Monday, December 23, 2013

A light shines in the darkness

"A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

A Word for those who need something to hold onto.

A Word that brings Hope to the hopeless.

A Word that alludes to the "here, but not yet".

A Word that defies the odds and looks to the day when a single flame will become a blazing fire - the Holy Spirit covering the entire earth.

Surprised by Hope - Ch. 1 - All Dressed Up and No Place To Go?

I'm finally starting to read N.T. Wright's Surprised By Hope and it's a pretty good read so far.  It addresses the disconnect I have often and more increasingly felt with "typical" Christian belief in life after death and the present time and reality of the world we live in.  We seem to throw away the created world in preference for a future ether-like existence.

Mr. Wright sums up this fracturing of "this world" and "the world to come" in his first chapter after describing 5 distinct pictures of death (emphasis mine):

This book addresses two questions that have often been dealt with entirely separately but that, I passionately believe, belong tightly together. First, what is the ultimate Christian hope? Second, what hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present? And the main answer can be put like this.  As long as we see Christian hope in terms of "going to heaven," of a salvation that is essentially away from this world, the two questions are bound to appear unrelated. Indeed, some insist angrily that to ask the second at all is to ignore the first one, which is really the important one.  This in turn make some others angry when people talk of resurrection, as if this might draw attention away from the really important and pressing matters of contemporary social concern. But if the Christian Hope is for God's new creation, for "new heavens and new earth," and if that hope has already come to life in Jesus of Nazareth, then there is every reason to join the two questions together.  And if that is so, we find that answering one is also answering the other.  I find that to many-not least, many Christians-all this comes as a surprise: both that the Christian Hope is surprisingly different from what they had assumed and that this same hope offers a coherent and energizing basis for work in today's world.

Yes, it seems as though us Christians, as well as our non-Christian brothers and sisters around us seem to be fairly confused over what it is that we believe about heaven and what it means to the here and now.  Is this current life just a stepping ground to next? Is this present life all there is? Or is the answer something that puts "here and now" and the future on the same level of importance and marries them together in a way that should have never been separated?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gotta Prioritze

You can't fit in the more important stuff after you filled your life with the less important filler.

This image of a jar with rocks, pebbles and sand came to mind to me this morning.  I realized that part of why I've been feeling so "off" lately is because I'm not learning to appropriately prioritize the things in my life.  It's not that the important things aren't valuable to me, but I just end up putting silly little things first and can't fit the big things into my day.

This is particularly the case in my walk with God.  I notice it especially at night when I should be going to sleep.  I would say protecting time to meditate on God's goodness as well as rest and sleep for my body should be considered "large rocks".  Instead I would spend too much time putzing around on the internet and going from video to video...further stimulating my overworked brain and making it harder to sleep.

I hope to reverse this and start to put the "big rocks" ahead of anything else.  What are the big rocks in your life that you are (inadvertently or otherwise) replacing with sand?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Writing big blog posts vs Keep it simple!

So, it's been a while since my last post.  I've had plenty going on in my life lately.  In October, I started an intensive "cohort" with my boyfriend and  The House of Saint Michael the Archangel (whew...mouthful!).  We are reading through the early church fathers, many whom chose the life of a desert solitary.  It's been interesting reading the perspective of one whose context is so vastly different from mine, and yet, finding a ton of good applicable stuff for my own life.  We meet every other month to discuss the readings.

I had this new post in my drafts since October.  I was going to post about our second reading of Evagrios the Solitary, but then time passed and we now had our 2nd meeting and have moved on to our 3rd set of readings.  I realized that I might have put too much pressure on myself to write about things in a fairly academic and well-crafted way.  This might be a mistake, because I will sit on big writing projects instead of actually doing them.  From now on, I will commit to write what I'm inspired to write.  If I need more time to post something more detailed I need to figure out how to do it in bite-sized pieces and not feel like I have to have a thesis paper every time I write and post.

Actually this fits well with where I'm at with my faith.  It's a vicious cycle, and it goes something like this:  I get in a slump and at some point I realize how blind and lost I have been.  I turn back to God and renew my commitment to spending time with Him.  I set up devotionals and books and other things.  Aaaaand then I fail to follow through because I made it way more complicated then it needs to be.  And the process much that each time feels even's hard to believe that God is the Father in the Prodigal Son story if the son KEEPS ON doing the same thing over and over and over again.

The problem, is that I'm making it about ME and how I can "pull myself up" on my own power.  Of course I'm going to fail, I fail at the gate because I'm trusting more in myself than the One who can actually bring changes to my heart.  The sermon this past Sunday at Church of the Ascension really brought this home to me: Yes, prepare the way for the Lord (which means prepare your heart)...however I need Christ even to level and fill in the bumps and crevices of my own heart before the Spirit can enter into it.  I need God all the time, not just when I "can't handle it myself".  I can't handle it, period.

The second problem, is that I somehow think change can happen overnight.  This is definitely not how heart-changes work.  I get so impatient with myself when I don't get things right away.  I need to be more patient with myself.  I also need to perhaps not set myself up for failure by thinking I need to do ALL the things in order to get in a relationship with God.  I need to focus on the small things: 5 minutes of intentional silence before God, saying a quick prayer when I feel tension at work, smiling at a homeless person instead of ignoring them, a small thank you before a meal, making sure I get sleep and rest so I am awake enough to go through my day and be a healthy person.

Basically, I need to do really the bare minimum with the hope that God will follow through and make the path straight so that Christ can help me with all the rest.  It starts here and if I try to jump ahead to the "next level of enlightenment" it's not going to work.  As I mentioned before, Richard Foster in his book on Prayer explains that Simple Prayer is the kind of prayer that everyone needs, no matter how far down the spiritual path they have walked.  To deny that basic, primal spiritual need for God is to deny the whole thing.  No one is beyond the simple stuff.  Indeed, I am starting to believe more and more that simple things are really what our faith journey is about.

Ok, so this blog didn't end up simple, but I had to start that way. :) Just like how God came to earth in such a simple state.  A child.  I need to likewise, become a child, in order to more fully receive Him.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Help My Unbelief

So I haven't really started the reading yet (go me!), but I have been doing some evening devotionals and I really like this prayer:

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

I've realized that while one can get bored with the repetition of the same prayer each night...and it's easy to just breeze over it without thinking, there's actually enough here to see something new each time.  Certain parts of the prayer stick out to me each time I read it.

It's also a really honest prayer.  In essence, it says: God, I know you are strong and faithful and have everything good in mind.  But I'm struggling in this part of my life right now.  There I said it.  Now I will say I believe it, even though my heart isn't all there.  In saying it, I hope that you will help me to actually believe it. (TNV- Tricia's Not-so-condensed Version)

This brings to mind the father of the demon-possessed boy in the book of Mark who after Jesus reprimands him for his "IF you can do this" request, cries, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

Oh Lord, I believe... Help my unbelief!  This is what I believe this prayer says in its subtext.  I think in general, we should be more bold and more honest in our prayers.  This is a good start.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reading Books, Posting my Thoughts

I tend to need a focus for my writings/projects/whatnot, so I think I'm going to do what I did for my posts on Abba's Child and kind of write my way through a couple of books I've been reading (with varied success).

Here are the books I've been trying to read for the past year/half year...all are excellent, but I just haven't been very consistent:

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

Prayer by Richard Foster

I'm not sure if I'll try to go straight through one at a time or if I'll try to peruse all three in different spurts, but as long as I record my thoughts here, I should be able to keep track of where I'm at.  By next week you'll find out what I've decided to pursue. :)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Running the Race

I've been training for my first Triathlon sprint, or as I like to call it, a half triathon. That's a 600m swim, 20k (13mi) bike ride, and a 5k run, in that order.  Swimming and biking, I feel pretty comfortable and confident in my ability and endurance.  It is the running where I lack.  I used to joke that the only way I would run is if a) I was running to first base in softball, b) I was running to catch a bus, or c) I was running away from something with sharp teeth.

Running does not come naturally to me.  That's why it's a great metaphor for my struggle with faith. In fact, Paul used the idea of running a race in his letter to the Corinthians:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV)
Paul is right that running and the spiritual life is a discipline.  Right now, my spiritual life DOES feel like I'm "beating the air".  But, I have a few things to add from my limited experience...a few things I've learned about running:

1. You can't improve overnight.
I know that's probably obvious, but sometimes my expectations for myself are unrealistically high. The same could be said with my spiritual life, it's a slow process.  Which leads to my next part...

2. You CAN overdo it.
Last year, I was training improperly and did too much too soon. I injured my foot and was out of commission for a while. I missed out on the Tri last year as a result.  I think one can overdo spiritual disciplines too.  Richard Foster speaks of this in his book on Prayer:
“Some people work at the business of praying with such intensity that they get spiritual indigestion. There is a principle of progression in the spiritual life. We do not take occasional joggers and put them in a marathon race, and we must not do that with prayer, either. The desert mothers and fathers spoke of the sin of “spiritual greed,” that is, wanting more of God than can properly be digested.”
It takes time. And patience for the process.  There are no shortcuts for both distance running and the spiritual race.

3. There will be mistakes and there will be setbacks.
And getting back up is the hardest part.
JUST when I started feeling comfortable and confident about my running, this past week, I injured my quad, and then (due to overcompensation) my knee while playing softball. I realized that even though I may be fine doing a sport that has more potential for injury, I probably should not have risked it the week of my first 5k (which I had to miss).  I'm resting it now in preparation for my week-long bike trip to DC this weekend.

Battle scars: I had problems with my knee caps going out of place in high school. 
I had corrective surgery on each knee to prevent that from happening. 
You can see the right knee was a little swollen from my recent injury.

For all the mistakes I have made, there was also a lot outside of my control. I played softball for 6 years growing up, and it so happened in 9th grade I started to experience knee cap dislocations...because of my particular anatomy.

I've found that I tend to beat myself up over these things rather than see it as a chance to slow down, heal, learn from the situation and be grateful that it wasn't worse.  I get demoralized, getting caught in the mind trap that I can't escape from my mistakes, so why bother starting yet again?

The same actually applies to my faith.  I mess up. Sometimes I avoid prayer like I avoid replying to an email because I'm ashamed I waited so long to reply already.  It can be a vicious cycle.

The trick, I think, is to slow down enough to see the issue, then actually have the courage to do the next right thing to work myself out of it.  And not put the cart before the horse.  There is no short cut to healing (see point #1).

More than that, I need to put my issue into perspective.  That might mean seeing a doc about my knee (which I did today), or for faith matters, stopping to remember what I know about God.  I often revert back to my view of God as a overly critical sort, nitpicking over every mistake I make (which makes me want to hide from Him).  Not so. God is actually the loving Abba/Father who runs out to welcome me back home.  The Master physician who heals not just my physical wounds, but the wounds of my heart and spirit.  If I really believed that, perhaps I could actually let that healing power into my life.  Or see where it's taking place already.

Getting back up is the hardest part, but getting back up again is what we do as Christians. It's not about a one-time healing and now you should be fine for the rest of your life. It's a constant coming back, starting over, remembering how God has been faithful in the past, realizing that He remains Faithful.  Sinking back into His arms like a child coming to her parents.

4. It's about the Experience rather than the achievements. It's about the Relationship, rather than the disciplines. In terms of God, it's not really about you and what YOU can do.
In the end, I truly believe it's not going to matter how many Ironman competitions I won or lost.  It's about my experience of the world, and whether I learned to love others, myself and God more than I did before.  It's about the connections and allowing those connections to shape me.  My faith is not about getting things right, but forming a relationship with my Creator, who knows me better than I know myself, Christ, who understands my shortcomings, and the Spirit, whose deep Love can transform me into more of who I'm meant to be.

To sum up, here's another great quote from Richard Foster on Prayer:
“In the beginning we are indeed the subject and the center of our prayers. But in God’s time and in God’s way a Copernican revolution takes place in our heart. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, there is a shift in our center of gravity. We pass from thinking of God as part of our life to the realization that we are part of his life. Wondrously and mysteriously God moves from the periphery of our prayer experience to the center. A conversion of the heart takes place, a transformation of the spirit.”
So yes Paul, I want to win the race, but in order to win the race, I can't focus so much on my goal of "winning" that I fail to see the lesson, the love, the road that is right in front of me.  I race to win, but I truly believe that if I'm focusing on that next step or that little bit that God reveals of Himself, one day I will suddenly see that I had crossed the finish line.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Now I'm ready to start...?

Arcade Fire!
(not referencing an Arcade Fire song, but it's kind of appropriate)

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have hang-ups with my relationship with God.  I have been experiencing the start-stop faith experience, meaning I have been gungho for Jesus one day and not thinking about "God stuff" at all for the next 5 days.  Even though I'm sure this is a common problem to most people of faith, I've been trying to understand why that is.

Part of it may be that I DO think I need to be completely together in order to pray or enter into a communion with God.  This is false.  Whatever faults I have, Christ has covered that over.  All I need to do is come near.

However, I feel like that might be merely a symptom of a larger issue...  And I'm still trying to zero in on it.

I have never really been good at starting things.  Whether it's that next project or cleaning my room.  Sometimes starting is the hardest part.  In these cases, I think I hesitate to start because I know that if I start, I'm going to go all the way.  Once I start, I get pulled into the task and I can't concentrate on anything else.  Hyper-focused one track mind.

This is even with good things, like deepening faith.  If I know it's good, then why would I shy away from it?  Why would I not let my natural process take over and delve in head first?

I guess the larger part of the problem, maybe even the source, is that I'm afraid of letting go and letting God take over.  If the ultimate in faith is to pray, "Thy Will be done," then I guess that's what I'm afraid of.  Even though I believe it will be ultimately GOOD, I hesitate to truly pray that prayer.

Why?  I guess because I fear giving up my facade of control.  I know I'm really not in control, but I'm still going to grasp onto what control I perceive I might have.  And when I go gungho over a project or cleaning every crack and corner of my kitchen, I still have "control".  It's giving up that control to a Being that I cannot see that is scary and to be honest, strange.

That's another aspect of why it's hard to trust God:  as simple as it sounds, I cannot tangibly see God.  It's hard to put your trust in something unseen, but hey, that's the definition of faith right?  What I do see are the affects of "the ultimate good" of God: how God works in other people and in circumstances.  I have read and believed about how God has worked through people in history. And really, I think there may be subtle changes in my own heart, despite my inability to recognize where I end and God's Spirit begins.  I feel like even in this point where I have difficulty seeing God in sharp relief, God is still there in the background working on me, even in this desert-land where I sometimes question the realness of God.

And I'm not unaware of what Christ calls us to as followers.  It's not a comfortable life.  It's often full of trouble and trials and suffering.  It's not really that attractive in many ways, but it IS compelling.  Learning "the secret of being content in any and every situation."

Perhaps the remedy to this is to surround myself with people who remind me that God is real and that God is working for the good? I also remain watching for where "my greatest passion meets with the worlds greatest need."  It is in throwing myself into service that I feel like perhaps I can begin to see the God-image in others and therefore, start to actually form a picture of God.  And I don't need to be so hard on myself.

Along with the feeling like I need to have things completely together before I start, I often feel tired of the start-stop thing.  I think, oh maybe God is going to get tired of me continuing to fail and falter...  As if He's going to say, "Oh look who decided to finally come home again..."  No, this is also false.  No matter how many time I turn aside, EVERY TIME I come back is like the prodigal son returning home.  My Father rushes out, to the point of humiliating himself, in order to welcome me back.  Every time.

In Foster's book on Prayer, he reminds us that "sometimes Simple Prayer is called the Prayer of Beginning Again."  So we begin again, and again, and again.  If I'm too afraid to start because I know I'll fail at some point along the way, I'm never going to move!

So yes, I'm ready to start, again.  And later on, I will also be ready to start, yet again.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Unintentionality is the death of the soul

In my last post, I talked about how even religion got in the way of my faith.  ("Religion" in the "I-read-my-bible-and-go-to-church-and-do-the-whole-checklist" sense.)  Note that it's been half a month since my last post!  I think it's busy-ness in general that really suffocates my spirit's ability to breathe, whether I'm filling my days with religious OR secular activities.

When I pack my schedule so tight that I can't even have 5 minutes of quiet, I do my soul and body a disservice.  I sacrifice sleep time.  My brain cannot shut down.  How do I have time to think about things like God, let alone stop to just BE with God?  Even if I didn't believe in God's existence, I still believe that not taking this time to be quiet would in effect emasculate my essence from myself.  This quiet time truly helps me to find my place (and peace) in the world.

Ok.  So I loosen up my schedule.  I make it less crazy. I actually have spaces of 15 minutes of breathing room in between my activities. I'm good now, right?

WRONG.  The way I work at least, I find that even while I have spaces of unscheduled activity, I fill it, but not with the quiet that I was hoping for.  Even worse, I fill it with meaningless activity that does not feed my body or soul or mind. My brain is still on "hyper mode".  I find that in my attempt to build in places of rest, I actually use this free time to languish on silly things....that then spill over into my scheduled busy-ness and often take over my day, leaving me wondering what the heck I did all day.

I need to actually be INTENTIONAL about building in quiet space into my day.  Being quiet is actually a form of discipline to me.  To sit and meditate and not let my brain go a hundred miles per hour, takes quite a bit of effort.

So why don't I do something?  Even something small to start?  Running a marathon takes time to build into...why wouldn't the spiritual life take this sort of slow progress as well?  Well for one, I have a really hard time doing things that I can't do naturally right away.  Another, which I'll expand upon in the next post (which will hopefully occur sooner than a month from now) is that it's difficult to even start, because I have hang-ups on entering into a relationship with God. Basically, I fear that I won't able to control what I'll become if God gets a hold of me.

Yet another is that part of these hang ups include breaking apart my old notions of who God is, and while I did say that religion can get in the way of faith, it is also possible to go the other way and have a lack of traditional religious activities from which to grow.  I think my rejection of religion in favor of faith might have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.  If I'm sure that God is not the being I had constructed in my head over the years, and I'm NOT taking time to be quiet, while also NOT spending time with people and Bibles, and other books to help my brain process this, then I'm not helping my progress in finding out who God really is anyway, am I?

Along with the previous thought, I believe currently that I am in a state of chaos.  Changes are happening: roommates are moving; I'm thinking of moving; I have more responsibility at work; my brain is in chaos and maybe I need to find a counselor.  I feel like I have not really had much constancy in my recent years...I've been attempting to find some stability in relationships that help me to grow spiritually and otherwise.  I will break this down more in future post, but suffice it to say, I think I need a small group or a few constant friends that I can check in with and talk about faith matters openly.  Right now, I feel like a ship without a Captain or crew and I need to find this crew that I can trust.

All of this will take intentionality.  I think I will start right now by leaving 5 minutes at the beginning of my day to just sit and meditate.  Acknowledge God, in whatever form God might be, and be thankful for another day to live in this strange and wonderful world.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Death of religion...birth of faith

I feel that in my process of coming to know Christ, I need to put my own religion to death.

When I define religion for myself, it's that particular view of God you develop very early on, from your parents, from your own view of yourself and the world, and from the culture in which you find yourself.  For better or for worse.

I guess before I saw God as a disapproving type.  Kind of like my dad.  With high, unrealistic standards.  One who is keeping close track of how much you pray to him or do the right things (or wrong things).  Sure I know God loves me too, but I didn't realize that HIS love is quite different from the love I understand as a human.

As I moved into college, my mind was introduced to a God who IS pure Love.  I read books like Abba's Child, where I see myself called His "beloved".  My old image of God was beginning to break apart, and that was a good thing.

However, I think God knew that I still had other preconceived notions about our relationship that needed to be dealt with before I could grow even closer to God. That I may have had the "head knowledge," but it hadn't migrated down to my heart. Maybe I'll expound on that in another post but let's just say that the past 5-6 years has been constituted of several "little deaths" in which I find myself broken, emptied and much in need of God's presence. Not hymns and prayers and bible studies (although one can certainly find God in those disciplines) but simply the awareness of God's very real being. Instead of finding space to let God fill the void, I'd been filling it with everything but: including religion. Please note again that I'm not saying we should not go to worship or read the bible or even pray, but I think that sometimes even our religion can get in the way of our growth in faith. And we have to acknowledge this when this we can stop and be still, and "know that The Lord is God"

I can't do this alone...part of this for me is realizing that I need other people to point me in the right direction and remind me of these simple truths. I truly believe that faith doesn't happen in a vacuum. But I first have to pull the trigger. God does not force His way into us. I daily have to let Him put my self to death so that I can be renewed in him.

More on on the specifics of this in my next post.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Wanderings of the Soul - new(old) blog focus

While I have not been writing in my blog lately but I've found that the purpose of my blog has morphed over the years.  It used to be a run-of-the-mill write-about-everything sort of blog, then in 2010 I repurposed it for my Pic-a-day project.  It has since gone back to the underutilized multi-purpose blog with which I began.

One of the main topics I keep coming back to is my faith.  My messy, not-so-fleshed-out at times, sporadic, sometimes inspired but deeply important to me, faith or relationship with God.  Some of these writings have been very important to my processing of life events and how my faith plays into the grand scheme of my existence.  So I think I'm going to focus now on my faith journey and write about what I'm processing at the moment.

I understand not everyone prescribes to my kind of faith or even any faith, so if that is you, please know that I may be talking in a language that does not make sense to you.  I'm creating this space to help affirm my own spiritual wanderings and to actively discover and ask and listen and stretch and grow.  I welcome any honest questions as I believe they are all part of the process and journey, but please know that I'm likely not going to change my overall standpoint on where I think I should be with this...just as I would not try to throw my way of thinking on to you!  Please read with a grain of salt, and I hope there is some intersection of understanding where we can connect and relate.

I have been going through a bit of a spiritual desert land.  I mean, it's been filled with many great faith-filled people and events, but in my everyday life, it has reached this sort of staleness.  Part of it may be self-inflicted, but part of it is a serious bit of questioning what I had previously assumed and really, it's just that the mechanics of it have fallen apart for me.  It's hard to pray.  I'm scared to ask for God's will since I don't know that I'd be willing to go there and "give up" my facade of control.  And yeah, I'm not really sure what to think about "God's Will" either (who really does?). :)  I've never really doubted the existence of God, but I have doubted God's presence.  I want to know in my head AND heart God exists and is fully present.  Right here.

So here it goes.  To keep a sort of standard, I'm going to try to write here 1-2 times a week, more if I'm feeling particularly motivated.  Why write in a public blog as opposed to a private journal?  Well frankly it's because of the accountability part.  Even if no one reads this, the fact that it's in the public eye, will help me to keep pushing forward.  If other people are struggling in similar ways, it would be really comforting to get some feedback and encouragement...and maybe it will help you too!

The only path forward is straight through the tough bits... they are what make us stronger in the end.