Thursday, November 18, 2010

Surrender Can Be Gentle

Looking for a softening of the austere Covenant Prayer from the Puritan and Wesleyan tradition? You may not be the only one that reacts to its harshness, especially the way some churches just throw it out there for everyone to read (not necessarily pray) every New Year. I struggle to pray and not mouth the words.

You find a gentler expression of a similar prayer by Charles de Foucauld, the posthumous founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart and the Little Sisters of Jesus.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, these groups seek to conform to the social milieu where they earn much of their own living, working regular jobs, wearing ordinary clothes, and exercising their influence by sharing the life of those around them. Henri Nouwen cites Foucauld's prayer in The Road to Daybreak.
Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
And in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
For I love you, Lord,
And so need to give myself,
To surrender myself into your hands, without reserve
And with boundless confidence.
For you are my Father.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

St. Francis de Sales on Ingratitude

Consider particularly the sin of ingratitude toward God, a general sin that reaches out to all the rest and makes them infinitely more enormous. Note then all the benefits God has granted you and how you have misused all of them against the giver. Note especially how many of his inspirations you have despised and how many movements you have rendered useless...So often God has run after you to save you, and you have always run before him in order to destroy yourself.

from Introduction to the Devout Life (Image), p. 47, Part One, The Fourth Meditation- On Sin

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Civil Religion: Not Always Civil

When it comes to gratitude for our blessings, November reminds me that there is a very healthy civil religion in the U.S. With Thanksgiving, each generation has added to the richness of it. Being grateful for your life is good for you, and if practiced, can lead to doing good things.

But there's also a toxic sort of civil religion that really doesn't do anything for me, like when I hear the refrain that "they" have taken God out of schools, (where did "they" put God?). We have "secularized" Christmas so we need to "Put Christ back in Christmas." The literalism of moving God or putting Jesus anywhere is baffling to me.

As a life-long student of the Bible, I doubt that a pristine worship of the One and Only, the God who made heaven and earth, ever really existed in ancient Israel. But it's not about what "they" have done to "take" God away. If the whining does anything truly constructive, it challenges Christians to ascertain where in the world is God moving in our lives.

We need to thank God we're free from the terrible religious wars that our founders had the wisdom to protect us from, constitutionally, by law. Wars among self-professed Christians. Or try the book, Holy Terrors. As the majority faith, we're limited from using our "faith-based" anything on others, or as a pretext, a cover, for doing actual harm to others.

Do you really think that the One who is Lord of all the powers of the universe cares about having a space in our cultural pantheon, whether it's on the bumper of a car or statuary in front of a civic building? No, I don't see Jesus as a culture wars commander and I don't hear the call to engage in a continual battle for most favored religion status. Rather, I see Jesus' way as the one where disciples take responsibility for their own faith- and express it in concrete action. The freedom from doing harm and the freedom for doing good is a gift for which we can be truly grateful!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Discernment: End of Life as Its Beginning

I sometimes wonder when we ask to know God's will, do we really know what we're asking? Would I be able to receive it? Or is our knowing just overrated? Maybe that's why Jesus told the disciples they could not bear or even understand everything he had to say. (John 16:12) So we do well not to judge our entire lives based on whatever we happen to be feeling or thinking at the moment.

More often than not, we only know the right and true and best by looking back at it. Bearing good fruit from our chosen spiritual practice is one of the best ways to discernment. And the results- doing not just knowing- are equally important. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Remember that the "blessed" of Matthew 25: 31 ff. didn't even know the significance of their actions- they just did God's will.

Faith calls us to discover that in every ending, though we may not have seen it or even chose it at the time, God's grace was there offering us a new beginning in hope and healing. The invitation- and choice to see now what we couldn't at the time- is ours.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Offering What We Don't Have

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," shrieked the phony wizard. Of course, we too can hide behind the false self . Why not just give up on the impossible task of showing people the way to a place we've never been! Preaching until you have faith may have been helpful spiritual counsel for John Wesley from his Moravian spiritual director; but it's far from a universal dictate. So, if one size doesn't fit all, why do we make it so?

Some might call it avoidance, that is, running away from your own issues by projecting the problem onto others. Among other things, becoming an escape artist or a master of projection blinds us to the log in our own eye. Instead, we could use this season as a way to refocus. See the "cloud of witnesses" for what it is: an encouragement to choose what is truly life-giving here and now so that we can be there for others in a way that is healing and loving. But first see life and choose life for yourself. We cannot offer what we do not have.

The quality of leadership is determined by the quality of our interior life- with God. So the question is: how is it working- that is- what is my spiritual practice producing? Discerning the right practice for us will result in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Faking it will only lead to guilt and disillusionment and desolation. We only need to make the choice to know the love and grace that is ours for the taking.

Oldies but Goodies