Sufficient Mercy

 

by Margie Van Duzer

 

Mercy

There are seasons in my life where I have a sense that God is at work in me, appearing to be helpful in my sanctification process.    Then there are those times where I’d have to say not so much…. These last few months have been in the not so much category. I am not saying God is not at work, nor am I saying I don’t see God at work – I am just saying that I don’t see God at work shaping me into being more the person that I think God would want me to be. I feel stuck. 

I was complaining to God about this recently, especially about my chronic struggle with anxiety.  I am so tired of it and wish it would just go away. I then go down the spiraling thought process about how little faith I truly have, how this proves what a weak Christian I really am.   Who am I to be guiding others in the life of spiritual formation? You get the picture. 

It was in this mode that I began reviewing the readings for our next CFDM Guidance conference. This September we are spending time looking at some of the mystics in church history.  Once again, I was struck by how much I admire one of my favorite mystics, Catherine of Siena. She only lived into her early thirties but was a powerful spiritual force in the 14th century. If you are discouraged about the state of the church today, just investigate that time period.     Evelyn Underhill says Catherine lived in a time of “almost unequalled ecclesiastical degradation.” At one time there were even three popes not just one, due to clerical corruption and power struggles. And yet Catherine taught of church unity, played a significant role in convincing a pope to move back to Rome from Avignon, and was sought after as a spiritual director by many women as well as men in church leadership.  People flocked to her. She had a godly authority that was powerful. She was a wonderful model of deep theological truth combined with an intimate love and connection to Jesus. And yet….

Catherine was very self-aware and one thing she struggled with was what we now call holy anorexia. It begins with fasting as a spiritual discipline but then shifts to symptoms of anorexia.  Catherine was aware of this shift and prayed that she could eat. She tried to stop fasting but could not. “Over and over I have prayed and do pray and will continue to pray to God for the grace to live as other people do in this matter of eating…it very often makes me sad that I have not overcome it….I for my part don’t know what else to do about it….” She referred to this as a “weakness”.  

This reminds me of Paul’s own thorn in the flesh that he prays God to remove yet God tells him “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” (2Corin. 9). I have heard this over and over and somehow, seeing it in Catherine’s struggle, encourages me anew.  She was incredible. She clearly had such a love for God and about as much influence as one individual could have for God’s kingdom, and yet still struggled with her own weakness that caused her to doubt her faithfulness to God. 

But during this struggle, she continued to affirm God’s mercy. I have framed in my prayer room a prayer/poem written by Catherine that my son hand stamped for me.  The central line in the writing is simply “I know that mercy is your hallmark, and no matter where I turn, I find nothing but your mercy.” 

I have recently read that the word mercy in English is the translation from Greek word “eleos” and the Hebrew word “hesed”. The Greek word has the same root for olive oil, oil that is associated with comforting balm.  The Hebrew word means steadfast love. We Americans might think of mercy as simply being released or forgiven from something we have done wrong, but it is so much more than that. It is fundamentally God’s incredible love that is a balm to our brokenness, soothing to our soul.  Even when the wound still exists.  

Rather than focusing on my weakness, Catherine’s words remind me again of God’s soothing mercy.  I am steadfastly loved in the midst of my falling short. I am reminded again that my life is about living into this mercy, no matter what I may feel about my spiritual progress. Catherine embraced this mercy in the midst of her own personal struggles. I pray I can more fully follow her lead.   

 

  

 

As I Hear the Birds Sing

by Judy Aiton, CFDM Alum

 

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Earth springs forth its Mercy, 

Space and time to no avail.

Tender shoots rise, 

Upping their magic,  

Encouraged by the Son. 

 

Spirit soars, 

Oh, merciful One, 

Lift high my wings 

To see the beauty of it All. 

 

Light of dawn, 

Moves the day, 

Soaring sees, 

Then rest and sing 

A show of Truth, 

Beloved child of God. 

 As I listen to bird songs in the morning, I hear praises to God. “Glory to God in the Highest” welcomes the day into existence. In like manner, Humanity sings its symphonies of the heart–so many voices in various keys, creating beauty in the silence, a harmonious whole. 

Yet suffering hearts of those who cannot sing, exist. They, too, speak in their silence adding to the work, yearning for grace. In the quiet rest of our hearts, we can listen to our own suffering. In that, by the grace of God, Light shines and sheds the Truth in our sorrow so we may sing again, adding to the beauty of life on this earth. 

Hope springs forth. 

 

*CFDM encourages practices that help us notice how God is present in all things. To learn more, visit http://www.cfdmnorthwest.org. 

Wild and Free

by Rev. Terry Tripp, CFDM Northwest Co-Director

It’s a sacred space to be lost in wonder

To safely rest in the midst of you

Lord fill my heart till its full-on hunger

It’s a holy thing to be wild and free

This verse from Jason Upton’s song has resonated in my mind since I heard it recently.  And it came home to rest in my heart as I watched my 5-year-old grandson swing without fear at the family cabin.  His heart, full of hunger for the thrill of the ride, is heard in his joyful laugh.  John doesn’t hesitate to jump into air, believing that his legs will skillfully manage the stick he is supposed to land on.  Though he climbs to a platform 5 feet up, for him it is as tall as the vulnerability in him to take the jump.

JT on Beach Swing '19 (2)

The vulnerability of it, the wildness of it, the freedom of it; brings to mind what Jesus meant when He describes entering the Kingdom of Heaven this way in Luke 18:16, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”  This is one of several illustrations in that chapter, Jesus uses to describe entering the kingdom He came to inaugurate.  In some way or another they all point to vulnerability as the opening to our soul’s home.

We are invited to be vulnerable; to divest ourselves of surety, to trust an unknown outcome, to lean into God doing something in us before we know anything of it, to not defend ourselves before others, to trust in what we don’t get in life as God’s goodness to us, to in fact believe in a God who invites us to an upside down view of the world.

An upside-down view requires us to show up with who we are, be present in the moment, intend love, not grasp for control and leave the results of our encounters to God’s hands.  The world would have us right-side up, in control and accomplishing our spiritual lives.  Rather we are invited to jump and look from the bottom up; accepting that therein lies the paradox: we must take the vulnerable jump – hunger for God – without knowing what holy place we will land in.

John’s swinging is wild and free, hungering for the freedom of flying in the air. He leans back looking up into the madrone tree branches above him and the big sky that hovers.  It is not perfect, but to him, who only knows he wants to land on the stick; jumping with hope and hunger for the ride is worth the vulnerability of it all.  We land in the Kingdom by hungering for God with vulnerability, finding ourselves on a wild and free ride.

This is what we teach and invite others into tasting in CFDM.  We are now accepting applications for the fall start of the Spiritual Formation Program and calls for the Year of Discernment in the Spiritual Direction Program.  Join us for the ride!

 

The Gift of Love Unwrapped

By Mark Cutshall

A lot about boundless, unwavering love–the kind of mutual adoration that breathes back and forth and that can remake your heart on a daily basis–I learned from an elderly gal named Mrs. Cushing.

We knew each other for a little more than 14 years until last Thursday, April 25, when she passed away.

I was there beside her up to the end. Put my face next to hers. Kissed her. Then I must have buried my face in the those few seconds when everything stopped, when life, death, and love–the forever companioning of God in its purest form—came around.

Now, a week later, I find myself smiling. This afternoon, I’m more and more sure that before she left, there was something Mrs. Cushing wanted me to see, something never to forget, or keep to myself, a gift of love, unwrapped.

I go back to Day One, that silky, late June afternoon at Rosser’s Pet store when Mrs. Cushing came home with us. Looking back, we were all much younger: Ryan, 8; Sarah not quite 6, and Linda and me, a couple of 30-somethings suddenly wagging our tails.

It was all about Mrs. Cushing, a dachshund with four stubby legs, endearing ears, and that unabashedly long, signature nose. Those first few minutes, alone, were a gift.

Mrs. Cushing, what we come to name her, didn’t need a mirror to know she was beautiful. She knew it every time we were freely caught up in who she was, together. It didn’t take us long to freely receive, embrace and return love every time we delighted in her true Mrs. Cushing-ness: the diva-like prance around the house, the artful display of sitting up for one more, itty-bitty bite, the missile-like defense system targeted at countless innocent, well-meaning UPS deliverymen who gimped away back to the truck, and who remained on our prayer list.

The joy and freedom to give and receive love that, in God’s eyes, doesn’t reward behavior with a dried-up dog biscuit “as long as you do it my way,” is what Mrs. Cushing taught me.

More than once this little dog would sneak up on my sometimes lazy need to be by myself and taught me something else:

Love walks and follows and travels beside another. It’s how stories are born, and how conversations can turn minutes into hours and weeks into years. Mrs. Cushing had a knack for finding and seeking to devour discarded chicken bones. In these urgent moments, I was loving her. Love kneels down. Love reaches in and goes after what can hurt and harm and choke off life. Love protects.

We went on many walks together, chased a lot of squirrels, and watered a lot of lawns. We were regularly companioned by our very svelte, black tuxedo cat named Johnny, and our Labrador/Boxer named Buzz. Up one block and down the other, with Mrs. Cushing often leading the charge, the threesome took us on an Incredible Journey that inevitably created new opportunities to love our two-legged neighbors.

Several months ago, I noticed her pace beginning to slow. Why the bloated belly? Get her to the vet. Tests. Decimal numbers on a clipboard. A cold and naked examining table, and a diagnosis. Management but no cure. Think not in terms of years, but months. Attends for a dachshund? No thank you.

As days waddled on, I found myself looking at the calendar more than usual. Then, one afternoon, I poked my nose in the family room to check on our patient. Love wanting and needing to know how things are going.

There she was. This beloved creation was stretched out in her bed, dreaming away under a blanket, no doubt with the ankle of a frantic FedEx guy firmly in her grip.

Looking back, as I gazed at her in her bed, her health now in certain decline, I realize now I was seeing a picture of the kind of true, honest Sabbath God most desires:

With me, you can stop. Rest. And just be.

My imagination went off leash.

What if . . .?

Without thinking, without trying, I remained in this luxurious moment, thanking God for this little dachshund who made real to me the gift of love, unwrapped.

# # #

Help surrendering to “the slow work of God”*

by Gwen Shipley

 

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  (Isa 30:15 NRSV)

 

Do you ever feel resigned to a situation you seem powerless to affect, one that continues to plague you despite your best efforts? If I’m honest, my attempt to authentically consent on the go can sometimes disintegrate into a feigned surrender to the present moment accompanied by a resigned, “Whatever.” Clearly, they’re not the same.

My intentions were good at the beginning of Lent: Each time the impulse to say, “Whatever” came knocking, I would resist as an act of embodied remembrance. I would give up entitlement to ease and “welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing…” because hope lies in knowing that the God who makes all things new is already and always at work. That was Week One.

Three weeks hence, I am painfully aware of “the slow work of God” and reminded that I’m exactly where I need to be: always returning to the love of God. Here are various ways people have learned to do so and are helping one another.    

 

When exploring unfamiliar roads, Google often asks if I’d like to “re-center map.” Going deeper with God often leads me down similarly unfamiliar paths. It is reassuring at those times to remember that transformation neither originates with us, nor does it proceed by some perfectly executed plan of action. It happens as we return again and again and again, surrendering to the One who makes all things new, one present moment at a time.

In Week Four of Lent, looking toward the cross, hoping in resurrection, that’s…Really. Good. News.

*From “Patient Trust in Ourselves and in the Slow Work of God” by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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Photo by Eileen Pan on Unsplash

Dreams

From Becce Bettridge

Becce will be leading CFDM’s Spring Workshop – DreamWork 2.0: Learning to “Sleep-on-it.”  
Date and Time: Saturday, March 23, 2019   9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Place: Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, Bothell, WA

DREAMS

What did you dream last night? I dreamt about a ten-year-old boy (who turned out to be named “James”), that had been shrink-wrapped (because he was so difficult to deal with) and left in the attic of my new house by the former owner. YIKES! So, was that crazy dream a result of the spicy chicken cacciatore I had for dinner, or does God and/or my unconscious, have some important (but strangely presented) message for me?        

Most of us in the western, protestant, tradition have never heard much about the role of dreams in Christian spirituality. Not many sermons are preached or classes taught on this important topic.  Yet, in Scripture, we find that God often uses dreams to give a perspective or remove barriers to correctly interpreting and applying his Word. Historically, people of faith from St. Augustine to Eugene Peterson affirmed God’s presence in, and leading through, dreams. In modern times, sleep laboratories have demonstrated that everyone dreams one to two hours each night. The average person sleeping for eight hours a night will dream about one to two hours of that time in a sleep level called “alpha sleep.” During this level of sleep, we have what is called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Sleep researchers discovered that if a person is awakened every time REM begins, preventing her/him from dreaming, that after about three nights the individual will begin to show signs of having a nervous breakdown. “Clearly,” says dream work specialist Steve Stutz, “dreams are an inner release mechanism which helps provide us with emotional balance and maintain our sanity. Dreams can be considered guardians of our mental and emotional well-being.” 

One of the foundational precepts of spiritual direction is that God chooses to communicate with each of us. And second, as we learn to pay closer attention to the variety of ways God “speaks” to us, we can experience our Lord’s love and guidance in very personal ways. Dreams can be honest and reliable messengers of the condition of our heart (Psalm 16:7), as well as the voice of God within our heart (Psalm 17:3). A close consideration of the symbolic language used in our dreams can show up areas in our lives in which God is inviting us to grow…but I am certainly curious about what growth God is inviting me to by presenting me with the shrink-wrapped boy! I will be working on this dream during the dream workshop on March 23.

 

CDFM’s mission is to encourage spiritual formation focusing on practices, disciplines, and ways of being that enable us to hear, see, and respond to God’s invitation to deepen our relationship with Him.

DreamWork 2.0 is one way in which CFDM is providing these resources, support, and training for those called to the ministry of spiritual direction.

Interested? Register today.

 

The True Purpose of Waiting

By David Hicks, CFDM Faculty

A poem by John Milton was sent to me recently by a friend entitled ‘On His Blindness’. I confess that 17th century poetry is not normally something that I spent a lot of time with so as I was reading it nothing much was really sinking in. I was having a hard time getting past the phrasing and odd use of certain words. English has become so much more understandable in our day (please see the humor here). I struggled through the poem until I came to the last line. The last line forced me to go back and re-read and re-think each word and phrase that Milton was using.

The True Purpose of WaitingBefore giving away the last line let me try and summarize what my sadly under-developed poetic mind thinks he is saying.

Milton was a gifted poet. He had written the classic Paradise Lost. He was a deeply devout Christian who believed that his poetry was a gift from God and he had a responsibility to use this gift for Him. But in the prime of his life Milton became blind. This poem speaks of his struggle with feelings that he was no longer able to use his gift as God had intended (“And that one talent which is death to hide lodged with me useless”).

He asks God why He would give him a gift and expect him to use it but then withhold the means to do so (“Doth God exact day labor, light denied?”). He realizes that ultimately “God doth not need either mans work or his own gifts”. He says that there are several ways to serve the Lord. Some serve Him by crossing “land and ocean without rest”. They are seemingly tireless in their work for Him. But this is not the only way to serve the Lord. In his last line Milton says, “THEY ALSO SERVE, WHO ONLY STAND AND WAIT.”

Wow! That totally alters my perspective on waiting. Normally we wait for something or for someone and we are finished waiting when that something happens or that someone comes. The only purpose in our waiting is for the fulfillment of something. Have you ever said, “I waited all that time for nothing”, meaning the thing that you were waiting for did not happen so there was no purpose in the waiting. It was a waste of time.

The same thing is true spiritually. In this season of my life I am waiting and wondering. I am waiting for health issues to be resolved. I am waiting for what the next season of ministry will look like. I am waiting for a renewed sense of purpose. I am waiting for the next opportunity to serve the Lord using the gifts and talents He has given to me. In my mind I am thinking, “My waiting will be worthwhile when all of these things have happened”. I am waiting for something.

Milton has shown me that this is a faulty way to view my time of waiting. Not everyone can serve the Lord tirelessly across land and oceans. Sometimes, “they also serve, who only stand and wait”. There is a purpose in the waiting, and the purpose is not the fulfillment of that which we are waiting for. We can serve Him even while we stand and wait. Even while our hearts are breaking at not being able to do what we used to, or what we want to; even when confusion and fear consume our soul and distort our vision; even when our desires for personal fulfillment are frustrated; even then, “they also serve, who only stand and wait.”

Isaiah 30:18 says, “Blessed are all who wait for the Lord”. In our life with God we are never really waiting for something; we are always waiting for someone. So, for all who, along with me, occasionally find themselves standing and waiting, take heart. Your opportunity for serving the Lord has never been closer.
Link to full text of John Milton’s poem
http://www.bartleby.com/101/318.html

Finding God in All the Wrong Places

by Rev. Terry Tripp, CFDM Co-Director

Having experienced a lovely time with family and friends over Christmas and the New Year celebrations, I am acutely aware that I am a blessed woman.  Loved, cared for, finding community in a new town, helping to lead an awesome non-profit that seeks to teach that God is in all places and more loving and gracious than we can imagine.  So, of course I see and feel God’s grace and love, right?  But is it a matter of my circumstances or a fact a part?

I would say that I grew up believing that I needed to show God and others how much I loved them by how I did all “the right things” at the “right time”. What a burden, especially when life didn’t work as I thought it should! Yes, I celebrated God’s grace in Christ crucified for us (Gal. 2:19-20), saving us from ourselves. But my behavior was that of a person who followed “the rules.” “The rules” were defined by what the Church interpreted as the right behavior of one who believes in God incarnate through Jesus Christ. And when I followed those rules, I would experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:4-7).

Yet, over the last 20 some years I have been on an on-going conversion to experiencing that peace is through letting go of my idea of how life ought to be or go. A more grace filled Gospel than I had ever imagined, finding peace in not what I performed, but in what God simply gave to me if I would receive it. Receiving it became the invitation, not performing it! And really, in not getting the life I thought those behaviors would induce.

I began to find God – God’s grace – in all the wrong places. God breaking in – the Kingdom of God breaking in, regardless if I or someone else performed the “right behaviors.” I stopped having the typical “quiet time” – a time of scripture study and prayer that I designed – of course, early in the morning. Now, don’t get me wrong, reading scripture and prayer are Huge ways into receiving God’s grace – but they stopped being performed in the ways I was taught. They came to me when I was hungry for them or led into a moment of reflection, un-beckoned by my own decisiveness.  Finding the Spirit drawing my heart when I had no idea I needed what I needed.

I found God in the homeless man who attends the Church I’m attending. He chooses to be homeless. He comes to worship in dirty close with a broad brimmed hat and a cat on his shoulder. Up he goes for Communion with the old, the middle aged, and the young. We ran into each other in town last week and he held a door open for me with a smile of acknowledgment that we are in the same community. A community that is simply wanting God’s grace as we figure out life as it is when it is.

God broke into my grieving heart as I listened to a new member of the community of the widowed. This is not a community that anyone wants to belong to! How the mystery of who lives and who doesn’t creates unanswerable prayers where God seems silent? Yet there too, the Kingdom and grace break in as we discover that we survive and want to live and still be present to God who loves us, though doesn’t answer all our questions.

Finding God in all the wrong places is in fact finding God in all the places God chooses to reveal God’s self-more fully than if we constructed events according to our plans. Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Finding God in all the wrong places, is in-fact finding God in all places at all times. God working out God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Grace is so offensive to us because we don’t get to control how it operates and it’s not dependent on what you do, but on what God is doing.

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Photographer: frank mckenna. Used with permission.

Look for it afresh in 2019!

 

as i wait…

by Mona Chicks, CFDM contributor

As a kid, it seemed like decades passed between each Christmas. I loved the lights, the colors, the cookies, and of course the presents that each Christmas brought. One of my most cherished memories is driving around town in our old green Impala station wagon with my grandparents and great aunt, laying in the back looking out of that big window at all the Christmas lights on the homes in our town. I had this sudden realization that, after all of my waiting, it was finally here! It was Christmas Eve!

as i wait...

Advent is just that – a time of waiting. We join the people of Israel in waiting for our Savior. Unlike that first Christmas, though, we know how this story plays out. We know that the Savior would not be born in a palace, but would be born into the lowest of circumstances, and turned into a refugee. We know that instead of challenging an oppressive regime as a military leader, this Savior would challenge the oppressiveness of religion. We know that instead of rebuilding an earthly kingdom, he would initiate the growth of a relational Kingdom – a people adopted as sons and daughters into the holy family.

And so, as Advent begins, we wait again. We participate in a season of waiting because we are still waiting – we are waiting for Jesus’ return, for a time when all sorrow and sadness will cease, when God’s Kingdom will be complete.

Have you ever noticed that when you wait for something, when it finally arrives it is immediately more precious? What if this Christmas was like that for you? For me? What if, instead of being buried in the chaos of the gift lists, post office woes, meal planning, and decorating, we instead set our sights on the expectation of the coming of the baby Jesus? What if we could do all of those things but with a sense of awe and wonder in the knowledge that our Savior is coming?

O come, o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice o Israel
To you shall come Emmanuel

Going Deeper with God Through Discernment

by Mark Cutshall

 

If you were to take some time and listen to what’s going on around you, what things would you hear? Beyond the air conditioning overhead or the barking dog outside, what if this simple act of listening could open the door to the deeper inner stirrings, questions and desires for distinguishing where God is living and moving in you? Here are three areas of awareness that have helped me discover the unfolding work of God in my life.

Cutshall November 2018

 

God’s loving presence  

 

First, consider that God is already present with you and in you. Paul’s words to the Greeks are for us: “Yet he (Christ) is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 27-28). Discernment takes place in God’s loving presence. Being present to God who calls you beloved matters greatly to Jesus. His last words to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane were a farewell gift of his heart’s desire: “Stay awake.” Pay attention. Listen. In the midst of darkness, and in the new day, consider how much God loves you, then ask the Holy Spirit to meet you and reveal where God is already at work.  

As you prayerfully listen for God, what thoughts and emotions emerge for you?

 

Our spiritual posture

 

Discerning God in and through the Holy Spirit involves our spiritual posture–how we position ourselves to approach, participate with, and receive from the Lord. A vivid symbol of this for me is what I affectionately call the Jesus Chair, a wingback chair my directees use in spiritual direction. It’s got an upright, inviting feel. The chair has “held” countless stories, honest emotions, and unedited prayers. Another picture of spiritual posture for discerning God is captured in the two outstretched hands on the cover of Henri Nouwen’s book, With Open Hands: Being open to seek and know God involves being vulnerable to trust God for what he wants us to receive.

What words and pictures would you use to describe your spiritual posture?   

 

A regular practice

 

Acknowledging God’s presence through a posture of openness, vulnerability and trust helps us to practice discernment. As you carve out some time in your week to listen and pay attention, and as you participate and discern the work of the Holy Spirit, the practice of being with, noticing and communing with God will become more natural. You’ll likely see patterns develop, rhythms that involve a new appreciation of place and prayer. Give yourself time. The psalmist encourages, “For the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope” (Ps. 130:5). Discernment can arrive suddenly in the blink of an eye, and it can roll into view like a patient, wide, flowing river. And because God is the author of surprise, we might even take a cue from, of all people, the wicked witch, who in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, was certainly paying attention to notice and make it clear that, “Aslan is on the move!”

What appeals to you most about living into a new rhythm of being with God?

May these three areas of awareness reveal to you God the Father who loved you into being, Jesus the Son in whom you have new, eternal life and the Holy Spirit who leads and guides and empowers you, even now, as you continue to go deeper with God.