Lent – Salvation from the Dust

As we begin the season of lent, let’s carry close to the front of our vision our need for redemption. In a world that thrives on living as if we’ll never die, Lent is our companion for safe passage past our illusions and into the arms of a loving God; a God who was broken so that all things may be made new and spared from dust.

Dust is an interesting thing. It’s the end point of all temporal and material things. Death is the doorway and death’s living room is lifeless dust, however absurd that sounds. Therefore we avoid death’s doorway at all costs and the way we cope is to keep it from the front of our minds.

This Jesus person did an extraordinary job of calling us past the illusions of life as we know it. He forces us to the dance floor to tango with death. He urges us to not be afraid, even though our natural instinct is to deny or flee our eventual dance partner. In fact, he promises us that in dancing with death, we find our life. He proves this to us by leading the way past the dust. Therefore, the faithful, in preparation for the event that is Easter, enter lent with dust on our foreheads to remind us of this part of our human experience. We are dust.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Jesus

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” the Apostle Paul

Let’s make our way in humility to the dance floor in full recognition that we need saving and consider the dust against the backdrop of the eventual healing of all things. These are two facets to God’s plan for the restoration of all things.

This song helps us consider Dust.




Maundy Thursday – A Night of Remembering

SederTonight we gathered together to remember. We gathered to remember according to the Jewish tradition of the passover, the Last Supper, and the Wedding feast of the Lamb. It was a liturgical evening that included a symbolic Seder meal, a roast lamb dinner, communion and prayer. It was good to remember. A big part of worship is remembering. We remember the ways in which God worked in history, the way he delivered those who marched faithfully and unfaithfully before us. We remembered the bitterness of slavery, incorporating all our senses. It was interesting that God would instruct Israel to remember not only with their minds, but with all their senses; taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound.

CommunionI was profoundly impacted while leading portions of the evening. I was impacted because in many ways this was a new experience for those unfamiliar with the tradition and those young in their faith. It was a privilege to pass along to them the story of our God saving our people and calling us toward His future. It was (is) a command that we remember how God has worked to free us from slavery and sin. The significance of the Seder and Last Supper speak strongly to this point.

I am left wondering about the place of remembering in our daily lives. In my introduction I remarked how remembering can shape our future. I wonder to what extent we evoke vividly the memories of God working in history as we strive to make our way through this life? Do we remember our folly? Do we remember our need for God? How often did the hearts of the disciples become hard not long after they witnessed miracles? We, like them fail to remember our God. I am left wondering what my day could look like tomorrow if I live with the memory of God on the front of my mind.

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Living Prayer Chapter 5 – Office Hours

The following is less a review of Chapter 5 of Robert Benson’s book, Living Prayer, and more a personal reflection about the content of the chapter.

Have you ever examined the pace of your life? How about what motivates and moves you? If you are like most living in Western Culture, you probably feel a compulsion to always be ‘doing’ something. And you probably feel an intense anxiety about life. Chances are you have a hard time recognizing the source of this anxiety.

If we look hard enough, we will see that the world is trying to stick us into its mold. This same world that Jesus loves and died for is imposing its rhythm and values onto us and demands our affection. The ‘life’ imposed is often one that exploits, oppresses, and distorts. Rather than being aware of this, we surrender to the false promises, believing that we can be totally and completely happy in this life if we by more things, or have more money. It’s funny how we do this even when we know it won’t make us happy. What might be an alternative life perspective as children of the good and gracious God we serve?

Have you ever been to a monastery? Have you ever taken the time to learn why groups of men and women live in monastic communities? The reason is prayer. The goal of monastic life is not to escape from the world in a way that disconnects one from the humanity of life, but to learn to live in union with God and march to a superior rhythm: a rhythm of prayer. Being unified with God in prayer is what makes our lives Living Prayer. We become catalysts for God’s love and purpose in this world. This is the theme Benson explores in this chapter.

“Office Hours” is a term that is symbolic of the life lived around set daily prayer times. Most commonly it is five times during each day that faithful Christians gather for prayer. Monks around the world will stop tilling the fields, stop administrative tasks, and stop any other work they are doing to pray. Free from distraction, they pray in unified voice with the Church and the scriptures. They pray when the bell rings.

We live in a world full of timers and alarm clocks that remind us of all sorts of things like: our favorite shows, when work is finally over, when school is out, when to get up, etc. Butt, do we have in our lives a bell that reminds us it’s time to stop and commune with the King? What would our lives look like if we were reminded throughout the day (with a bell?) that God was God alone and not we? That being with Him to learn and do His will is the main priority?

Benson talks about how the monks he observed at the Gethsemane Monastery are ordinary men. They are all shapes and sizes, some with dirt under their fingernails, some old, and some young. Some are cranky and some are kind. They are just plain ordinary, like you and I. They do similar tasks as you and I, as well. However, there is one difference between them and us outside of the fact they live in a monastic community. They are different because of what happens when the bell rings.

When the bell rings at various times in the day, they reorient their lives around God. This is more valuable than anything else in their day. We don’t need to live in a monastery to experience this. All can partake of this rhythm in our days. Imagine if we paused to pray with the Church. How would that shape our lives? Would it give us a more missional perspective? Would it train us to see this world not with our own eyes, but with God’s? The work we put down will still be there when we come back. We lie to ourselves and say: “The work can’t wait!…I’m much to important to stop!” Are we really?

What I’d like to suggest is that we can be monastics without fleeing from the world. We can live a type of ‘embedded’ monastic prayer life right in the midst of the world God wants to redeem. Do you remember the reporters that went into Iraq with the troops? They were embedded. So too can we be embedded. I am convinced that if we orient our lives around God in prayer; if we foster a heart of solitude and devotion to God, we will begin to see this life with God’s eyes. We will be invited into His purposes that do not cause the empty anxiety of chasing false dreams, but rather fills us with an eternal overwhelming joy and peace that surpasses all human understanding and can only be described as life to the full (John 10:10), regardless of trials that may beset us. Is it time to start keeping Office Hours?

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True Intimacy

“Human relationships easily become possessive. Our hearts so much desire to be loved that we are inclined to cling to the person who offers us love, affection, friendship, care, or support. Once we have seen or felt a hint of love, we want more of it. That explains why lovers so often bicker with each other. Lovers’ quarrels are quarrels between people who want more of each other than they are able or willing to give.

It is very hard for love not to become possessive because our hearts look for perfect love and no human being is capable of that. Only God can offer perfect love. Therefore, the art of loving includes the art of giving one another space. When we invade one another’s space and do not allow the other to be his or her own free person, we cause great suffering in our relationships. But when we give another space to move and share our gifts, true intimacy becomes possible.”

~Henri Nouwen

Nouwen touches on an important issue for us as we arrive to this first day of Lent. We become possessive because we believe that we can somehow capture eternity in a temporal bottle. What I mean is this. We strive and long for the touch of transcendence; it is at the core of each addiction and attachment in our lives, but we wrongly cling to the temporal (be it a person or an object) in hopes that eternal fulfillment can be realized. We do this in similar ways the crowds who followed Jesus did. We look for another fill while failing to see the true nourishment in Jesus from the bread on our plates.

Rather than live in this despair, Nouwen’s wisdom to embrace the non-possessive life offers us the freedom to see past the people and things that will only leave us temporally unsatisfied, when we wrongly use them as an end in itself. His wisdom points us to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our lives, and suggests that the easiest way to follow him is to abandon everything. We are called to abandon our attachment to everything that we seek eternal fulfillment in, be it a child, spouse, friend, pastor, ______…

As we journey into Lent, let’s consider how we can keep things in proper perspective. Let’s focus on how we can hold all of life in an open hand and see people in our lives not as something to grasp as an idol, but as an opportunity to recognize God’s image in them as we venture toward the perfect love found in Christ alone. This requires that we give others space. It is only from this perspective that we can love well.

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