Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

God? I Don’t Believe, I Know

June 15, 2017

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud who thought the “master” had gone off on a wrong track (imagine that!), was asked toward the end of his life of exploring the human inner world if he believed in God after all that.

“Believe? No, I don’t believe. I know.”

Listening to a communicator yesterday during my workout, I realized that I don’t touch on the Spirit much in these meditations.

A long line of spiritual seekers exists who wrote something of their journeys for those of us who followed. These are comforting writings for other seekers who have experienced God. It makes us feel like we are part of a large family not psychological outliers.

Some people believe in God, but deep within they are not sure.

Some people believe in propositions that they are taught–sort of like believing that (a + b = c) is the same thing as (b + a = c).

The trouble with believing propositions comes when someone you meet was taught a different proposition. Now what? Political warfare?

But if you have experienced God and attempt to live in the Spirit–well then, you are part of a community, and it changes your life, your personality, your relationships.

Disrupted by Power of the Wrong Kind

April 24, 2017

Recommended reading–The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.  It is a conversation held in 2015 when Archbishop Desmond Tutu traveled to India to meet with old friend the Dalai Lama.

The Book of Joy

Both men had know much suffering in their lives. Yet, the spirituality of each shines through.

What most got to me was toward the end of the book during a description of a celebration for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. Children from the local Tibetan school presented their stories of escape from Communist China.

It struck me that people everywhere just want to live their lives. Work, worship, dance.

Yet there exist everywhere men (almost always men) who seek power (political mostly) over people. They want to tell them what to do. To obey them. Exert power over the daily lives of people.

Even in America there exists a movement since 1979 where a group of men decided to try to turn American Christians into political activists–of course in support of their causes of telling people how to live.

And that movement has somewhat succeeded. It has ruptured Christianity in America, splitting churches, separating friends. All in the name of politics.

At least, for the most part, we don’t shoot each other. Yet.

Then I think of the moment of realization when I came to knowledge of what Jesus meant by turning the world upside down. He lived in one of those power hungry eras. The Romans were quite brutal.

Study Jesus. He said time after time that he came to turn that power relationship on its head. The leader washes the feet of the follower. A powerful example in his own life of that new power relationship.

We give power to the Spirit. We use the power from the spirit we receive in return to help people live better. Now, that’s a vision.

Spirituality Is Part Of Life

March 27, 2017

“You should be on that committee, not me,” the man told me, “you’re more spiritual.”

That confused me. What made him think that?

Why is someone considered spiritual?

Because they read the Bible? Even atheists can do that. Scholars who have no religious orientation can do that.

Because they work on church committees or even just go to church? Many people just show up. We all know people on committees who just show up–occasionally. Maybe the body is present, but the mind?

Maybe they just seem different from other people?

“Sometimes people get the mistaken notion that spirituality is a separate department of life, the penthouse of existence. But rightly understood, it is a vital awareness that pervades all realms of our being…”

I’m currently reading The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred In Daily Life by Brother David Steindl-Rast.

He pointed out this thought at the beginning of one chapter.

Being spiritual does not necessarily mean otherworldly. The spirit is part of life–infusing the physical body, incorporating the mind, yet also pointing toward something beyond–God.

The apostle Paul talked about considering our bodies as Temples to God. A temple was the place where the people’s god (gods) lived. It’s an important place.

Therefore, we should take care of the body. And the mind.

As for being “spiritual…”, maybe he just thought that I thought about God more often. Or that I could pray in public (many people are too shy or insecure to do that). Or that back then I was quiet. Aren’t quiet people more spiritual, after all?

The point is that  we can all be “spiritual.” Just let the spirit infuse our bodies and life.

Anger And Bitterness Disappears Before The Fragrance of Humility

March 8, 2017

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. –Zen proverb

Enlightenment. The direct experience of God.

I began meditating some 45 years ago with the goal of enlightenment. This meditation became known as Centering Prayer promulgated by Father Thomas Keating among others at the time.

Then I began exploring the Desert Fathers and came across John Climacus and his work, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.”

These writers and mystics went beyond enlightenment in a way. What they worked diligently on was bringing our entire life before God. Later, Richard J. Foster (“Celebration of Discipline“) called it the With-God life.

John Climacus wrote, “The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.”

There are people who seem to exist only to stir up those hearts, blow up those unclean winds.

Notice that John considers anger something that binds us, imprisons us.

He continues (this is Step 8 on the Ladder of Divine Ascent, by the way), “Just as darkness retreats before light, so all anger and bitterness disappears before the fragrance of humility.”

Humility–putting others before us in our attitude and awareness. When we leave behind being so wrapped up in ourselves and begin to consider others, then we have taken a step with-God.

The Zen proverb tells us that enlightenment is good, but we still have to live out our  lives every day. John Climacus is one of those guides who can help us.

Wanna Get Away?

February 16, 2017

“Wanna get away?” –Airline commercial, when you’ve done something embarrassing 

We’ve done it. All of us. Yes, you, too.

Said something stupid. Walked into a door. Walked around with the zipper on our pants down.

Or, maybe deeper. Alienated people who were close to us. Or we feel alienated by others. We’re alone.

Yes, we want to get away. Let’s just hop on that big ol’ jet liner. Carry me so far away.

Maybe we’ve gotten ourselves into some sort of gerbil wheel of busyness. We go harder, faster, longer and can’t get out of the cage.

We want to get away.

Monasteries and convents around the world have programs, brochures even, for people who want to escape for a spiritual retreat.

Do you think that seven days of silence will fix that ache inside?

Not if you return to the same old scene.

Religious communities from the time when they began have known that there are two types of people who seek to enter:

  1. Those who have a spiritual life and wish to deepen it; and
  2. Those who want to get away from something or someone.

Tip: that second type doesn’t make it.

First, take steps to get your life in order. Like Jesus told us, if we’re on our way to church and remembe we have a grudge against someone we know, stop, turn around, go to the person, make things right, then go to church.

Quit that job. Soon. Quickly.

Sit quietly with just yourself. No distractions. Fifteen minutes a day. Then thirty. How about an hour a day? Meditate.

If you can do that, then one of those retreats will deepen your spirit.

Prepare your heart before all else. Begin now.

Watch What’s On Your Mind

February 13, 2017

There are three types of people. 

I know, there are supposed to be two. But I go with the philosophy when life gives you a choice take both…and.

The apostle Paul was struggling to define the difference between those who follow the Law and those who live in the spirit.

I was struggling to explain Paul.

Then it hit me. Paul is actually saying (for example in Romans 6) what even to him ancient thinkers and spiritual seekers had discovered–

You become what you think about.

Some people, who knows why, are rule followers. “Give me a set of rules,” they say, “and I’ll know how to act.” Oh, by the way, and also I’ll know my place on the totem pole versus other people. It becomes easy to compare. In fact, it’s almost essential to compare. Then you know you’re better than the rest.

Some people reject all rules (they think). “I want to be free” is their theme song. “I won’t let no stinking rules tie me down,” they say.

What they don’t realize is that they are not free. Even economists have finally discovered what we all know–we do not make rational economic choices. Six months later we’re saying, “Why did I buy that?” Or, why did I date him (her)? Or, why did I let my anger (jealousy, sexual urge, revenge) control me?

Where your mind is, so shall you go.

The rule follower keeps saying, “I will not covet,” “I will not covet”, “I will not covet.”

What are they thinking about? Right, coveting.

The person living in the spirit may not even know the meaning of the word covet. But, they say, “I will help the next person I meet,” “and the next”, and so on. They say, “I will keep my mind focused on God and on others.”

You shall love the Lord your God…, and your neighbor as yourself.

Like so many truths in life. This is both simple and hard at the same time.

A Mind Like Water

July 13, 2015

We read in Proverbs (14:30) “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh.”

David Allen, author and consultant of “Getting Things Done” fame, talks about having a “mind like water.” That is actually a phrase he learned in Karate class that may come from Zen. The metaphor is of a pond of still water that absorbs the disturbance of a pebble or rock thrown in with the ripples gradually going away to nothing.

In Getting Things Done (all about personal productivity and effectiveness), this means writing down everything that you are holding in your head. Empty everything, every task, every commitment, everything you are trying to remember by writing it and putting it in a trusted space.

I’ve written before that I love Nozbe for doing this. It is a hard discipline to write things down. But when you empty your mind, you have “mind like water”–still, tranquil, waiting to handle the next disturbance.

James Altucher, a Silicon Valley investor, just wrote about productivity. He quoted Albert Einstein who once derisively stated, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk a sign of?” Altucher says, “that’s OK, Albert, I’d like an empty mind. That way I can fill it with what I choose.”

A tranquil mind means that I can concentrate on my Bible reading and other reading early in the morning.

A tranquil mind means that I can meditate with a clear focus on God far from all the distractions of clutter.

A tranquil mind means that I can come up with creative ideas for my business and my ministries.

As the wisdom teacher says, “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh.”

I Am The Guardian Of A Vision

July 9, 2015

Some 20 years ago, I served as chairman of the board of trustees for our local church. Our main task was to oversee the health and repair of the physical property. With a building older than 100 years, that is a task.

There were some marvelous servants on the board. We all worked together with the skills God had given us, and I believe we were good stewards of the building and property–and the financial health of the church.

Writing in the Celtic Daily Prayer, an unknown author was talking about place (geographic, local) and especially about old places in England. He (she?) said, “When we say, ‘I’m in charge of these ruins,’ it must mean that we are guardians of a vision, not curators for the department of ancient monuments.”

There was a sense when I was attempting to lead the group that I felt part of a long line of people stretching back to the mid-1800s (a long time in western Ohio where settlement really didn’t begin in earnest until about the 1830s). They had a vision of being Jesus’ witnesses in the frontier.

In a way, we are still on the frontier wherever we go. Jesus remains a stumbling block to many. And my great sorrow is when Christ-followers themselves help throw up stumbling blocks instead of looking for ways to help people turn the stumbling block into a cornerstone for the foundation of their lives.

Let’s take the thought even further. When are we guardians of a vision laid out thousands of years before? When are we merely curators of an ancient monument out of which has been sucked all the life and spirit?

When we consider our spiritual formation, at what point do we look for what adds life? Or, should we consider at what point we began just curating an ancient monument and have lost the life?

A Living Contradiction

July 24, 2014

When you think of the Apostle John, you know, the one who wrote a Gospel, three letters and an apocalypse, what is your vision?

Is he the messenger of love? Or a Son of Thunder?

John MacArthur wrote in his book on the apostles, Twelve Ordinary Men that John grew from a strong, opinionated, ambitious person to someone who could also embody the type of love Jesus pointed to.

MacArthur says that John learned to temper his passion for Truth (one of John’s favorite words) with Love (his other favorite word).

How often are we as young people, perhaps freshly educated (or semi-educated) from the university, so full of truth and ourselves that we just want to command everyone into the proper ways?

Then we grow up at some point in our lives and learn that this truth needs to be tempered by patience, empathy, joy, grace (love). Then we are a complete person.

John has always been my favorite, but not so much for either truth or love, but because he seemed the most “spiritual” whereas Peter seemed the most “practical” of the apostles. Paul also was more of a practical preacher than a spiritual teacher.

MacArthur rightly points out that being a walking contradiction is not a bad thing. Strongly defending truth yet showing love to our neighbor–they go together.

The Truth About You

March 19, 2014

John Ortberg, senior pastor of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, is teaching a series now on “The Truth About You.” He says, “The truth about you is that you don’t know the truth about you.”

The most famous phrase on this subject is the inscription at the Temple of Delphi, home of the so-called Delphic Oracle, which says, “Know Thyself.” Christian theologians have picked up that phrase over the centuries–including Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, John Calvin.

During the course of years of my meditating, there have been periods where recurring images would come to me. I’d explore the images during meditation. Sometimes reflecting on them. Then some conclusion would happen, and I would never revisit that image again. Doesn’t mean that I forgot them. I just never went back to that experience.

Paul begins his letter to the Romans talking about how sinful we are. Those can be just words. In my meditations many years ago, there was an image that recurred over the course of many months.

One day during meditation, I opened a door and came face-to-face with all of my sins and all of the sins that I was (am) capable of committing. It was a a shocking experience.

Later, I could understand Romans. And other such works. Forget that I’m so good. I know that within me is the power if unchained has great capability for committing evil deeds.

I’ve said that I’m not really a “Lent” person. It was just never in my heritage and I’ve not picked it up very much. If we take it as a time of reflection of how much bad we have done and how much we are capable of doing, then the release from all that sin and evil (a subsequent experience in that series of meditations) is all the more sweet. That would be the climax of Lent–the celebration of Easter and the Resurrection.

Know yourself. It’s hard. It’s necessary.