Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Starting Strong In Your Spiritual Journey

May 31, 2018

“You have to show them you are in charge from the first day, or else you will lose control of them for the year.”

My undergraduate degree was in Liberal Arts with classes in math and science, literature and philosophy, and international politics. No classes in teaching.

My first job out of college was…teaching. Seventh grade history and writing. At a Catholic school. I’m a Protestant.

The only advice I received was the sentence quoted above.

I survived. Somehow. Never taught in a school again. Although I have been a teacher my entire adult life in one thing or another.

John Climacus has similar advice for those beginning a spiritual journey.

It is detestable and dangerous for a wrestler to be slack at the start of a contest, thereby giving proof of his impending defeat to everyone. Let us have a firm beginning to our religious life, for this will help us if a certain slackness comes later. A bold and eager soul will be spurred on by the memory of its first zeal and new wings can thus be obtained.

And he concludes his comments on this first rung of the ladder of divine ascent:

Who, then, is the faithful and wise monk? It is the man who has kept unquenched the warmth of his vocation, who adds fire each day to fire, fervor to fervor, zeal to zeal, love to love, and this to the end of his life.

Why have a morning routine that includes study, prayer, meditation, and exercise? It helps us add these things daily.

Pride Creeps In and a Fall Ensues

May 16, 2018

I’ve been contemplating the sin of pride lately. Pride is an insidious thing that creeps into us posing as a friend only to take over our lives driving us from God.

You can pick up a book of psychology or get The Ladder of Divine Ascent by my old friend the 6th/7th Century monk John Climacus, also known as St. John of the Ladder.

Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God’s help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall. It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God, It is the root of blasphemy.

I think John didn’t like pride. Note some of the symptoms we can see such as anger, hypocrisy, lack of compassion.

Many men have crossed my path who were captured by this passion. Proclaiming to be evangelical Christian (and they may well be, not for me to judge), they were captured by this enemy, pride.

An old man, very experienced in these matters, once spiritually admonished a proud brother who said in his blindness: “Forgive me, father, but I am not proud.” “My son,” said the wise old man, “what better proof of your pride could you have given than to claim that you were not proud?”

A person must usually experience a fall, an event that brings many things to light, in order to realize the extent to which pride has entered into life. John says recovery is hard.

A help to the proud is submissiveness, a tougher and humbler mode of life, and the reading of the supernatural feats of the Fathers. Even then there will perhaps be little hope of salvation for those who suffer from this disease.

If we find ourselves needing to be in charge, in control, often angry, judgmental toward others, it is time to go to prayer and seek God’s help to end these passions before they grab us too deeply. Or find a good friend or advisor. Ask if you are showing signs of pride. Seek help.

Are You An Acts 2 Church

February 6, 2018

I know that many readers here are not church-going folks. But most are. So bear with me for a little thought experiment especially for the people who are members of a church or congregation.

Thought experiments were extensively used by smart people like Leonardo DaVinci and Albert Einstein. Basically, you think through the what-ifs of a situation and try to visualize the outcomes.

Oh, it’s not me doing the experiment–it’s you.

Let me describe a situation. It’s from the book of Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2 verses 44-47.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home (Lord’s Supper) and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved.

Now, imagine being there. Describe the people. What did they look like? How did they act? How did they relate to other people, both inside the fellowship and outside?

Now, let your mind picture the church/fellowship where you are. How does everyone act? How do they relate?

Describe the difference? Is there a reason that the Lord is not adding to your numbers day by day?

Longing For God

September 6, 2017

I stretch out my hands toward you, longing for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143)

In today’s readings, there was this teaching from 13th century mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart, “The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love.”

So many of us miss out on this life of being filled, set aflame as he says, with God’s love. 

Where I live, and probably where most of you live, the dominant teaching is to “accept Jesus into your heart.” The typical meaning is to tell people that you acknowledge Jesus and agree with the teachings of whatever group you did that statement of belief.

And with that statement of belief, that’s all you need. Life is changed. Everything is beautiful.

They miss the rest of the teachings of Paul (see Roman after Chapter 8, for example). The parts like “work out your faith in fear and trembling.” 

Do we even use the word “longing” any more? It means wanting something so much that you feel a pain deep in your guts. Even more than wanting that new big pickup truck. Even more than that large house. Even more than that attractive person you just met.

When we stop at just repeating the words, we miss out on life–what Jesus kept talking about and John repeated in his Gospel. Abundant life. Filled with the love of God.

And like flames, to carry on Eckhart’s metaphor, they need to be rekindled and refreshed constantly, fed with new fuel. We do that by reading spirit-infused writing and contemplation and singing.

Christianity Is Not Found Useful

July 18, 2017

Young people do not find Christianity useful. 

Scanning my Twitter feed and saw that tweet.

First thought–this sounds like a recycled news item that pops up every few years. Young people have been abandoning the church for generations.

But the writer didn’t say church, he said Christianity.

Is that the same thing?

The term useful is intriguing.

Maybe in terms of a church… It’s perhaps a place to meet people and be with people.

But maybe at 20 you’re thinking that those are not the type of people I’d like to meet. Perhaps not cute, or fun, or smart? Maybe not useful for meeting friends and a future spouse?

Maybe at 30, I’m thinking about contacts for getting ahead in business or my profession? Maybe not useful for that?

Maybe they are so young that they have not experienced a spiritual crisis, yet. Or they haven’t recognized that they are searching for something undefined.

Or maybe, they have. And they can’t find a church more interested in people than they are in politics.

Not being there on that personal level when a person is seeking spiritually or in spiritual need (which in reality we all are) is a failure of the church far too often. 

Church as a social place or political place, well, that’s bound to turn people off.

Church as the embodiment of Christianity–now that’s useful. Useful because it helps people. 

A half-hour ago, I had only the idea with no idea where it would lead. Then, much like how Jesus would take a physical concept and move it into a spiritual concept, I let the idea take me from the absurd to the spiritual.

When You Greet Someone, Do You Acknowledge Them

July 13, 2017

You are walking and meet someone you know. “Hi, how’s it going?” you greet them.

Do you care how it’s going for them?

Maybe, sort of. What if they stop and truly answer that question? How deep did you mean the greeting to go?

The greetings I was taught in both German and French are basically the same meaning.

Many of us as Christians are introduced to the Hebrew word Shalom from the Bible. We are taught that it means “peace” in English.

Steve Carter, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, last week was unpacking the meaning of the word and the nuances and meanings deeper than peace as the absence of conflict.

He was shocked on his first trip to Israel when people greeted him with Shalom. He asked about it.

This is an ancient word in the language. It has deep connotations of spiritual awareness of the other person, a greeting encompassing completeness, wholeness, the deep peace that Jesus and Paul also discussed.

I teach Yoga. We use the ancient greeting (as both “hi” and “good-bye”) Namaste (nah’-ma-stay). In the ancient Sanskrit, it also has spiritual connotations recognizing the spirit of the other person and the wholeness of God and people.

Of course, sometimes it is just “hi” or “bye”.

It all depends upon the attitude of the greeter. What is our attitude as we greet people. Are we greeting respectfully recognizing the other as another child of God? Or just a meaningless, quick “hi”?

Father, Son, and Holy Bible

June 28, 2017

The Trinity for many of us–Father, Son, and Holy…Bible.

Have you ever talked about spiritual things with Christians with any of a variety of “literalist” beliefs and seen them become quite uncomfortable? Or a spiritual world? Or a spiritual life?

Steve Carter, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, had been speaking about his upbringing with emphasis on the Bible and no mention of the Spirit. I stole the title of the post from him.

He is teaching a series called Cultivate, and its theme seems to be cultivating the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I blame a lot of the emphasis on strictly Bible reading (see yesterday”s post pondering a statement of Jesus about searching the scriptures in vain for eternal life) on the rise of rationalism in 17th Century Europe. The East has its own tradition of rationalism.

Emotionalism is not the answer. Any psychologist will tell you that giving in to emotions and living a life on an emotional roller-coaster is self-destructive.

But life in the spirit. The fruit of which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

What is to be feared by living like those describe?

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.