Untie Him and Let Him Go

This past Monday, my Bible Study group examined the resurrection of Lazarus.  Jn 11:3-45.  In preparing to lead the study, I read a few commentaries, including one that compared the resurrections of Jesus and Lazarus.  One of the factors that struck me was – Jesus came out of the tomb unbound, but Lazarus had to be untied.  

By baptism, we died and rose with Christ.  In theory, we are free. However, we do not always operate from a place of freedom. There are many reasons for this, and all of them can be summarized as follows: Christians are weak and in need of assistance.  

What does this assistance look like? I would describe it as a large dove, a flame of fire, a movement like a breath or wind (the literal meaning of spirit in its root language).  In Ezekiel 36:27, God tells us that he will place his spirit within us to help us live by the law.  This prophecy is fulfilled by our baptism. We have everything we need to live free.  How do we do this? Let’s look at what God tells Paul when he prays that God free him from the pain caused by a thorn in his side: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Co 12:9. 

God’s grace is the key to living an untied life.  How does this work? I don’t profess to have all the answers. I will share that a few years ago the above verse from 2 Corinthians started echoing in my mind – strength in weakness.  I felt a gentle nudge, and I started throwing myself on God’s strength when faced with temptation. I saw some success in avoiding sin.  However, like the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert, I fail to perfectly rely on him even though he has shown me many great works.  Thankfully, the ancient Israelites also show me that the spiritual life is a journey.   Journeys take a lot of time and effort. There are many ups and downs along the way.  Still, when we place our spiritual lives in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and try to cooperate with him, we will find ourselves living an ever freer life in Him, with Him, and through Him. 

In closing, I also wanted to point out that people in the crowd untied Lazarus.  We are the body of Christ.  We have the ability to be the answer to the prayers of others who want to be set free.  Pray with and for people.  Let them be the answer to your own desires for freedom by letting them pray with and for you.  

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering the areas of your life where you need to be set free.  We don’t always want to see the truth of our sinful nature, so be sure to enter this prayer with an openness to truth because self-knowlege is a key component of the spiritual life. He might use words, images, or memories to show you what you need to see. Ask for the courage to stand in truth. Ask him to untie you from all that binds you. Then, spend some time thanking him for loving you even though you are still a sinner.  

In Him,


We Love Him Because He First Loved Us

Sometimes I look around and wonder if people are doing religion because it’s the right thing to do or is a practice handed down by parents or other loved ones. Maybe some people are motivated because they don’t want to go to hell.  I imagine the actual reasons for being religious are at least some of these things, but hopefully, also, love. When we read scripture what we find is a God who is revealing himself as love.  He reveals himself as one who is incredibly generous, loving, and he is calling us to be in right relationship with him. Let me tell you a story about my morning to see if I can better explain what I mean.

This morning, I woke late. I wasn’t feeling all that great, and I was tired because I stayed up late watching TV. The 5:45 AM alarm was something I wanted to ignore.  I got up and made it to Morning Prayer and Mass, but I was in a mood.  However, about half way through Mass, an image from the Song of Songs came to mind, an image of the lover chasing after the beloved.  All of the grumpy thoughts that had gone through my head all morning became humorous as I realized how selfish they were; as I realized how much God loves me despite my occasional pettiness. 

After communion, I sat and basked in His love. I felt my pettiness and grumpiness fade away.  I started to feel joyous as I allowed those feelings to die.  I’m still tired and not feeling all that great, but by allowing his love to smother the selfishness, I found joy.  By dying to my selfish and petty attitude I found myself overflowing with his love.  Then, at breakfast, I hope I was able to pass on some of that love to the people with whom I came in contact.  God is love, and when we encounter him who is love, we, too, have the potential of becoming love as he is love. When we encounter his love, we love him in return. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering the place of love in your religious and spiritual practices and beliefs. How does it motivate you to practice acts of love of God and neighbor? How does it feed your day to day life?  Spend some time imagining yourself in his presence and basking in his love.  Feel free to show him your faults, all the things you typically hide within, and feel his love for you despite your flaws.  Keep in mind that this is not an invitation to validate that it is ok to stay where you are, but an invitation to let love lead you from where you are to the fullness of life.  

In Him,


Be Holy As I am Holy

Have you ever pondered the definition of holiness? Of what it means to be holy as God is holy?   I just finished skimming two definitions from a couple of Bible Dictionaries, and I must say, I am still at a loss. Then, I stumbled across a quote from Elizabeth of the Trinity:

“Be holy for I am holy! It seems to me that this is the very same wish expressed on the day of creation when God said: “Let us make man in Our image and likeness.” It is always the desire of the creator to identify and associate His creature with Himself!”

There are those who say that humans maintained their image of God after the fall, but lost the likeness. There are a few different interpretations of this, but I’ll share my favorite one.  I found it when I was trying to understand what Jesus meant in Mark 10:18 where he said, “only God is good.”  What I found was this understanding – God is good (image) and does good (likeness). Humans are good, but don’t always do good.  Using this as a point of reference, one way of understanding our call to holiness is our call to be Christ-like.  

On the one hand, that is depressing. I’m no longer young, and I see that all of my attempts to do so have failed. There is something within me that keeps me from doing good in all instances.  In fact, I’m not even to a point of wanting to good in all instances, although I can say I want to want to do good in all instances.  

I recently heard a presentation on free choice according to Thomas Aquinas. The discussion explained the operation of the intellect and the will.  The intellect determines what is good. The will desires the good and delights when it obtains the good.  As I pondered what I heard, I came to think that a human’s judgment is flawed either in regards to what it thinks is good and/or in how it prioritizes goods. In other words, created goods in some instances take priority over the greatest good, which is God.  

From here, I pondered how one might retrain the intellect and the will so that God might move to the top of the list.  I think the first part of the answer involves the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier. It is his job to make us holy. At the same time, we have a part to play.  Our part involves doing what Jesus demanded of all of his disciples – die to self and carry crosses.  Mark 8:34.  The more we do so, the more detached we become from lesser goods.  Maybe this detachment allows us to choose the greater good. Interestingly enough, this is also a practice that allows the Holy Spirit more room to work within us. 

I will close with a final thought.  If the will’s job is to delight in the goods when obtained, then maybe we should spend time delighting when we choose correctly.  It is easy to delight in our favorite foods and in obtaining some wonderful gadget from Amazon, but do we take the time to delight in choosing God and his way? Maybe if we did, we would be more open to choosing the greatest good.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own understanding of holiness. Ask him what you can do to become more like our God who made us in his image and likeness. Spend some time delighting in his presence and in his desire to make you holy.  

In Him,


Ask and Receive

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus tells us to ask and receive.  I have always read that verse as, “ask, and you will receive that which was requested.”  When this verse is read in conjunction with the rest of the passage (vs 7-12), one sees that what is received is that which is best for the situation, be it for the person requesting or the person on whose behalf the request is being made.  This makes much more sense.  

When we realize that our life isn’t about making our current lives perfect, but about being united to God in his perfection for eternity, we can start to see that if one asks for something that slows down or detracts from the end goal, then God is going to give that which aids one more on one’s journey to union.  

In addition, God’s answer to our prayer will always bring glory to his name. This glory may be about drawing someone to deeper contrition, humility, trust, love, or other spiritual fruit.  For example, I recently prayed with a friend who has Alzheimers.   I asked God to heal the illness, and, if for some reason, that was not God’s will, that God’s glory be shown.  While God has not chosen to heal the illness, I started to see what impact my friend was having on me, despite the illness.  I was growing in trust, love, patience, and humility. In other words, I better saw God’s glory.   I can only surmise that others are having similar experiences in their encounters with God.  

I still have hope that God may choose to heal my friend, but only if and when such healing is important for the salvation of souls in our time.  Until then, my friend continues to be open to God’s will, and he lives with a substantial amount of trust and peace.   

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own prayer requests. How did you take it when you didn’t receive what you wanted?  Ask him to show you how God’s glory is being revealed through the situation. Ask him to use the situation to increase your faith, hope, and love. 

In Him,


Living for Eternity

There are a variety of opinions on what Heaven will be like, but there is only one that makes sense to me. It is rooted in Trinitarian theology.  

1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love.  God is agape.  When we look at the totality of the Bible, we learn a thing about this Greek word, agape.  I think one of the best definitions of this word is found in Phil 2:7 where Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself.  Agape is self-giving love.  This is the basis for one of the most beautiful expressions of the three persons of the Trinity, which can be summarized like this:

“The Father pours out everything of himself, except his being Father, and the Son receives it. The Son responds with an equally free and total gift of himself, and the fruit of that mutual love is the Holy Spirit.” Heschmeyer, Joe. Who Am I, Lord? Finding your Identity in Christ

Again, Scripture tells us that we are a part of the body of Christ. We are called to be a part of this emptying out and receiving.  In fact, in Galatians 2:19-21 Paul tells us that he died. He lives no longer Paul, but Christ in him.  Paul, too, emptied himself, and in return, he received Christ. 

Another key to understanding this view of Heaven can be found in Jesus’ instructions for disciples. As disciples we are required to die to self and to carry our crosses. Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34, Lk 9:23.  What happens when we do so? We become self-giving love. We participate more and more fully in this outpouring of love between the persons of the Trinity as we find ourselves more and more united to the body of Christ. 

If what I have stated here is true, and Heaven is about participating in this sharing of self with the divine, then Heaven begins now. It begins with learning to live no longer, I, but Christ in me. 

May we all begin to learn to live for eternity by giving of ourselves so as to receive all that God longs to give us, and what he longs to give us is himself. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him to show you where he is working in your life to draw you into this love exchange between the persons of the Trinity; how he is working to integrate you more fully into Christ’s body.  Ask him to help you surrender to his work. In fact, make sure you give him permission to work for he will not override your free will.  Close your prayer with thanksgiving for all God has done for you. 

In Him,



There are many who talk about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as atonement for sins.  If one turns to the theologians to see what this means, there are many different theories of atonement.  These include the idea of ransoming a captive from slavery and sacrifice. 

However, did you know that the word is literally at-one-ment, not a-tone-ment?  Pondering this became even more interesting, at least to me, when I was reminded that the suffix “ment” is added to a verb as a way of expressing the means or result of the verb.  At One is not a verb, so – how does this work? When we dig further, we see that at-one is English for the Latin verb meaning – to unite.  Thus, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reunited humans to God.  

I doubt I am telling most of you something you did not already know, but sometimes different words can help us go deeper into the mystery of Jesus.  Thus, as I pondered this line of reasoning, I started to see that Jesus is the completion of the verb – to unite.  In other words: 

The reality of Jesus is that I have been at-oned with God.  

The problem is, I do not live at-one with God.  This is despite the fact that in Jesus, I have received everything I need to live rightly. 2 Pet 1:3. To understand this more fully, we can look at an ancient mystic who tells us that: “[n]o one who is in love with himself is capable of loving God. The man who loves God is the one who mortifies his self-love for the sake of the immeasurable blessings of divine love.” – Diadochus, 5th Century mystic.  This understanding is rooted in Mk 8:34 where Jesus tells us that a disciple must carry his or her cross and die to self. When we follow this directive, we increase our capacity to love God and to receive his love. In so doing, we live more and more fully the life of the at-oned; as one united to God who is love. 1 Jn 4:16.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own at-oned-ness with God. Ask him to help you see your reality as one who has been at-oned, and to help you surrender all that keeps you from living such status in the here and now. May we all learn to more and more fully live out our identity as one who has been at-oned with God. 

In Him,


Heaven is [Imperfectly] Now

Elizabeth of the Trinity tells us that Heaven is where God is, and God dwells within us.  However, it seems many people are sitting around waiting to die to start living.  If so, then maybe some thoughts on how to live Heaven now is merited.  

First, what is Heaven? It is a place of peace. How can we have peace in our uncertain world?  Conceptually, it isn’t hard to attain because Biblical peace has to do with right relationship with God.  Right relationship with God requires conversion and a life lived with a belief in Jesus and all he taught.  I said this is conceptually not too hard because conversion is difficult, and so, too, is maintaining peace in a world that always seems to be attacking our sense of peace.   

However, when one trusts that God only allows bad things to happen so that he can bring about right relationship and conversion, maybe finding peace in this world seems somewhat more achievable. One of my favorite spiritual authors says God has an art of bringing good out of evil. Maybe one way to live Heaven now is in humbly accepting the crosses that come our way by saying something like, “God, I look forward to seeing what masterpiece you will paint with this hurt and pain.  I look forward to seeing how you perfect my faith, hope, and love through these trials.” 

Of course, this doesn’t mean we cannot pray that God take evil out of our lives. Jesus, while in the Garden, prayed that the cross be taken from him.  When the Father, whose ways are beyond us, chose not to remove the cross, the world was redeemed.  If spirituality is about following Jesus, then there is nothing wrong with praying for crosses to be removed.  We just need to remember that if he doesn’t, then it has a purpose in bringing us closer to him. 

Second, living in Heaven is living in union with God who is love. When we look at the person of Jesus to see what this love looks like, we see a love that is not only self-giving, but selfless.  How can we be in union with God if we have not worked to shed our own selfishness and pride?  In addition to accepting the crosses that come our way, we can also make choices in how we live our day to day lives that help us die to self. We can become, in him, selfless people who live a life of self-giving love in the world today. 

No, living Heaven now by cultivating peace and perfecting charity is not an easy task. It is something that most, if not all of us, will fight to do for our entire lives.  Regardless, this is the path for those who believe in Jesus. This is living according to his teaching because discipleship mandates this path of dying to self and carrying crosses.  Mk 8:34.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing your own view of Heaven. Ask him how you can live more fully, even if imperfectly, in Heaven in this space and time. Ask him how you can live a peaceful life amid all of the distractions in this world, and how you can better keep your eyes on the long-term goal of perfect perfection through all the challenges and blessings that fill your life. Ask him to either remove your crosses or to be your Simon, as is necessary for your own perfection.  Ask him to be your strength in weakness as you learn to better cooperate with grace in this process of becoming one with Him. 

In Him,


On Being Selfish

The other night as I was driving to Bible study, I realized that I was getting grumpy. I found myself wishing that I could stay home and watch TV.  I asked myself, is this voice in my head accurate? Would I rather live vicariously through fake people living in made up / unrealistic social situations or study the word of God with people who have become my friends?  I smiled at myself, rejected the voice telling me I should be home, and forgave myself for being selfish.  Then the thought occurred to me that being of service is selfish when understood in the proper context.

In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, I live no longer I.  Taking his train of thought, I ceased to exist at baptism.  When I say this I mean that the unique person God created still exists, but like Paul, this person exists as a part of a larger whole.  This has at least two major implications.  

First, throughout my life, I have tagged certain beliefs about myself onto my God-given identity.  I have created a perception of my identity, which is founded both on my God-given identity and other beliefs that I have come to associate with myself. Any aspect of my own personal belief about myself, which is not of God, needs to be removed, and this is predominately the work of the Holy Spirit with some cooperation from me. 

Second, baptism united me to the body of Christ.  Therefore, like Paul who talks about this new person as one living a life focused on the person, Jesus Christ, so too should my life focus on living with him, in him, and through him.  This doesn’t mean a focus solely on Jesus, but all others who are likewise united to Him through baptism. It also means focusing on all of those called to be members of his body for we are incomplete without them.

As I pondered this truth, it occurred to me that service can be viewed as selfish. It is selfish to care for others because in caring for them, I care for myself. It is selfish to give to others because it is giving to myself for they are a part of me.  

I know this sounds a bit ridiculous. However, the thought process helped me turn my self-pity into a joyful encounter with others.  I was able to laugh at myself and to let go of the perceived burden of serving others, which was in fact no burden at all.  I see where this view might help me to laugh at myself in the future when I feel burdened by doing for others, and to go joyfully towards serving the needs of others. In time, the Holy Spirit will remove the false aspects of Debra as a distinct person apart from Christ, and I will no longer need a crutch like this to help me go in the right direction. Until then, humor is my best weapon against pride and selfishness.

During this season of preparing for Christmas, many of us are likely to experience fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, and the like.  Maybe this revised view of self and service can help you laugh and surrender your burdens to him, and to serve others with joy. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own life in Christ.  How do you view service to others?  Does the idea of self-care as acts done for the good of the body of Christ make you look at the world a little differently? Does it give you some ideas on how you can continue preparing for the coming of the one in whom you have your existence? Spend some time in prayer thanking God for the community of believers, and asking Him how you can help bring all others back to Him. 

In Him,


For the Glory of Your Name

This past weekend, I was preparing to help put on a retreat, and I didn’t put as much effort in as I should have.  When I was driving to the church, I prayed that my mediocre preparation would not have a negative impact on the people attending the retreat.  In response, I heard, “for the glory of my name.” Peace settled over me, until I got to the Church. 

Before going forward with the story, I want to explain why the phrase, “for the glory of my name” brought peace.  The phrase (which is actually, “for the sake of my name”) comes from something I learned in my Old Testament Prophets class. During the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel tells the Israelites that he would uphold his end of the covenant, despite their failure to do the same. He was going to bring them home, not because of anything they did, but to prove to other nations that the God of Israel was faithful.  

So, what I heard was, “I will care for my people despite any weakness in you.  I will lead them to me.” I knew in that instant that I was just an instrument through which he would do as he pleased. All I needed to do was surrender.  

When I arrived at the church, I started hauling boxes in from my car. One of the boxes flipped over, and the vegetable tray container broke open, and spilled out on the floor. As I reached to pick everything up, I discovered that the fruit tray had also broken open. Luckily, it spilled out in the bag. Less mess.  As soon as that was straightened up, something else fell to the floor. In the course of 45 minutes, I dropped several things.  I stepped away from the setup, and went to find a quiet place to take a breath.

I found myself asking, “God, is this your way of encouraging me to do better in my preparation next time?  Are you using this as a way of making sure that I don’t procrastinate as much next time? Did you choose something that only impacted me instead of the entire retreat? No. I quickly realized that it was another force was at work; a force that was trying to make me doubt the promise of his faithfulness.  I thanked God, and got back to work.  Some things still went wrong, but I kept my peace.  

Trusting in God can be difficult when we do not know his ways.  He doesn’t always come to our aid the way we expect. He allows things to happen that make us question whether he is there. I don’t know about you, but I have often thought, “if I were God, I would have done it this way…”   The entire Bible tells us that even when he isn’t working as we would like, he is always faithful. He always brings good out of evil. He always has our eternal good in mind, and sometimes that has to take priority over our physical good in that moment.  Regardless of how things seem, he is always faithful. 

I know that nothing I have said means that I should settle for lesser effort in my preparation. He is still calling me to do my best.  The difference is that no matter how much work I put in, it is still him and his faithfulness that makes the difference. He is the God who saves. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him to show you where he is working for the sake of his name.   Where is he calling you to trust in his faithfulness instead of on your own works?  How has he shown you his faithfulness in the past, and how that can lead you to assurance in how he will work in the future? Spend some time thanking him for his faithfulness, even when you do not do your part.  If you are new to the path, then look to Scripture and learn of his faithfulness through the lives of the ancient Israelites.  He who led his people out of captivity in Egypt continues to lead us all to the Promised Land. He leads us one dropped item of responsibility at a time.  

In Him,


On Becoming

Life is a journey of becoming one with God. What does this union look like?  There are those who experience consolations and/or exercise in spiritual gifts. Are these evidence of union?  Good question. 

I think the answer is yes, these are evidence that we are becoming one with God.  However, we know from the spiritual theologians that consolations can become just that, the consolation prize.  It is possible to get caught up in the goodness of these secondary fruits, and stagnate. 

So, what is the answer? Well, there are likely many ways to answer the question.  The thesis that seems the most obvious to me goes something like this.  First, we know from 2,000 years of experience that the process of becoming one with God includes three things: 1) the purgation of sinful tendencies, 2) illumination in regards to heavenly things, and 3) a growing sense of union with God. 

How are we purged of our sinful tendencies? Again, history tells us that the Holy Spirit has different ways of achieving this objective.  I think it safe to say that it starts with discipleship; with following the Christ.  Jesus tells us that following him means dying to self and carrying our crosses. Mk 8:34.  In at least one tradition, this has been interpreted as practicing virtue, which includes detachment from worldly things, and trusting that God is in control, even when bad things happen. One is something that we actively pursue, and the other is something we passively accept.  

I suppose it is important to state that there is a difference between giving up or being a victim to circumstances and using prudence and prayer to determine our way through these difficulties.  Understanding this nuance, in my experience, is an on-going lesson in living and learning. Still, it seems there is some degree of actively navigating the situation and trustingly giving control over to God.  

Thus, as we learn to live a life of virtue and how to navigate life’s circumstances with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we open the door, and allow Him to purge us of the things that keep us from being united to Him.  We learn to open our minds to Him, and we begin to better understand heavenly things. 

As we are purged and illuminated, we undergo the interior change Paul talks about in some of his letters.  We start to see the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We experience the transforming power of grace.  We see our life choices become more like the choices of Jesus.  We experience peace, joy, and an ever-growing sense of love.  In my opinion, love is the biggest key to knowing that one is becoming united to God.  The more we are transformed into selfless, self-giving love through grace, dying to self, and cross carrying, the more united we are to God, who, according to John, is love. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit praying for a greater understanding of spiritual truths.  Ask him to guide you through the stages of purgation, illumination, and union.  Ask him to help you desire only things of him. Ask him to transform you into that which you were made to be – one with the God who not only loves you, but calls you to be one in him. 

In Him,