Friday, July 28, 2006

Dazzlement and Awe ::

Only that which is greater than us can awe us. Peter was fright­ened by what Jesus knew. Perhaps he thought, "If Jesus knows what is in the sea, then he knows what is in me!" It was a fear of the unknown depths and of the God who knows what is down there that engulfed Peter with awe.

The Wisdom literature of Scripture repeats the admonition that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." More than just fright, the word connotes a sense of awe. It is awesome when Christ emerges from our unconscious with something within us that God wants us to discover.

Dazzlement is awe at what emerges from the depths as well as the view from the heights. It is like standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, seeing both enormous depth and distance at the same time. It is at once an acrophobic height as well a marvel of unimagin­able forces and timelessness that could displace such vastness in the earth.

The same Peter who was astonished at what Jesus could surface from the depths of the sea is also the Peter who saw the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top. Dazzlement is about these highs and lows. On the one hand, we fear what is emerging from the unknown; on the other hand, we rise in ecstasy to the heights of won­der.

Dazzled worshipers, without self-consciousness, are caught up in praise and meaningful stirrings at the experience of God's greatness. Concomitantly, they are brought down in conviction of their sinfulness once their self-consciousness returns. Isaiah, in a vision of dazzlement, "saw the Lord . . . high and exalted," and responded, "Woe is me!"

Dazzlement feels like a dangerous place. Some of us are so defended against awe that we resist any stirring of the depths lest we lose our composure. Others are so predisposed to the histrionic that we view and portray dazzlement as something of supreme value in itself and as the ultimate validation of true Christianity. Both are two sides of the same coin; for one, dazzlement is too much of a threat and for the other, it is too much of an end. A balanced view of dazzlement sees it not so much as a norm for the journey, but a place that reveals some­thing we need to know as we travel in the plains and valleys of life: that God is always beyond what we "ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dazzlement and Shadow ::

I choose the term dazzlement to describe this place on the journey because the word connotes the effects of brilliant light and a sense of being charmed or profoundly impressed. Just as shadows are defined by light, so Christ's light reveals the shadow of life. Shadow is the part of us that we do not know nor find acceptable. The origin of the emerging reality of Christ in our life, the shadow holds surprises. As we are distracted by the light above, Christ emerg­es from the shadow below. It is a dawning in the soul; an awaken­ing.

To talk about interior light is to talk about interior darkness. Just as the shadow defines the object illuminated, so the emerg­ing light of Christ demarcates the unknown regions that lie within. The temptation of dazzle­ment is to believe that the light—and darkness—are outside of us rather than within. Extrinsic illumination is powerless to bring about change; real change occurs from the inside out.

Throughout history the sea has been a mythological symbol of this unknown dark region of the soul as well as the beginning place of creation. While we long to ascend to the heights in our quest for knowledge, we rarely descend into the abyss in our explorations. Nothing is so defiant of light as the deep.

The New Testament story of Simon Peter's call provides a rich figure for how dazzlement arises from the shadow. Peter was a fisher­man, a man whose liveli­hood entailed drawing from the depths. There he met the Tour Guide of the Deep.

In the story, Jesus asks Peter to put his boat "out into deep water." Jesus had been teaching from the boat, enlightening the people with his message. Now he would bring something up from the deep, a harvest from the shadow. Peter had fished long hours in the darkness of night. Now he would see his catch in the light of day.

Shadow is a term used by Carl Jung to describe the dark and unconscious side of ourselves, which is not necessarily evil but cut off from our aware­ness. His dreams were haunted by the recurring image of a fish-skinned Bible, which he interpreted as a symbol of the unconscious since fishes are mute and unconscious. Perhaps it is not only the muteness of fishes that portended them as symbols of the shadowy unconscious in Jung’s dreams, but that they dwell in the watery underworld, beneath the surface, much like the unconscious forces in the psyche.

The shadow is what we do not want to know about our­selves, lest we are undone by it. It is what is unknown and unloved. But, it is also the source of creative energies, locked away awaiting libera­tion. Into this shadowy deep Jesus pushed Peter. And, there Christ pushes you so that you may recover the riches from the depths of your soul.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dazzled by Christ ::

A woman approached the village well in the heat of the day. On this day a visitor met her, a rabbi journeying from the south. Their con­versation took the form of a game, with move and countermove, covering the gamut of her life. He knew the story of her racial and gender-borne oppression, a cas­cade of broken marriages, empty religion; spiritual longing. With each sentence the rabbi re­vealed her se­crets and circum­vented her defenses until all her tactics of avoidance lay in the dust. Upon the dry barren­ness of her soul came a refreshing water of life not drawn from the well but from deep within. Her testimony brought a whole town to Jesus, "He told me everything I ever did" (John 4:39).

Witnessing his signs and wonders, Jesus' bedazzled followers were aston­ished at what God could do. As Jesus went about teaching, preach­ing and healing during the begin­ning of his ministry, the news got out and people flocked to him. They were amazed at this teaching because of his authority and authenticity.

Dazzlement is a beginning or new beginning of Christ's ministry in our lives. New converts are swept off their feet in a novel way of being and living. Stagnant disciples, distracted once again by the initiative of God, are renewed in their enthusiasm and interest in Christ.

Dazzlement is the feeling that life makes sense; that the pieces fit. We are so captivated by Christ that everything else pales. It is a finding and being found out; knowing and being known. Dazzlement is con­nection with the engine room of creativity: it is the wind in your unfurled sails.

Cultivating a sense of dazzlement is key to a meaning­ful and growing relationship with Christ because it refreshes us and inspires us to continue the journey. Otherwise our relationship with the Water of Life turns to hard religious stone.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Prayer of Distraction ::

My prayer for today is that no thing will have such brilliance as Christ,

That no interruption will seem as a discontinuity, but rather a leading of the Spirit,

That no memory will seem as a wound, but as a reminder of God’s healing,

That no fear will seem as a fortress against hope, but as an occasion for God’s deliverance,

That no attraction will seem as an allurement from righteousness, but as a celebration of the beauty of God’s creation,

That no conversation will seem as idle words, but as a moment for God to speak,

That my heart will be still in the peace of God,

That my mind will be clear with the light of God, and

That my soul will be satisfied with the goodness of God.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Christ is Calling ::

The journey of Christ waits for us. Those who keep journals of their reflections often observe a thread that runs through various entries. Christ continually leads the way if we are open to follow.

The journey of Christ is a paradox: the more we follow a set path, the further we drift off course. The psalmist prayed that God would lead us in the "paths of righteousness," the worn, well-known trails of God's guidance. Jesus defined the way as a relationship with him, "I am the way." It is not the path that we are to follow, but the Pathfinder. We naturally assume that we are to discover and create the way, as if cutting a trail through a jungle. There is some truth to this. The journey is one of discovery and co-creation. We do blaze our own trails with Christ. As soon as we begin to plot the path, however, we've already drifted off course.

One common construing of the journey of Christ is that it is like flying by instruments. As long as we attend to the dials in front of us and respond according­ly, we'll make it to our destination. The dials of direction are the Scriptures, the inner witness of the Spirit, community wisdom, and so on. There is truth to this. But, what is the destination that we're striving for? Heaven? Perfection? Self-esteem? Success?

Christians of the flying-by-instruments school inevitably become distraught by their inability to stay on course. They fall asleep at the wheel. They start looking at the scenery out the window. They fly through overcast skies and get scared. They receive conflicting signals from the dials. Sooner or later they lose their focus on the instruments. Then what? How can we keep from being distracted from Christ?

Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me." The yoke is designed for two. Christ invites us to be yokefellows, to journey with God. The journey is not about the destination, it is about the yoke that binds two together. It is about relationship. The destination, if you must have one, is union with Christ.

The paradox is this: not that we are distracted from Christ, but that we are distracted by Christ. One of Jesus' metaphors of his own saving purpose was a shepherd who leaves the flock to seek out the one lost sheep. We, like sheep, have gone astray, says Isaiah. We live in a perpetual state of focus, not on Christ but on the issues of life. It is not we who seek out Christ; Christ seeks us out and distracts us away from our preoccupations. Jesus said, "My sheep know my voice." Shepherds lead their flocks; sheep follow out of a sense of familiarity. Perhaps what Jesus meant was that our following Christ is contingent on knowing that we are Christ’s followers.

Right in the middle of our busy, preoccupied lives Christ calls. Christ calls to us, and the moment we lift our heads to listen, the journey begins.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Gospel Storyboard ::
This little tattered cardboard jewelry box has been sitting on a bookshelf in my study forever. I got it from a seminary classmate after she made a presentation in class (I can't even remember which degree, much less which class). The rubber band that held it all together has long since deteriorated, but the slides inside have survived well enough to be scanned. As best I can tell, the slides are photos of storyboards used by missionaries in presenting the basic concepts of the Christian Gospel. My classmate, as I recall, was kind enough to make duplicates of her slides for each student in the class. I wish I knew the origin of the storyboards. They are obviously Asian, but I have no idea of what culture. The eighth slide contains some printing, so perhaps a reader will recognize the language--and whether I have the slide in backwards.

Check out the slides, along with my commentary, at Gospel Story Board.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Advent, Sex and Transformation ::

Innocent faces gathered on the stairs of the sanctuary podium, spellbound as he carried the figurines of a woman and man making their way to a little village in the night. This woman was pregnant, he told them. Their eyes darted and bodies shifted uneasily.

It was the first week of Advent and during the pastor’s children’s sermon the mystery of incarnation unfolded before my eyes with a new reality. An anxious reality. The more he talked of angels telling Joseph to marry a woman who was with child by the Holy Spirit, the more those little Oedipal hormones raced until—without warning—his four-year-old daughter launched from the floor like Rocky the Flying Squirrel and landed in a headlock on the pastor’s back!

Right smack dab in the middle of the Christmas story—replete with the nativity set—was sex. God sex. Gosh, we won’t even talk plainly to youngsters about where babies come from, and yet we introduce them to sex with supernatural stories about it. What’s the message? I wonder if this influences the way we Christians are so conflicted about sexuality? Could our anxiety about sex be about this divine wild card? That little baby Jesus lays in a little manger with his little genitalia and all we see are the angels singing, the wise men bringing not-so-childlike gifts, and the shepherds kneeling? The lambs, ox, and ass were probably the only ones to really understand—and not be anxious about it.

Should baby Jesus have been a hermaphrodite third-sexed hybrid, neither male nor female, but some kind of humanoid lacking altogether in sexual orientation? Can a testosterone-laden male Jesus save women? Did Francis of Assisi, founder of the celibate Franciscans, really want boys and girls to squirm at the sight of his nativity scene? (It is Francis who is credited with creating the figurine scene).

A healthy spirituality requires a healthy view of sexuality. Many heresies abound that carry on the historic anxiety of religious people about sexuality and human nature. In spite of repeated councils and theological arguments affirming the full divinity and full humanity of Christ, it is still easier for many to believe that Jesus was divine than to accept his full humanity. Images of a sexually-neuter, passionate-less Jesus defy the likelihood that in Jesus’ Palestinian culture a celibate rabbi would have been controver-sial big time. It is possible that he was married, argue many scholars.

The religion-induced uneasiness about sexuality is no more clearly seen than in approaches to the most sexual book in the Bible, the Song of Songs, in the Hebrew Scriptures. At one level, the book is a love story that exalts a couple’s romantic passions. But, the book has also been widely hailed through its history as a mystical allegory of the relationship between God (the Lover) and God’s people (the Beloved). The title is literally “The Most Beautiful Song” and is believed to have originally been a love song sung at weddings. The allegorical interpretation emphasizes its spiritual nature and the song was often used in this way during Passover in the spring. Rabbi Akiva, who according to the Talmud was the only rabbi to enter Paradise and live to tell about it, referred to the Song of Songs as the holiest book in the Bible, “the holy of holies” of Scripture.

For Christians who took the Song as an allegory, it depicted Christ pursuing His church. Such a view is too erotic for many religious folks. Any passion of Christ, as with one’s own libido, is best kept repressed and at a safe distance. Puritans avoided the book altogether as some sort of anomaly, and when it was referenced, the allegorical method was used. Since God is nowhere mentioned in the book, the debate has continued throughout Jewish and Christian history about whether it should be in the canon. Can anything sexual be spiritual?

To define spiritual love in purely non-affectionate, non-sensual ways is to ignore much of the passion of God’s desire for us. The tradition of the Song of Songs as portraying the relationship between God and God’s people is a sensuous, erotic one. Jesus’ use of marriage as a metaphor for our relationship with God likewise entails all the facets of love that can be expressed in the Greek language, and more: self-sacrificing, companioning and sensual. What kind of marriage lacks friendship and sensuality?

In our prayerful journeys, when we desire to snuggle God, crawl up in the lap of God, hug Jesus, feel God as a warm fuzzy—these may be expressions of the erotic in our spirituality. The biblical metaphors indicate that God likewise wants intimacy with us in all aspects of our being. The spiritual journey is about our growing into this relationship with God, not just in our ability to think properly about God or behave according to God’s rules.

Dare you, this Advent, to invite God to enter your full life? To permeate the whole of your humanity and adorn your earthiness with divine splendor? Do you dare to risk each pleasure with a “Thanks be to God” benediction, and by doing so, allow God to transform your sensuality? If we were so integrated with the divine longing, would our Christmas-time materialistic passions be likewise transformed into a deeper celebration of God’s abundance?

Christ is coming! Pursue peace with a passion. Announce the radical subversion of worldly powers with the peaceable seductions of God’s longing for relationship. Give birth to a new reality in your life and world—a reality so replete with God’s permeation that it supplants all that stands for self-absorption, bitterness, and marginal humanity and creates, instead, a holy marriage of flesh and spirit.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Other "Faithnet" Sites ::

I get a steady trickle of inquiries regarding the resources available on Occasionally, someone stumbles across our site while attempting to access other sites that they merely remember as "Faithnet something." -- Partnered with ABC News, Beliefnet provides an enormous variety and depth of religious reporting and polling. The content is broadly eclectic, encompassing various religious and spiritual traditions. I consider it a great spot to survey what is happening in the religious perspectives of others. There is also quite a large community of persons who frequent Beliefnet for various reasons, including chatting and polling.

"Where is the Belief-O-Matic?" is a question I've received numerous times. My all-time favorite feature of Beliefnet is the Belief-O-Matic quiz which purportedly tells you where you stand in the religious spectrum of things. Probably created as a bit of a hoot reminiscent of Gallagher's Sledge-o-Matic, nonetheless, Belief-O-Matic has endured as perhaps one of the chief reasons why people visit the site. You'll see the link at a prominent place at Beliefnet.

Compared to, Beliefnet has much deeper pockets (like the Mariana Trench vs. a south Texas mud puddle) and appeals to a much wider audience (like Yahoo vs. the smallest search engine). I like to think of Beliefnet as the religion section at the public library with a support group while Faithnet is more like a pastor's study (some good resources along with someone to pray with you). -- Stephen Richards began this site years ago--probably about the time that was getting started. He's constantly edging us out in the Google listings for "faithnet. " holds the ever growing collection of Richard's musings, mostly of things philosophical. Or, at least he engages in a rather philosophical discussion of things religious, such as the meaning of experience. Richards avoids the label of Christian, though he obviously maintains a Christian perspective in many ways. He acknowledges his debts to Buddhism for much of his spirituality, though he avoids the Buddhist label as well. Stephen, do you identify with Thomas Merton?

Compared to, Richards operates on a shoestring budget. Shoot, I sent him five bucks to even things up a bit. In contrast to's pastoral mission, is Richards' mission of providing resources for educators and intellectual seekers. A religion teacher himself, Richards provides some well-versed essays on various topics, from Augustine to Tillich to Plato to Buddha . . . you get the picture.

Midlife, Work and the Call of the Wild ::

More often than not, a crisis of livelihood confronts us at midlife. In light of the passing of time, we begin to question the meaning of our work. Does it fit us well? Are we stressed out over it, and why? Some people decide to retool with education and embark on a new career. Others find ways to redefine their work, integrating their growing self-definition into what they do for a living. Work becomes more interwoven with the fabric of life in an enriching way.

A juncture for better or worse, midlife can also be a season of disintegration when the meaning of life, much less work, escapes us. I have met many on the journey who have not transcended this crisis. Self-destructive behavior often results—at work or home—as if their call to God's distraction is more like the seducing sounds of the mythological Sirens who lured ancient sailors into ruin. It is imperative to discern the call of Christ from the compulsions of myth.

Myths are stories and symbols that carry the meanings and values of culture. Often we are not conscious of these myths that influence us so profoundly. Every family has myths that are passed from generation to generation but are stories never told. It is as if these untold stories create a compulsion that we are powerless over and doomed to act out. The role of the son or daughter, the drive to suc­ceed or fail, the meaning of pregnancy, abuse, addiction—all can be the subject of mythic compul­sions.

In Homer's Odyssey, the songs of the voluptuous Sirens enticed sailors to their treacherous shores. Odysseus ordered his crewmen to plug their ears and lash him to the mast so they could resist these ruinous en­chant­ments. But these Siren compulsions could be transcended. The music of Orpheus aboard ship with Jason and the Argonauts was more enchanting than even that of the Sirens. In response, the Sirens cast themselves into the rocky waters.

This myth portrays something of the nature of myth itself—and the power of distraction. We, like Odysseus, in seeking freedom from the forces that bind us, are bound to re-enact over and again the drama of our mythic compulsions. But Christ, like Orpheus, sounds a tune that is eternally more spellbinding and enrapturing. In hearkening to the call of Christ, and being subdued by it, we are freed from our compul­sions and the myths that produce them.
We will hear a call in midlife surrounding vocation. Will it be the distracting call of God urging us to health and faith or the destructive call of social myth?

Shadowy myth produces compulsions of extremes. We are either adrift in isolation or moored at the harbor of culture. We are either lost to ourselves or self-absorbed. We are either bound in powerlessness or deluded into thinking we are society's sovereign. The vocational call of Christ frees us from these extremes.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Making a Place in the World ::

I remember the feeling of purchasing my first home. As a thirty-year-old doctoral candidate, I took a pastorate in a traditional, urban neighborhood of my hometown. I felt a profound settledness. It was my place, not a landlord's house, nor my parents' home. The age of Jesus at the outset of his ministry, I was carving out my own niche in the world. Would the Son of Man, who had "no place to lay his head," call me away from such a place? Five years later, I discerned that God was calling me to leave. Not only did I leave this place, but I gave up having a place of my own while I finished an internship in counseling. The crisis of adjust­ment for my family was stressful. I now have a deeper appreciation for the difficulty the invited guest had in leaving a field to go to God's party.

We must make our place in the world. We will do it either in a manner that enhances our lives spiritually or in a way that detracts from our true humanness. Place-making requires the elements of time, depth and creativity. Time enough to establish oneself. Depth enough to put our roots down to the water tables of community. Creativity enough to fashion our place as an expression of our truest nature.

I've met persons who seem to have never fully landed. They are caught up in dream-chasing to the extent that they carry through with few of their creative notions. The stories of their lives are disjointed series of half-written fairy tales without the depth of meaning found in a cohesive narrative. This is distraction in its negative, shadow sense.

As in many spiritual realities, truth exists between the extremes. At the other extremity of distracted place-making are root-bound individ­uals. They are so tied to the earth of their place that they can no longer make it their own. Their place is defined by mothers and fathers, mother-figures and father-figures, in such a way that it stifles their own self-definition. The chief symptom of their stagnation is a persistent, simmering anger. Sometimes masked in depression, the bitterness can be heard in the cynical powerlessness of their language and self-assess­ments. Otherwise, it spells out a choking moralism and judgmental disposition toward others, especially toward the free-spirited. Their story is the story of their clan: canonical, sacred, unquestioned, hiding shameful wounds behind secrets and secret sin. Like the age-old incantations of a ritual, the spell-binding story defines the person and his or her place in life.

Our life’s story is the account of our finding our place in the world. Jesus told the story of a person who found a treasure hidden in a field, reburied it and gladly went and bought the field. This kingdom parable is a picture of distraction. Do we find the kingdom or does it find us? Did the man become a treasure hunter or a treasure finder? Did he compulsively go digging in fields the rest of his life or did he settle down on his treasured field? The treasure is not the field of our lives, but what we find in the field. Our place in this world is the gift found in distraction. The serendipity of the find became the story of the man's life—The Man Who Found the Treasure in the Field. Likewise, our story reflects our basic disposition toward our place in life: hunting or finding.

While hiking in the Texas hill country, I was discussing with my wife Thomas Moore’s book, The Enchantment of Everyday Life. Moore refers to the ancient religious practices of discerning the spirits of a place before deciding to build. Just then, Marlena pointed to a large flat rock under our feet on the trail. The rock’s natural indentations formed the clear picture of a face—to us a scowling face. “Looks like we just met one of the spirits of this place,” I remarked as I took a photo. The developed picture sits on my desktop, but now the rock’s face is more inviting and happy. Perhaps the rock was reflecting my spirit at the time.

One's story can either reveal or conceal. I grew up in a religion that valued stories. It was important to be able to "give a testimony" of God's work in our lives, past or present. In the formality of this storytell­ing, I heard the self-descriptions of my fellow congregants. Some testimonies were full of stock phrases and cliché mean­ings, finished and polished in neat packaging, designed to impress and uphold carefully-crafted self images. They either whitewashed the obvious or hurtfully broadcast secrets in a public confessional. Other testimonies had a richness and individuality—works in progress—bearing the signature of grace. These stories rang true with an authentic tone, giving greater light into the soul of the storyteller.

Our story portrays our place in the world and our aspirations for enriching our place. A good story enlightens both teller and hearer to the sense of journey. The story of a life-enhancing place carries both the thread of meaning spun from the wheel of generations and the recipes of healing potions distilled from the laboratory of life's experi­ments. It offers a bookbinding for the journey's saga of mountains and valleys, conflicts and covenants. It is a display case for artifacts of legends and a drawing board for blurry blueprints of visions. Standing in such a place is like attending a celebration.

For Israel, the place of greatest distractibility was the Exodus, a life-defining journey from slavery to promise. This story embodies the soul of the nation and many stories were spun from this central legend: stories of mighty kings and captivities, victory chants and lamentations. Israel's greatest figures were sojourners. Abraham, a "stranger in a strange land." Sarah, the mother of a nation. Moses, the leader of the migration and his mother who courageously cast him afloat in the Nile to be found by Pharaoh’s daughter. Elijah, the prophet who discov­ered God in the stillness of Horeb. Daniel, who in Babylonia discovered that God’s power and presence is not limited to a certain land. Though focused on the land, Israel's soul was not in the land, but in the journey of God with the people who traversed the land. The Scriptures record the epic of God's recurrent distraction of the nation from their land to the journey—and the many heroes who caught sight of the vision.

The outset of the journey of Christ could be described as a call to begin forming the story of one's relationship with God. As our story forms, so our place in the world takes shape.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Root of Bitterness ::

I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of his wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and sated me with gall.
You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can get through.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3

Disillusionment may entail a bitter response but does not necessarily end there. Bitterness, on the other hand, can be a spiritual black hole that devours the soul and consumes faith. The writer of Hebrews urges us to give special care to those who, in their pain, turn a hard face against God: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). Rather, we are to consider Christ’s suffering so that we do “not grow weary and lose heart.” This was Teresa of Avila’s advice to those who encounter difficulties in prayer: embrace the cross.

In my conversations with disillusioned persons, I perhaps err at times on the side of encouragement and confrontation. When I see bitter herbs growing in the garden of a person’s spirit, I want to reach down and pluck them out. My mentors have cautioned me about this tendency, but I know what devastation a root of bitterness can wreak.

For five long years I was not on speaking terms with God because I was so bitter. I didn’t recognize it as bitterness at first, but, I thought of my dryness in prayer as a grief reaction to what I perceived as mistreatment. Although I told myself that others have had far worse experiences than mine and have emerged with faith intact, in honest moments I held God responsible for this injustice and felt betrayed. It was an arduous journey for me, including therapy for depression and panic attacks, before I was able to connect this experience with my childhood and see a pattern of revictimization in my life.

Eventually, I instinctively did what Teresa of Avila advised: I embraced the cross. When there were no satisfactory answers to my angry “why” questions, the incarnation and death of Christ took on a new meaning.

Embracing the cross,
Let us follow Jesus,
He is our way and light
Abounding in consolations . . .


God did not help me to make sense of my world but entered into its senselessness with me. While I could no longer trust in the theologically tidy God of my youth, I could trust this God who entered fully into the messy quandary of human existence and death. God has never looked the same since, and I never want to go back to that black hole again.

Rescuing others from their bitterness can be like helping a butterfly out of its cocoon. The results can be harmful, if not disastrous. I’m learning to face this propensity to rescue others for what it is: a lack of faith that God is present and active even in the darkness and an idolatry of my own need to be needed. Nothing gets me into my own shadow like being with people in their darkness.

What, then, are we to make of experiences that defy any semblance of divine order? What about tragedy? What about oppressive, diabolical abuse? Dark faith makes no excuses for God; dark faith holds nothing back from God. The danger lies not in our anger over our victimization, but rather in allowing the victimization to become our identity. By taking on the identity of a victim, we unconsciously destine ourselves to experience the victimization over and over in order to confirm who we are as a victim. Victimization becomes revictimization: an insidious root of bitterness.

Naomi, in the book of Ruth, lost not only her husband but her sons as well. Left in dire poverty, she changed her name from Naomi, or “pleasant,” to Mara, which means “bitter.” “The Almighty has made my life very bitter,” she lamented. “I went away full, but the Lord has
brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-22).

Thérèse of Lisieux struggled her life long with victimization and a pervasive feeling of being unloved and abandoned. Having lost her mother at the age of four, she was extremely insecure and hypersensitive to any slight. She transformed her own sense of victimization through her faith in the merciful love of God and her desire “to be His victim of love,” perhaps reminiscent of Job’s statement of faith, “though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). Like Job, and in spite of her own persistent dark night and a religious climate that emphasized the punitive nature of God, Thérèse asserted that “God knows only how to love and be loved.”

Some persons have the depth of spirit to find a piton of faith on the sheer cliffs of despair. Like Bunyan’s pilgrim faced with death in the dark dungeon of Doubting Castle, they find within themselves the key to their own release. It is at such times that the faith gifts we’ve received along the way become golden.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Learning to be Distracted ::

Distraction is a paradox. The value of distraction as a place on the journey of Christ is its ability to help us break out of our ruts and pick up the trail of God's new direction. These distractions are what James Hillman, in The Soul’s Code, refers to as “trivial gusts that take you off course and seem to be delaying your projected arrival in the teleological harbor.” Don’t point your compass “too fixedly on the far horizon,” he warns. These accidental gusts have purpose, which can be seen only by the purposive eye. Life is about learning to make the little corrections in our course as a consequence of these gusts—adjustments that shape the form of our soul.

Making these course adjustments is one of the arts of the spiritual life. We set our course, then alter it; set it, then alter it—always with an eye on the horizon where our home port lies.

Distractions are the comets of the night sky. The expert astrono­mers know the orbits of the planets and the coordinates of the constella­tions. With legions of huge telescopes they study the heavens nightly. But, every now and again comes a new comet. Some have been discovered by amateur stargazers with mere binoculars. Coming out of nowhere, they evoke our awe and fear.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist or theologian to be encountered by God. In the spiritual universe of the soul, the star maps are drawn by the surveyors of religion, but the most exciting discoveries are made by the explorers of experience. One knows the book of God; the other knows God. One knows the laws of God; the other, the love of God. One knows how things should be; the other wonders how things could be.

Distraction is an intersection of colliding views of God and life. At this crossroads staid predictability gets sideswiped by mystery.

Distraction is invitation. Think back to the precursors of the significant events in your life. Were they planned or discovered? Your first encounter with the person you married. A big break in your career. A turn in your health. First encounters with persons who now are good friends.

In what ways are the currents of God's distractions stirring your life these days?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Distracted by Christ ::

We've heard the words before, but not the message. This time, we hear. Our attention may be captured in many different ways. A scary crisis awakens us to the un-predictability of life. More subtly, an unsettling restlessness may creep up during the best of times. It is uncanny.

The visit of distraction could just as well be an unexpected encouragement dur-ing depression, or a boredom that sets in just when we're starting to reach our goals. An inexplicable resentment rises from the still waters of contentment, or a breathtaking vista appears over the horizon on the road to nowhere. The wind changes. The mid-day sun darkens. A shooting star flashes in the corner of our eye. Whatever it is, it gives us pause. A godly pause.

Ironically, distraction is about focus. Many Christians struggle to keep their focus on Christ. They lament their inability to stay with the program of their prayers and devo-tions. They know what it is like to be focused and long for the inspiration and creativity they have experienced on occasion. Service came naturally, prayer was warm and meaningful, and the way was clear. They had the courage of Bunyan’s valiant warrior in Pilgrim’s Progress to storm the gates of God’s palace, defying all the worldly obsta-cles and demonic enemies who would prevent their entrance into salvation. Now, they have lost the time, the energy, the concentration, the direction; the courage. How to get back on track?

C.S. Lewis describes how the novice deals with distraction in prayer by seeking to "thrust it away by sheer will-power and . . . contin¬ue the normal prayer as if nothing had happened." By accepting the distraction as our present problem and making it the main theme of our prayers and endeavors, says Lewis, we will move closer to God.

Jesus modeled this distractibility by responding to an anonymous sickly woman who distracted him by touching his robe on a crowded street. On another occasion, he allowed children to come to him and presented them to his hearers as object lessons in faith. To enter the kingdom of heaven, he emphasized, we must come as one of the little ones. Could he have been saying that we should be as distractible as children, or as distractible as himself?

Distraction originates from outside us but resonates within. Christ stands at the door of our heart and beacons us to let God into our lives. The response comes from within. We need Christ's distraction to discover our purpose.

The challenge of distraction is to let go of our compulsions of holding onto Christ and instead allow Christ to lead us into a new awareness of God. Trust that God knows how to get your attention! For Abraham it was a starlit night when God revealed to him that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky For young Samuel, it was a call in the night from God with a message for the nation to repent. For Elijah it was a gentle whisper reminding him that God’s power was not just in the sensational. For John the Baptizer it was the Spirit as a descending dove revealing Jesus as the Christ. What is it for you?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Road Signs ::

With each nightfall Daniel felt more hopelessly lost. Days before, he had embarked on a solo hunting trip in the Alaskan wilderness, feeling confident and self-sufficient. With an unexpected storm and perpetually overcast skies, it was impossible to get his bearings sans the compass he’d forgotten to pack. Would he find his way out before his provisions expired?

Emerging from a dense forest into the afternoon light of a clearing, the hunter saw a welcome sign of hope: the back side of a sign post! Nearing the sign, he saw the beginning of a dirt road. With new energy in each step, he came around to the front of the sign just as a motorist slowed to a stop on the road. Showing a relieved grin, the hunter looked upon the exasperated face of the driver, and then at the sign, which he could now read. “End of Road.”

To one lost man, the sign was a nuisance at the end of a long day of frustrating map searching and wrong turns; to the other, a herald of salvation.

The meaning you assign to life’s road signs is unique to your perspective.

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This new blog is a road sign of sorts. It is the beginning of a deeper level of sharing my stuff on the web, namely excepts from my recently published book. It also corresponds with a redesign of Faithnet, which I must say is more neatly packaged these days. For whatever it represents, I pray that it is one of those signs that you'll be glad to see.