Substantial

Any daily newspaper recounts tragic story after story of premature deaths, fractured relationships, and broken dreams. Indeed, we need not turn to any newspaper for an accounting of the world’s troubles and sorrows. We have only to look at our own friends and families. We have only to look into our own lives. Jesus never insulted people by telling them their problems weren’t real. He never told the sick they were never really sick or that their illness had no pain or reality. He never told people that death wasn’t real.

Hear this story of a family living in Indiana where tornadoes are frequent. The youngest member of the family had a special fear of storms. One day when a storm threatened the father took his son to the front of their substantial home, pointed out across the neighborhood, and said to the boy, “There, you see everything is okay. These are solid homes and we are safe and dry in them.” About that time a tornado touched down a block away and utterly destroyed several of these “substantial” homes. The storms of the natural world are real just as are the storms of the spiritual, psychological world. Trouble and tragedy are real. Evil and death are real. Jesus never said to his disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, “This is no storm. The storm is in your mind.” He never said that. Instead he said to the storm, “Peace, be still.” And it was. Are you out of a job? Did your home decline in value? Are your financial resources dwindling? Do you have a serious illness? Is your marriage not right? Is there a real problem with the children? Are you enslaved in a debilitating habit? Then don’t deny it, says Jesus. The widow never said her son wasn’t dead. Admit the problems. Don’t deny them. Simply embrace the God of peace

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VENERABLE BEDE AND SALVATION

His name was Bede, also known as Venerable Bede, and he was the father of English history. Bede was truly a master of multiple disciplines, but he is most remembered as the man whose lifelong mission was to bring people closer to God. Bede never traveled more than 30 miles from his Northumbrian Monastery, and from that community he wrote more than forty books covering a wide range of subjects. For all of his 62 years he valued nothing more than his mission.

Bede said, “He who will not willingly and humbly enter the gate of the Church will certainly be damned and enter the gate of Hell whether he wants to or not!” These strong words establish his doctrine of salvation. The key words to anyone’s faith walk are willingly and humbly. Without this conviction we fail to enter the gates of heaven and live a miserable earthly existence as well.

Scripture proclaims, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20) God’s word is crying out for us to willingly let Him into our lives. He has prepared such a good life for us, and yet it is our choice to neglect or accept His invitation. Salvation, the Christian way, is never forced upon any soul, but it must be received and received willingly.

The second word that Venerable Bede uses is humbly. Jesus said in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Clearly, our Lord articulates to us that acting in humble submission is the key to eternal justification and a peaceful life all the days of our lives. A person who lives humbly not only receives riches in the hereafter but lives without the earthly scourge of excessive pride. This type of pride leads to untold sin and grief.

The word of the Church Father is that the neglect of this simple formula leads to eternal condemnation and a miserable earthly existence. We would do well to give heed to the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Our world cries for rest, and peaceful rest at that. Jesus offers this life to all who come to Him.

A man who was born of questionable parentage, and died a criminal’s death offers us this gift of peace by the power of His resurrection. Some 700 years later a humble Monk who never traveled more than 30 miles from the place of his birth repeats this invitation in very simple words. Let us not complicate the salvation of the Christ, but merely accept willingly and humbly.

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Born Again = Imago Dei

Imago Dei – A theological term, applied uniquely to humans, which denotes the symbolical relation between God and humanity.

There is in us an instinct for newness, for renewal, for a liberation of creative power. We seek to awaken in ourselves a force which really changes our lives from within. And yet the same instinct tells us that this change is a recovery of that which is deepest, most original, most personal in ourselves. To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves.

THOMAS MERTON

You don’t have a Soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.

–C. S. Lewis

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

–Genesis 1:27

Thomas-Merton-5-17-17


I was a college student when I really understood the concept of “born again” for first time. I was very intrigued at the idea and began to probe just what it meant. As I looked inward I saw myself as a very faithful Christian. From a very early age I had gone to church, tried to live a good life and obeyed the rules, but I began to wonder if there was something more. To makes matters worse, President Jimmy Carter burst on the scene and began telling everyone (even Playboy Magazine) about his new birth experience. In the mid-seventies it seemed that the country was a buzz talking about being born again. With great evangelical fervor I was born again and left my Roman Catholic heritage for the brave new world of the evangelical movement.

At first I thought I had arrived and was standing boldly on the pinnacle of spiritual development. Soon afterwards I reaffirmed a vocational ministry calling and I was off to Seminary. After graduating and becoming the pastor of a country church, my one goal was to make sure everyone was “born again” just like me. After a decade or so of saving the world, I found that it just wasn’t working. Was the new birth really the end all and be all of the spiritual journey? Early on in my spiritual journey (my pre-born again days) I had been fascinated by the monastic life -so much so that I gave serious consideration to becoming a monk myself. But that soon fizzled. I still felt sure about my “new birth” experience, but something was amiss.

CS Lewis 5-17-17That feeling led me to Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Anthony DeMello, C. S. Lewis, the Desert Abbas and Ammas and many others where I discovered what I should have already known – that I was created in the image of God. The new birth is merely a rediscovery of what was already there hiding inside of me. Long ago God had planted a “spark of divinity” in me and through my born again experience I was simply becoming my true self in the weak and frail body that I have in this life. C. S. Lewis said, “You don’t have a Soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”

I, like so many others, thought that being born again was to become some new creature. I misinterpreted Paul’s words when he said,” Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Christ followers are the same people they were before, they just have a recognition of the Creator within them. Suddenly the “IMAGO DEI” comes alive through the work of the Holy Spirit, and we can do all things through the strength of Christ.

The wonderful words of Thomas Merton – “To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves” are such a blessing. Because of that concept I can tell myself and the world that God never abandons us. Yes, He lets us do our own thing, but He is always there. Our world is full of people that feel there is no God or at the very best, He has abandoned His creation. High rates of crime, suicides, depression, bullying are some things that happen when we forget that God created all of us in His image. Yes, we must be “born again” by acknowledging that we belong to God and allowing Him to flourish in us.

Let us ALL become our true selves.


Prayer

Lord, give me a newness of life today. Let me see your shining light in me and all others. Let my life be filled with your glory as I see your light all around me today. Help me to be born again and again. Let this new birth be a daily routine as I seek to follow You every day of my life.

Amen

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A Cloud of Forgetting

If you want to enter, live, and work in this cloud of unknowing, you will need a cloud of forgetting between you and the things of this earth. Consider the problem carefully and you will understand that you are farthest from God when you do not ignore for a moment the creatures and circumstances of the physical world. Attempt to blank out everything but God.

 

— Cloud of Unknowing

WAYS TO ENTER “A CLOUD OF FORGETTING”

Consider your place

Ancient Rome Christians were reminded, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Our real dilemma is to try to unpack the meaning of that short phrase and apply it in a way that builds our faith and our witness. We are born as proud and resourceful beings. God meant for us to be able to thrive in this world but He also meant for us to be dependent on Him. As we become increasing independent, we moved far away from Him. The mystical writer challenges us to get as far away from the things of this earth as we can so we can get closer to God. We must somehow “forget” who we are, what we have accomplished, and get in a place where we can encounter God. At the same time, never forget that we are part of this world.

See your surroundings

To do this we must be fully aware of our surroundings and begin the task of stepping away for a short time just a pause. When we step away, we are then given the opportunity of communicating with God as a deeply personal friend. As long as our lives are crowded by the things of this world, we will never see God in a light that glorifies us and Him. Seeing where we are allows us to set our course to where we want to be and allows us to seek guidance along the way. The hymn writer proclaims, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of His glory and grace.” That is the direction of a contemplative.

Own your circumstances

No matter how hard we try, we still live in this world -we cannot escape it. We cannot ignore it and for the most part, we cannot change it. With regard to this dilemma, different people take different actions. Hermits try to escape, hedonists embrace it, and most of us just try to find balance in our lives. The call of the mystic writer is to “blank out” everything but God. We do this by recognizing the problems and cares around us and putting them in the background of our lives as we seek to be nearer to God. We don’t get closer to God by being in denial of the carnal nature that we all possess. Closeness to God comes as we recognize our situation and say to God, we seek you with all our strength.


PRAYER

Lord may I approach you with full knowledge of the baggage I carry. This knowledge that instills in me a total dependence on your grace and a trust in your promises. With such a heart I come to you today seeking knowledge only you can grant. Please allow me your presence in my life in spite of my sins. I invite you to fill my heart in this time of my need.

AMEN

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Jesus as Scapegoat

Image credit: White Crucifixion (detail), Marc Chagall, 1938, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

I share this piece by Rev Richard Rhor of the Center for Action and Contemplation. I hope you enjoy it.

Blessings, Irvin

Cross as Agenda

In terms of healing and symbolism, everything hinges on the cross. The cross is about how to fight and not become a casualty yourself. The cross is about being the victory instead of just winning a victory. The cross is about refusing the simplistic win-lose scenario and holding out for a possible win-win scenario.

The cross clearly says that evil is to be opposed but we must first hold the tension, ambiguity, and pain of it. “Resist evil and overcome it with good,” as Paul says (Romans 12:21). The cross moves us from the rather universal myth of redemptive violence to a new scenario of transformative suffering.

On the cross of life, we accept our own complicity and cooperation with evil, instead of imagining ourselves on some pedestal of moral superiority. As Paul taught: “everyone has sinned” (Romans 5:12) and Jesus the Lamb of God had the humility to “become sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21) with us.

The mystery of the cross teaches us how to stand against hate without becoming hate, how to oppose evil without becoming evil ourselves. Can you feel yourself stretching in both directions—toward God’s goodness and also toward recognition of your own complicity in evil? If you look at yourself at that moment, you will feel crucified. You hang in between, without resolution, your very life a paradox, held in hope by God (see Romans 8:23-25).

The goal of God’s work is always healing reconciliation, not retributive justice.  And like Jesus, we must invest ourselves in this work of reconciliation that “the two might become one” (see Ephesians 2:13-18).

Human existence is neither perfectly consistent, nor is it total chaos, but it has a “cruciform” shape of cross purposes, always needing to be reconciled in us.To hold the contradictions with God, with Jesus, is to participate in the redemption of the world (Colossians 1:24). We all must forgive reality for being what it is. We can’t do this alone, but only by a deep identification with the Crucified One and with crucified humanity. Christ then “carries” us across!

The risen, victorious Jesus gives us a history and hopeful future that moves beyond predictable violence. He destroys death and sin not by canceling it out; but by making a trophy of it. Think about that for a long time until it cracks you open. And it will!

Rev. Richard Rhor OFM

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You and the Journey

Pause now and take a good look at yourself and see who you really are. Do you know? Do you think of yourself as being a wretched weakling? Do you pretend to be someone you are not? Then imagine this: that you would dare to think you are worthy of being called by our Lord to a special task.

The desire to be God’s servant must come from your own will, a gift placed there by the hand of God Almighty, but done so only with your consent.

The Cloud of Unknowing

Do you acknowledge your weaknesses?

The hardest task for anyone is to see yourself as others see you. We have a rosy vision of our looks, behavior and personality. Many times our self-assessment is far from the truth. In order to approach God we must realize our helplessness without Him and allow Him to give us His grace. Jesus said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing?” Their behavior blatantly showed there lack of self-understanding.

Do you have a false self?

Even after we know we are weak without God we have a tendency to “go it alone.” We set up an imaginary reality about ourselves that reflects our view of God and how He defines a righteous person. In essence, we become that defined person but it is all a lie. As sure as a movie set have facades, by God, we will have a good looking facade. Jesus says it this way, “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

Can you see that God values you?

“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.” He gave His son! What more proof can we expect! God values us enough to sacrifice His all for us. We are unworthy/worthy creation. When we come to the point of recognizing our value to God, we are ready to move toward God.

Do you understand how to give yourself to God?

The easy answer to this question is to say we must be “saved/born again.” Personal salvation is an important doctrine of scripture but it is only the beginning of our Christian walk. If we give ourselves to God just one time, we miss the point. I once heard a man say in a bit of a mocking way, “I was born again and again and again.” I would assert that is exactly what giving yourself to God truly encompasses. We must rise every day to a new round of willing prayer and submission to God. Salvation is not a one-time event. I am not sure it is an event at all, but I know it is a journey.

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Let us join together and set out daily on this contemplative path.


PRAYER

Lord allow me to see my sin and weakness. Give me the courage to not hide behind a façade of spirituality. Allow me the insight to know that you love me in site of myself. With these things in mind propel me more forward in the grace journey towards You.

AMEN

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Knowledge and Imagination

Ephesians-3.20

You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God. This brief moment produces the stirring that embodies the greatest work of your soul. How many desires can fill an hour? You may have as many desires as there are indivisible fractions of time in an hour.

God will forever remain incomprehensible to the knowing power. Through loving power, however, each of us may know God.

…The Cloud of Unknowing

We all seek to know God in special ways. The desire for such knowledge comes with our birth. For from that day on, we continue to grow in our thirst for the mystery of life. Here are a few insights from chapter 4 of The Cloud of Unknowing

  • If God were to bless you with absolute control of your will, you would have a constant awareness of heavenly bliss.
  • Pay attention, then, to how you spend your time. You have nothing more precious than time.
  • The past remains as far beyond my reach as the future.
  • Apply yourself diligently to both prayer and community responsibilities.
  • Tie yourself to him with love and faith, knitting your relationship together.
  • Leave your senses and your imagination at rest, because there is no function for them here.

PRAYER

Lord help me as I search for You. Give me the insight to recognize the small glimpses of your glory as the swish pass me. May I never seek to fully understand your glory but bask in the small measure of it that you reveal to and through me. Let me cherish each moment that you have given me and make those moments as precious as gold.

Amen

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A Contemplative Beginning

Here are some thoughts from The Cloud of Unknowing on the journey toward true contemplation.

  • Cloud-of-the-unknowingLet modest love prompt you to lift up your heart to god. Seek only God.
  • Think of nothing else other than God, keep your mind free of other thoughts
  • When you begin, you will experience a darkness, a cloud of unknowing.
  • You cannot interpret this darkness.
  • You will only comprehend a basic reaching out toward God
  • Accept this dark cloud – learn to live with it,
  • I believe that God, in His good pleasure, will grant you an instant of profound religious experience.

Duet-29

The ultimate desire of every believer is to establish a regular and comfortable line of communication with God. Take some time to think about what this unknown contemplative talked about over 600 years ago when he gave this advice to his readers. We are his readers today.


Prayer

O God, all hearts are open to you. You perceive my desire. Nothing is hidden from you. Purify the thoughts of my heart with the gift of your Spirit, that I may love you with a perfect love and give you the praise you deserve.

Amen

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Take a Look at Yourself

Take a good look at yourself. Who are you? What makes you worthy of your call from God? (Probably, God is now disturbing the sleep of a lazy person.) Never forget your spiritual vulnerability. God’s invitation into a unique relationship does not make you better or holier than others. Instead of feeling proud of yourself, exercise humility. Christ emptied himself of equality with God when he was born in human form, humbling himself even to the point of death on a cross

—– The Cloud of Unknowing

How often do we truly take a good look at ourselves? Introspection can be painful and uncomfortable. Life goes so much easier and smoother if we just plod ahead. A plodding soul never asks questions. A plodder is one who simply walks slowly through life so as to never disturb anything or anyone. Time is never taken to examine the why’s of life nor is the uniqueness of our very creation ever given any thought. A plodder simply gets through the day.

We are God’s special creation and we were created to be the apple of His eye. He wants to hear from us. He wants us to be productive and loving to Him and all that was created. Our challenge is to realize that we are stewards of the creation. Stewardship demands humility and service humility that make us understand the nature of our creation. We are all born totally dependent and fully cared for by God. We are all equals in the sight of God. He doesn’t create some people superior to others.

With that equality in mind, we are called to be the salt and light of this world. With the sin of Adam we have invited evil into the world. Because of evil we are quite vulnerable, but God invites us into the very special relationship that is offered through Jesus. When we fully embody the grace offered by Jesus, we learn how to empty ourselves. This emptying gives us the ability to be servants to all. As servant to all we experience a freedom and joy that is like nothing else we have ever known.

TAKE A LOOK AT YOURSELF – GOD WANTS TO HELP


Prayer

Lord help me to examine myself today and show me your way. Allow me to understand your love -a love that allowed you to sacrifice yourself for me in spite of my perpetual unworthiness. Bestow upon me the grace necessary so that I may bestow love, peace and grace to all that I encounter. Allow your grace to shine through me and forgive me when I fail.

Amen

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Clear Vision

John 9:1-12

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

He was born blind.  A perfectly formed, beautiful baby boy kicking his tiny legs and swinging his arms in a sea of darkness.  He had little hope for a quality life in the first century Jerusalem.  His father daily led him to his unofficial, but reserved location near a small pool.  Others who had forfeited in some way God’s blessing spent their wretched days there – begging.  Some days he collected nothing.  Some days a hateful boy stole the few pennies resting in his cup.  Everybody in Jerusalem knew that either he or his parents had a great sin for which God was exacting vengeance by taking his sight.  They all wished they knew what that family had done wrong!

One day, just like thousands of other black days, Jesus passed by.  He put some mud on those sightless eyes, gave instructions to wash off the mud in a nearby pool, and left the man to respond in faith.  At first, he saw a blurry light, then large shapes.  He blinked quickly several times.  His vision cleared!  He could see!  Out of darkness!  When questioned by religious authorities already concerned about the miracle worker, the formerly blind man could only explain the phenomenon this way:  “Only one thing I know, I was blind, but now I see.”  What Joy!

Many of us born with sight, still have a clouded vision of Jesus.  We’ve allowed so much to distort our image of the Savior!  The Bible is full of stories of people who did the same.  Let’s learn from them.

He’d been in the field all day, but as he approached the house, it was evident something big was happening.  It was a party!  Why in the world, in the middle of the work week, with no previous notice would Father be throwing such a huge party?  Confusion gave way to anger when he saw him. So, he was back – the spoiled little brother who took his inheritance and left home to have fun.  He’d lost it all!  The older brother couldn’t feel relief that his younger brother was alive, joy for his father, hope that things had changed – just ANGER!

Jesus was coming for lunch.  Martha had peeled the vegetables, cooked the lamb chops, mixed the fruit salad, and baked the bread.  She had straightened the house, set the table, washed up all the cooking utensils, mopped the kitchen floor, and dusted the living room.  Mary, her sister – sat!  Jesus and Mary were talking and laughing and Martha was Jealous.  Why did Mary always get preferential treatment from everyone?  Jesus was telling Mary and Lazarus about his work, but Martha was too JEALOUS to listen!

He was young, handsome, wealthy, – a good man.  Although everyone thought he had it all – he knew he did not.  He spoke out of a sense of frustration when he inquired of Jesus, “what am I missing?  What’s this hole in my heart that my possessions cannot fill?”  Jesus suggested he give away all his possessions in order to clear up his priorities.  The rich young man wouldn’t even consider the suggestion.  He preferred his POSSESSIONS to Jesus.

The disciples were riding out choppy waves on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus, not needing a boat, simply walked out on top of the water to join them.  Impetuous Peter wanted to walk on water too.  What a thrill!  Jesus probably chuckled to himself as he gave Peter permission to join him.  At first, Peter managed the miraculous, but after a few steps he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink.  Panic replaced exhilaration because SELF-RELIANCE replaced faith.

Pontius Pilate had a chance to b history’s greatest hero.  He had the power to set Jesus free.  He knew he should.  He recognized his innocence.  He vacillated in his judgement, but the crowd won out.  Pilate was a people – pleaser.  He didn’t want trouble from the Jews and reprimand from Caesar, so he compromised his integrity and ordered the death of the Savior.  He made a ceremony of washing his hands of the Messiah’s innocent blood, but OTHER PEOPLE kept him from allowing the stain to be washed from his soul.

James and John – brothers looking out for each other.  They didn’t feel comfortable with the question, but the obsession for power and recognition over shadowed the guilt.  They sucked in their breaths, and non- chalantly asked Jesus for a little favor.  The request – to sit on either side of Jesus on His heavenly throne.  After all, wouldn’t it be lovely to be recognized throughout all eternity as Jesus’ favorites?  How powerful the feeling would be as all the saints of all the ages took note of their importance.  Jesus dealt the brothers powerful blow with His reply – they had missed the whole point! Those who find their joy in service are great, not those who find their joy in POWER or RECOGNITION.

What clouds our vision of Jesus?  Like the blind beggar who responded in faith, let Jesus give you clear sight.  What Joy!

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