Words That Create Community

"The word is always a word for others. Words need to be heard. When we give words to what we are living, these words need to be received and responded to. A speaker needs a listener. A writer needs a reader.

When the flesh – the lived human experience – becomes word, community can develop. When we say, "Let me tell you what we saw. Come and listen to what we did. Sit down and let me explain to you what happened to us. Wait until you hear whom we met," we call people together and make our lives into lives for others. The word brings us together and calls us into community. When the flesh becomes word, our bodies become part of a body of people."

~Henri Nouwen

It is important to share stories. As a community of believers, we cannot get away from the interaction of God in every aspect of our lives; in moments of tragedy and beauty. He is always there and working and is woven into the very fabric of our lives by the Holy Spirit as a divine thread. This experience of creating community that Nouwen touches on has the power to inspire and evoke faithfulness. It can bring forth from the experience we live a rich vision of God’s presence in all things to restore them. This gathers people together to live the mission of God. But it requires that we devote ourselves to a careful watchfulness of how God is mysteriously moving in the stories we tell.  It requires that we be good listeners.

About Worship…

Mike over at Mercy Blog links to the following Evelyn Underhill quote about worship. Here is her quote, followed by his reflection:

“At one end worship is lost in God and is seen to be the substance of eternal life, so that all our attempts to penetrate its mystery must end in acknowledgement of defeat; at the other it broadens out to cover and inform the whole of man’s responses to reality, his total Godward life, with its myriad graded forms of expression, some so crude and some so lovely, some so concrete and some so otherworldly but all so pathetic in their childishness. Here we obtain a clue to the real significance of those rituals and ceremonies… which express the deep human conviction that none of the serial events and experiences of human life are rightly met unless they are brought into a relationship with the Transcendent.”

“Astonishing, isn’t it, how a discussion of what for so many people is confined to the area of music in church, or liturgics, actually “broadens out to cover and inform the whole of man’s responses to reality…” and so brings us into reach of Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God, and of the Prayer of the Heart, the practice of the Jesus Prayer as unceasing prayer (1 Thessalonians 5.17) where the prayer, coming over time to be prayed without conscious volition, forms the means by which all “the serial events and experiences of human life are… brought into a relationship with the Transcendent.”

Worship is so much more than is dreamed of by most of our philosophies, which may be why our Lord said that our worship must be “in spirit and in truth,” as opposed to what we know, intellectually, or, superstitiously, what we don’t know.”

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Thursday and Reading

On the way home from work today, I found myself thoroughly enjoying Bruegemmann’s book, The Prophetic Imagination. On the way in to work I was finishing up Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. A challenging book in its own right. Although I am just getting into PI, the concepts and insight Brueggemann brings to the discussion is profound to say the least.

Reading these two books in tandem has proved to be a worthwhile experience. On the one hand, Merton’s challenging words cause us to pay attention to the interior life and intimacy with God through contemplation. On the other, Brueggemann alerts us quite prophetically to the critical situation we find ourselves in by disseminating the story of Moses and Israel’s journey of discovery as a people. His arguments are inspiring toward an alternative reality founded on Kingdom values.

I am discovering that if effective prophetic and missional engagement in our day is to happen, it requires an equal journey toward the contemplative way. For it is in the way of contemplation that we learn to listen and pay attention to our lives in a way that fosters deep conversion and discernment; a conversion that seems distant in our culture that appears to strive at all cost to keep us from paying attention. Furthermore, I am convinced that if we are to be the faithful embodiment of the gospel in our culture, listening skills will prove worthwhile to discern the structural systems of injustice that plague us. Thenceforth can prophetic, Kingdom action be birthed.

What do you think? I know that there is a resistance to the interior life in evangelical circles, as primary importance is placed on winning souls and reaching out. That might seem contrary in the midst of all the “personal Jesus” and “individual” language we are surrounded with, but what I mean by “interior life” is deep value transformation, not just cultural, surface piety. Could a serious and deep engagement with the interior life perhaps be the remedy for a christianity in our culture that resembles an ocean one inch deep as a result of decrepit discipleship?

Let me know what you think.

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New Podcast worth subscribing to…

shane_sternSpeaking of Faith is a new podcast that explores religion. “Each week, host Krista Tippett focuses on a different theme, asking writers, thinkers and theologians to discuss how religion shapes everyday life.”

Here is a link to a good interview with Shane Claiborne talking about the New Monastics

There are also some additional interviews with the likes of Peter Berger and Jaroslav Pelikan talking about the importance of creeds.

[HT Scot McKnight]

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A holistic spirituality…

"Why do people think the spiritual life demands withdrawal from the ordinary? Because they’ve been taught, at least by implication, that the physical is a block to the spiritual. When we assume that the spiritual, unlike the physical, is impervious to corrosion, then we assume that all things material are not to be honored. But the fact of the matter is, the material is the vehicle of the spiritual."

– Joan Chittister

I like this comment. It reflects a real and earthy spirituality, unlike the semi-Gnostic heavenly minded fluff that is reflected in some circles. From the likes of St Benedict, to Brother Lawrence, and to Merton, among many others, this type of spirituality grapples with the texture of incarnation and holiness. 

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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The Nonpossessive Life

“To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be nonpossessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to.

A nonpossessive life is a free life. But such freedom is only possible when we have a deep sense of belonging. To whom then do we belong? We belong to God, and the God to whom we belong has sent us into the world to proclaim in his Name that all of creation is created in and by love and calls us to gratitude and joy. That is what the “detached” life is all about. It is a life in which we are free to offer praise and thanksgiving.”

~Henri Nouwen

An appropriate meditation as we arrive at the doorstep of Lent.

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More on table fellowship…

The Barometer of Our Lives

Henri-Nouwen“Although the table is a place for intimacy, we all know how easily it can become a place of distance, hostility, and even hatred. Precisely because the table is meant to be an intimate place, it easily becomes the place we experience the absence of intimacy. The table reveals the tensions among us. When husband and wife don’t talk to each other, when a child refuses to eat, when brothers and sisters bicker, when there are tense silences, then the table becomes hell, the place we least want to be.

The table is the barometer of family and community life. Let’s do everything possible to make the table the place to celebrate intimacy”

Henri Nouwen

This is an interesting perspective and I can see Nouwen’s point: that our interaction at the table is a reflection of our intimacy and communal life. I asked my wife and she agrees his words have validity. This has caused us to reflect on the ways we are and aren’t present for each other around the table. As I reflect I am challenged to consider our meal intimacy as a family and church as a window into the health of our life together.

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The Intimacy of the Table

Our church has an expressed emphasis on practicing hospitality. Nouwen’s words below have tremendous meaning for those paasionate in the area of table fellowship…

“The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another. When we say, “Take some more, let me serve you another plate, let me pour you another glass, don’t be shy, enjoy it,” we say a lot more than our words express. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us. We desire communion. That is why a refusal to eat and drink what a host offers is so offensive. It feels like a rejection of an invitation to intimacy.

Strange as it may sound, the table is the place where we want to become food for one another. Every breakfast, lunch, or dinner can become a time of growing communion with one another.”

~Henri Nouwen

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Thomas A Kempis – Wisdom and Imagination in preparation for Lent

“My sons and daughters, do not let the work you have undertaken for me wear you down, nor let tribulation dishearten you, but always let my promise strengthen and console you. The reward I offer you is beyond measure and without limit.

You will not labour here much longer nor will you always be weighted down with sorrow. Wait but a short time and you will see your trials come to a swift end; the hour will come when all toil and trouble will cease. Everything that passes with time is short-lived and of little consequence.

Do whatever you are doing; work faithfully in my vineyard and I will be your reward. Continue with your reading or writing, singing or mourning; keep silent, pray and endure all trials as a person should. \Eternal life is worth these and even greater conflicts.

Peace will come on a day that is known only to the Lord and it will not be a day or night such as we now experience, but it will be a day of unending light, or infinite brightness, of everlasting peace and enduring rest.

On that day you will not say: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Nor will you cry out: “Woe to me for sojourning here for so a long time. Death will be overthrown,” and salvation assured forever. There will be no more anxiety but only blessed joy in the sweet loving fellowship of our being together.

if only you had sen the everlasting crowns of the saints in heaven and the great glory they now enjoy! What a difference, from the time they were on earth where they were treated as objects of contempt and were considered unfit to live. If you had seen their crowns and glory you would have immediately humbled yourselves to the very earth and sought to be everyone’s servant rather than to be Lord over a single individual.

You would not look forward to joy-filled days in this life but you would find greater happiness in suffering for God, and you would account it your greatest blessing to be reckoned as nothing among people.

Oh, if you found relish in these thoughts and allowed them to penetrate your heart, you would never dare to let slip a single word of complaint.

Turn your face toward me in heaven where I reside with my saints who had endured hard struggles in the world and now live amid joy and consolation. They are now secure and are at rest and will remain with me in my Father’s Kingdom for all eternity.”

~Thomas A Kempis

Perhaps the above may serve you as a primer for the Lenten season just one week away? I am touched by the creativity to imagine dialogue with the Lord…it makes it more real in a very genuine way…

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Words that Create

Yesterday was a busy day.  It was the second week of the preaching rotation for me and I had to got to deliver the same message I did last week about the importance of living in God’s story. Sacred Reading of scripture is the avenue I used to get us into the story. By the end of the third service, I was exhausted.   

One of the elements to sacred reading is praying the scriptures. I was hung up on the importance of praying scripture as a means to speak God’s truth into existence in our lives.  Prayer – the words spoken with conviction from the values that reside in our hearts – can create new possibilities of faithfulness in the day to day.  They can lead us closer to the realization of God’s dream for the world and they allow us to contribute.  Almost providentially, I stumbled upon these words of Henri Nouwen yesterday morning as I was revisiting my message…

"Words, words, words. Our society is full of words: on billboards, on television screens, in newspapers and books. Words whispered, shouted, and sung. Words that move, dance, and change in size and color. Words that say, "Taste me, smell me, eat me, drink me, sleep with me," but most of all, "buy me." With so many words around us, we quickly say: "Well, they’re just words." Thus, words have lost much of their power.
Still, the word has the power to create. When God speaks, God creates. When God says, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), light is. God speaks light. For God, speaking and creating are the same. It is this creative power of the word we need to reclaim. What we say is very important. When we say, "I love you," and say it from the heart, we can give another person new life, new hope, new courage. When we say, "I hate you," we can destroy another person. Let’s watch our words."

~Henri Nouwen

I came to realize that in many ways prayer is creative.  And the words we utter prayerfully and with conviction can contribute to the bringing forth of new realities.  In the context of Christian prayer, it is God’s reality; His Kingdom, that we long to realize, almost echoing God’s creativity via his spoken word.

My question: Do we consider prayer in this way, or has prayer become but functional babble that makes little difference in our lives?

Giving and Receiving Consolation

“Consolation is a beautiful word. It means “to be” (con-) “with the lonely one” (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care. Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see. We can and must offer consolation. We can and must console the mother who lost her child, the young person with AIDS, the family whose house burned down, the soldier who was wounded, the teenager who contemplates suicide, the old man who wonders why he should stay alive.

To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don’t be afraid. I am here.” That is consolation. We all need to give it as well as to receive it.”

~Henri Nouwen

This reflection speaks to the importance of being selfless within our Christian communities. To console requires a redirection of focus from self to the other; a willingness to enter into the situation at hand. Often times we scurry into community longing and looking for the touch of transcendance that can only come from an inner solitude of the heart.  When we fail to realize this, we are takers. When we take, we follow in the pattern of original sin and not in the generosity of the Trinity: a generosity of love that emptys in order to give. Let’s consider the cost of this type of discipleship as we seek to offer consolation to our broken brothers and sisters.

Befriending Our Inner Enemies

The following Nouwen reflection is a continuation of his thoughts on “Being Merciful with Ourselves”, posted HERE.

“How do we befriend our inner enemies lust and anger? By listening to what they are saying. They say, “I have some unfulfilled needs” and “Who really loves me?” Instead of pushing our lust and anger away as unwelcome guests, we can recognize that our anxious, driven hearts need some healing. Our restlessness calls us to look for the true inner rest where lust and anger can be converted into a deeper way of loving.

There is a lot of unruly energy in lust and anger! When that energy can be directed toward loving well, we can transform not only ourselves but even those who might otherwise become the victims of our anger and lust. This takes patience, but it is possible.”

~Henri Nouwen

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Being Merciful with Ourselves

"We need silence in our lives. We even desire it. But when we enter into silence we encounter a lot of inner noises, often so disturbing that a busy and distracting life seems preferable to a time of silence. Two disturbing "noises" present themselves quickly in our silence: the noise of lust and the noise of anger. Lust reveals our many unsatisfied needs, anger or many unresolved relationships. But lust and anger are very hard to face.

What are we to do? Jesus says, "Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13). Sacrifice here means "offering up," "cutting out," "burning away," or "killing." We shouldn’t do that with our lust and anger. It simply won’t work. But we can be merciful toward our own noisy selves and turn these enemies into friends."

~Henri Nouwen

What a refreshing perspective. To be merciful with ourselves, especially toward our lust and anger. What Nouwen is suggesting is that our sinfulness and brokenness can be redeemed and made into avenues of healing for ourselves and others. What might the church look like with this perspective? it is definitely a more compassionate way of being human toward ourselves than is the norm.

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