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The morning light begins to illumine the Eastern sky. I can hear the waves of the Strait of Juan de Fuca pounding upon Dungenness Spit and then off in the distance is the haunting call of an eagle. This morning there is only a slit through the gray clouds allowing the yellow and golden colors of the morning sun to shine forth. Other mornings the sky is alive with color, with beauty, with grandeur. Off in the distance is the baritone voice of a seal and the squawking of seagulls playing in the wind.
A description of prayer was offered by St. John Damascene (c 676-c 787), “To pray is to offer one’s heart to God.” My prayer begins in silence before God’s presence, resting in God’s love and enjoying his gifts of creative splendor. Prayer begins for me, not with words, not with speaking to God, but with silence, being with God.
This morning I invited Jesus to sit in the lawn chair next to me and enjoy the morning’s drama and beauty. Together we watched, together we enjoyed, together we pondered the beauty he had created by the word of his mouth. This is prayer. Nothing accomplished. Nothing startling or miraculous, only Jesus and I sitting together, watching, enjoying, marveling.
In addition to petitions and intercessions, in addition to confessing sins and praising our Savior, prayer can involve much more. To enjoy the gifts of God in creation is also prayer. Prayer also involves being lost in the loving presence of God. It is being still before the lover of our whole being; it is resting in the One who knows me completely and still loves me completely. This is intimacy with God in Christ. Though I do not often “feel” God’s presence and I do not often experience God’s miraculous hand stretched out, though the miraculous does happen, I bask in God’s love and love is what transforms my life.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “Somewhere we know that without a lonely place, our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence, words lose their meaning; that without listening, speaking no longer heals; that without distance, closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a solitary place, our actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the spiritual life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.” (Spiritual Formation, pp. 21f)
And so my “prayer time” begins in silence.
by Rev. Terry Tripp, CFDM Co-Director
Did you know that I love sculling? Which means I row a single person shell. I row year-round on Puget Sound in the Bay on which I live. Every movement of the body makes a difference in how the shell moves through the water and how one stays afloat.
I sit in a seat that slides up and down the small cockpit of the shell. My feet are strapped to foot holders and I have long oars that are locked into riggers which extend about two feet out from either side. To keep from flipping the shell, I must concentrate on every movement. My body must be carefully positioned to balance the boat—always square, aligned with center.
The stroke begins with legs flat. The handle of my oars are pulled into my sides with the ends of the blades just off the water. Hands push forward, one leading the other as the ends I hold overlap, keeping them level. My back follows outstretched arms, seat glides up the slide. Just before I reach the end of the slide, I turn the oars so the blades can catch the water. Timing is critical. In they go. I push, legs first, then pull with my back and, finally, arms and hands One stroke completed.
Presence. Presence to my body, always.
This presence reminds me of God’s invitation to be present to God in all moments. It is neither easy nor comfortable. It requires the willingness to embrace what is in the moment. What is may be painful or joyful. But it is always vulnerable. It is like the movement of rowing well; always aware that one might slip and catch the water in the opposite direction and flip the boat. Yet, staying with the intention is to say, “I am here, I want to hear you, God, and I want to experience you–one movement, one moment at a time.”
Rowing has been a metaphor for my life in God. Sometimes it goes great; other times it is stormy and hard. All the times it teaches me to move in rhythm and hope. Can I become aware of my experience of life in sequence, and abandoned to a love I can’t control, yet move in rhythm to its beat?
I have no resolutions (!) for this new year. I have hope, though, that I will be present to each moment; that I will be willing to observe myself in action and change course if need be; that I will reflect on life as the playfield of God’s action in the world; that I am a part of it. And I will trust God to do all this in me.
Paul said something like this about “hope” in his letter to the Roman faith community while he was in prison: (my translation)
“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God, through Christ, who gives us grace – so then we can hope in sharing life with God. Not just that but also, we know that our suffering produces in us endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
We recognize this hope by the love that lives in us by God’s Spirit.”
So, no resolutions, just hope that God will produce in me, through life, a presence to God’s action and movement within.
Just as I am physically present to my rowing, I hope to be present spiritually to my soul, recognizing this movement by the growth of love. May love grow in you this new year of 2020.
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
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.
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.
Before 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
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.
Look for it afresh in 2019!