Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Dance of Grace or The Force and Jesus

I often talk like I see God as sort of a powerful, benevolent Santa Claus. But actually, my pitifully limited human comprehension is probably more like Star Wars’ the Force outside and within us.

So, as a great fan of Jesus, how do I understand his description of God as Abba, ‘Daddy,’ and his frequent conversations with Him? And what is the role Jesus plays in all this?
First, I think Jesus ‘Got’ God. And tried to communicate to us that the creative force behind the universe was not only still alive and involved doing  the creating thing all around us, but also still nurturing an unfinished universe and unfinished humanity from the inside out.

All of the universe, including humanity, is one. And the Whole (God) is greater than the sum of the parts.  Whatever this creative force that we call God is, it is “on our side,” because we are part of it.  But when we see ourselves as separate from, better than, stronger than, richer than, safer than, in other words, predators of the rest of the universe, we are in civil war and the synergy breaks down.

When we watch Jesus grow in truth (understanding) and holiness (response), we see a dance between the divine and the human. God leads and we follow and Jesus not only told us how, he showed us how. The scriptures are the ‘illustrated’ word of God. And Jesus is the illustration.

He is the blueprint for human change from survival of the fittest to a love that makes us willing to die for the least. He also fleshed out the end that humanity was created to reach, oneness with God through surrender to God who is Love.

Watch the dance.
Jesus is humanly vulnerable from the very beginning: his family fleeing in the dark of night to Egypt to escape Herod’s search to kill Jesus.
Jesus  becoming an adolescent,  showing off  his new knowledge and sense of who he is in the temple, only to be reminded by his mother that kindness, considering others, is what he is being called to learn at this point in his life, then his responding by being obedient to his human parents and growing in understanding .
Jesus grows not only in knowledge, but in wisdom, as he recognizes the other side of knowledge and power: the willingness to respond rather than react (letting go of control of his life) and the vulnerability of a loving response. He’s now not quite so eager to leap into the public eye. Then circumstances and his mother’s challenge to kindness again push him out of his comfort zone. (The wedding at Cana.)

Watch the pattern in Jesus life and ministry:                                                                           Challenges to take his mission to a new level, beyond Judaism  – even to the enemy, responding with the healing power of Love, teaching love to those who were drawn by the miracles of healing and nurture, rejection by those without ears to hear, temptation to earthly power even from his friends, and time and time again seeking the grace of time alone with God.

Jesus snapping at Peter for being a Pollyanna about how his mission will end,  showed that Jesus himself was still struggling with his own acceptance of that reality. Like us, he did not move easily through challenges from stage to stage.  But he always reached a point where God alone was his source and his salvation, up to the very end when he moves from the very human “My God why have you forsaken me?” to the spiritual freedom of “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Ahh, that’s better!  Oneness with God.

What is Jesus role for us?  To flesh out the Love that is God.  A Love we can trust with our lives. A Love that saves us from our separation from the Whole. Accepting Jesus as the Love of God for us is our salvation. And Jesus illustrated step by step the dance between the love of God and our growing response of surrender to God (Love) to become the people we were created to be.  Jesus, as the Love of God, frees us to accept our role, however humble, as an inseparable part of the Whole. When we follow Jesus as our blueprint, he is our Lord.

His life and death and resurrection were not only proof that there is more than this life, but that it depends on our dance of grace that ends in trust, in total surrender to the creative power, the Love that is God, however we perceive God.  In His hands we are One.

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My Neediness is my Redeeming Grace

I am by nature a dreamer, a thinker, a ponderer of imponderables. Hardly the best recommendations for the mother of five! Once I pray, I do manage to focus during emergencies, so I handle crises pretty well.
But the myriad of trivial challenges that make up practical daily life often throw me into a tailspin. My husband used to make fun of me for praying about what cereals to buy.  But nothing is too small for God.
Being a natural klutz has a lovely upside: I need to pray constantly. I am not only consciously and specifically depending on God in everything, I am then thanking Him just as profusely.
I always get into trouble when I forget or perversely decide I can do ‘it’ myself. But when I remember my knack for screwing up the ordinary and simple, it becomes a blessed way to live…..humbling certainly….but blessed! My needs are my redeeming grace.

A Buddhist Christmas

I found this quote on the blog, Make Believe Boutique. It’s Buddhist, but the only difference I can see between this and Christianity is our recognizing that we personally fall short of the glory of God and need the saving grace of Jesus. Otherwise it beautifully describes our human experience, hopes and spirituality.
From Waylon Lewis:
I love Christmas: I love simple, personal presents. I love coziness, and world-quieting white snow, which slows us all down and makes even bustling cities feel like they were Norman Rockwell 1940s landscapes. I love fires, and dinners, and parties with old and new friends and children and elders, people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk with much. I don’t see my family, these days, they’re all spread about the US, and money is tight, and that always tinges this time with emptiness. But I love sadness, as my mom’s Buddhist teacher said it’s the most genuine of human emotions though we’re not to covet it. I love, at this darkest time of the year, remembering that life is short, and it progresses quickly, and memory fades and all that really matters is being a good person, and making the better of two iffy choices every step along the way. It’s a wonderful life, after all. So let’s put the ‘holy‘ back in the Holidays. Let’s buy gifts that better the world, and support good people doing good things. Let’s put away our phones and laptops and TVs—if only briefly—and make some eye contact, and say the obvious: ‘I love you, and this is why.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry things have been funny between us. Let’s be genuine, and have a good talk.’ Because, before you know it, one third of your friends will have divorced moved away lost their hair become old people or even died of accidents or dis-ease or, you know, life. I’m still only 35, but I lose a friend a year, whether in China to an avalanche or right here at home, just a month ago, an only-recently-perfectly lovely healthy powerful friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage IV. In Buddhism we say: this precious human birth is fragile. Make good use of it. Think about others as much as you do yourself and you yourself will find that elusive happiness. Meditate a few minutes, at least, each morning, before the ephemeral to-do lists that seem so important, the lusts and the anxieties, clutter up your snowy peaceful dozy mind. Don’t chase after the fast food of life: sex, bad food, money, big houses, cool cars. They don’t make you happy, the only thing that makes you happy is you sorting yourself out…

At Home in My Skin at Last

Must be getting really old, I’ve been so reflective lately. I guess seventy-six qualifies. Off and on through a lot of my life, I have not been very comfortable being me, sometimes downright miserable about being me. Realized tonight, even though I haven’t set the world on fire, I haven’t burned it down either. And though there have been hard times because of circumstances, there have been more good times than bad. I’ve learned a lot about human being.  And quite a bit about God.  And some really encouraging stuff about God and human being.  And even though I’ve gone through some really dark inner times, I have had lots of fun, lots of pleasure, lots of love both given and received, quite a few times of sheer mind blowing joy, and in my sixties and seventies, probably more laughter than in the first 60 years of my life. Even if I could magically go back and swap circumstances, or even get to be somebody else, I don’t think I would want to. I guess even though I don’t have too many illusions about myself anymore, I’ve just gotten used to being me, kind of like a pair of old house slippers, frayed around the edges, but too comfy to throw away. Amazing grace!
(Small print addendum: Wouldn’t mind some memory repair however.)

Life is Like Boot Camp for Living in Heaven

Life is hard, but it’s liberally sprinkled with times of joy, love, insight, courage, hope, faith, and a peace that really does totally pass understanding.

It’s kind of like a boot camp for living in heaven. The hard parts are tests, but not pass or fail or get a grade tests, but tests that stretch us, strengthen us, teach us, even giving us amazing “Ah Ha!” moments where we get a sneak peak at what comes later, what life is about.

Life is about becoming willing and able to love like Jesus did. And Jesus was God’s love for us fleshed out, expressed so we could know it first hand, up close and personal.

God’s love is a love with no illusions, but also no limits. It’s unconditional love, humbling in a way, because we don’t and can’t earn it. And it seems like God has terrible taste, because He loves everyone, even those tacky, awful people we can’t stand.

God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.

Sometimes God’s love fills our heart with joy until we feel like we may burst.
But, God’s love also opens our hearts to suffer with those we love until the stretching makes our hearts feels like they are literally going to tear in two.
The joy of love and the suffering of love are two sides of the same coin. You do not get one without the other.

“There are faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

In fact, that’s the goal of the first two.

Life is Hard

But it is hard in different ways for each of us, because we are different from one another. Ask any mother of more than

one child. They will tell you we are all born different. Some babies are quiet and placid, but solemn.  Some are quiet

and calm, but smile and laugh easily.  Some are hyper-active even as infants lying on their backs in a bassinet.  Some

are hyper-sensitive to sounds, startle easily, and react to change. Some are tuned in to their inner world,

reacting very little  to their environment. Some are quite independent, while others need more cuddling, attention

and support. Some are excitable, with an inborn tendency to over react to both positive and negative experiences.

Many children as early as two or three have vivid imaginations. Some both empathize and identify with story book

characters,  often later believing themselves stalked by the story book monsters.  Others are thrilled by the vicarious

terror, but don’t identify with it.

When my father read me stories about children being lost or animals being hurt, it would upset me so much that a

happy ending didn’t make it all right.

Watch how differently children and adults react to shows like America’s Funniest Videos.  Some wince or even cry, as

if everything is happening to them; others are detached and amused, whether the event is real and painful for

someone else or not.

Each personality trait has an upside and a downside, each dominant trait we have gives us both

strengths and weaknesses.  I’ve worked with  tools for measuring and illustrating this, such as the Meyers-Briggs Type

Indicator and the  Enneagram, but for this short article it is simpler to use more life experience descriptions.

A person who is very aware of and sensitive to their own feelings may empathize with others, championing the

underdog or the vulnerable, but will tend to over-react to slights or criticism, real or imagined.

As a child I was equally excitable and responsive to happy and sad things .  When I

was three, I was so excited about Christmas that when I finally was taken in to see my toys under the

tree, I threw up on them before I could even play with them.

In my anxiety filled teen years, my stomach rebelled to even mild stress and I learned to not eat all day before just

going out on dates. Unfortunately for my dates, once I was out, I calmed down and got voraciously hungry.  I was

not a cheap date.

As an adult I often experience  sheer joy over  even small things such as the beauty of nature,  children’s laughter,

my grandchildren’s curiosity about the world, but I also experience extremely dark times over my own failures or

the people I love’s pain.

Even traits we consider wonderful have a down side.  People with high IQ’s tend to assume they are right and often

are not open to other’s opinions, but the reality is that no one is right all the time.

Years ago, I attended a workshop where slogan and affirmations were posted on the walls.  One that simply jumped

out at me was, “I am competent and loveable.”

 My immediate reaction was, “No. You can’t be both.”

In my experience the really efficient people are task oriented.  They are both competent and persevering.   They

focus on the goal, prioritize the details, and plow ahead,  often over people who unwittingly get in their way.  Many

things would not get accomplished without this type of person, but they may alienate so many people along the way

that in the long run their effectiveness will be diminished.

Personally, my greatest value has been ideas that help people in general and my focus has been on relationships.

Physical details, particularly about machines, don’t show up on my radar most of the time.

I once had a secretarial job that involved a lot of detail and working with elaborate and expensive office machines.

I was a total disaster.  Luckily, I realized this and left after three months. I am sure everyone there breathed a sigh of

relief.

But later I had a much higher paying job as a director that involved recruiting volunteers and bringing in training

programs for them, creating and organizing new programs, and doing publicity for these.  I was successful at this in

spite of it involving a lot of detail, because I was good at recognizing, recruiting, and supporting people with the skills

that I don’t have.

I wasted a lot of angst in my early life expecting to be equally good at everything.  I taught first grade and one sweet

little girl simply would not do her math homework. When I finally confronted her over this, she looked at me with her

big brown eyes and said sadly, “Oh Miz Norman, I’m good at reading.  Do I have to be good at everything?”  My gut

level response was, “Of course.”  Luckily, I stopped and thought about it.  Finally, I said, “No, you don’t have to be

equally good at everything.  But you need to at least learn survival skills in math. If you don’t know basic math, how

will you be able to shop?”  She thought about that for a minute and decided I was right.

I’m pretty sure she didn’t go on to become a mathematician, but hopefully she is out there somewhere shopping and

keeping her checkbook balanced.

She actually freed me of the belief that I was stupid, if I couldn’t easily excel in everything, and to accept that I had to

work harder at some things just to survive.  I now try to do the things I want to avoid first, but in spurts, followed by

shorter breaks  doing things I enjoy or find easy. This is  a method of motivating myself with a reward and

encouraging myself by doing something I can do easily.

I tend to envy people who live in the present moment. They seem so carefree, since they are not over-burdened by

 past mistakes or wounds and don’t worry much about the future. In fact they hardly think about the future at all.

They are happy, optimistic and fun, but the downside is that they are often oblivious to possible consequences of

their choices in the moment.

I have always tended to focus on the future, imagining its wonderful possibilities. Sometimes this has helped me be an

agent for change and to plan ahead for a lot of eventualities.  But I also end up living in a picture perfect world in my

head.  Then when reality doesn’t measure up, I don’t persevere if I see that I can’t achieve the ideal I have

pictured.   I think that a  lot of my life has been lived by the motto, “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t make a

fool of yourself, try something else.”  Now in my later years my life challenge is to learn to persevere even through

failures and to accept that nothing is perfect.  At seventy-six I still haven’t quite gotten there , but I have made a lot

of progress.

I am emotionally volatile. In the early years of our fifty-six years of marriage, my husband said I could go from

bubbling with joy to total despondency faster than a speeding bullet. And sometimes when I fell into one of my

feeling pits that make doing anything seem like struggling through quicksand, I would become almost paralyzed. But

along the way I discovered that I can continue to function even when depressed, if I cut myself some slack by

prioritizing and only doing what is completely necessary. And, if I don’t waste time and energy by beating myself up

over this trait, I pull out fairly quickly and can go longer periods without becoming a bottomless pit of wants and

needs.

People like me should be assigned a counselor at birth.  At several crisis points in my life I have gotten counseling,

some good, some not so much.  But good or not, because I’m all about evolution, on the grand scale and the

personal,  once I recognize that I’ve bogged down, I persevere at finding what I need to work through it.

  And I’ve come to see that we all evolve in different patterns of stages and in a circle.  For instance at a different

time in life, I and others like me, begin to focus temporarily on being more task oriented people. And the task

oriented people will at some point do just the opposite, thus developing skills in our weaker traits.

The good news is that in our later years we find it easier to become reasonably competent in our weakest

areas. (Easi er, not easy, because in order to do this we must let go of our strength, a kind of dying to self.)

And for me that means being able to accept imperfect reality and to be willing to persevere in inching toward

becoming the unique, though imperfect, person I was created to be.  And along the way are times of  lovely peace,

great joy,  unmeasurable love, and sneak peaks at what the journey is all about.

Come, Lord Jesus

Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas music, even in stores pushing the season earlier and earlier for their own purposes, all fill me with wonderful memories, anticipation and joy. I’ve learned over my seventy-nine years, that what puts the focus on Christ at Christmas is my own hunger for his presence.

Advent is the traditional pre-Christmas season of preparing our hearts for his coming.
Those four weeks were arbitrarily set centuries ago to reflect the four thousand years that the world waited in darkness, longing for his coming. Many years ago, I began on the first Sunday of Advent to pray each day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life.

And some years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize his coming.

One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribbonned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.

As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. (Having ended up the “cleaner upper” by default, I was grumbling to myself a little.)

And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him(and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter over on the lake in town.

When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly
and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve
menu.

As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.

For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked what happened when Mary and Joseph
knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”

It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family.

And then when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,

“Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”

On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would.  At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, even realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.

And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more
in the heart of a child.

As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior he and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers down town in the Memphis August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer. Since then, David has taught in schools in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Bolivia.

Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

Re-posted for the Christmas season 2013 and 2016.