On God’s Greatness

I am always amused when I read the story of the transfiguration. I see so much of myself in Peter. Every time my eyes are open to the greatness of God, I want to get busy (metaphorically speaking) building tents. There is something about encountering the all powerful God that humbles me.  It humbles me because I think I spend a lot of time either trying to make myself god-like or making God like me. I do not do this consciously, but the further I go in the spiritual life, the more I see human nature. The more I understand selfishness and pride.

As I was pondering this concept, I thought about the greatness of God in nature. I saw the greatness of God in his people, even if faulty because of sin. I thought about those moments when I really experienced God. Then I thought about how beautiful the world would be if I would just stop building tents; if I would just spend more time allowing myself to be humbled.

This reminds me of something I recently read. I do not remember which spiritual writer said this, but the statement was about how our image of God is purified early on in the spiritual journey.  If you struggle with this idea of a faulty image of God, ponder how often people become angry with God when they grow confused by his methods. How many people have turned away from God because he did not behave the way they wanted? How many people are angry because God did not meet their expectations; did not do things the way they would do them if we were God? Can we each say that we have not had something similar happen to us? In fact, is it even possible to fully comprehend a God who is transcendent; who is beyond our full capacity to understand?

Today, I encourage you to spend some time pondering your own reaction to encounters with God’s greatness.  Invite the Holy Spirit into your prayer to ask him to help you be open to where he wants to work.  Ask yourself questions like, how do I respond when I encounter God? Do I fall on my knees as evidenced by Peter’s response to the transfiguration as captured in Matthew, or do I get busy wanting to build tents as portrayed in Mark and Luke? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where your concept of God needs some purification. If you harbor any anger towards God, take that to prayer, and ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to be healed and reconciled with God.  He loves you. He wants to reveal himself to you, and he wants to lead you into the fullness of life. To do so, he needs you to spend time in prayer and being open to his truth and his light.  

In Him,

dw

What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of leading a discussion group on the first 55 paragraphs of Pope Francis’ most recent publication, Fratelli Tutti. While I have yet to completely read this lengthy document, he has some very interesting ideas in this section.

He addresses this document to a worldwide population. His thesis is set in promoting the idea of a world culture founded in familial love. He notes that readers who are not Christian might think that he is seeking to indoctrinate others in Christian principles, but he points out that love is incidentally a Christian principal. Everyone would benefit from a world that was more accepting and inclusive. While I am skeptical of ever achieving this goal because sin isn’t going away until Jesus’ return, ideals have the ability of setting a bar, and even if one person embraces some of these principles, the world would be a better place. 

On that note, I intend to lay out some of his thoughts over the next couple of days for your reflection. The idea is that the Holy Spirit can help us use these themes to see where we are being called to change behavior in order to become more loving. In addition, with the beginning of the Lenten season fast approaching, some of these thoughts may help us see things we can “give up” to help us build habits that will make the world a more loving place. 

One of the themes in this first chapter is integration. He is speaking at a worldwide level, but we are going to take it down to the personal. In this section, he sees the world as having moved in the direction of integration over the last few decades, but he sees a troubling trend that points to a regression on this point. 

One example that comes to mind is the image of the Body of Christ.  Our world is heavily focused on individualism, and maybe there are ways that we can better connect with each other in order to further the goals of the Body of Christ. 

A second example is rooted in the idea of isolation during the pandemic. I doubt I am the only one who has, at times, used it as an excuse to be less connected.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reflecting on your life. Ask him to help you see where you might be backing off from being more connected with other people. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you ways of maintaining proper boundaries, while still being open to all types of people. Feel free to share your thoughts for the benefit of others. 

In Him,

dw 

Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee

There are many discussions going on about how to get Christians to go deeper in their faith. Here are my two cents.

First, we must realize that there are many reasons that Christians call themselves Christians. There are those who do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. There are those who are afraid of hell, and are Christians because they want to go to heaven. Finally, some have had an encounter with Truth, and this encounter has led them to professing Jesus as Lord and Savior.  In my humble opinion, we are likely compelled to be Christians for more than one reason, and some of those reasons may not be listed here. 

Why do I point this out? Because when we start to analyze why we don’t go further in our faith, we realize that these drivers can sabotage our progress. We cannot live in the peace and love of God if our journey is tainted with a fear of hell.  We cannot live in a proper humble attitude towards God if we are proud of doing the right thing.  While encounters with God that prompt us towards the Christian life are the proper drivers, the experiences in and of themselves can become a source of pride. 

The second springboard for going deeper in faith goes back to the point that deep faith comes from an encounter with God, which is an encounter with love. However, encounters with God often lead to one of two extremes. The first extreme is an encounter with God as a punitive father.  The second is and encounter with an unconditionally loving father, which leads us to accept ourselves where we are. This is ok if it does not build complacency that resists becoming even better. I believe that the perfect spiritual journey places these two extremes in tension with one another. It lives with an awareness of sin and unworthiness and the joy of unconditional love. At the same time, it seeks to cooperate with the Holy Spirit so that one can be stripped of selfishness in order to be fully united with the unconditional lover.

If the idea of being one with God, one with love, does not create joy in the depth of our heart, then I don’t know what will. At the same time, there is something within us that resists seeing the depths of our sinful nature. It seems to go against everything within us. However, Catherine of Siena tells us that self-awareness comes before love.  We can understand this better if we look at some of the other metaphors for describing God.  God is light, and if we hide the depths of our sinful nature in darkness, then how can one be one with light? If we are lying to ourselves about the depth of our sinful nature, how can we be one with Truth? 

Based on the above, I suggest that the goal of the spiritual journey is leveraging the joy of unconditional love with the help of the Holy Spirit in order to overcome all that keeps us from becoming one with God. The  first step of the journey requires one to have an encounter with love.  While there are many ways to encounter God’s love, the most important one is through silent prayer.  It is in silent prayer that the Holy Spirit perfects us.  It is through sitting in silence that we humbly submit to the Holy Spirit and empower him to do his work. 

What is silent prayer?  It is a process of sitting in awareness of God’s presence within us and his love for us. When people persist in this process, they find themselves experiencing immense joy.  Yes, there is great joy found in adoring him. 

Spend time with the Holy Spirit pondering his presence within you. Ask him make you aware of his presence. Ask him to kindle a fire of desire to be transformed in a manner that you may be one with the Trinity. Ask him for an encounter with his love, an encounter that will likely make you confront the truth of your unworthiness. Ask him to help you find the balance between the negative feelings that arise from self-awareness and the truth of his love for us. Ask him to reveal to you the way of perfection. Ask him to make you one with himself. Then, spend some time just being in his presence.  As you wrap up your time of prayer, I encourage you to take some notes about your experience, and to set forth any action items that might help you on the way.

In Him,

dw

The Spirituality of Ignatius of Antioch

This morning I read Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Romans as a continuation of my quest to understand the spirituality of the early church; to better understand Christian living as it was in the beginning. Ignatius was a bishop in Syria at the beginning of the second century. This letter was written to the Roman church to dissuade them from interfering in his martyrdom.  The exact date of his death is unknown as one source reports his death as early as 108 AD, and others as late as 140 AD. 

As I read this letter (which is easy to find for free on the internet with a simple search), the lessons I learned from my spirituality class came to mind. Early Christians saw spirituality as imitating the life of Christ, especially in regards to carrying one’s cross. Carrying one’s cross meant, at least in part, accepting one’s circumstances as a way of surrendering to the will of God, just as the all-powerful Jesus, true God and true man, surrendered to his crucifixion at the hands of Pilate.  

In one paragraph, Ignatius describes the guards who transport him from Syria to Rome as leopards. These wild animals responded to kindness (i.e., to Christlike behavior) with scorn and bad temperament. In other words, he described them the same way the authors of the Gospels described the behavior of the Jews and Romans who led Jesus from the Praetorium to Calgary.

He then goes on to describe his anticipated end in the Colosseum with horrific yet exultant words. He wanted his body to be mauled and mangled by the beasts. He described his joy at becoming the pure bread of Christ as the animals devoured his body, which he described as a grain of wheat. This and other images created by his letter brought several scriptural images to mind.  I saw Jesus preaching that a grain of wheat must fall to the ground. I saw images of Paul’s body of Christ. I saw Jesus holding up the bread while saying, this is my body. In all of this, I saw Ignatius’ understanding that his surrender to martyrdom reflected a Christ-like life. 

As I pondered whether there was a blog behind these images, I was reminded of a class I took while working on my Masters in Theological Studies: Theological Reflections.  TR teaches a process of reflecting on one’s experiences through the lens of Christian teaching (especially Scripture) and culture.   The process is intended to bring more meaning to one’s life, just as Ignatius saw his martyrdom as being more than a meaningless death at the hands of the Romans.  His death was a way of imitating Christ, attaining Heaven, and empowering others to make difficult decisions when society, culture, and personal fears worked to get in the way.   

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing your own life. What experience comes to the surface? If more than one, then prayerfully choose one.  Ponder this experience in light of the Gospel. What scripture(s) come(s) to mind? How do these Scriptures shed light on the experience? Do the Scriptures help you figure out how to better interpret the experience? Do they give you insight into how to respond to an ongoing experience? While this is only one half of the TR process, it is a good beginning.  I encourage you to jot down your findings with as much detail as you can muster. Sometimes, these notes find their way back into our lives at moments when we need them. The notes can likewise form the basis of an intentional process of reflection that helps us see more clearly how God works in our life.

In him,

dw

Temple of God

In the Old Testament, the Israelites twice built a temple to God in Jerusalem. The temple was the place where God resided. He made his home in Jerusalem. In fact, during the time of the prophets, the people, even though living outside of their covenant obligations, believed that God would not allow the Babylonians to sack Jerusalem because of the presence of the temple. The prophets make it very clear that God was more interested in his people repenting than in saving his earthly dwelling.

The temple, as the house of God, was a place where many people worked diligently to maintain the temple in a way befitting the mighty and powerful God of Israel.  This was a place where the sacrifices required in the Book of Leviticus were performed. The temple was a very special place. In fact, the Israelites mourned the fact that the second temple was not as grand and majestic as the one originally built by Solomon, the one destroyed by the Babylonians. They mourned the fact that the current house of God was less befitting the God of Israel.

The New Testament clearly emphasizes the fact that the people of God are now the dwelling place of God because by our baptism the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within us.  By reflecting on the way the ancient Israelites understood the temple and maintained it, we can learn a lot about how we should be treating our bodies as a dwelling place of God.  We can learn a lot about mourning the fact that it is less than perfect, and balancing this grief with a knowledge that God is working with us to perfect his dwelling; he is working to make it and us a proper home for him. In return, he will make us a home with him. Our inferior house will be replaced with the most magnificent of houses when we our joined with God in perfection.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit picturing the ancient temple in Jerusalem. Feel free to google images depicting the temple. Imagine the people preparing sacrifices, laying out the bread of presence, managing the candles, and otherwise tending to the comforts of their God and creator. Spend some time with the Spirit reflecting on your own temple. How well do you care for God’s residence? What more can you do to make him feel comfortable and at home? Spend some time jotting down some notes from your time of prayer, and make some commitments related to doing a better job of treating your body as the temple of God.

In Him,

dw

Temple-Bearer

This morning, I find myself reflecting on one’s personal being as the temple of God. In the Old Testament, the Israelites had to endure the discomfort and dangers of the road to travel to Jerusalem several times a year in order to worship God in the temple. New covenant living has a component of us being able to worship God interiorly, and also as being ones who takes God to others. We reverse the trend from the Old Testament. We make God more accessible to his people.

As I ponder this, I think about a world transformed because people encounter God through us. Of course, this is misleading because the goal is not to be God to others, but to make present the indwelling Holy Spirit to everyone we encounter. In other words, by allowing the loving nature of Jesus to shine forth through us, we have the ability to be instruments of God’s salvation to others. Not the means of salvation, just an instrument, a tool.

As I ponder this statement further, the question of how comes to mind. How do we allow Jesus to shine fourth through us? My current thoughts lead me to believe that we need to invite the Holy Spirit into each and every encounter we have every moment of every day. This is something that is seemingly impossible, but it is something that we should endeavor to make a habit. I suggest that we start each day with a general prayer that covers each of our encounters. We invite him into our entire day, and ask him to be in each and every encounter of our day.  However, this is just the stopgap  approach. The overall goal is to work towards forming a habit of  inviting him into each encounter with others. The stopgap covers our current failure to be perfect in this endeavor. 

When I ponder the Holy Spirit shining forth through us, I see people who seek to excel at maintaining peace even when these encounters with others bring negative feelings to the surface.  I see people who affirm others by treating them with dignity, even when society or circumstances say that they are unworthy.  I see people who put the needs of others before themselves, or at least at the same level as self.  I see people who are prayerful before, during, and after these encounters. People who are apologetic when they are less than perfect in their endeavors to be temple-bearers. People who through their post encounter reflections critique their performance and continue to seek ways to improve their openness to and manner of being temple-bearers. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him to help you be a better temple-bearer to those you encounter today. Ask him to help you build a habit of inviting him into each and every encounter you have throughout your life.  Ask him to further enlighten you to his presence within. Of course, if you are in need of your own encounter with a temple-bearer, feel free to pray for this as well. Jot down some notes from your time in prayer; notes about what you learned and/or some thoughts on how you can improve upon your life as a bearer of the temple of God Most High.

In Him,

dw

Jesus’ Baptism

Today, many Christian denominations celebrate the baptism of Jesus. It is interesting to read the four Gospels and note the differences. Who sees the heavens torn open? Who hears the voice of God? Does John appear to recognize Jesus? None of these questions or the answers thereto have much bearing, but it does make for interesting reading.

One of the important factors about Jesus’ baptism is him being submerged and coming up out of the water. Many commentators believe that he allowed himself to be baptized in order to sanctify the water for future baptisms. One might even say that he sanctified the new earth. Another reason is that Jesus is the way, and he shows us our proper response to his calling; a proper practice for all disciples.

Another interesting fact is that in the last couple of centuries, there has been a lot of comparison of modern beliefs to those of the early church. One of the points of note was that over time the focus of baptism moved away from the idea of dying and rising with Christ and became about induction into the church. I don’t know about other denominations, but the Catholic Church has recognize both points as important, and has expended energy re-focusing baptism so that both aspects are highlighted. 

Why is it important to view baptism as an act of dying and rising with Christ? I think Paul says it best when he says I live no longer I, but Christ in me. Gal 2:20. There is a brand new focus on the direction of our life when we see ourselves as having died with Christ. We live no longer for self. We live in connection with the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is important too because John testified that Jesus would baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Thus, the tie between life in the spirit and baptism is strong.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own baptism. Does it reflect for you the idea of dying and rising with Christ? How does this impact your walk with Christ? What is the role of the spirit in your spiritual life?  How does your life emulate the life of Christ? Jot down some notes about where you are doing well in this regards as well as some ideas for improvement.

In Him,

dw 

The Wedding at Cana

This morning, I read a part of a sermon by Faustus of Riez, a 5th century bishop.  In his sermon, he pondered the wedding at Cana and he connected the water and wine to the old and new covenant. The water was good; the wine better. Likewise, the old and new covenants. 

He explained that the old covenant was an outward discipline and the new covenant as full of grace. This begs question, what is grace? How does it differentiate the old and new covenants? I think a part of the answer lies in Jeremiah who prophesied that the new covenant would be within us. Jer 31:33. So the new covenant is internal. We know that through baptism, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us, and I suggest that this presence is what grace is all about. In other words, grace is the Holy Spirit working within us.  It is God in three persons working in and around us.  

The old covenant was imperfect because it was up to humans, who are imperfect, to live it out. In the new covenant, God corrects this imperfection by placing his own spirit within us.  When we turn internally, it is like the servants who brought ordinary water to Jesus. By turning internally, we give him permission to change us into wine. When we give him our all, he shores up our weaknesses, and through grace, our efforts are perfected.

Of course, the problem with this is that our efforts to give our all to him are likewise imperfect. It is for this reason that we call our spiritual life a journey, because it is through experience and reflection on experience, that we come to learn and to understand how to better rely on him. In effect, our afterlife will be without sin because by then our reliance on him shall be perfected. In the here and now, we learn to live perfectly in the afterlife.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit seeking wisdom about your own spiritual walk. Do you live the old covenant? Have you allowed him to change you, who are like ordinary water, into the best of wines?  Have you encountered grace in a way that helped you avoid occasions of sin? Talk to him about where you are in this process. Ask him to show you new and better ways to rely on him. Ask him how you can be like the servants, who brought the vats of water to Jesus, so that you too can be changed. Feel free to bring Mary into the discussion because she was the one who instructed the original servants on how to achieve the intended result. While Mary has passed over, she is still an active part of the Body of Christ; she is still there to mentor us through the process.

In Him,

dw 

A Gift Befitting A King

This morning, we celebrate the Epiphany, the arrival of the three wisemen in the Holy Land. The wisemen go first to the palace. Until this morning, I was under the impression that they were simply seeking directions; however a reflection I read earlier suggested that the wisemen went to the palace because that is where they expected the king to be. Instead, they found him lying in a manger. They found him in a humble abode. Despite Jesus not living up to their expectations of a king, they treated him as one by paying him homage and offering him gifts worthy of a king.

Unlike the three wisemen, we know that this king is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the one who showed great power and might by delivering the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and, on their behalf, conquering the Holy Land. Because we know who he is, our response should be even greater than that of these three men.

What gifts are befitting a king such is this? What can we give a king who holds everything in the palm of his hand? I think of the story of the little drummer boy, and how his gift was a humble song. This is a great example of a gift befitting a king such as this. We can give him the gift of our littleness. In fact, we can give him all of the parts of us that respond to him like Herod who plotted against him and sought to kill him. By recognizing our littleness before him, we give him to opportunity to fashion us into one who can give more perfect homage and praise to the king of Kings.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reflecting on your own response to this king. Likely, you will find yourself responding to him in ways that recognize his divinity and kingship, and at other times responding as though he is a threat to your own rule. Spend some time talking to the Holy Spirit about the areas where you need perfection. Ask him to enter in to these places, and to heal all the places where you resist him. While you are at it, spend some time praising him for the ways in which recognize him as king because it is only through his grace that any part of us can properly respond to him.

In Him,

dw

Feast Day of Mary, Mother Of God

Over the years, I have had several people ask me why I call Mary mother of God. In my experience, this question stems from a misunderstanding that the title is intended to elevate Mary’s status instead of on the recognition of Jesus as God.

When we look at Church history, we see that this issue came to a head in the fifth century. There were those who were pushing for Mary to be called Mother of the Messiah, but at the same time, there was a great dispute about Jesus’ divinity. 

The Bible itself does not prophecy a divine Messiah. The Messiah was just a person anointed by God. Thus, one could say that David was a Messiah, as were all of Israel’s kings and some priests and prophets.   Based on this understanding, Jesus could have been simply a very special man, like Moses, like David.

The problem with this is that our salvation had to be accomplished by Jesus, who was both divine and human. One who is simply man, could not offer the proper sacrifice. The perfect sacrifice was by one who was both. 

By claiming Mary to be the mother of God, we cement the understanding that Jesus was divine. We wash away any doubt that Jesus was just a special person, a special man chosen by God. We conclusively state our belief in the divine nature of Jesus.

So, today many celebrate the woman who gave birth to a divine human who came to save us. However, this focus on Jesus is not intended to diminish Mary’s special place in the heart of the church. Only Mary was specifically created for the task of being the mother of God. She is the ark of the new covenant.  One need only look at the language in the book of Exodus which laid out the design specifications for the ark of the original covenant to understand just how special is the womb of Mary.  Her example of humbly accepting this task from God deserves recognition and respect. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering Mary as a mother of God. Does this title cause you discomfort? The Holy Spirit is the source of Truth, so ask him to enlighten you on the truth of Mary’s role in the church, and how she was not a human like other humans. By this I simply mean that she was specifically created for a specific purpose.  Ask him to help you have a proper respect for the one to whom Jesus was obedient, for Jesus perfectly lived the original covenant, which required him to be obedient to his parents. We see this obedience in the story of the wedding of Cana where Jesus did as his mother requested, even though he hesitated at first. Feel encouraged to sit with any tension between what you have been taught and where the Holy Spirit might be leading. Ask him to clear away any untruth in your previous teaching, and even in regards to anything I might be saying.  Ask him to open you to any Truth you have yet to fully see.

In Him,

dw