When God says “Psst.” -The follow up

Before I follow up (click here for part I), I want to say that I’ve learned that talking too much about a splendid spiritual experience is problematic:

1. There’s really no way language can encompass something mystical (an experience with the divine). It just won’t translate.

2. Sometimes the more you sort it out the more the sweet memory lifts in a puff and vaporizes. I just hate doing that to it. It’s like squeezing a kitten until you hear a pop. Bad idea.

(And the details work more like forensics too, like writing a research paper on your first kiss. By paragraph three you just regret starting to tackle the project at all. Not that I tried to do that, because that would be weird.)

I don’t pray the whole time when I go away for a prayer retreat. I have a Brother Lawrence life of faith, mostly. Integrated. That means Life is Prayer. Prayer is lived. Each breath is an exchange of that gift of life up into the atmosphere. That hope and petition… and God is everywhere, receiving it with a smile.

Sometimes when I tell people I go for a whole day to pray, I get weird looks. They think it must be work or simply beyond boring. Or worst of all…that it’s super spiritual and religious. It’s not whatsoever. It’s carnival of inner joy. I wish it for everyone.

A typical day away
So when I’m there, I turn off my phone, I walk the halls or the grounds, enjoy the paintings, sculptures, the plants, gardens, wildlife and scenery. I pray, worship, and intercede for others in the onsite chapel or in the little alcoves, prayer rooms, the library, or benches outdoors. When I get stiff I stretch and walk a bit more. I journal, write prayers, take notes and a few photos, and I read scripture or devotional books… just short bits. They have an art room, so sometimes I draw or paint. I enjoy snacks I brought and a good hearty lunch on the grounds. I make sure that nothing is done out of obligation or becomes drudgery. Sometimes I just sit there and be. Many times. I allow myself to truly relax and be myself. How life-giving it is. My heart fills up. It is truly sacred space. Somehow more fully the permission is given, the place is consecrated for pilgrims to come alive and enjoy it all, and feel loved ever deeply by our good Maker. Do you like picnics? It’s like that.

Sometimes I feel the shine of God and sometimes it seems God is thinking and being quiet next to me. We’re friends and friends can do that.

So, instead of going into everything I enjoyed and relished in the details, I’ll share a few field notes and let the rest be hidden to ponder in my heart.

• The Sacred will hush you and bring you home.

• As jars of clay filled with treasure (God within) we need rest and reconnection to be cleaned out and readied for God’s use in holy work.

• Life is short, bitter-sweet, and suffused with exquisite joy and ravaging sorrow–all that makes us more human but it takes divine healing through it to become whole. We are simply too fragile to do “being human” apart. Beside God, we need people who love God. People have God inside, and that helps.

• The birds aren’t frantic as I assumed for too long; they are alive with work. Excited to be themselves.

• Deep calls to Deep. In God’s whispers the deepest parts of ourselves are stirred yet we often mistake it for other things.

# # #

When was the last time you got away?

 If you’d like to go and you live near Reading/Lebanon, Pa, let me know. I’m always happy to go with a companion. I travel there with a friend or two, then we go off, each own our way to enjoy God or pray and then meet back up for lunch and sometimes discuss it a bit.

I also offer a guided experience there, and more info for that is here if you are interested.

Clay and Metal…the process of a masterpiece

How are you formed?
Here are just two ways God can form us.

See this video of a potter. At the start, the clay is just a lump. Not much to look at, little beauty, non functional, and undeveloped. Yet, because of its quality of malleability, it can be fashioned, sometimes rather quickly, into a masterpiece. A lovely, useful, handmade, creation, worth much more than an untouched lump of clay.

When the raw material is harder, more force is needed to change its form. See this case in metal working. But, remember, hammering the metal into form is most often preceded by a time in fire to soften it.

We fall into both of these categories as we develop. We have metal areas, and clay areas that need work. Which do you have more of?

God employs his Holy Spirit in whatever methods and processes are needed for that particular area of our lives. Often we need to be more softened and flexible before we are ready. For our own good, and for the good of others, God fashions us. To a certain degree we can choose the kind of raw material we give to God to recreate. When we present our hearts and minds willingly, the process of forming us into something very beautiful is a less painful and vigorous process. Sometimes, we have already presented ourselves willingly, and the suffering comes, regardless.

However, the less we surrender to the skillful, creative, loving work of God, the more time we’ll need in “the fire” to purify, refine, and prepare ourselves. In the end, God makes us so beautiful that we may hardly be recognizable.

When you are in times of great struggle, keep the end in mind. No two people will be formed in the same way. And, no trail is wasted. Our change is in the process, and our hope is in God’s final product.

It the area of “Spiritual Formation” (also called, discipleship) we may intentionally undergo practices that nurture Christ-likeness. We encounter a series of little deaths in devotion to the process at hand. We relent.

Should we be weak like wet clay, and not strong like iron? Some of that is not up to us, and much depends on how we will be used by God. If we try to be rigid like metal, God will take our kinks out, and knock of the useless parts. It’s not possible to apply a bit of hand pressure to metal, like it is to a spinning mound of clay. God may employ a mallet to get the job done. The job still needs to be done, no matter the process. God will have his way, so that we can be recreated. The longer we are rigid, the longer the process takes, even for clay.

Here’s the part I missed in my spiritual formation, until recent times: God is Good, and trustworthy. There was such a string of woe in my life, that I took God for a menace, or very drowsy. In gaining experiential, devotional, and formal training about God (which is the study of God, i.e.theology), I changed.

In a greater way, I know that though my heart may be battered, it will not be reshaped by a malicious God. The Supreme Being does not cause or let us endure suffering out of sport, or sadistic kicks.

How we see our struggles, the pain in this world (and God’s part in it (or absence in it, if the case may be), has everything to do with who we REALLY think God is, and what we REALLY believe about his core nature. Many times we attach human characteristics to God. Flawed ones. Please don’t forget this part: Those foundational beliefs we have, tell us about ourselves; and are inaccurate about God.

As in the case of Jesus (God with skin on), we see a deeply compassionate image of the Divine. An accurate image. We see amaze grace and self-sacrafice. We see God caring for us, and caring for us well. A gaze at God’s abundant creation will tell us the same thing. So, this is the true picture/reflection of God. He may let us get a pounding, but we will not be hammered in vain. Here, my friends, is our Hope.

So, imagine the best and ideal parent. (Mind, this won’t be anyone you know. This parent is not possible, in human form.) As a loving parent looks at a helpless baby, the good parent feels a sense of great responsibility and deep compassion. The idea to hurt the baby is nowhere to be found. Non existent. It is in this type of love and compassion that we are forged or molded. (Often in the Bible this is word love and compassion is translated, in English, to “loving-kindness” or “tender mercies”.)

1. What has been an area of clay that God has shaped in your life?
2. What is an area of metal that God is working on in your life?

Receiving Your Thoughts-
What stood out to you in the videos?
What do you have to contribute to thoughts about the process of sanctification? (Or, tell us your thoughts about how God helps us to mature and grow?)

Frameworks, and the study of God

Ever wanted to have the basics of Christianity right in front of you? Try this:

Theology is simply “the study of God” or discourse involving the Supreme Being. Theology can be very academic, but the truth is everyone undertakes theology, even the atheist. In the case of the atheist, God is still considered, because in the simplest of ways he is described in the effort to not believe in him.

We all have a framework of theology that supports the life we live out. Sometimes overlooking the creation and development will lead to hefty inconsistencies when the theological framework is “fleshed out”. False ideas about who God is and what he is doing make this so.

As we consider God, and undertake knowing him, and knowing about him, we may do well to think of this effort as the creation of an armature. A sculptor fashions a wire armature, before the clay or other material is added on. The framework holds fast and supports the malleable materials needed to literally flash out the rest.

When we allow God to be the sculptor, we can get a bit more out of the way, so he can fashion us in his image. Notice the process of this artist below and the 3 steps depicted to create something true to life.

1st step: Build wire frame (armature)
Step 2: add materials to frame.
Finished piece

What has helped you in setting foundation of your theological framework?