When anything less than simple communion with God is the object of our affections, we will remain disaffected, distant, sick, unhappy.

There’s much unhelpful language floating about with regard to the process of our becoming. I want to address some of that.

In this process, there are some bible words that we need to reclaim from the smelly hallways of fundamentalism, in order to make them once again winsome and helpful. And, just before we do that, let me ask your thoughts on something. What is original sin? Choosing as the object of your affection and adoration anything less than God. It’s really more about idolatry.

I want to get at this by means of a picture. I call it the concentric circles of longing:

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Sin. There are numerous terms in the scriptures that speak of those thoughts, intentions, or actions which separate us from God and our truest selves. Can we name a few of them? (Hint: there are 33!).

Sin. Trespass. Offence. Iniquity. Transgression. Wrong-doing.

I want to address the most common one: sin. In Greek, it is: Αμαρτία (Hamartia).

It occurs 174 times in the New Testament! It is an archery term. It means essentially to “miss the mark.” This is actually a positive term in many ways. It is less dismissive of our humanity than we’ve made it to be. In fact, it suggests that in our longing for union, we often shoot awry. The arrows of our longing are misspent on wrong or insufficient targets.

But at least we’re aiming at something! God comes to improve our aim by shooting the arrows for us!

Temptation. The Greek for temptation is, πειρασμός (peirasmós). It means “to prove” or “test,” or “try.” It has both negative and positive usage throughout the scriptures. To be tempted is to be presented with options that fulfill desire. Choosing those options determines the course and quality of life thereafter.

Salvation. The word salvation comes from the Latin salvare, “to save.”  The Greek equivalent is “soteria.” Salvation doesn’t always have to do with theology. Salvation is the act of saving from sin or evil, or even just from an unpleasant or harmful situation. It is a much broader term in Greek than we often think of in English. Inherent in soteria are a restoration to a state of safety, soundness, health and well-being as well as preservation from danger or destruction. It carries with it the ideas of deliverance, rescue, redemption.

We’ve made a term aimed at our wholeness into a transactional matter between an angry, tribal god and the sinners he can’t wait to destroy. Sadly, the gospel has become as simple as, “You’re horrible. Jesus isn’t. Believe that and get to go somewhere nice forever. Don’t, and you’re doomed. Forever.” That’s how much we’ve diminished the term. It’s latin root, salve, aims more at healing than anything. It pictures the broader healing ministry of Jesus whose touch brings healing, physically and otherwise.

Holiness. In Hebrew, qedesh. A word that biblically speaking is a concept of beauty has become anathema because of being coopted by those who, one, are anything but and two, have wed the term to certain unbiblical litmus tests: social conservatism or progressivism, nationalism, talking point politics, and political position and power, good manners, etc. It’s the exact issue Jesus faced in the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. It has once again become a stultifying term with little to recommend it.

I admit that, for many of these reasons, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the word for many years. It so reeks of theological condescension and smugness that there’s little life left in it.

I had the opportunity to work alongside Dallas Willard a few years ago. He was fond of saying that holiness is the idea that we’ve become so Christlike in our thoughts and behaviours that God can trust us to be good. In fact, he said that true biblical holiness, wherein our total person was being brought under the loving captivity of Christ, made us responsible / response-able to act in ways that shine the light of Christ into the lives of others.

Now THAT’S an idea I can live with! Augustine said that the sum total of our lives is to love God and do whatever we want. Holiness, where our longings are being recaptured, redirected, and reoriented toward God. Holiness equals freedom.

Heaven. Does anyone know the Greek word for ‘heaven?’ It’s παράδεισος (paradeisos), or paradise. We’ve taken this term meant to convey the abode of God; the incorporeal, incommunicable, ineffable nature of God into one of mere geography. We live now on earth. We’re gonna live then either in heaven or hell. It’s an extremely limited, linear way of seeing God. It places God on a simple timeline and in a certain place.

Do you wanna know what “paradise” actually means? It’s originally a Persian word used for an orchard or park, and it means with/alongside God, or the gods!

Heaven is less a “place” than it is a “mode of being.” It is not a “where” as much as it is a “how.” We become eternal inasmuch as we hang out with one who is eternal: God. That God lives both in and outside of the time/space continuum. God is not tethered as we are to our geography and our clocks.

Taken together, these four terms form a rather alluring invitation to look into our deepest longing and let the Spirit address it in meaningful, life-changing ways! Sin becomes the failure of even our best efforts to find union outside of God’s intervention on our behalf. As we learn to humbly acquiesce to God in that endeavour, we find rescue: salvation. In turn, that leads us gradually forward to a place in which we more readily aim at what is best, and find it in God’s name, to the end that we live increasingly as God does: eternally. We live as God does, in paradise. In union with God and everyone else.

John 3:16-17

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

This is a hinge of scripture. It is the fulcrum in the balance of eternity. Much of western Christianity, which is squarely built on shame/guilt motif, spends all its time trying to escape our sinfulness into our sainthood. The resurrection has become the central doctrine and everything serves it. Increasingly, I believe the Incarnation to be the lynch pin.

We long for union with God, but not before God longed for the same. Ours is predicated on God’s. We wouldn’t know desire unless it wasn’t first birthed in the heart of the God whose desire for us risked the destruction of God’s only son.

We must see our desire for love, for community, for wholeness against the backdrop of the God whose longing heart makes such longings possible and gives them context.

Our deepest longings are met in God’s longing for us. It’s that simple.

There’s one more word that makes me cringe a little. It’s a word we love in our culture: obedience. In our own spiritual development, many of us get stuck right here. In fact, much of American Christianity is solidly stuck in the very elementary language of ownership, authority, rulership, and the expectations of obedience.

            Friends, obedience, as important and biblical as it is, is almost the lowest form of relationship we can have with anybody, let alone God! When two people have formed an indissoluble bond of love and trust, when would it ever be appropriate to use the language of obedience? Instead, we would use the language of sacrificial self-giving, of loving acquiescence, of complete surrender, of mutuality and reciprocity. There is no quid pro quo. There is no ledger of benefits or liabilities of disobedience. There is only love and respect and the longing to protect that longing in the other.

Obedience is easy next to longing. One can grit one’s teeth and obey. But, to face one’s deepest fears and desires, uncertain of how God will come to us, is costly. It is risky and requires energy and vulnerability, faith, hope.

Longing – Awakening – Union. It is the basis for all true spirituality, whatever its religious underpinnings. In each of these three posts from our CFDM retreat, I’ve included a typically glorious poem by John O’Donohue, Irish mystic. One of the lines says this: “May the one you long for long for you.”

In our Christian journey, this is a statement for which there need never be uncertainty. For God so longed for the world, that he gave…

May we learn to do the same.

Poulsbo-ing, part 2

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My first installment involving Poulsbo-ing introduced the trajectory seen and experienced in all true spirituality: Longing – Awakening – Union and back again. There, I remarked on what I believe to be my existential preparedness to speak on the topic of longing. Not because I’m the most learned guy on the subject. I can’t readily quote all the heavy weights. Largely because I can speak from my own experience of how longing and its fulfillment (or not) has helped me find some good tools for navigating its heavy currents.

Having read many books on this particular topic, I have to say that my personal favourite is the pivotal work by Catholic theologian, Ronald Rolheiser, entitled The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. At the beginning of chapter one he implants the following poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

“The Holy Longing”

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,

Because the massman will mock it right away.

I praise what is truly alive,

what longs to be burned to death.

 

In the calm water of the love-nights,

where you were begotten, where you have begotten,

a strange feeling comes over you

when you see the silent candle burning.

 

Now you are no longer caught

in the obsession with darkness,

and a desire for higher love-making

sweeps you upward.

 

Distance does not make you falter,

now, arriving in magic, flying,

and finally, insane for the light,

you are the butterfly and you are gone.

 

And so long as you haven’t experienced

this: to die and so to grow,

you are only a troubled guest

on the dark earth.

Rolheiser makes the astounding claim that everyone has a spirituality of some kind. It is either constructive or destructive. But, we have one all the same. And, long before we do anything explicitly religious at all, we have to do something about the fire that burns within us.

What we do with that fire, how we channel it, is our spirituality.

What shapes, motivates, and inspires our actions is our spirituality. And what shapes our actions is basically what shapes our desire. Spirituality concerns what we do with desire, how we channel our eros, our animus; our innermost being. Anytime we begin to wake up to the fire that burns in us, we come in contact with that which holds the key to our (dis)content. We begin to awaken to something in us beyond our understanding and control.

What we do with that discontent is our spirituality.

Rolheiser calls desire our fundamental dis-ease. Danish philosopher, Soren Kirkegaard once defined a saint as someone who can “will the one thing.” Have you heard that before? Such a beautiful, succinct definition. Rolheiser goes on to compare the spiritualities of Mother Teresa and Janis Joplin. One managed to capture and focus her eros into a place of integration: the one thing. The other never did. She fell apart, dissipated, and her eros ended up killing her at age 27.

Most of us fall somewhere in between: Princess Diana. Both erotic and spiritual mixed together in a constant battle between the two. 

All things speak to our desire. Some more than others. I’ve often wondered why I’m more readily drawn to movies, books, or stand-up comedy than I am to a bible study or lecture? I wonder if it has anything to do with our topic?

The latter typically (and rather sadly I should add) appeals to our heads, our duty. The former tends to speak more quickly and directly to our passions, our desire; to our life. I believe Eldredge, in his book, The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Always Dreamed of reminds us that “Hollywood has mastered the art of speaking to the human predicament.”

In fact, I think movies and art in general speak gospel much more forcefully and accurately to us than those self-proclaimed prophets of the good news, many of whom are basically just peddling one more idea in a saturated marketplace of ideas. Just more information, rather than inspiration leading to transformation.

Longing is costly. It is risky and requires energy and vulnerability, faith, hope. Sometimes we can fool ourselves and others that we live in contentment. More often, it is the mute resignation in the face of muted desire. Our hopes have been dashed so often, that we’ve given up hope but called it contentment.

Either way, our invitation is to awaken to the fire that burns within us. It is a fire burning in hope of union with God and all others. It is the root of all genuine spirituality. 

An exercise in awakening: A Visio Divina of The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Longing – Awakening – Union: the story of the Prodigal Son is a gorgeous microcosm of this process. A young man, impetuous, head-strong, very like many of us were when we were younger (or not!), seeks to satisfy his desires in less than helpful ways. In short order he begins to struggle and finds himself in dire straits. What is it that convinces him to return? Not repentance! That happens later.

Desperation.

Few stories are as emblematic of misappropriation of the heart’s desires as this one. It is found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel. A veritable cavalcade of longings, the immediate, abused, misunderstood, and immature desires of a younger son; the unrequited, unspoken, hidden, forgotten, ignored desires of an older son; and the aching, bewildered, vulnerable, yearning desires of a doting father. This story has it all. 

It is a tale of awakening. Awakening to the many levels of longing to which the heart is privy. The entanglements of those levels, and the deepest longing of all, aroused in different ways in different people – for union with God and others.

As many have before, gaze deeply, slowly, prayerfully into it.

What do the characters tell us about themselves?

How does spiritual longing reveal itself in each one?

Where are you in relation to the father?

Do you feel yourself moving in a particular direction? Toward or away from a particular character in the drama?

What stands in the way of your becoming the father? 

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The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt van Rijn. Created 1663-1669

Closing Prayer

“Holy One, our Abba, in all our comings and goings, be alone, our deepest longing.”

Trading in the Trail of Tears

I recently revealed my struggle with anxiety and depression. For years it created a vortex where living any other way seemed out of place. It birthed a personal industry of what I called “sad-sack sadness.” Impenetrable. Unflappable. Ironclad. Too certain in its uncertainty to be particularly human.

It affected my persona, my personal choices – both good and bad, my relationships, the direction of my pursuits, my spirituality, and basically how I defined the world around me. 

It turned me into a desperate person, desperately seeking answers to the desperation while simultaneously spurning those same answers. I thought it my job to make thinking about it my job.

It failed.

Every time I “figured something out,” another layer yet more complex revealed itself. Of course, I saw that as a challenge and dove right back in. “I’ve got this,” I’d say to myself. “I can sort out these pieces, I’m smart.” Guess what? I am smart. I did sort them out, at least, in part. But, guess what again? I still felt desperate. Mentally unkempt. My spirit like a chaotic, post-coital bed-head, totally unprepared to meet the world.

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Picture found here

I’ve taken a lot of poor, unsuspecting souls with me down these rabbit holes. In states of unrest I’d latch on, like a rottweiler on a kitten, to anyone even sniffing around my orbit. It destroyed friendships. Decimated trust. Damaged perceptions. Devalued my own “enough-ness.”

The sadness produced a fog in which the tiniest slivers of light were rejected as imposters. And when they did break through, the habits I’d formed while living blindly in fog rejected them. At times, I’d grudgingly accept suggestions, albeit on probation. Then, too often, I’d just to shoot the bastards. 

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Picture found here

It was a lonely road indeed.

Has a friend ever kicked you in the shin to help you forget your migraine? Right. Me, neither. The reason? Suddenly the migraine isn’t quite so bad when your shin is throbbing. Um, thanks I guess. 

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Picture found here

Your “friend” has unwittingly paid homage to an idea I’m exploring: fixing something isn’t always fixing something. She with a broken leg doesn’t just require a painkiller (although offering one is the polite thing to do). She requires surgery. He with a limp doesn’t generally heal so as to avoid it. He learns to walk successfully with a limp and think nothing of it.

Could this be what Paul meant when he couldn’t get God to do much about his “thorn in the flesh?” The best he got was a rather enigmatic response, “my grace is sufficient for you.” I guess that’s what I’m learning (?)

Being human is a complex business. Not only isn’t everything fixable but, sometimes, we do better to leave what brokenness we find and learn to limp. Part of my job is to determine where limping is best and where I’ve been limping already and not really needing to. Where are my limps just cause for self-pity or attention? Are those limpy bits merely a clever cover for what truly ails me? 

What if – just consider the possibility that, for a moment at least, conceivably, all things considered, whether I see it or not, I might have more control over this than I’d imagined?

Gadzooks! You mean there’s hope for my hopelessness?

Nothing is as simple as it seems. One issue always feeds some other thing somewhere else. Nothing is completely isolated. When one thing hurts, everything else does. 

My mental state sachets with my vanity (secretly in love with my diet), which in turn is carrying on an affair with my sleep patterns, which is on record as screwing with my coffee intake who’s been seen skulking about the perimeter of my spiritual practice.

Well, you get the idea.

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Found here

Isn’t it strange how interconnected are our issues? Our demons are all inbred. One l’il beast seems always to be a different one’s aunt, sister, and best friend’s boy-friend all at once. We are not as neatly compartmentalized as we’d like to believe. 

But, this much I know. Wherever possible, I’m committed to smile when frowning makes more sense. I’m trying to sell my wholesale business in melancholy in favour of a tiny house of healthy practices that make life more livable for me and those around me (even when it feels a little cramped).

By choosing behaviours, little things I can do, I’m learning (despite all evidence to the contrary) to live contentedly. Leaning a bit more each day into the enough-ness of God in me, I see the benefits of my own weakness. I’m discovering light underneath the dark, up tucked inside the down, good hiding in the bad. Slowly (glacially to be honest), I am trading in the trail of tears. 

The return? The fail of fears. And, even though I suck at it, isn’t it worth the effort, if only to sleep at night satisfied that I haven’t lost any friends today?

Maybe I even gained a few?

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Found here

Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal- Starbucks Mysticism

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St Placid Priory, Lacey, WA

Here at St Placid Priory, my ongoing discoveries in the contemplative enterprise have been eye-opening, soul-expanding, and at the risk of hyperbole, even a little mind-blowing. And, although I will never grow appreciably better at navigating these things, they are the stuff of life’s best acquirements. 

But, for all that, I admit I’d likely not make a good career contemplative. Those brave and hardy souls who risk it all to face God so closely, so regularly, are a breed unto themselves. The monastic experience is so rich and good – for a time.

However, I also need my present reality – a corner chair at a local Starbucks. This lively interchange of strongly felt opinions (poorly considered in many cases), postured pretensions, all with a sprinkling of social anxiety, is just as real. Equally fraught with the beautiful danger of God-among-us. In true Celtic fashion, it is as much a thin place as any other, the ridiculously unexplainable. All while sipping a hot Americano (that came out wrong, didn’t it?).

I am still very much a marketplace Christian. The agora is yet my home, despite my penchant for the numinous and otherworldly. My vocation is to pursue the heart of monasticism amid the mire and stress of busy, workaday folks. In the rat’s nest of holy chaos that is the avenue, the neighbourhood, the hospital bed, the lover’s bed (mine, of course, not just random!), the early morning rush hour, all of it awash in the presence of the God who sees.

I am called to be a mystic in the mess where mystery meets mammon (no extra charge for the clever alliteration). I guess that, alone, is a significant rediscovery of my time here. I am coming to miss the buzz of the city. Perhaps even long for it. If spirituality can’t work here, then it can’t work anywhere. Otherwise, it’s not spirituality, or some inauthentic version of the same.

Whatever else may come from my days here at St Placid, at least I can say with confidence that I don’t belong here for any length of time. The outside world calls me back to share my hard-earned discoveries. And this notion, this understanding, draws me to these contemplative moments in very specific ways. 

I dive down deep with God to rummage around in there together. I let God mess in ma bi’niss. Revealed to me are tiny snapshots of my soul that, surprisingly, is more calm and rested than I might otherwise have expected. Armed with these pictures of the potential stillness and breath available to all, I am then called back out to where little people fight big dragons. Out where tears fall with no one to dry them, or just with whom to sit and cry together.

Far more than any silence, or spiritual gymnastics, or fancy Desert Father talk, the prayerful in-this-world life speaks most readily to who I am and prods me toward what I need to become – a Starbucks-mystic-martyr-monk (for this alliteration, I’ll gladly take donations).

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I’m the coffeehouse cliché (and okay with it)

I want to be a ready, willing, and eager purveyor of Jesus to the crowds. Simply put, a lover equally of marketplace and monastery for the purpose of sharing God’s mysteries. Someone possessive of contemplative spirit called to witness to a hurting, unjust world the great riches of the gospel. 

Lord, help me do exactly that, even if imperfectly.

 

Eyes in the Alley – A Lenten 2014 Guest Blog Series

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Lent isn’t just a gift for us convinced “churchy” types. It is the Church’s gift to underdogs, renegades, spiritual deadheads, and cultural hoarders, too. Historically, during Lent (which means quite simply, Spring), God’s rag-tag collective has willingly chosen aridity above over-watering, penitence over pride, self-sacrifice over indulgence, broken interiors over shiny exteriors. It’s the John the Baptist trailer before the Jesus main event. Is it any wonder it has precious little publicity? I mean really, who in their right mind would want a specific period of time considerably longer than the obligatory 30 minute happy ending wrap-ups during which one doggedly pursues the dark, not so pretty parts of our souls?

Actually, quite a few.

Lent is not generally the holiday hot spot of the liturgical calendar. It bids us come and mine our shadowy interiors for soft spots needing stronger foundation, or sinkholes needing to be filled in with something substantive. It’s a bit more like a dentist appointment than a car wash. Both are necessary, but one isn’t as much fun; is a little less sudsy, and creates greater discomfort.

What is the broader invitation of Lent however? In our pursuit of her riches we will use a lot of insider language: repentance, centering, seeking, lectio divina, true self/false self, contemplation, etc. It is wonderful, time-tested language descriptive of something known, experienced and at least partially understood – by the convinced.

There is a very real danger in the Christian spiritual formation enterprise that we become comfortably cloistered in the safety of recognizable, “insider” language. Our shared assumptions, ideology, emphases, personalities, experiences, and ethos almost guarantee some gargantuan hurdles for interested onlookers.

What would the spiritual formation enterprise say to the thrice-divorced Mom of four, without alimony, presently working two jobs, one of them prostitution, just to survive? To the middle-aged businessman who has just lost his business to poor management and embezzlement? He’s trained for nothing else, his self-esteem and confidence are in the toilet. He has mouths to feed. To the fifteen-year-old girl, kicked out of her fundamentalist home minutes before thumbing a ride to obtain her second abortion? To a man on death row, guilty of killing an entire family, including a little child? To the frat house full of “dudes” intent on bagging and bragging their next unaware, likely unwilling, virgin?

Without falling back into another insider language of North American evangelicalism, how would the language of the soul speak to them? To others? To those who have never even heard the words ‘Lent’ or ‘spiritual formation’ or ‘centering’, or ‘apophatic’ or….

Would this be “contemplative evangelism?” If not, then what?

I welcome all of you to a Lenten blog series entitled simply, “Eyes in the Alley.” I have assembled a crack team of bloggers to help us struggle through this a bit. They will engage head on with the places of need and the places of disconnect which keep much needed spiritual nourishment from making its way into the bellies of the least of these, the last, the lost, the shat upon, the hopeless, the frightened, the trapped, the hated, the screwed-up-with-little-recourse among us. I’ll kick it off on Ash Wednesday with an opener and a blank page upon which we may all work.

I…we, heartily welcome you to this series. I’m truly excited about this little venture. My own hope is that our collective voice may offer a probing look into to a topic of increasing interest to many: Christian spirituality for “the rest.” That is, the language of the soul in the grime of the streets; trying to understand ways that our spirituality becomes for us…eyes in the alley.

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Ash Wednesday: Yours truly

Lent, Week I: Sunday, March 9Christianne Squires

Lent, Week II: Sunday, March 16Bob Holmes

Lent, Week III: Sunday, March 23Valerie Hess

Lent, Week IV: Sunday, March 30Dr. Elaine Heath

Lent, Week V: Sunday, April 6Tara Owens

Palm Sunday: Sunday, April 13Giff Reed

Easter Sunday, April 20Valerie Dodge Head

Pictures from here

Friends, fellowship, fun, frolic and…a contest

From time to time God bowls me over with a renewed sense of God’s faithfulness, goodness and, frankly, sense of humor. Many of my best life experiences can find their way back to times spent with quality people discussing quality things for quality reasons. These are the times that refresh me when too much rust builds up on the underbelly of my life. Good friend, fellow blogger and writer, Chadwick Walenga, is celebrating new pathways of grace in his life together with a wonderful woman, Amy. (Follow them on Twitter).Chadwick

Chadwick and I have history. A short history but a good one. We both studied Spiritual Formation and Leadership online through Spring Arbor University, Michigan. In that place was forged a meaningful bond that will last to our dying day and beyond. He is deeply sensitive, spiritually aware, devilishly handsome (sorry, I promised), extremely funny and just…a good man. He has pastored churches for many years and is father to four of the coolest kids, like, ever.

He and Amy have recently begun a new website with a rather unimaginative but to the point title (dude, really?). I want to endorse not just their website but them, the road they’re on together; the shared invitation to explore life, both theirs and ours. It’s what lives lived openly and honestly can look like.

What I’m particularly jazzed about however is a writing contest they’re hosting through their site. I’m always down for these kinds of things. Anything to keep me writing. Besides, I love this guy and simply want to support he and his new life, his own writing and to say, “dude, you’re awesome!”

Check it out, friends, and throw your hat in the writing ring. I’m gonna. They’re not exactly promising a new car, but if you saw what he typically drives, you’d be grateful.

Let’s have some fun, shall we?

Your partner in shameless shenanigans among the jokes, words and cries for help…Rob

Life from the center

Friends, I am grateful and humbled to be a part of a quickly growing organization…organism really, called Center QuestlogoIt is defined as “an ecumenical hub for the study and practice of Christian spirituality.” It’s focus is on identifying, training, encouraging and unleashing spiritual directors into a world badly in need of this ministry. In that effort, it has attracted top practitioners of this ancient art together in one remarkable place. The brainchild of international Nouwen scholar, spiritual director, retreat leader and friend, Dr. Wil Hernandez (pictured here)presidents-message-wilit is truly precedent setting in that it also seeks to be a “center” around which many other schools of spiritual formation and direction around the globe receive equal press; kind of a “one stop shop” for those seeking advancement in their spiritual journey and needing resources – lots and lots of resources. They call CenterQuest “home” without ever really leaving their own “home” carved out through their own unique calling and vocation as leaders in these areas. Please be sure to check out their website to discover the vast possibilities for personal and community growth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 (Val Dodge Head)

Val-Dodge-Head

Speaker, writer, retreat leader, spiritual director, and friend, Val Dodge Head, acts in an administrative and supportive role to Wil in helping to establish a most impressive list of companions, consultants, board members, partners, mentors, and friends. The cool website has been made possible through her tireless efforts along with web designers. Her gentle spirit, enthusiasm and joy will be invaluable to Wil and team in the days to come as the dust continues to settle and the sun rises on this new and exciting venture.

As a proud member of the CenterQuest blog team, my own submission and that of friend and fellow blogger, Christianne Squires 1380307928_christianne squires (find her at www.stillforming.com) can be found here. 

(Christianne Squires)

bathroom mirror conversation

Wait. What are these words

etched so blatantly in this fog-ged mirror

beside the shower

curtain of immodesty;

before me yet beyond my senses,

in ears endampened, engrossed, entombed-

like my murmuring heart?

Skin awash, adazzle;

insides asleep, awaiting…

There, there I see on glass, smeared,

perhaps by finger, nose, or shoulder –

condensation wiped from misty mirrors

word for word what I most misunderstand

and least fathom.

Traces left, glances of a face

revealed yet indeterminable; known, un-strange;

but surprising now, and terrible

soft and fearsome, lithe but

too big to hide even

in the darkest corners of my indirection.

Droplets dive to swim and speak

the intangible peace of this lilting voice.

Like an eyeball widget

refusing to stand still, darting to and fro,

never seen straight on,

just out of focus,

you write this tale, shrouded

in the vagueness of a loving stare,

adroit and sharp, a repeated repetition,

repeating yet again the same words:

“I have made you clean.”

Still, I know this face.

It is yours, subtle One.

It is mine.

It is ours.

A longing fulfilled

On August 28th, 2008, I began a journey 20 years in the making – I started my Master’s degree. What am I studying? I’m glad you asked. I am taking a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. It is an online degree through Spring Arbor University in Michigan. Responses I’ve received have ranged from mild curiosity to deep fascination to turned up noses! So, why that and why now? Again, thanks for asking.

A favorite Rife family rock band, U2, wrote a chart topping song in the 80’s called, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Since Bono, their lead singer, was widely known to be a Christian, they received much bad press from the church for not speaking in more definitive terms about their experience of faith. However, it was something deeper that he was singing about. Like Bono of U2, ever since I can remember I’ve had a similar unfulfilled longing. You know that gnawing ache inside when you are standing in front of the refrigerator eyeing all the possible ways to deal with it? You can’t sit still. You’re bored but don’t know why. Nothing you do makes any difference. Augustine called it a restlessness. Ah, I knew you were going to ask that…yes, I do know and love Jesus Christ and his loving presence is everything to me. Then, why this “unfulfilled longing”? Let me briefly try to explain and in so doing describe why I’m studying this stuff.

I love the Church. But it makes me sad as well. I believe that we have abdicated our role as “God’s skin in the world” (see “The Holy Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser). Our mad dash toward relevance has squeezed out significance. Our insistence on just the right doctrine has left us with all the wrong lives. We’ve traded in righteousness for “rightness”. We have exchanged transformed lives for informed heads. Often, what passes for faith is a “notebook Christianity” where, with pen and paper, we learn God rather than love and live God. We study and memorize Scripture trying to control and tame God rather than being read by Scripture, thus being brought under its control. We have taken our risen, ever-living Savior and boiled him down to an idea or a worldview. We have a theology divorced from spirituality.

Says Dallas Willard, “we live from our heart.” Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century Congregationalist pastor and theologian spoke much of “religious affections” which provide us with a “spring of action.” Willard calls the lack of real spiritual formation in the Western church “the Great Omission..  THAT is what I am studying.

I love Jesus Christ. I love the church. I love the rich and varied tapestry of Christian history and I love classic Christian spirituality. I have a longing to help all of us who are victimized by a materialistic, consumer society but who hunger after deeper realities to find wholeness and the re-integration of our fragmented lives. My own life mission is “to draw others to God through my life and work which strive to meaningfully communicate God’s beauty and truth.” Through worship, spiritual disciplines, liturgy and the arts my goal is to become the very Jesus we sing about and help others do the same.

Writer and theologian M. Robert Mulholland defines spiritual formation as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.. May God lead us to discover all the riches of Christ in order that we are conformed to God’s image for the sake of others. THAT is what I long for.