Category Archives: Christian Journey

Passing Through

From Luke 4

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Jesus went home.  After ministering in Galilee he decided to go back to Nazareth, to reconnect with those who had known him as a little boy, to visit his mom, to speak at the synagogue that he knew like the back of his hand.  At the synagogue, he spoke about his mission.  The locals were at first offended and then enraged.  They took him to the cliff which marked the edge of town with plans to throw him off.  Then the miracle happened.  Scripture says, “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”  One man in an angry mob and “he passed through the midst of them!”  He did not call for help or fight his way clear.  He just passed through them.

When we think of Jesus’ miracles we consider events like healings, resurrections, calming the sea, walking on water, or turning water into wine.  We never see this miracle listed, but I see it as an incredible moment that relates to our journeys so often.  How many times have you walked through Jesusfrightening, dangerous, heartbreaking situations and gone on to live out your life?  How many times have you not been able to explain how you did it, how you made it through?  How many times have you weathered opposition and hostility and continued to live victoriously?  How many times has your broken heart healed?  How many times has your mind been calmed by an unexplainable peace?  How many times has your soul been restored?  How many times have you been at the edge of the cliff sure you were going over, when some Presence led you through the fear and pain and hurt and death?  Each of those times was a miracle.

Jesus knows all about standing at the cliff’s edge with other situations or people pushing you over.  He knows what it is like to look down at a chasm of hopelessness and despair.  He understands the pounding of your heart, the wrenching of your gut, the tears of your hurt.  He reaches out his hand and leads you as you pass through the midst of them and go on your way to love and serve Him.

Reflection

What has Christ helped you pass through?

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Interior Peace

Restrain yourself from affection toward many people, for fear lest your spirit be distracted, so that your interior peace may not be disturbed.

——Abba Evagrius  of the Desert

On face value it would seem to be a very harsh thing to say that we should stray away from having many friends and connections. I think we have all heard of the things that people do to gain popularity and power. When someone is obsessed with winning the affection of many people, they have very little time for anything else. Countless hours are spent in front of the mirror and reading tips on how to be the “one.” The more we are focused on such image, the more spiritually restless we become. In this journey we find little interior peace.

Colossians 3 for blogPaul tells the Colossian Church to “set their minds on things above.” The Abba says to restrain from our need for popularity. Both of these sayings are directed toward our ability to achieve peace with God. There can be no peace when we are frantically busy trying to be noticed. The only true peace is inner peace – the peace that allows us to thrive in a hostile world. Being at peace with ourselves is the most vital part of our relationship with God. Without the selfless interior peace, we remain spiritually empty.

Solomon tells us in Proverbs that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.  Think about it, the wisest manProverb 31_edited-1 that ever lived called charm deceitful and beauty vain. Shouldn’t that say something to us in our image conscious world? Our real challenge is to remain focused on the things that are above and to take our eyes off of the crowd that we seek to gather and keep them on our spiritual journey. That focus will help us to achieve the interior peace that is so necessary to walk with God.

Prayer

O Lord allow me this day to focus on the interior peace that only you can give. Suffer me the strength to resist the temptation of self aggrandizement and carry me to a place of peace. Amen

Busy Monk

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The Beginning of Good

It happened that when Abba Arsenius was sitting in his cell that he was harassed by demons. His servants, on their return, stood outside his cell and heard him praying to God in these words, ‘O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good in your sight, but according to your goodness, let me now make a beginning of good.’

—Abba Arsenius

prayer young man 1“I have done no good but allow me to make a beginning of good,” says the monk. How do we make a beginning of good? Do we go out and do a lot of good deeds, give sacrificially to others or read the Bible daily? None of those things would hurt us, and they may even help, but such actions are not the beginning of good. Jesus says that we must leave behind the things of the world and seek God. In our seeker’s journey, we will find good. That good is recognizing our helplessness in comparison to our Creator. When we accomplish that, we can then start doing the “good” things.

The beginning of good is when we learn that we are totally dependent upon God Good-Deeds-2and have the courage to admit it. Such a simple confession changes our lives and allows us to begin the path that leads to good. A professing Christian does not plan to do good but does good naturally. The Holy Spirit that lives in us guides us to situations and time that allow the light of God to shine through us.

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Turning Anxiety Upside Down

“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ”

― C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

As a child who was educated in the old parochial school way, I was often told when I was anxious and worried to “offer it up.” For an eight year old that was a most difficult and nearly impossible philosophy. As I have grown older I have come to appreciate the wisdom and true meaning of that philosophy. We all know that trails and anxieties are part of living. In the midst of those soul shaking times we have some decisions to make. Do we “offer it up” or wallow in guilt or pain?

Lewis knew that many people were spiritually trained to consider any anxiety tocs-lewis be a sinful flaw in their lives. He urges us, however, to make these a vehicle to journey into the passion of the Christ. How different would life be for us if we could adopt this philosophy? Anxious days would become days of prayer and, difficult times would be time of getting to know God better. After all, knowing God is the core objective of our spiritual journey. Paul tells us to let our anxious times be a catalyst for prayer. “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring up all your requests to God in your prayers and petitions along with giving thanks.”(Philippians 4:6) Our anxieties can serve us rather than us serving them. Let your troubled times illuminate the nearness of God who is so near that we can feel His pain just as He feels ours.

Lord, let every anxious moment drive me closer to you so that I might experience your passion. As I walk with you in your passion, I am made strong to walk on this earth. Today, guide me to offer up my anxiety to you so that I might experience you. Amen

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Evil and Innocence

We spend an inordinate amount of time bemoaning the evils of our day. Each day brings a new political and social organization whose primary focus is to turn our country toward “Christianity.” There is a sense that the world has never been worse than is right now.

Nearly 60 years ago C. S. Lewis said:lewiscs34

“The practical problem of Christian politics is not that of drawing up schemes for a Christian society, but that of living as innocently as we can with unbelieving fellow-subjects under unbelieving rulers who will never be perfectly wise and good and who will sometimes be very wicked and very foolish.”

The problem then and now is not that the society is a failure, but that individuals fail to see the role of innocence in their lives. Innocence means believing and doing the “red letter” words of the Bible, and accepting that they are the words of Jesus.

Then we can believe:

  • Innocence is turning the other cheek even when we have the advantage.
  • Innocence is trusting in people that are not saints.
  • Innocence is giving a second chance, and the second, second chance.
  • Innocence is going tone more mile for someone who doesn’t deserve it.
  • Innocence is believing that God will win in the end, and we don’t have to make it happen.

When we can embody these principles and more, we become world changers. Our live and our influence become a great factor in the lives of others. Therefore, by our practice many others are led to a knowledge of the love of God and the reality of Jesus as Savior of the world

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Voice Recognition

The British writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed three “laws” of prediction that are known as “Clarke’s Three Laws.” Here they are: 

Law 1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Law 2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Law 3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. 

Taking Clarke even further, some historians of science have argued that the roots of science in the mists of time lie in magic, that science began as magic. According to these scholars the astrologers and magicians parted company: those who sided with the astrologers accepted fate and the destiny of the stars; those who cast lots with the magicians looked for ways to change our future and manipulate the world. 

For people of my generation, we are living in a magic renaissance. Science and technology are awash in magic with things like 3-D printers, which are now printing human organs and 3500 square foot homes in 24 hours. Have you seen how they work? That’s magic. Then there are Google glasses and Amazon drones. That’s magic. 

But some of the biggest magic around is voice recognition. As a young Samuel was instructed to speak by his mentor Eli, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Our technology now is saying to us, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears and obeys.” We “speak,” and our toys turn on and do our bidding. Your voice is enough to get the GPS systems in your car to be your digital concierge and report back to you with a voice of our choosing. X-Box One recognizes who is speaking to it and obeys the voice of its “master” instantly. It’s all magic. But to our kids, it’s not magic, it’s normality. 

But Voice Recognition didn’t begin as magic, or as science. It began with Jesus….

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Thin Places

Conceptually, I have known of “thin places” for a number of years but never really gave it a whole lot of thought. Thin places, like many other Celtic traditions, hold a certain mystical fascination for me. The Celts developed this sort of thinking long before the long arm of western Christianity invaded their world. Simply put, a thin place was and is just that, a physical location where the separation between the divine and the earth is thin. I believe we can expand that beyond the borders of Ireland and Scotland and say that we have all experienced thin places in our lives – those mystical, unexplainable touches with the divine that both test and strengthen our faith. Contemplative Franciscan Richard Rhor calls this place “the edge “, and suggests we should cultivate being there. “The edge is a holy place, or as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there. To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return.” So, how can we find a thin place in our world? Do we get on a plane and fly to Ireland, or can we just go around the block? Let’s do a little background first.

Thin Places GraphicA thin place is any place of transition: a doorway, a gate, the sea shore, these are all places where very little movement will take you from one place to another. My grandfather had a practice of going “visiting” the neighbors where he would always stand on the porch on the outside of the doorway and never go into the house. In spite of that, everyone would say that that Frank had come over to their house that day. The thin places of spirituality are the same way, we are present in both worlds.

Thin Places in the Bible

I will narrow the list down a little by picking three.

The first is the thin place of God in the Exodus from Egypt. “For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.” (Exodus 40:38 NRSV) Perhaps this is the most graphic of all thin places in the Bible because it had a very graphic signpost of God’s nearness. God traveled with them and they saw it, they knew and were blessed by experiencing the thin place.

The second is the thin place of any miracle. I’ll pick the Hebrew Scripture story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were local officials of the occupation government of King Nebuchadnezzar. The king had statue of himself built and decreed all subjects to offer worship to it. These men refused saying that they could only worship the true God, Yahweh. He ordered them burned in an especially hot furnace, but they did not perish in the flames. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”(Daniel 3:24-25 NRSV) Not only were they saved from the execution but God was walking with them in the fire. Not only Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego but all those present around the furnace were standing on holy ground – a thin place.

I chose for the third reference the thinnest place that ever existed, the hill of Golgotha. Many would say that this was a place of the melding of heaven and earth. The place where Jesus, God in the flesh, died for the salvation of all. Picture the scene: “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:44-46 NRSV)There were so many ways that this scene had become a thin place that I could spend pages talking about it, but instead I just want to say the veil between the celestial and the earthly was extraordinarily thin.

Relishing your thin places.

I believe with all that is in me that we are able to say, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and… put out my hand and touched the face of God.” That quote from John Gillespie’s sonnet “High Flight” was made famous by President Ronald Reagan in his speech following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. That is the type thin place I seek – a place where I can feel the presence of God.

Without question there were such thin places in the Bible. The fire that followed the Ark of the Covenant, the conversation of Paul on the Damascus Road, the encounter with Jesus on the Emmaus Road and the Temple in Jerusalem are examples of such places. These stories stand separately from the Celtic notion of thin places. Jesus expands the thin places of life by saying: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”Scholar N. T. Wright tells us, “Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.” When heaven and earth meet, a thin place is discovered. I wish no dishonor or disrespect to the more purist concept of thin places but do wish to expand on the opportunity for each us to recognize our encounters with the thin places God has presented to us. With that in mind, I want to speak about some thin places we can experience.


Particular Places

In 1871, the German people of the town of Carrollton (now part of New Orleans LA) demanded their own church, and the Mater Dolorosa German Church was established. Mater Dolorosa still ministers to all seekers, and is a thin place for me. Thirty-five years after its ministry began my grandfather Frank Klundt was baptized there. InFont Mater Dolorosa1926 he was married to my grandmother at the same church and in 1927 my mother was baptized there as well. Now if that is not enough, in 1955 I was presented for Baptism at Mater Dolorosa church. Tradition and spiritual experience have made the area of the baptismal font a thin place for me. When I am there, I am with my family, God and a gathering of the communion of saints. Mater Dolorosa church is a place where generations of my family have expressed their faith. I can sit silently and just wait for the touch of God, and He does touch me. He touches me though the hands of my faith. Ask God to reveal a thin place to you. I know you have one.


Particular Experiences
INTENTIONAL RETREATS –

Many of us have gone “on retreat” at least one time in our lives and in the midst of such an experience we have felt a special touch of God. Perhaps it was the teaching, the music or the other people. God spoke to you, He gave you a mountain top experience. As we leave that particular set of circumstances we have a great desire to “can” the feeling so that we will always have it in our possession. Don’t can it, relish it, and know that God has brought you to a thin place and he will do it again.

COMMUNING WITH NATURE –

Azalea churchLove of nature is built into our creation DNA. Experiences with nature drive us to an awareness of creation. Columbanus said, ‘If you wish to understand the Creator, first understand His creation.’ If we seek to be continually aware of His presence in nature, He will present to us a thin place of communication – a place where heaven and earth will intersect and glory revealed. Sunsets, mountains, sea waves, majestic creatures are all gifts to remind us of His magnificent creation. That reminder breaks the great veil of separation.


Particular Practices

To allow heaven and earth to meet, we must seek God. He is sought in prayer and worship practices. The importance of having regular and disciplined practices is the key to thin place experiences.

Let me suggest a few.

SILENCE –

The act of silence is a simple emptying of self and inviting God to fill the void. Centering prayer and other forms of meditation are windows to heaven. According to Dominican Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century mystic, “There is nothing so much like God as silence.” Silence is a thin place.

Crucifixion_Icon_Sinai_13th_century

PRAYING WITH ICONS –

The practice of writing icons is one of the earliest acts of prayer in the ancient church. Such a practice calls for us to leave ourselves behind and seek God. We desperately need a concrete image of God and icon gazing is a way reaching out and touching the face of God.


LECTIO DIVINA –

Simply put, it is the praying the scripture. Picking a passage and reading with careful attention to the words and thoughts that are contained therein and allowing those words to sink deeply into your souls can be a sacred experience.

WORSHIP –

In a world that sees worship as far more people centered than God centered, we are truly challenged to seek God in our time of worship. For worship to become a thin place we must put our personalities on the shelf and put the Holy Spirit on a pedestal. Allow God to pierce through all the distractions and enter into that place. Pray for those special moments that come in worship and you will find them.


I certainly hope that these words will inspire you to actively seek a thin place. God IS inviting you to find Him.

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Jesus is in the Room

The baby born in Bethlehem came to die. His miraculous birth and his miraculous death and resurrection were eternally linked. The crucifixion was shattering to his disciples. They were lost without the Master and confused about the validity of their faith and the future of the Kingdom they had just begun to envision. Nothing made sense anymore, and they were consumed by loss. The desperation in the room had taken on a life of its own. So, the disciples sat huddled in darkness and fear.

Suddenly, Jesus was in the room! In that one miraculous moment, with His resurrected presence, everything changed. Prophecies fulfilled. Parables lived. Mysteries cleared. Fear melted away. Hope soared. Peace settled. Courage took hold.

Over the years of my life, I have known the presence of Jesus. I have known, without one shadow of doubt, when He was in the room. He has calmed my fears in anxious moments. He has given me hope in times of my deepest despair. He has provided for me a peace that defies understanding in the midst of great turmoil. He has shown me grace in my most unworthy actions. He has blessed me with healing in devastating brokenness.

So many things happen to us in life. We must handle both joy and sorrow on this journey. Broken family relationships, sickness, death, financial crises thrust us into situations where we, much like those early disciples, seem paralyzed and huddled in darkness and fear. The great thing one must remember and acknowledge is that His presence will be ever with us to heal and comfort and bless us with His grace and peace. His resurrected Presence gives meaning to the journey – Jesus is in the room.

Reflection – When have you known that Jesus was in the room?

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Some New Years Goals

– If you’re in a fight with a spouse, reconcile, even if you think you’re correct

– If you are struggling with your parents or your children, find what is beautiful and wonderful in them and compliment them directly for those gifts

– If there’s a coworker you know is sad about something or struggling with something, encourage that person to speak and release what he/she needs to speak about

– If your atmosphere is poisoned, bring joy and laughter to it

– If you see a homeless person on the corner, go out of your way to make sure you give something, without wasting time judging them or blaming them for their present predicament

– If someone asks you for something, give it to him

– If someone has recently had a loss, comfort as appropriate and try and help in a manner acceptable to that person

– If you have the means (and be honest about it), go volunteer in a homeless shelter or with youth

– Take kids from your church or neighborhood and do something with them – play sports, go for walks, tell stories, but give them a good time out of your own time, not the spare time

– Smile at everyone you see, a smile from the heart

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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Sins and Grace

Monk in prayer orthodoxA brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, ‘My thoughts trouble me, making me put my sins aside, and concern myself with my brother’s faults’. The old man told him the following story about Abba Dioscorus (the monk), ‘In his cell he wept over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the latter came to see the old man he asked him, “Father, why are you weeping?” “I am weeping over my sins,” the old man answered him. Then his disciple said, “You do not have any sins, Father.” The old man replied, “Truly, my child, if I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them.”

—sayings of the desert

We rarely think of the depth of our failure. Such a thought would be too overwhelming to bear. The best worldly advice we are given is to think positively. Those who fail to see the good in themselves, we are told, can be very perilous. Such a person no longer works as well, fits in the social order as well, and just seems to drag others down. The Abba gives us an important word in this saying. He challenges us to understand that in the recognition of our sins we understand the marvelous grace of God. If we had to carry the full burden of our failures, we would collapse under their weight. Yes, we must recognize and weep for our sins but God will sustain us in our weeping. And, most importantly, He will give us the grace we need.

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