Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Veneration

In Protestant circles, we understand this word to mean “worship”. Indeed, according to many dictionaries, it means just that. However, it can also mean to treat with respect or reverence. One who is “venerable” is worthy of respect or reverence. To worship something or someone is more like adoration with the intent to deify or to put that person or object on the same level as God in one's life...

If I venerate Mary & the saints, writings or relics, am I worshiping them? Am I putting them on the same level as God? No. In my own heart, I understand that I'm showing respect because they are part of my sacred heritage. It would be no different than showing respect for your grandparents, pulling out family photos & reminiscing, even creating shadow boxes of memories or accomplishments & displaying them for all to see. There is no denying that veneration is very close to worship, but it isn't (or doesn't have to be) worship (in my opinion). Can one actually regard something as sacred & holy & yet avoid worshiping it? I think it can be done. Some folks go overboard with their devotion, indeed crossing a fine line into idolatry, but those who grasp the difference will take great care not to confuse the act of venerating the created with the act of worshiping the Creator.

I've been scrawling notes through the catechism- highlighting topics & underlining things I find strange or interesting... I'm still on Part One, but here are some references to veneration I picked up thus far: CCC 103 “...the Church has always venerated the scriptures as she venerates the Lord's body...” CCC 138 “The Church accepts & venerates as inspired the 46 books of the Old Testament & the 27 books of the new.” CCC 149 “...And so the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith.” CCC 352 “The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage & protect every human being.”

Scripture is venerated as the Lord's body is venerated... Are they saying they worship scripture like they worship the Lord's body? Or perhaps do they mean they respect/remember the scriptures like they respect/remember the Lord's body? The church venerates IN Mary the purest realization of faith. I don't believe that has anything to do with worshiping Mary- but rather reverencing the fact that she had extraordinary faith to be able to say “Yes” to God. I also don't think they're saying the purest realization of the Catholic faith is found in Mary, but I could be wrong. To me, it means in Mary, we have a powerful example of what faith looks like. The church venerates the angels... again, does the church worship angels, or does it give them respect in light of their office? They're holy as God is holy. Even we are called to be Holy for the very same reason! But we don't worship each other as God, neither do we worship the angels who are allowed to stand in His presence. We understand they are not God & are therefore not worthy of the worship due God alone.

Perhaps the true meaning of veneration has gone the way of the dinosaurs like so many other words of previous centuries. Overall, I think it's more of a heart issue than anything... God knows our intentions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Silver Peach

I woke up dreaming of the catechism. In my dream, I had asked a priest why one had to go through so many hoops to prove one's faith was true. The priest gave an illustration of a man who had made a beautiful piece of fruit out of silver- a peach, I think it was. He came to the church wearing a trenchcoat & placed the fruit upon a three pronged pedestal he had fashioned for it. Beaming, he presented it to the priest saying, "Here is my fruit! Isn't it beautiful?" The priest took one look at the man & then, because this was a dream, the priest looked at me. He said "This man has come in here to show me his beautiful fruit, to prove the fruit of a life lived out of love & reverence for Christ. But look how it's tarnished! Indeed, it is still very beautiful, but this fruit is not real". The man in the trenchcoat looked dejected. The priest said to the man: " To know whether fruit is truly good or bad, you can't merely judge by looks. It may look beautiful, but if it has no taste, its function is worthless."

It was then that my alarm startled me from sleep.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Tasty Green Aphid

I spent some time out on the deck today- morning coffee in hand. The sun was bright, but not so warm & the cool breeze welcomed me to its sanctuary. I was comfortable in my ratty fleece jacket & shorts. Boards creaked with each barefoot step. I thought maybe I should've made the attempt to go to church this morning... it's Sunday afterall. But I was content to remain & take in the the solitude.

As I sat down on the steps, I noticed a spider web stretched out across the span. I had inadvertently torn through it's support & I helplessly watched it drift over to the side rail. The spider affixed to it was preoccupied with a meal. He had trapped & packaged a tasty green aphid & didn't seem the least bit concerned that his web had just been obliterated. The spider wasn't about to forsake his sustenance. Even though his immediate world seemed to collapse all around him, he took the time to finish what he started. He got what he needed from the ruins, left the carcass behind & moved on.

I got to thinking, what do I do when my support is torn asunder, when I find my safe haven destroyed & drifting? Do I run from dear life or do I stay & collect every last drop before leaving the carcass behind? Can I move on to spin anew, or do I live among my ruin? Life, afterall, is not found in the web itself, but in the tasty green aphids that happen by.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lack

Luke 18:18-27

What did the rich young ruler lack? Apparently, nothing.
One might say he lacked... "lack".

I often find myself discouraged with life. I know meaning can't be found in my job, my car, my possessions, my home. Fulfillment can't be gained from a degree, my talents, my interests or my friends. But like the rich young ruler, I find myself asking, "What must I do to take possession of life?". Jesus told the man to sell everything & follow Him. Can I forsake all in order to gain lack or will I walk away, keeping all to be sustained? Seems the camel is quicker than the I...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rise & Shine, Sleepyhead

People keep talking about this fantastic lightening storm we had lastnight. I got home well after midnight & crawled into bed. I was super tired. I heard nothing, saw nothing for the next 6 hours & woke none the wiser to the scent of wet pavement. How had I missed it? I noted the thunderheads in the sky the night prior- I knew there was a storm on the horizon somewhere, but I thought nothing of it. All was quiet here in the valley. The next day, the sky held only wispy clouds & sunshine. That evening, all was well with the world & I rested, in peace. When the storm rolled in, I had no clue. I had been sleeping afterall...

In peace, I rest; in thinly veiled death,
facing heaven with eyes sealed shut.
I, rooted to earth, lie still
waiting for what I know not.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Weeding Through

I had some time on my hands & decided to sort through papers. Its amazing how many letters I've started but never finished, how many notebooks remain only half full of thoughts & sketches. I found envelopes full of ticket stubs, credit receipts & tourist maps... I came across random pictures from nearly a decade ago that I barely remember taking in places I barely remember being. These things get put into piles & crammed into boxes, only to be piled up & crammed into closets. They go with me from place to place, wherever I happen to call home. They're things I suppose I feel I should keep, but honestly, I'm not particularly attached to them. So why keep them? Writings & pictures & other memorabilia are a record of life lived, people met, experiences had. They are my tangible history, a sort of "proof" that I exist. But this history seems a burden to bear in the moment. Who am I saving my "self" for? Who will hear the tales held captive in boxes & notebooks & question their validity? Images & words will only fade or burn & what then?

I fight the urge to speed the disconnect. Some day I'll shake off the weight of it all, but for now, I'm weeding through... Some things I'll treasure, some things I'll keep. The rest are destined to die in the recycle bin.

Mother Mary

It's one of those nights where sleep eludes me. I keep thinking about Mary. While I can neither effectively prove nor disprove her rightful place in Christendom, I found myself uttering a "Hail Mary" this evening with great care. I began by praying first to Jesus, asking for wisdom, should I be sinning by even daring to speak to His mother. Images of Samuel being conjured by the witch of En-dor came to mind (1 Samuel 28). Was I "disturbing" Mary? Could she even hear me? Is "talking" to anyone other than Jesus/God/the Holy Spirit an act of witchcraft or was this just my Protestant mind balking? I encounter this same fear when I attempt to pray the Rosary... but tonight, I found comfort in the knowing that perhaps she really is out there, able to intercede for the saints, even for me. I found comfort in knowing that ever virgin or not, conceived without sin or with, perhaps she's able to intercede with an intimacy that comes from having been a mother. Chances are good that she felt & experienced the same things every woman feels & experiences, even me. And while the male images of Jesus & God can be altogether comforting & affirming, sometimes a girl just needs a mother...

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Gave All

"I gave all". I'll probably never be able to say this honestly. I'm much too selfish. But when I was growing up, I heard this often: "I gave up everything for you, you're my life, the only thing that matters in this world". This was probably meant to provide me with a rich sense of being loved & accepted. However, it was understood (one of those unspoken things) that perpetual indebtedness was expected in return. When I failed to respond in kind, the script always ended the same. Drama, hurt feelings & silence topped off the conversation. This disaster in communication was my fault because I was just so coldhearted & ungrateful. To give up all for your child is noble, but you don't always have to be the martyr. I questioned why this person would even consent to "give all" when it was me who was left like Simon of Cyrene to fill the void, to pick up where they left off in their own life. I didn't want to carry that cross. I couldn't. But I tried.

When I hear of Jesus "giving all" for humanity, I have to admit, it's meant nothing to me. At times, its even made me feel a little angry. Why should I feel obligated to offer recompense for His decision? I never asked Him to give up anything for me. But there's a subtle difference between His gift & my parent's. He gave all not to validate Himself, but to validate me. He freely gave me the power of choice when I had none. I've been given the power to choose life over death, blessing over curses, to take up my cross & mine alone. I don't have to bear the horrible weight of His cross. He died so I could live... He rose again & lives. He is the Beginning & the End, He is the Author & Finisher of my faith. In Him I live & move & have my being, not the other way around. I've heard it said that salvation is a free gift, no strings attached. That sounds nice, doesn't it? In reality, accepting the gift requires my life. But it's not an obligation, it's a choice. And this, I think, is perhaps the better gift- the power to choose Whom I will serve.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Spackle

So I got to thinking the other day what basic human needs does the Catholic Church address that perhaps a Protestant church might not? What holes does it fill?

-The need for family: The "Holy Family" (Mary, God & Jesus are our mother, Father & Brother). "Extended" family in the faith is comprised of a great cloud of witnesses- church fathers & saints as brothers & sisters, etc., even the prophets & those justified by faith in the O.T. There is comfort in knowing there are a billion (+/-) Catholics in the world.

-The need to feel needed: Via offering prayers for the dead, indulgences, intercession, novenas, tithes, alms, works of service, etc.

-The need to be (and feel) forgiven: Addressed in the sacrament of reconciliation.

-The need to be accepted: Catechism, communion, etc.

The Protestant church can offer a sense of family too, but it's scope & range seem much smaller, incomplete. The dead are dead. All we have are their echoes in the form of letters or story. We also have the fresh new voices of the living... which usually turn out to be the most shiny, prominent people of the flock. We have Father God & perhaps even "Brother" Jesus & a friend in the Holy Spirit, but sadly, we are motherless. Community seems to be determined by the movers & shakers & dividing lines are drawn among the faithful. Each church is it's own entity & everyone inside is just as different. This structure seems to lack the sense of stability put forth by the Catholic church.

The need to feel needed can be addressed by the Protestant church as well... afterall, there's always new programs to run, positions to be filled & money needed to make it all happen.

The need to be & feel forgiven on the other hand, is more of a faith thing- one can confess to a pastor or brother, but its really not desirable or necessary. You're "covered in the Blood". God knows your heart.

And finally, the need to be accepted is again addressed by what you can do within the congregation. There are no "Rites of Initiation" here. Do you confess with your mouth, believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord? Great! Welcome to the fold. What gifts do you have & how can the church benefit from them? This sounds innocent enough, even scriptural, but often times this seems to perpetuate burnout & bitterness due to lack of preparation, counsel & ongoing support. Chances are you will be invisible if you offer nothing & used up if you offer anything.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Perceptions

What are my PAST perceptions of the Catholic Church?

-Strict, all about rules
-Ritualistic
-Spiritually dead
-Appearances matter
-Excellence expected, required
-Smug, exclusive
-Old people's faith, old fashioned
-They pray to statues & pictures
-They pray to the dead
-They pray to saints for favors
-Belief in purgatory & their ability to help "trapped" souls get to heaven
-Transubstantiation: the wine & wafer mysteriously become the "real presence" of Christ
-They believe in things that aren't in scripture
-They worship Mary as Jesus' equal
-Blackmail by indulgences, guilt
-Deeds are necessary for salvation, the more the better
-Only confession to a priest provides forgiveness
-The church is the Whore of Babylon
-It is a cult
-It has a dark past of secrets, abuse, crime, coverups

Where did these perceptions come from?
Media, Protestant apologists, people in my church, distant observations of Catholicism, parents


What are my CURRENT perceptions of the Catholic church?

-Welcoming
-Rich & full in meaning
-Scripture based
-For young & old alike
-Constantly changing
-Expectations of excellence include provisions of grace
-Espouses family
-Statues, icons, etc. are symbolic only
-Mary, mother of Christ, is mother of all Christians & points all to Christ
-Sola Scriptura is not as important as scripture lived through humanity (history, tradition)
-Faith + deeds are important to work out our salvation, but salvation is by faith alone
-Confession to a priest is a symbolic aid to curb guilt
-Based on ancient traditions
-Rules are for sanctity of life w/Christ & each other. They keep one grounded
-Rituals remind us of Christ in this age of distraction
-However, dark past of secrets, abuse, crime, coverups remain undeniable

Where do these perceptions come from?
Personal exploration, experiential knowledge via direct observation, conversations & participation, skimming the catechism, scripture, embracing symbolism over literalism, media

Why?

Why would I even consider becoming a Catholic?
I've compiled here (& will continue to add) some reasons for and against.
Questions & comments always welcome.

I'd want to become a Catholic because:
-I want to know God.
-My faith tradition feels anemic, empty.
-I want every moment of my life to bear witness of His presence in me.
-I believe in the worth of symbolism & tradition.
-I want to know what I believe & why... there's so much division in Protestantism.
-I want to be an active participant in my faith.
-Symbolism reminds me of my heritage in Christ.
-In mass, scripture is read according to a universal schedule, not by wit or by whim.
-I believe in faith + evidential works, working out salvation with fear & trembling.
-Mass involves all my senses.
-Mass reminds me I'm not alone; rich history/heritage spans hundreds of years.
-Mass reminds me I am the Lord's.
-Mass tangibly reminds me of the reverence, the holiness, the glory due God.

Why I wouldn't want to be a Catholic:
-Would I be submitting to slavery (putting myself under law)?
-Can I be submitted to both "law" & grace?
-If I become Catholic, am I coming into agreement with it's atrocities of past & present?
-Simplicity of faith seems cluttered with requirements that distract from Christ.
-I don't believe in the infallibility of any man/woman or any doctrine espoused by such.
-I don't believe monetary offerings can purchase salvation or are indicators of true piety.
-I have trouble believing the saints that have gone before us are "free to roam about the cabin" or are able to grant favors & intercede for us before God's throne.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Dark Lord

In Psalm 18, David says that the Lord hid Himself in the darkness & rode on the wings of the wind to rescue him. Can the Lord be found in my darkness today? Is He in the quaking of my soul? Is He the One rattling my foundations with the approach of His Presence? Will He draw me out of deep waters when my strongholds crumble into the sea? I can hear the thunder... I can feel it in my bones... but I can't see a thing.

"The One forming light & creating darkness, causing well being & calamity; I am the LORD Who does all these". He reveals mysteries from the darkness & brings the deep darkness into light. ...the Lord my God illumines my darkness. Isaiah 45:7, Job 12:22, Psalm 18: 28b NASB

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sola, Soli, Solo

Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria, Solo Christo, Sola Gratia & Sola Fide are called the "Five Solas of the Reformation". These mean scripture alone, for the Glory of God alone, salvation by Christ's work alone, salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone. What do all these have in common? It's simple really, its the obvious defining word for each phrase: its the word "alone". I'm no theologian, which is also pretty obvious. But as I've been considering what I actually believe & why, this one little word has started to bother me.

When I think of the "Solas" that crown the Protestant Reformation, I think of a freeway. If you're on a freeway that passes through a city, you're most likely traveling on the fringes of the business district. You see the same things you would see in any other city. Stores, gas stations, hotels, restaurants & tourist attractions line the route. You may get a panoramic view of things from a distance, but you rarely ever get a taste for the unique heart of the place when you're jockeying for a spot in the fast lane. You would have to be deliberate about taking one exit or another. You might even have to veer miles off the main drag to reach the residential or cultural districts. You can't follow "Sola Freeway" to grasp the depth of the place. Your trip must include the freeway "and"... But that's ridiculous. Or is it?

Is there a place for tradition, history, or creativity within the "Solas"? Is there room for folklore or individual experience? Is there room for humanity? I would rather be in the heart of the city than on the freeway. There's so much more to do & see.

Assumptions

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.
Strangely, no one seems to know what actually happened to Mary. The last reference to her presence on this earth was at Pentecost. Its believed she lived in Ephesus after Jesus ascended into heaven. Aside from that, we don't have much to go on. Some assert that she died & her body was "assumed" into heaven. That is, it was taken possession of by God, I imagine, kind of like a package of sorts. Contrast this with ascension, which in this sense would be understood as a physical, live, rising to heaven of one's own volition. Some say she was taken to heaven alive, "assumed" like Enoch or Elijah who were snatched from this earth. But there's no proof, no grave, no eyewitnesses, nothing. Everything is based on... assumption.

I'm not sure how to feel about that, but I also can't help but acknowledge Elizabeth's cry in Luke 1:41-42, 45: "Most blessed are you among women & blessed is the fruit of your womb... Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." I don't know if it even really matters how Mary got to heaven. What does matter is that she was obedient to God...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Communion

I attended my very first mass today. I went back to the Grotto, where during summertime, Sunday mass is held outdoors. It was standing room only & I tried to be inconspicuous. This was difficult since I seemed to tower over the Asians & Latinos who had started to crowd in around me. No matter. I stood reverently & compared the order of service to a Canadian mass I had been watching online over the last couple weeks. Some things were different, but many were the same. I knew the priests were going to show up in green vestments because its Ordinary time. I knew when to respond & with what phrases. I even knew when to cross myself most of the time. While I was not an active participant, I was happy that I seemed to be getting the basics down. Then came the Eucharist (communion). I could not partake since I'm not a Catholic- yet. So I remained in the back & continued watching.
It all seemed very undramatic as people streamed up the aisles to get their wafer & a sip from the chalice... I found myself considering the idea of transubstantiation- that is, the belief that the bread & wine truly become the Body & Blood of Christ in the moment. It actually began to make sense to me, though I can't explain how or why. Its as if I had a passing glimpse of something I couldn't quite identify (but I knew I had seen... "something"). The service had prepared them to "do this in remembrance" of Christ & it appeared they believed they were truly partaking of His Body & Blood. The place was solemn, reverent. They weren't only experiencing communion with Christ & each other, but with countless other Catholics around the world as well. That's pretty powerful stuff.
When I partake of communion in my own church, I try to imagine the "real presence" of Christ, but my focus tends to shift to the tiny bits of cracker left clinging to the back of my throat. I don't feel like I'm communing with anyone or anything in the moment. I'm simply performing a ritual. As crass as this may sound, half the time I feel like I've forgotten what it is I'm trying to remember about Christ! Communion has been empty for me- until now. Until now, I don't think I've desired it more.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mary: Ark of the Covenant

The other day I learned that Mary is considered to be a type of an ark of the covenant. Since she was a virgin, she was pure on the outside, like gold. The Spirit of God overshadowed her like He had overshadowed the ark in the tabernacle of the Old Testament. Mary carried Jesus, so she was pure on the inside by virtue of His presence. Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, the Bread From Heaven, the Rightful Heir of the spiritual priesthood. That makes sense to me.

The ark of Old Testament fame was housed within the tabernacle, inside the Holy of Holies. It was essentially a wooden box covered with gold inside & out. It held the 2 stone tablets on which God inscribed the 10 commandments, a jar of manna & Aaron's staff that budded (which symbolized the right of priesthood). Above the ark was something called the Mercy Seat, where the very presence of God came to dwell among men.

Revelation 21:3 says: "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God."

Do the pronouns "he, his" (which follow) also apply to the "tabernacle" of God? Or is the tabernacle something separate from God? Moreover, how can it possibly be referring to Mary? How can Mary be both tabernacle AND ark? Or is it generally understood that the ark of the covenant, of God's presence among men, resided within the tabernacle?

I'm also very curious as to why this verse is a mixture of present & future tense. "The tabernacle of God IS WITH men...", and "He WILL DWELL with them, and they SHALL BE His people, and God Himself SHALL BE with them..."

Overall, I find the idea of Mary as an ark compelling, but not entirely convincing. Bringing scripture into the discussion seems to mount evidence against this claim rather than support.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gravity


I was out wandering again & stopped by the Grotto. I hadn't been in years, maybe as long as a decade. Though it seemed familiar to me, there was something different about being there this time. I followed a short trail past the Christus Garden & staked my spot on a bench. The focal point of the plaza is a replica of Michelangelo's Pieta which resides in a hand hewn niche'. Being in this place, I felt like my spiritual eyes needed time to adjust. I took in the scent of the towering pines & observed tourists with their cameras. A nun with a small child passed by. They both stopped before the niche', bowed their heads briefly & continued on. Others passed, some traipsing about aimlessly, some lighting candles & placing them on either side of the altar. A few people actually took to their knees, crossing themselves & offering prayers at the threshold of the niche'. I found this to be deeply moving.

I remained seated, gazing intently at this scene of Mary holding the body of her Son, Jesus. I wondered at the feasibility of this scene occurring. Would she have been allowed to hold Jesus' gruesome, bloodied body when it was lowered from the cross or would He have been wrapped up & prepared for burial post haste? They didn't have much time with the Sabbath coming. Did Mary respond like other Jewish women when faced with the death of a loved one? That is, did she wail & grieve with theatrics? Did the other Marys join in? Or was she strong & steadfast, full of peace & "knowing"? Did she know He would die this way? Did Jesus give her the heads up? I'm under the impression that someone ran to her house to tell her Jesus had been arrested... Maybe she was already in bed, sound asleep. Imagine how her heart must have raced or sank or both as she gathered herself together & bolted out the door after her messenger. There's no record of this in the Bible of course, but what if? And when she was finally able to see her Son, was it only after He had been scourged, mocked, beaten? Was He already dragging His cross up the road? Imagine what frenzy & anguish she must have felt. Perhaps she had to be restrained by a Centurion or two.

I thought about Mary & her companions... when the sky grew dark & the quake shook the earth, did they know the veil had been rent in the temple? Probably not. Did they know the dead were being resurrected & vacating tombs all over? I doubt it. The physical manifestations of nature probably just added to the darkness & quaking in their own hearts. What if Jesus really did die? Did they watch Him in the final throes of death, secretly hoping He would be spared the inevitable? Did they fear all hope was lost when He breathed His last? Could they really bring themselves to trust that He would come back to life? Was the scene as silent, stoic & strangely ethereal as our modern day narratives imply or was it bone crushingly human?

I've always tried to contemplate the crucifixion by looking at Jesus on the cross all mangled, but the meaning escapes me. When I see through the eyes of Mary or the others however, when I look through the depth of their relationship with Jesus, I can acknowledge the gravity of that day & the profound consequence its had on my life as well.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Wholly Other

The church I attend meets in a rented space in a store front. There is no altar- just an empty area that gets filled with wires & sound equipment on Sunday mornings. We have individual chairs instead of pews. Our songs aren't found in books or seared into the memory by repetition- they're contemporary & projected on a screen for all to see. There is no kneeling, no crossing of one's self, no formal prayers to be said. There is no call & response, no iconography, no semblance of ancient tradition really. We sing, we pray & we have snacks a plenty at break time. We come & go as we please in our shorts & flip flops, coffee in one hand, Bible in another. I'm not trying to belittle my church- its a whole different ballgame when you consider denominational differences & the personalities of those who attend. Its a gathering place where the emphasis isn't on externals so much as the internal response to God. But I admittedly have trouble with the sensory deficit.

Yes, Jesus was born of flesh in a cave or a barn or a manger. Yes, He was poor & walked among us for 30 some odd years teaching us to love one another. But what is it He returned to when He left this earth? He didn't go back to a double wide with faux paneled walls & rust coloured curtains. He didn't crack open a beer in celebration of His victory over death & sink into a tattered La-Z-Boy with the remote control. He was "like us" for but a moment. When He returned to Heaven, He sat down at the right hand of God. Not too shabby. How quickly we forget that this is where He came from. In our quest to gain freedom from traditional church practices, what is it that reminds us the Holy is "wholly other"?

Lost In the Struggle

I find that I often attempt to solve math problems backwards. If I've been given a solution to the problem, I have difficulty recalling how to get from point A to point B. This trend seems to carry into other areas of my life as well. Sometimes I can intuit how to make the necessary connections & other times, I'm just plain lost. I've somehow gotten used to learning this way, which I think only magnifies the struggle.

There are times when the solution remains veiled & I'm paralyzed by the all the numbers & variables. Plus this, minus that, multiply this by the opposite of the absolute value of that... it all becomes gobbledygook. In my own life, pros & cons of loss & gain get multiplied by the countless decisions to be made and somehow I still get lost, I miss a step, I neglect to follow through to the final answer. I've somehow gotten used to failing in this way as well, thus failing in the struggle.

What is this struggle exactly? The struggle is the process. Even if I have the problem & the answer at my disposal, I still need to learn how to solve it or I won't be able to move on to the next thing. One process builds on another, enabling one to solve an increasing myriad of problems as time goes on. If I am faced with the problem & offered no discernible answer, I must be willing to learn the process in order to move forward. Both scenarios require a kind of humility to acknowledge the unknown, as well as the fear associated with it. I can tell you with unflinching confidence that stubbornness in one's perceived ability & frustration at the reality of one's lack are sworn enemies of humility.

Its only when I'm able to take a deep breath & quiet myself to listen to instruction that I'm finally ready to learn. If I neglect to try, I've already lost the battle. If I berate my own weakness, I've already raised the white flag. But if I can approach the process with humility, I just might do better, if not succeed. And with that, I can finally begin to move forward.







Sunday, August 7, 2011

Headlong Into Darkness

It was 5am & I couldn't sleep. I had the sudden inkling to get in the car & drive somewhere to watch the sunrise. At the bottom of the hill, one must turn East or West. To the East lay the sunrise & a place to get a cup of coffee before settling in for the show. I was fully prepared to turn East when suddenly, I felt I should turn West. The nearest town was 10 miles out & I watched the sky begin to brighten in my rear view mirror as I raced headlong into the darkness. When I got to town, I pulled into an empty gravel lot between a hotel & an office building. There was a pedestrian path along the river, so I parked in the one place I could actually see the sky between the trees. I was alone & I had no idea why I was there. I could think of much better places to watch the sunrise. Or so I believed.

I pulled out my notebook & began to write. "Here I am, a spectator to the dawn of my life. A mellow pink/orange haze is bleeding into the sky, rising up like a flood overtaking the pale blue sleep... I watch the mist travel the river as shadows begin to gain definition & colour... Here a leaf, there a tree, emergent from their singular dark dimensions."

The sky faded to grey within moments... was that it? Is that what had I come to see? I was disappointed, but not yet convinced. I waited. Five or ten minutes later, there it was- the fiery sun, glowing bright like the tip of a red hot poker nudging my senses to life. It came up slowly over the trees & I couldn't help but stare. When I closed my eyes, a thousand suns met me in my darkness. I couldn't hide from it's presence.

Eventually the sun drifted off into the trees & I decided it was time to go East & get that cup of coffee. I stopped into the park I had intended to go to in the first place & was surprised to note that had I gone there, I would have missed the sunrise completely. There, the sun rose behind the park. In fact, I couldn't even see it yet, no matter where I looked!

What seemed counter intuitive was exactly what I needed to do in order to see the dawn of a new day.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Self, My Enemy

All throughout the Psalms, David talks of his enemies. His enemies slander him, mock him, set traps for him, war against him. Lately I've been praying such that I don't see my enemies as people or spiritual entities. My enemies are my own negative thoughts. My enemies are the unchecked memories of times long past that still have power over me. I won't deny it or cry foul- I've given them this power. We have an arrangement of sorts. I betray & blackmail myself constantly. Perhaps it could be said that I am in fact my own worst enemy. Even so, I remind myself who God is through the Psalms. He's bigger than me, bigger than my drama, my wars, my concessions. He triumphs over my enemies, be they physical, spiritual, without or within. And so I say by faith: "My enemies did their best to kill me, but the Lord rescued me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory". Psalm 118:13-14 NLT

I still feel dark & burdened. I limp toward my Refuge as arrows stream overhead. All is not sunbeams & butterflies just yet, but I'll cut myself some slack. I'm learning how to fight back. This is just part of the process.

God Has Said...

I have a confession to make: it's the fear of God that keeps me here. I love my family & friends, but they can't send my soul to hell. So I don't stay because of them. Call me selfish. You would be speaking the truth. I stay because God hasn't willed me to go just yet. I'm apparently created for His glory. I'm here for a reason, I have a purpose. These words pierce me like daggers each time I'm saved from certain harm, each time I wake in the morning, each time the waves of darkness slink back from whence they came.

Some might play the "once saved, always saved" card: God will receive me because He knows the pain is too much for me. Of course He'll understand if I give up. Once His child, always His child. This sounds comforting to be sure. But why does 1 Corinthians 10:13 say "No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man"? and not only so, God "will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear"? The desire to extinguish my own life is indeed tempting. But I know countless others have felt the same way at one time or another & they have survived. Its no secret that life IS hard. Still, I am left without excuse because God has said He won't let me be tempted beyond the breaking point. So I stand at the edge of a precipice, looking out over the vast expanse between my perceived suffering & longing for rest. I know God has said He will provide a way for me to endure this. And for all the world & it's pleasures, there is no greater motivation than the fear of God that keeps me here.