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The Devil’s Laughingstock

So I was reading some Meister Eckhart yesterday morning. If you’re not familiar with him, he lived 1260-1328, and was a German theologian, philosopher, professor, and mystic. He became professor of theology at the University of Paris and took a leading pastoral and organizational role in the Dominican Order. I came across a section of a sermon that has been kind of haunting me, in a holy way. A Holy Spirit haunting, if you will. Here’s the section from his sermon entitled Nothing Above The Soul with Proverbs 31:27 as the text:

“I have said often that those who fast much, and watch much and do great things, but fail to correct their faults or improve their ways–which alone is true progress–deceive themselves and are the devil’s laughingstock. A man once had a hedgehog by which he got rich. He lived by the sea. When the hedgehog sensed a change of wind, he tapped his hide and turned his back to that direction. Then the man went to the sea and said to them [i.e., the people who lived there]: ‘What will you give me to show you how the wind is going to turn?’ And he sold them [the means of foretelling changes of] wind and got rich on it. Thus too a person may grow rich in virtue by discovering the point at which he is weakest and correcting it, and by turning his chief care to overcoming his weakness.”

I’ve heard it said that if you just eliminate one bad habit (be it a physical one or a habit of thought) per year, then you are growing at a very fine rate. The same goes for obtaining a good habit every year. I do believe we are designed to grow, to mature as human beings throughout our short time here. To stagnate and flounder in the same old habits does not ring of abundant life.

I hope this gives you something meaningful to ponder as it did for me!

Election Reflection

Can Donald Trump separate us from the love of God?

Can Joe Biden separate us from the love of God?

My goodness, some of us Christians sure act like they can, don’t we?

I am convinced that no president shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God.

How does the president of the United States change your relationship with God?

How does the president affect your personal interactions with the risen Christ?

How does political leadership prevent you from doing good to your neighbor who is right in front of you?

How does congress make you pray less?

Does the senate block the Holy Spirit from being the great Comforter?

No matter who our leaders are, I keep praying everyday. I continue to interact with Jesus about everything throughout each day. I keep loving the person the Holy Spirit places in front of me. Leaders may be able to change some of our outer circumstances, but they will never be able to take our inner freedom to experience the love of God. No leader can affect our personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, or prevent us from loving our neighbor.

Speculation(shun)s

Let’s talk about the other “Tion” our adversary uses to throw us off course that we would do well to shun–Speculation. This is something my friend Julie brought up some weeks back that I’ve been pondering a bit. We can what-if ourselves into oblivion, into insanity, can’t we? We have the ability, and even affinity, to give priority and importance to that which has not happened, to that which we do not even know. Talk about a colossal waste of energy and time.

We tend to fill in gaps with our imagination, which is not always positive or helpful. “So and so didn’t say ‘hi’ to me. They’re likely not happy with me.” “Mr. Dude is probably going to be elected president, then this and this and this will happen, and the country will look like hell.” Or what I tend to do these days: “My left ring finger feels a little tingly…I might be dead by morning.” All of these speculations knock us out of the present moment, increase fears of various kinds, and worst of all, take our minds off God. At a bare minimum, we can start by turning all of these speculations into conversations with God. This is a very good move. This is what I call “the mill house of prayer”–taking judgments, worries, and what-ifs and grinding them into dialogue with God, into prayers, something that is actually life-giving instead of soul-sucking. Also, we can check our faith to see if we believe Jesus really is the good Shepherd, ultimately in control, and always desiring what is absolutely best for us in all situations, as well as always instructing us through all situations.

A couple weeks ago I was watching The Village, one of my favorite movies, with our eldest daughter Gabriela, and was struck by this great exchange between the characters Ivy and Lucius sitting on the porch:

Ivy: “How is it you are brave when all the rest of us shake in our boots?” Lucius: “I do not worry about what will happen, only what needs to be done.”

BOOM.

There it is.

For our purposes here we could say, “I do not worry about what might happen” or “about what others might be thinking…”

Worrying about what might happen or what others are thinking serves only to distract us from whatever we need to be doing right now….which may be as simple as conversing with God.

Obstructions

note the reflection of the lawn chair

Yesterday at the gym Ana (mi esposa) got done before me, and said she’d be waiting out front, no rush. I finished up, walked outside, looked left, looked right–no Ana to be seen. “Where the heck did she go off to?” I wondered. Car was locked and I had the key, so she wasn’t in there. Then suddenly I heard her voice very close to me: “Hey there, how was your workout?” Still not seeing her, the audio seemed to be coming from the potted shrub about eight inches away to my left. Was I having a burning bush experience?? Does Yahweh sound just like my wife?? I then took a half step forward and saw Ana, clearly, sitting in a lawn chair directly behind the shielding greenery. She was two feet away from me the whole time and I didn’t even realize it.

A significant portion of the spiritual life/journey/battle is the removal of obstacles. Jesus is always right there next to you. Even closer than right next to you.

What is in the way?

What’s blocking your view?

It could be a mind filled with worries, what-ifs, and the cares of this world.

Maybe it’s the “Weapons of Mass Distraction“–Facebook, YouTube, & Netflix.

Some obsess over work, or give too much attention to politics.

Is it an inordinate pursuit of comfort?

You could be a “What’s next?” person instead of a “What’s now?” person, missing the present moment.

Perhaps you don’t need to do more, but rather need to remove whatever inhibitors are shielding your view of God with you right now.

Divine taproom

there was no place for them in the inn. ~Luke 2:7

Looking for a place for the Son of God to be birthed. Would you believe there were no rooms available? They don’t yell at anyone, or force their way in. They simply move on to wherever there was room for them.

And this is still how it is for Jesus today. It’s been said that we can have as much of His Spirit as we want or will allow. It depends on how much space we make available. Jesus typically doesn’t barge in and start moving your stuff out of the way. He politely asks and waits. Do we make space for Him? A mind filled with worry or what’s next or what people think leaves no room for the Son of God to come in, let alone have a place to sit and actually stay a while. He doesn’t yell, or force His way in. He simply lodges where He’s welcomed, where there is a vacancy.

The room we allow for the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to tap into the spiritual power and energy of Jesus, thus the “Divine Taproom”. Without divine power, this world will crush you. Do you have any vacancies? Or are all your rooms booked up with human ideas and influences? It is imperative, and extremely challenging today, to make space for Jesus to fill us with His mind, with Himself. To do this, we must have times of evacuation. Some people call this a “brain dump”. The only way I have found to do this is to be still and silent, to let all thoughts settle and drift away, then simply listen to what the Lord may want to say to me or show me. This can be done with Scripture of course (lectio divina), a prayer word (centering prayer), while taking a walk, staring at a tree, or just sitting in a silent room. It’s difficult to overstate the peace, refreshment, guidance, an energy I gain from this oh so simple practice that anyone can do. To clear out a space for Jesus to come in and sit and talk–there’s nothing better, for there is no better house guest.

God is easy to please

My yoke is easy to wear; my load is easy to bear.” ~Jesus

God is easier to please than humans.

You ever think of that?

For some, that may be difficult to grasp depending on one’s view of God, but I have come to realize that people expect more from us than God does–in a certain sense. And included in “people” is me. Sometimes I expect more of myself than God does. I tend to think I should do more than I’m capable of, but God knows intimately my limits and is like, “Slow down there, little camper.”

By “in a certain sense” I mean that though God desires to have all of me, which sounds daunting, He simply wants my heart–my trust, my sharing of experiences, my love, and yes, my obedience–but not a bunch of accomplishments or, thankfully, perfection. And when I think of how good, loving, powerful, wise, and sacrificial God is, as Jesus showed us, it’s a pleasure to give myself.

One day it hit me that doing my part, even in a worldly sense, is still only one seven billinonth of the total. Doesn’t sound so overwhelming when put like that. Heck, even if I’m really killing it for a whole week, I’m still probably only doing five seven billionths of the load. Problems seem to arise from the toxicity of comparison, and thinking we should do other people’s portions. We’re only called to do our own unique part, and that with God’s energy and assistance. Now for you ten-talent folks you’ve got a bit more responsibility than us two-talent friendos, but you’ve also been blessed with the ability to carry it out, so you don’t actually have more to do, per se, simply more to draw from that’s been gifted to you for Kingdom purposes.

Dallas Willard often said that God is more concerned about the person we’re becoming than in our accomplishments. That the gift God gets from our life is who we become. I couldn’t agree more. Now God can accomplish any task on His own (but apparently likes to work with us, which is cool). But you can almost say that God cannot make us become a certain kind of person, because then we would just be like a programmed device. Becoming a God loving person, more and more Spirit-filled, taking on the mind of Christ requires our choice and effort. I think this is done mostly by sitting at Jesus feet like Mary did, while her sister Martha was concerned about many things. Notice Jesus did not harshly reprimand Martha, for she was doing good things. I always envisioned Jesus smiling while he playfully told Martha, “You’re troubled about so many things. Just get over here and be with me already.” I believe all that we need to do and accomplish will, and indeed must, peacefully flow out of this feet-sitting.

Topic or Life

Christianity is not merely a topic to be discussed, but a Life to be lived and experienced.

Jesus did not say, “I’ve come to bring you a new topic of discussion so that you may talk about it excessively.

Rather, He said, “I’ve come so that you may have Life, and have it to the full.”

Imagine for a moment the ridiculosity of Jesus coming to earth, living the brilliant life of service and teaching that He did, dying that horrific death, rising from it—for the reason of giving us something to talk about. How sad would that be?

Now I don’t have an M. Div., but I’m pretty sure He went through all that so that we could actually share in His Divine Life and experience it in our real lives day to day.

Merely discussing it, for me, doesn’t do a lot to open myself up to the point of tangibly receiving that Divine Flow of supernatural life and energy. (Unless of course the conversation is about what God is doing in your life and teaching you, or how awesome God is. That’s pretty efficacious. But you know what I’m saying–simply talking about it, instead of sharing in it.)

But prayer, whether with others or alone, sure opens me up to that Divine Flow.

Sitting in listening silence, with nothing on my mind but God really does it for me.

Lectio Divina—the meditative reading of Scripture.

The Prayer of Examen.

Serving others.

Worship and praise.

Being in and observing nature with gratitude to God for it.

These are excellent ways to open one’s self up to receiving grace.

Discussions of Christianity as a subject typically leave you the same way you entered, if not a little emptier. They usually don’t stay with you and strengthen you in the moment when needed.

As Dallas Willard encouraged, we don’t merely need to teach what we ought to do, or what we should do, but we need to teach how to do what Jesus taught us.

Experience of the Divine Life, drawing upon the Spirit of Jesus, seems to come mainly through prayer and total abandoning trust in Jesus.

It is through prayer that God works directly on your soul, and not through theological rumination.

~Frederica Mathewes-Green

What Is True Beauty?

by Gabriela Pallikan

Acadia National Park Schoodic Peninsula in Maine

  The sun began to peek over the horizon, spraying reflections of tender pinks, oranges, and purples all over the ocean’s surface. Delicate clouds dotted the morning sky, and monstrous boulders towered ominously over the water’s edge. As I stared into the distance, the vast, flawlessly blue waves beat against the rocks in thunderous yet muffled crashes, and seagulls chattered overhead. Even the trees, which were lined up to create a fence between the gravel road behind me and the red boulders ahead, seemed to stand out like radiating emeralds in the soft light of the new day. Seeing all of the vibrant blues of the ocean and greens of the plants and golden in the sky above felt such a relief from the business and agitation of the city. In that moment, everything felt so much more alive, yet so much more at peace. All I could think was how beautiful that scene was, and how perfect the beauty of God can be. 

  However, looking back, it is so hard to describe exactly why I was overcome with such beauty, because beauty can be such an abstract idea to define. What is it that makes something truly beautiful? Why is it that everyone can easily point out what they think is beautiful, yet they cannot say why? Why is it that certain things are generally considered beautiful and others are not? What is it about beauty that can make a person so enchanted and amazed? The dictionary defines beauty as a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially sight. It is true that beauty is pleasurable to those who are beholding it, but it is also so much more than that. It is something that is much deeper than the pleasure of human nature, and it has a much more important purpose than to bring enjoyment to people. Beauty is God’s mark upon the world in order to reveal what is truly good; therefore, goodness and beauty are the same on a deeper level.

  Beauty and goodness are fundamentally uniform because something cannot be beautiful if it does not express the truth, goodness, and love which God intended. Beauty is how people can observe and experience what God created to be good. Therefore, goodness is what is pleasing to the senses, but also what is pleasing to God. In his writing Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas discusses this idea of beauty and goodness being one and the same. He says, “Goodness is what every person desires, and beauty is the form of goodness that our senses can observe. Beauty and goodness are the same things deep down below the level of the senses”. The Bible also shows that God created what is good and beautiful. The book of Genesis states, “And God saw that it was good,” but that verse contains a Hebrew word which can really be translated as either good or beautiful, making them one in the same. Anything that is not good on a deeper level cannot truly be considered beautiful.

However, these days, sin has so deeply corrupted our society and created such an alluring false imagery of what is beautiful, that it can be difficult to distinguish the difference sometimes. There are so many twisted versions of God’s gracious gifts to humankind that have turned into hateful, sinful acts of greed and jealousy. These may seem good at first, but once the enhanced, glamorous outside is stripped away, it is clear that what lies beneath is the hideous, destructive wickedness of what it truly is, lacking any sense of virtue or goodness. Some could say that murder is beautiful, but just because someone may see it that way, it does not mean that it is truly beautiful. Murder is, of course, neither fundamentally good nor pleasing to God, so whether or not someone believes that taking a life holds some sort of beauty, it cannot. 

  Examples of true beauty can be found especially in nature, but a specific example is the Amazon rainforest.  This huge, luscious creation supports an amazing amount of life every single day. From the tallest tree down to the smallest ant, the rainforest is home. If one were to stand in it, they would see the glowing green of the tree’s highest canopy, the stripes of golden sunlight running down to touch the earth through the spaces between each little leaf, and they could hear the sounds of the various birds singing to one another as twigs snapped beneath the weight of more impressive animals slowly lurking behind the bushes. There would be no doubt of the beauty of the place, and its true beauty in giving so much life to so many different creatures and plants which God created. The beauty of it lies beyond what one could observe with their senses, but rather into the goodness of the creation.

  As God’s mark on his marvelous creation, the purpose of beauty is to unveil the true essence of his goodness in a way that can be perceived through the senses. However, true beauty goes deeper than the senses as it reflects God’s virtue. With this argument, it is important to keep in mind that true beauty is not the same as one’s taste. Take art work for example. Van Gogh’s Starry Night might deeply move one person but just be another painting to someone else. This does not mean that Van Gogh’s work is not beautiful; it just shows that some people might not have a taste for the certain kind of artwork. Starry Night is still a beautiful creation because it reflects how God created the stars to twinkle in the night sky and the light of the moon to bounce around on all the different little homes of the village. Van Gogh was inspired by the scene God created in nature and chose to make his own imitation of it to express the beauty he experienced. 

  Nevertheless, some might say that there is no higher purpose to beauty because everyone responds to it differently. If there truly was one purpose for it, everyone would see it in the same way. Just because people see it differently, that does not mean that it is not there. Part of the beauty in how God created the world and each person is that everyone is unique. Everyone has their own background, their own story; therefore, they will be inspired by the beauty of his creation differently. In many cases, that inspiration manifests itself in varieties of art. If everyone saw beauty the exact same way, the world would not have the collection of all distinct forms of art. Music, dance, theater, poetry, and visual art would not exist without the unique perspective of every single person. It does not matter that people might not see beauty the same way; the importance of it is that the purpose of beauty is to reveal to them the goodness of God and inspire them to continue to create. It goes down to a deeper, spiritual level for the higher purpose of reflecting God’s virtue. 1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” True beauty comes from somewhere deeper than our senses can detect, from a higher spiritual level which reveals God’s true goodness.

  Some may say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; therefore, everyone has his or her own view of what is beautiful. There may be things that most people agree are beautiful, but there is always going to be someone who does not. Take a rose, for example: most people would agree that roses are beautiful. The vivid, radiant red of the petals, all wrapped around each other, which seemed to glow in the sunlight, and the delicate stems reaching for the sunlight with peculiar, mischievous thorns sticking out cause a sense of hesitation at the seemingly lovely, innocent little flower. However, there is someone out there who might despise roses, maybe because they are allergic, maybe because it reminds them of someone they loved who passed away, or maybe just because they do not have a taste for that particular type of flower. However, this point of view does not recognize that taste, someone’s own personal opinion, is very different from what something may actually be regardless of what that person may think it to be, whether beautiful or not. Just because someone does not find the flower to have beauty by their own notion, that does not take away from the beauty it truly does hold because it was created by God in reflection of his goodness. 

  Beauty cannot be whatever each person believes it to be because, if so, then everything would be beautiful, which would make nothing beautiful. If everything was beautiful, the word would lose its meaning, and there would be no way for God to make apparent what is really good. This happens with words all the time in our society. Words that used to be eloquent and expressive have just been used over and over again until the true heaviness of its original meaning has been completely disregarded.  Again consider the rose, for example: If the rose was truly only beautiful if the person who was beholding it thought so to themselves, then what would it really mean to call something beautiful? If everything was beautiful, then what would be the point in using that term to describe something? Calling something beautiful would not make it set apart from anything else in the world, and is that not what the point of beauty is? It is how people describe the goodness they can see in the world through their senses, the goodness which sets it apart from anything man-made or corrupted by sin. 

  There has to be a foundation for the truth of beauty so that it can retain the significance of its true meaning in that it reflects the virtue of the Lord. There has to be a solid contrast between what is beautiful and what is not so that people can define what is good, no matter the personal opinion of someone else. The ugly and evil of the world, brought upon by the very first sin, is necessary to give a true appreciation and ability to see the beauty and goodness. C.S. Lewis wrote about general morality, which also applies to the specific discourse of there having to be true standards for beauty. He says, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas is better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. … You are, in fact, comparing the both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a Real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that Real Right than others”. In saying this, he means that everyone naturally believes that there is a true standard for beauty, no matter what others think, and the real standard of beauty is what God has graciously shown his people as what is good and loving, truthful and virtuous. 

  Beauty is the hint God placed upon the world in order to reveal to his people what is good, true, and virtuous. It allows people to experience that goodness through their senses in order to get closer to him. In modern society, it is important to have an understanding of what true beauty is. People can be pretty careless when throwing words around that actually have a deeper meaning. They believe that everyone has their own opinion of beauty, so they believe it does not really matter as long as they know what they think is beautiful. To most, beauty is merely what is pleasurable to the senses or whatever they think makes them happy. However, true happiness can only come from God, so if they are only pursuing what they believe can make them happy, if they are only pursuing the things of this world, they will become lost very quickly.  Beauty is God’s own way of communicating to his people what is good and true, what they should be pursuing in order to find the true happiness which only lies within him.

Book Review

When Faith Becomes Sight: Opening Your Eyes To God’s Presence All Around You

by Beth and David Booram

 

Profound Guidance For Your Journey Toward God

Gentle and wise guides.

This is who Beth and David Booram are, and you are privileged to experience the rich benefit of their spiritual guidance—should you choose to dive in and feast upon this magnificent book.

Decades of spiritual experience, learning, and teaching are beautifully transposed into words on paper that I found to be penetrating and invigorating. It is difficult to translate the deep work of spiritual direction, healthy introspection, & God-seeking into book form in such a way in which you can feel it and be powerfully moved by it. But this Beth and David have done incredibly well with “When Faith Becomes Sight.”

In this work, they are quite effective with assisting you in attuning your heart’s receptors to God—God at work in the world at large, yet also in those tiny, difficult-to-detect recesses of your inner self.

One of the many qualities I love about this book is how the authors help you–wherever you may be on your journey–look deep within, yet without falling into an unhealthy introspective self-absorption. They consistently keep the focus of the subtitle, “Opening Your Eyes To God’s Presence All Around You”, ever in front of you, while simultaneously leading you on a journey of vitally efficacious self-knowledge. Another quality I must mention are the imaginative accounts of Scriptural narratives throughout the book. They are transcendently vivid and palpable, giving you a different and exciting lens through which to meditate upon the sacred text.

Just one of the highlights that was especially helpful to me was this sentence from Chapter 12 entitled “Befriending Desire”:
“Surprisingly we discover that desiring isn’t primarily about fulfilling. Desire is a powerful spiritual energy that moves us toward God and the life we were created to live.” And their reflection on Jesus’s many “Parables of Desire” was eye-opening—”Isn’t he emphasizing that desire is a powerful force within us that can propel us toward God and the desires God has for us?”

If you’re looking for authentic assistance in attuning to God and, therefore, your truest self, this book will be amazingly helpful, for it has been lovingly poured forth by two very loving, gentle, & wise spiritual guides.