Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Freedom in the New Year

"Established in African-American communities on December 31, 1862, Watch Night is a gathering to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation becoming law. When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 1863, all slaves in the Confederate States were proclaimed free. Since that date 146 years ago, African Americans have celebrated the good news of freedom in local churches on New Year's Eve. Like the slaves who first gathered while the Civil War rated on, we proclaim freedom for all captives in Jesus' name, knowing that for millions, freedom is not a reality. Our celebration is a commitment to join modern-day slaves and undocumented workers in their struggle for justice."
               ~ Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Southern Plantation Slaves
The illustration is from an original 1863 Harper's Weekly newspaper depicting slaves being freed from a plantation.

Praise God for all the slaves in the past who have been set physically and spiritually free and all of those being set free at the present moment. But may we never forget the more than 25 million people, mostly women and children, who are still in physical bondage today, suffering unimaginable realities at the hands of cruel and callous hearts who have fallen prey to the darkness in this world.

May we also remember and rise up to help the countless more  who experience harsh bondage to realities that are far beyond many of our grasps. Where everyday they work for hardly any pay, under conditions that are abominable. There are also people in all corners of the world suffering from the bondage of poverty, everyday making choices of whether to keep their houses warm or feed their children. Of whether to put gas in their cars or pay the electric company.

Many others still are those in spiritual bondage, maybe even some of us reading this blog. Where the pressures, circumstances, trials and sufferings of life have choked out the light from reaching our hearts and instead of feeling the love and reality of God we feel nothing but numbness or just blinding pain.

In this New Year, it is my hope that all of us as individuals turn to God in new ways, seeking new connections with our risen Lord and grow in our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we make strong the body of Christ here on earth so that we may manifest God's Kingdom in our lifetime in our communities. May we see the light of God in those who are falling under the boot of tyranny and may we try in all our capacities to extend our hand to those reaching out in desparation and lift them out of bondage and into freedom, both physically and spiritually.

It is written in our holy Scriptures:

Isaiah 61:1
 1 The Spirit of the
Sovereign LORD is on me,
   because the LORD has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners.

To help others who are still in slavery today, here is a great website you can go to. They have a section entitled "What you can do" helpful tips on how to start: http://www.nomoreslaveryct.com/

May we lift the banner of light and truth and justice and overcome the slavery and persecution that so many face on this earth. May we be active participants of liberating our brothers and sisters in bondage in the capacity that God wills us to. Heaven help all of us if we sink into the moral depravity of apathy and mediocrity. We will be held accountable for our actions and our inactions. (Matthew 25:31-45) Let us be the servants Christ calls us to be and the servant who Christ, himself, was when he was here on earth ministering to the suffering, to the poor, to the sick and dying. Let this New Year be a year of growth where we become more and more like Jesus! And bring glory to our Father in Heaven by doing so.

For those that might be suffering from spiritual bondage, here are some verses that might minister to you. The best advice I can give might seem oversimplified right now to you, as it did to me once, but it was advice that led to the transformation of my heart and my perspective. Read the New Testament, have an open heart, and even if you have no words to say to God, in your grief, in your pain, be silent before your God and He will fill you with the peace you desire. With a repentant, obedient and seeking heart, it won't take long to find the spiritual freedom and peace you desire.

I pray everyone has a happy and fruitful New Year!

John 8:31-32
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

Acts 13:38-39
38 "Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.

Romans 8:1-2
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.

2 Corinthians 2:13
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Galations 5:1

1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Galations 5:13-14

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bearing Fruit Despite the Storm

Desert mother Amma Theodora wrote, "Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees if they have not stood before the winter's storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven."
                             ~ Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Radicals, p. 100

Life is full of challenges, hardships, trials and snares just vying for our attention. It's easy to take our eyes off of Jesus and buy into the illusions of this world, as if they matter more in our off guarded moments of desperation and pain than our focus on God.

In moments where life's pressures and concerns seem to crowd around me and threaten to suffocate the spiritual life within I find it extremely helpful to not only rely on conversational prayer but to turn to praying God's promises that He gives us in His Word. They are a source of encouragement, hope and comfort.

Here are some verses I find particularly helpful during troubling times where sometimes it is even difficult to pray. Sometimes our hearts and our minds are numb due to the pressures and pain in our lives and we need God's Word to help soften and melt our hearts once again. If you have verses that you have found particularly comforting or encouraging, please share them in the comments section with everyone :)

Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (2) Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; (3) though its waters roar and foam , though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Psalm 56: 13 For thou has delivered my soul from death, yea, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

Psalm 37: 28 For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints.

Psalm 34:7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers him.

Psalm 34:22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Heavenly Father,

During times when the storms around us seem to be raging let your light manifest ever brighter and more strongly within us, anchoring us to your presence that covers and inundates us with your peace and love. May we stay focused on you as the snares try to trip us up  and temptations try to court our inner desires and cause us to fall in our walks. May we stand strong in the light and truth of your promises and bring glory to your name.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

True Hope: Beyond Intellect (Thomas Merton)

"The message of hope the contemplative offers you, then, brother, is not that you need to find your way through the jungle of language and problems that today surround God: but that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you ever found in books or heard in sermons."

Amen to that! Thomas Merton is a man of God whose works have touched me deeply and have had a profound effect on my spiritual approach. The above passage was from a letter he wrote upon Pope Paul VI's request for him, and others specifically selected, to write a letter to the world sharing the contemplative perspective.

In his letter Merton emphasizes the need to abandon all illusions and attachments, all notions of self and ideas, and simply reach out in simplicity and pure devotion towards God. What a beautiful message!

In his letter, Merton assures readers, " All men can seek and find this intimate awareness and awakening" and tells us,
"...if you dare to penetrate your own silence and risk the sharing of that solitude with the lonely other who seeks God through you, then you will truly recover the light and the capacity to understand what is beyond words and beyond explanations because it is too close to be explained: it is the intimate union in the depths of your own heart, of God's spirit and your own secret inmost self, so that you and He are in all truth One Spirit."

Praise be to a God who offers His children the peace of having intimate union with Him! May we be continual seekers of His presence within us as we grow deeper in our faith.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being a God of love and unending faithfulness.  A God who dwells within us. Who makes it possible, if we give you all that we are and lay down at the foot of your throne all attachments and illusions of self and world, the extraordinary experience of your deep and abiding presence. An encounter that transcends words and surpasses understanding. A peace that anchors our faith and our souls firmly to you. May we never cease to seek you more and more  and through the peace you offer may we be strengthened to go out into the world, which is weary with the weight of sin and death, and carry your message of light and love and glorify your blessed name.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Prayer and Action: An Essential Combination

"When someone steals a person's clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to those who need it; the shoes rotting in your closet to the one who has no shoes. The money which you hoard up belongs to the poor."
 ~ Basil of Caesarea

Many of us receive many blessings and gifts during the Christmas season from friends and family members. Why not take the time afterwards to go through some of our possessions that we have multiples of (like coats, shoes, other articles of clothings...toys belonging to our children they no longer play with, etc.) and consider giving them to those that truly need it.

I think it's great that so many of my fb friends are lifting up those that are homeless, suffering and in poverty in prayer. I can't help but feel a little conflicted when I read all the praying going around for others in need though...for the fact that I think God also calls us to act, actively, in the areas of service towards our neighbors. Sometimes it just seems what is implied is a prayer for those who are suffering...I hear little mention of anything else, nothing of extending oneself in service for those who are homeless and in poverty. Is prayer enough?...I think prayer is instrumental and essential in one's faith and is invaluable in acheiving an active relationship with God and receiving insights and truths, and can move mountains if it be God's will.

All that being said, God doesn't call us to simply be a people of prayer...he calls us to be people of action. To be children that are servants manifesting his love and giving Him glory amidst the darkness of a fallen world. He calls us to actively shine our lights into the darkness...and for people to see this light, they see it through our actions, perhaps more so than through our prayers, especially from the perspective of nonbelievers. Many people consider the saying, "talk is cheap" and are much more convinced of someone's concern for them when it is displayed through actions. We are his body-his hands, his feet, his legs...carrying His message of hope and redemption, lifting up those that have fallen, those that are in despair and those that are suffering. God expects us to actively help people...In fact, we will be held accountable for our actions, or inactions...not just our prayers..but in the way that we manifest our faith actively in this world.

Matthew 25-40

  31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

   34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Phillipians 2:7 tells us that Jesus humbled himself and took on the very nature of a servant. Jesus actively served others, giving up all claim to possessions, instead seeking out souls that were hungry and thirsty for salvation and healing. We are called to have the "mind of Christ" and to conform to his likeness. That would certainly mean that we, too, should be active servants like Jesus was.

I know many who read this blog are already very much aware of the need to be active servants of God. But it is always a good reminder. Sometimes in our busy and hectic lives it can be an easy thing to forget. May the Spirit, through prayer, direct us in more and more ways we can serve God in the contexts of our families, our local communities and globally.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for all the material and spiritual blessings that you've poured out on us. Thank you for blessing us with people in our lives to love, to share memories with, to be loved by. Thank you for your son who brought to the world redemption and hope. May you draw us daily into your presence through prayer and meditation. May you help our souls be attentive to the whispers of your Spirit and may it illuminate to us ways in which we can serve others more through our actions, sometimes great and sometimes small.  Even the smallest blessing, the smallest gesture of love and grace can manifest itself into abundant fruit. May we bearers of fruit and laborers of love for the manifestation of your Kindom here on earth.

In Jesus' precious name,

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Silence at the Center: Thomas Kelly

"Over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by. We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all of this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center! If only we could find the Silence which is the source of sound!"
         ~ Thomas Kelly, 20th Century Quaker

Heavenly Father,
We thank you for your unending mercy and grace. For your love and faithfulness.
May you be soveriegn over our hearts, over  the plans we have for our lives.
May your plans become our plans.
May our will become your will as through your Word and through prayer we come to know you more.
May we seek out and embrace time each day where we find you in the stillness. When our hearts cry out to may you draw us deeper into your presence, into the serenity and peace that only you can offer our souls. May we be children of God attentive to the whispers of your Spirit and may those whispers refresh our souls with your truth, light and reality so that we may radiate your love and the hope of your salvation to a fallen world.
May we never cease to bring you glory, honor and praise.
In Jesus' name,

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

" Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the incarnation. From the time when Christ came, the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, and the speech of kindliness diffused. A heavenly way of life has been implanted on earth." ~ Leo the Great

Merry Christmas everyone!!! May Christ be at the center of your celebrations. Many Blessings to all :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Keeping Perspective at Christmas

Sometimes this time of year bums me out a little. It's not just the overwhelming commercialism-the plastic santas, giant candy canes and smothering holly crowding out nativity scenes and overshadowing crosses. But sometimes it's the nativity scenes themselves. The pomp and circumstance us christians can give to this holiday can sometimes the meaning. The true meaning. If you think about it, Jesus was born in a humble manger, among animals and hay. He lived serving others and hung out with the poor, suffering and destitute. Yet, many churches, though some of their nativity scenes, decorations and celebrations can be strikingly beautiful and at times touching, they are also insanely expensive and one often wonders if, in that sense, sometimes the true meaing is left behind in the pursuit of glamor and glitz. Jesus was not glamorous...why should we be?...Jesus hung out with the poor...why don't we? Instead of adding flare to our celebrations perhaps funds could be used to serve the people God has called us all to serve-the brokenhearted, the poor, the needy, the sick, the suffering.
Phillipans 2:5-11 (NIV)
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
 6 Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.
In my most recent trip to the soup kitchen I visit I remember having a conversation with the cook, mentioning that she must be getting a lot of volunteers this time of year. She said, one might think, but actually not. I was surprised. Usually this is the time of year people are most active in giving to charities and volunteering. Where are all the Christians? If every person who claimed to be a Christian followed Christ and had a servant's heart and actually served...what would our communities look like? I have a feeling they would look totally different than they do now!

As  a parent of two young children I can attest to the challenge it is to stay truly focused on the sacred meaning of Christmas. Jesus was not just a great man that came to earth to teach us things. He was God incarnate and brought with him hope, love, life and light to the world. Only his departure could be considered perhaps more precious than his entering this world, for with his departure the curtain between man and God was torn, grace and mercy rained down upon us. Only with Jesus was that possible.

No matter what the distractions we have, whether it be children, cooking dinner for family, traveling, may we all find some quiet time to reflect on what this holiday is really about and thank God for the physical and spiritual blessings He's given us. And thank God for the most precious gift of all-Jesus. And perhaps, in the hectic nature of the holiday, find some time to serve...or make plans to serve in the near future. As you bless others you also will be blessed :)

May all of you have a blessed and joy-filled Christmas :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Futility of Knowing Oneself: Thomas Merton

I came across an incredibly thought-provoking journal entry written by Thomas Merton in his book, Run to the Mountain. I was contemplating on which set of collected thoughts from him I would include in a blog entry when I became completely overwhelmed-he just has way too much to share in this entry to break it down to just a couple of sentences.  His thoughts are just way too amazing not to share in their entirety so I will share with everyone just about the whole passage, with just a few parts that don't pertain too much to its relevance, taken out. Please enjoy, and, I would love and appreciate any thoughts you might have after reading this passage on the subject of the futility of knowing oneself.


Note: Anything in bold is an emphasis added by me.

December 8. Feast of the Immaculate Conception

I wish nobody had ever told me it was a good thing to attempt to know myself. ...I read Jung and tried to figure out what psychological type I was, and figured I was an "extroverted sensation type," whatever that is. I was certainly afraid of being an introvert. That is because introversion is a sin for materialists, and what is more it is used conversationally almost as if it were synonymous with "perversion."

I read some Virgina Woolf novel and thought I was one of the characters. I thought I was like George Gissing as he is described in Well's autobiography. (What a ridiculous thing it is to take oneself so seriously!)

But it is completely embarrassing to come upon such examples of vanity and pride. It is more pitiful to think how miserable and ignorant I continued to be while I was so unhappily engaged in the futile business of trying, in a reasonable and humanistic manner, to know myself. What floundering around! It was a wonder I remembered my own name! It was a greater wonder I remembered the names and faces of people around me.

Knowing myself-it was really a sort of desperate substitute for confession and penance. That was why it was so silly and so lamentably useless. For the only valid kind of self-knowledge is the amount needed for a good examination of conscience to make a good confession. But both of these are something God will give us if we pray humbly to Him for grace and love, and the important thing is God's love, not ourselves and what is in us. We don't want to know what is in ourselves in order to dwell upon it, treasure it, meditate upon it unless it is not of ourselves but of God. So everything that is of our own worldly desire and fear must be cast out so that we can see God within us and everywhere outside of us too. What we want to know is not ourselves but God.

"Know thyself"-it was proposed that if a man knew himself, he could manage himself so as to do just as much as he was capable of doing, etc. and be at peace just occupied enough to avoid boredom, not so busy as to get tired or flustered or excited-amused enough to be pleasantly stimulated, not enough to be choked and saturated. What a stupid idea, but above all, what a crazy idea to think it can be reached! It is a reflection of the peace and blessedness we all long for, however. That peace is not in knowing ourselves but in knowing God. But we must know ourselves, too: we must know this much: that we are not God. We already know we are unhappy: the amount of self-knowledge we need is simply what will help us find out the reasons for our unhappiness: that is what ways we have loved silly and inferior and imperfect things and preferred them before God.

Saint Theresa of Avila-The Interior Castle-says we must not dwell on self-knowledge alone, but pass on from it at once and go seeking God's love above everything, because every other desire is a traitor and every other knowledge is vain without God.

Without the love of God, or the explicit desire for Him, self-knowledge is futile and makes one very miserable, because one seeks this way to get out of a blind alley-and never does. We only think we want to know ourselves, but we really want to know God.

I was so preoccupied with self-knowledge that I didn't know anything about anybody else's feelings.

...All the bad confessions we make and all the half-hearted prayers and all the complicated stupid worries we get into with vile things coming into our minds, as if it wasn't our own fault and something to be taken with humility and not with anger and elaborate plans...all that is itself a way to take us away from praying and loving God and to make us think about hating filth instead. So these ideas will come, and why shouldn't they, good heavens, after the things I have done for so long my head is full of crap! Half the images and most of the language that occurs to me is scatological, because I have been in all that up to the neck, wallowing about rather weakly, claiming to know myself.

So if all that, as it must, presents itself to me and scares and torments me sometimes, then I must above all things avoid playing the "know myself" game, because if I do it will surely mean losing what little I can find of a path to God. 

People who "know themselves" are always the ones who can't see the beam in their own eye. In getting to "know themselves" they have studied their own faults so closely and with such loving care that they see them in everybody around them even if they are not there.


Heavenly Father,

May we always seek to know you above knowing ourselves. May we find our identity in you and may you reveal to our hearts and minds the truths and insights we seek for and may you bless us with the deep sense of your presence as we lay down our attachments and egos at the foot of your throne and give you all of our attention, all of our devotion and all of our love.

Thank you for your great mercy, everlasting faithfulness and love. We give you all honor, glory and praise.

In Jesus' precious name,

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Harmony of Service and Contemplation: Augstine of Hippo

"No man has a right to lead such a life of contemplation as to forget in his own ease the service due his neighbor; nor has any man a right to be so immersed in active life as to neglect the contemplation of God."
          ~ Augustine of Hippo

 When I read that quote I couldn't help but think about the concept of balance...and how perhaps we are most useful and effective as individuals in our pursuits towards glorifying God  and manifesting His kingdom here on earth when we aren't one or the other extreme, but when we are holistically grounded in a balanced state of service and devotion.

I think we've all met (and perhaps have experienced this ourselves) people who are one or the other of either extreme. Who either seem to be a flurry of activity and service towards God, yet seem to be spiritually starved from lack of the manna God provides us through His Word or are perhaps buried in the pages of their Bible without ever looking up to see what is happening in the world around them.

My suggestion: Let's find ways to discipline ourselves to  honor our Soveriegn Lord with our heads, hearts and our hands. It's amazing meditating and experiencing God's presence, entering His Word and witnessing His living Word come to life...but may all of that prompt us to apply the insights, truths and wisdom God blesses us with.  

As God blesses us, may we bless others too. The New Testament is filled with Jesus displaying acts of service to others-extending himself with love and compassion and empathy. It is my prayer that as I progress in my walk and get to know God even more that He will reveal to me new ways in which I can serve Him and His people.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you so much for blessing us with the dawning of a new day. May we be filled with the joy and peace of your presence and as we enter your Word today, and your presence through prayer, may your Spirit stir within our hearts and speak to us new ways in which we can bring you glory through serving and helping your children. May you cause us to be bright lights shining in a dark world and may you help us to "to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners".

We love you, we praise you and give you all glory and honor.

In Jesus' name,

Monday, December 20, 2010

Did Jesus Die for This? (book review)

Religous satirist Becky Garrison's new book, Did Jesus Die for This?, highlights her global pilgrimage seeking the risen Christ in a world where the authenticity of Christianity oftentimes gets drowned in distractions and consumer-oriented, tourist geared religiosity. Of the many forums Garrison explored, the majority were a collection of holy sites as well as churches and religious communities around the world. Garrison also gives personal accounts of her family history and experiences that led her to look more deeply about the factors that play a role in the perspective people have towards and means at which people apply Christianity to their lives. 

Garrison explores how the genuine message of Jesus is oftentimes all too absent in places where one would expect it the most and sometimes unexpectedly present in the most unlikely of places. From her voyage to Jerusalem, where she passed by refugee camps in the West bank that were off-limits and was "chilled to the core at the sight of children of God confined by man-made walls of war.", to inside churches that are far from the usual appearance one might envision when conjuring up images of a church sanctuary, Garrison questions and searches for the essence of Christ among modern day Christianity.

The book is an enjoyable read, flows well and is written with a witty and charming style. It provides a lot with the reader to contemplate on and question when the last page is turned. A book such as this is worth recommending to a friend and always worth reading at least twice!

Vessels of Light: Includes Quote from Thomas Merton

     We become like vessels empty of water that they may be filled with wine. We are like glass cleansed of dust and grime to receive the sun and vanish into its light.
     The more our faculties are emptied of their desire and their tension towards created things, and the more they collect themselves into peace and interior silence and reach into the darkness where God is present in their deepest hunger, the more they feel a pure, burning impatience to be free and rid of all the last obstacles and attachment that still stand between them and the emptiness that will be capable of being filled with God.
      ~ Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation

Glass bowl, water pearls, acrylic gem garland, waterproof (submersible) Floralytes.

Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
          1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

         Romans 12:2 (English Standard Version)
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Heavenly Father,

Help us to empty ourselves of the attachments we have to our own egos and to the things of this world. Help us to abide in you with a faithful steadfast resolve. May we walk through the traps that try to ensnare our souls, preventing us from bringing you glory, with ease. We thank you for the eternal life you've given us through your son Jesus, whose birth in this world we will celebrate in only a few short days. We thank you for your unending love and faithfulness and for the hope that we find in the shelter of your mercy and grace. 

May you help us, with the dawning of each day, to put on our new self which you've blessed us with when you awakened the new life within us as we chose you, and not the world, to follow. May we be the vessels of light and love you call us to be, to shine in a world that is fallen and dark. May our individual lights unite and become a strong beacon calling those who seek something more, who seek the deep peace only you can provide, to come and join us in your Kingdom here on earth and hereafter in heaven.

We give you all glory, honor and praise.

In Jesus' name,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

God's Sovereignty Amidst Trials

Genesis 45:4-9 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.[a]
 8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay.

I recently just finished re-reading Genesis. If you've read through parts of the Bible a long time ago but haven't gone back to them recently I'd encourage you to keep reading books that you've read in the past. It's amazing how truths and insights and facts seem to rise up out of the texts when before they went unnoticed. There's always something new to be discovered in Scripture, especially if you go about it with a seeking, eager and expectant heart.

Something struck me in regards to the story of Joseph, where his brothers who are jealous sold him into slavery. He ended up, after much trial and a couple of years of imprisonment, to be an advisor to the Pharoah and highly esteemed in the land. In fact, he was considered Pharoah's right hand man and made much of the decision making. Because of his  insightful intepretation (Spirit-led no doubht) of Pharoah's dreams he was able to rescue Egypt from starvation during a horrible time of famine where nothing would grow in all of the land or surrounding lands. God had provided them with much time to store food during the years preceding the famine in which they would be spared and also be able to trade and sell such food to other nations desperately seeking sustenance. Eventually this was how Joseph was to be reunited with his brothers, for they came to Egypt seeking food.

When he was reunited with his brothers I can only imagine what his brothers were thinking. If I was one of them I would have been ready to nearly pass out or lose my faculties. I mean, here is a brother that I had betrayed and figured dead already, ruling the only great land that possessed food for my people to eat. Not only that, Joseph had become very powerful, Pharaoh had given him limitless control and discretion. Joseph could have easily reached out in wrath and condemnation and thrown his brothers in prison, or just slaughtered them there as they stood. But he didn't. He was a man of God and he saw a complicated web of occurrences, orchestrated by the great conductor himself, and a purpose for all of his hardships that had occurred. He saw God in his circumstances and reached out to those who had wounded and betrayed him with compassion and love.

So that makes me wonder, do we see God in our circumstances? Do we have the unfailing trust and resolve and endurance that Joseph showed? With steadfast love and faith in God do we stick through even the roughest trials of our lives knowing that God has his reasons and if we only endure He will see us through in the end?...

Important questions to ask...

Sometimes, in the trials and agony of life (like losing a loved one or being wounded ourselves), it can seem like God has abandoned us. Here are some encouraging verses to keep in mind:

Jeremiah 29:1111 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Romans 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.

There are plenty of others. Do you have a verse that helps you remember God's sovereignty during difficult times and helps encourage you? Please share it with us! :)


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christ in the Eyes of the Enslaved

On this day in 1865, the 13th ammendment to the Constitution was passed and slavery was abolished. Slavery still exists all over the world. Currently there is an estimated 250 million people who are slaves today. May we all find a moment today to lift up those in prayer who are still oppressed and enslaved.

Each year 50,000 women and children are brought into the United States illegally and sold as slaves.

This has got to stop! And you can help, we all can.
Below is a link that will take you to a site that is filled with ideas in which every one of us can help combat this awful reality.

Christ came and taught us all about peace, love and compassion. To help bring God's Kingdom here on earth we need to actively raise our voices against the atrocities around us and help free our brothers and sisters who are in captivity. May God open the hearts of His children so that they see in every enslaved woman and child's eyes, Christ, and be filled with a holy anger which brings about action and liberation.

Matthew 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Heavenly Father,

We pray for those in the world that have only known pain and suffering. Who have been just a number to those around them, a number to be sold, exchanged, used and abused. Every life is precious, every person is in the image of you. Every woman and child who is sold into slavery is a manifestation of your glory and love. May you open up the eyes of those of us who are free and may we see the harsh reality which surrounds us. May we see the suffering and pain and may we be filled with a holy anger to act out in ways to oppose and combat such cruelty and oppression in ways that would bring you glory.

I pray for those brutal souls that have been numbed by the world and are filled with greed, lust, selfishness, hate and evil...may you bring upon them an awakening which shatters their egos and brings them crashing to their knees. May their heads bow low and may their hearts come to repentence and may they willingly set those they have enslaved free and bring your name glory.
May you transform the world's Sauls into Pauls and may your praises be sung from one end of the earth to the other.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Amos 5:24

In Jesus' holy name we pray,

Note: There were images I found that I almost put on this blog in hopes to raise more awareness towards this issue, but found them too disturbing. I wasn't sure if I should or shouldn't. I think it's important to see what is happening, but yet, sometimes people need a bit of a disclaimer before exposed to certain things. I know I could have used a warning!...If you want to see for yourself the cruelty that is happening, simply google "human slavery images"...and you will have all you need to light a fire within you to act. I know I am going to start getting more involved in this movement, I can't see not, after discovering what I've discovered.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Keeping Scripture Sacred in Practice

" With Bibles everywhere, we can lose the sense that Scripture readings are precious words dripped from God's mouth. Jewish rabbis used to put a drop of honey on the holy books held by young Jewish students to remind them of how sweet the word of God is, like honey on our lips. Muslim friends wash their hands before they touch the Koran. There is something to be said for remembering how precious the Story is. As you read the gospel aloud this year (in morning prayer, before a meal), consider standing on your feet and recognizing that this is not just someone reading a newspaper headline or a poem; this is God's word, speaking directly to us. Another practice might be to sing an Alleluia chorus before and after you read aloud a passage of the gospel. (Alleluia is the Latin version of the Greek word allelouia, an expression of praise and joy that, in turn, comes from the Hebrew Hallelujah for "praise the Lord".) Maybe even consider putting a drop of honey on your children's Bible as you read to them."
                Common Prayer: A Liturgy For Ordinary Radicals, p. 68

How does your time reading scripture differ from your time reading other literature? I used to go about it very much the same, sitting in the same chair as I read my fiction novels and magazines, opening it up in the very same way and just plodding through, reading every word with interest, but not really recognizing it, in practice, as anything different than anything else I read.

I have personally made it a practice to light  incense and or/a candle before reading Scripture. And many times (this is more frequent when my children are not home) I will start off in preparing my heart by practicing 15-20 minutes of meditation. It helps clear my thoughts and open my heart to God.  Sometimes, especially if I don't have the time or the privacy for silent meditation I will say the Jesus prayer, " Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.", repeatedly. When I let my mind and heart dwell on these precious words, pregnant with truth, it really helps me open up to the Scriptures with a renewed sense of expectancy and eagerness. Sometimes I'll say the Lord's Prayer or sing a hymn (that's definitely something I do when nobody is around...nobody needs to hear me sing!).

I definitely have found that prayer, meditation, a hymn sung, are all great ways in helping one clear the mind from distractions and start to focus on the truths of God, opening oneself to experiencing God's presence in more and more ways, and opening the gate that leads the heart to more insights and truths in God through the whispers of the Spirit to the soul, an occurrence that is a blessing one receives from reading Scripture.  God does not deny the seeking heart, He always answers when we call. But I've found that it is especially helpful to fine tune the ears of my heart to hear those answers, and I've learned to do it through the ways mentioned. Such ways also show a distinction between reading Scripture and reading other non-sacred texts. 

Do you have any way that you've made your Scripture time different and unique from the time you read other things? Are there ways that help you define that time as sacred? As a time being alone with God and receiving the spiritual manna all of our souls hunger for? If so...please share!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Freedom in Hope: Thomas Merton

"We are not perfectly free until we live in pure hope. For when our hope is pure, it no longer trusts exclusively in human and visible means, nor rests in any visible end. He who hopes in God trusts God, Whom he never sees, to bring him to the possession of things that are beyond imagination."
                                                ~ Thomas Merton

Heavenly Father,

May we be children that live free in You. That find unrestrained hope and joy in Your presence and in Your promises. With each passing day may we learn to walk trusting less in our own wisdom and more in yours. And through our childlike trust may you reveal to our hearts truths and experiences our minds would never have imagined.

 May we walk with light hearts, our souls pregnant with peace and comfort and may we share all the beautiful spiritual and material blessings you give us with others. May the whole world see the light that is You in us and may it rejoice in the pure hope that only you offer.

We love you, we praise you and give you all glory and honor.

In Jesus' name,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Letting Go of Attachments: St. John of the Cross

"The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken, the bird cannot fly."
                   ~ St. John of the Cross

I thought the image of a bird being tethered would be appropriate to include in this blog post, since St. John of the Cross uses it to illustrate how attachments can bind us to ourselves and our own egos, hindering us from true and unhindered divine union with God. I just want to say I,  in no way, condone such treatment to animals (I'm a vegetarian and speak out against animal abuse) and my stomach turned while flipping through images to find a decent one!

As much as I find this image disgusting...I find it appropriate and I think St. John of the Cross brings up much for us to think about. He raises good questions to ask ourselves. What is keeping us from experiencing God more fully? What are we attached to that hinders our relationship with God?...

Important questions to ponder...

How tragic to be attached to something, like that bird in the photograph, that keeps us from soaring to the unknown heights of union with God. May God illuminate to each one of us the things of this world and the things within ourselves, that we still cling to and give us the strength to let go of them and may our souls cleave to God, and God alone.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Confronting Christianity's Bad PR (w. Quotes from Claiborne and Manning)

"A friend and I prepared a video clip once for a worship service. Our goal was to capture people's responses to the word Christian, so we took a video camera and hit the streets, from the trendy arts districts to the suburbs. We asked people to say the first word that came to mind in response to each word we said: "snow", "eagles" (it's Philly), "teenagers", and finally "Christian". When people heard the word Christian, they stopped in their tracks. I will never forget their responses: "fake", "hypocrites", "church", "boring". One guy even said, "used-to-be-one" (sort of one word). I will also never forget what they didn't say. Not one of the people we asked that day said "love". No one said "grace". No one said "community".
       ~Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution, p. 269-270

"The greatest cause of atheism is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."
          ~ Brennan Manning

If we were to consider the image Christianity commonly strikes up within the average modern citizen that doesn't attend church, and even among some of those sadly that do, the images and impressions would be strikingly sad and disheartening for those of us believers that feel the Spirit alive and well within our souls. Who know what it is to have an active relationship with Christ and have felt hope, strength, encouragement and life from that relationship.

Individual churches as well as Christian groups that have decided to use the pulpit as a political platform, oftentimes targeting certain groups within our country in limiting their rights and voices, have turned many off from our faith. Oftentimes these groups receive much more press than the groups and churches  in this country and abroad who are doing good things in the name of Christ. Who are actively living out the gospel everyday and showing love and compassion towards others...lifting up those that are in despair, providing spiritual and material blessings to those who are in desperate need of them.

Through our continual display of love and compassion towards humanity and stewardship to our environment we can help show the world that, though there are Christians that do live up to the stereotypes, there are many of us that do not. To be honest...when reflecting on the informal study done by Claiborne, Christianity can be boring if it is gone about without the Spirit of God. Perhaps some of the churches are dead spiritually and need a resurrection of sorts. In fact, I would say, Christianity as a whole, needs to rise from the ashes and ,with the gospel as its wings, soar back into the hearts of the people. This can only be done through the Spirit and God's will. May it be God's will that His Kingdom will be seen on earth through the works and prayers of His people.

It's my view that we should never change the gospel to win people over into accepting us more or opening up more to God's truth. For if we changed the gospel we wouldn't be presenting people with the truth at all. Just a cheap version of something that has the power to transform. No, we want to be transformed and watch in joy as others are transformed in the love and light of Jesus. For this to happen, the gospel shouldn't be reinterpreted but lived out. Words are just symbols for concepts, actions...well they say it all. So let's live out our faith, let's believe the words of the gospel and give our all to Jesus and let the light of the Spirit shine through us into the darkness of a fallen world.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Word as a Tree of Life

"The Word of God is a tree of life that offers us blessed fruit from each of its branches. It is like that rock which was struck open in the wilderness, from which all were offered spiritual drink. Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty person is happy when drinking, and not depressed, because the spring is inexhaustible. You can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring; then when you thirst again, you can drink from it once more."
           ~ Ephrem the Syrian

May we all find much fruit today while reading through the Scriptures and feasting upon the spiritual manna God provides for our souls. May God bless us with insight, knowledge and His Spirit, so that we might be encouraged and given strength and direction to bring His light and love to those in our families and community that thirst after it.

~Many blessings

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christ's Twofold Coming: Quote by Passchasius Radbertus

Heavenly Father,

Prepare our hearts on this sabbath day as we come together in corporate worship to praise you and to lift your name above all others, declaring your supreme sovereignty in our lives. May you continually stir our consciences, day by day, minute by minute-may we feel your presence and be in continual union with you. Work in our hearts, God, to conform them more to your Will and less to the world. Wash us and renew us with your Spirit Lord. We seek strength and comfort in you so that we may be blessed with the tools in which we can serve you more, and your children on earth, bringing glory to your immeasurable name.

Please forgive us our sins and make straight our paths. For those of us that have strayed, we pray in earnest that you guide us back to sure footing and make clear in our minds and hearts the direction you have for us.Help us cast the light of the Spirit that is within us into the darkness of this fallen world, so that your truth-of your great mercy and compassion, might be magnified.

We give you all praise, honor and glory.

In Jesus' name,
"The apostles took every care not to be drawn from the right path. They kept watch, observing the universal precepts their master had given to his disciples as to be ready when he came again. Consequently we must always be on the lookout for Christ's twofold coming, the one when he comes day after day to stir our consciences, and the other when we shall have to give an account of everything we have done. He comes to us now in order that his future coming may find us prepared."
    ~ Passchasius Radbertus, 9th century Benedictine monk

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Holy Rage Against Complacency: Passage by Kaj Munk

"What is therefore our task today? Shall I answer: "Faith, hope, and love"? That sounds beautiful. But I would say -courage. No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature...we lack a holy rage-the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth...a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God's earth, and the destruction of God's world. To rage when little children must die of hunger, when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the senseless killing of so many, and against the madness of militaries. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God. And remember the signs of theChristian Church have been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove, and the Fish...but never the chamelon."
            ~ Kaj Munk

During Kaj Munk's lifetime he had much to lament about as the world around him was in obvious turmoil. He was a prominent Danish playright and Lutheran priest living through one of the most bloodiest times in our world's history. Hatred, intolerance, fear, injustice, suffering and death were woven into the tapestry of his daily existence. He lived during the second world war and was eventually killed, his Bible beside him, by the Gestapo in 1944 who would not tolerate his open critisicms towards Hitler's cruelty.

Kaj Munk illuminates the importance, as Christians, of taking  inventory on the state of our heart and its reactions and awareness to the cruelty that permeates our world. How do we respond to the social and environmental injustices we witness in these modern days? Are we filled with apathy when we come across the troubles and sufferings others are experiencing? Do we feel saddened yet feel we can't do anything? Do we feel troubled and just want to look away from the images on tv, displaying starving and dying children, figuring that someone else will take care of it, or the problem is much greater than we could comprehend, for sure we, alone, couldn't make a difference.

...Or do we feel angry...that someone would dare treat a child of God that way? That while other's tables are overflowing with food, yet many more are empty. That while precious children are dying because they don't get the simple vaccinations and medicine they need there's medicine that expires everyday on shelves across the globe? Let's stand up and resist complacency! Let's stand up and resist being apathatic, or turning sad eyes away. We can help others...we have the Spirit of God inside us after all!

The Bible tells us: Through God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

Jesus stood up for what was right and against what was wrong. He went against the current that most let guide them through the culture of that day. But when he saw something wrong or injust happening, or felt like people were being hypocritical, he called them out on it, holding them accountable. Look at the account of when an adulteress was about to be stoned. Jesus was not complacent. He called into question the purity of those about to cast stones on the woman who had sinned. He stepped forward and spoke up, asking him that has not sinned to cast the first stone. (John 8:4-11). When we see someone being treated or judged unfairly, do we speak up? Or are we complacent?

Let's look at when Jesus entered Jersualem and saw people misusing the temple. "Turning a house of prayer into a den of robbers". What did he do when he saw that? Did he walk away, head bowed, feeling nothing could be done among such defilement towards the sacred? No...with a holy rage he overturned the tables and rebuked them. (Matthew 21:12-13) Jesus was not complacent.

I wonder what the world would look like if christians like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa gave up and did not pursue the stirrings the Spirit caused in their heart towards combatting suffering in this world, figuring they, alone, could not make a difference. Both, beautiful individuals, pursued different paths-one, an open and loud voice towards reform, rallying others that shared his visions...the other, a quiet gentle soul, by her very service to humanity sparking a fire inside the hearts of many to follow in her vision. Neither were complacent. There are many ways to contribute towards peace and love in this world, to combat evil and darkness...but to do nothing...perhaps that's the greatest of all crimes against humanity.

So during this season of Advent I'm going to suggest being introspective and looking at our role as Christians in this world. Do we walk the walk like Jesus did? Or do we talk the talk and let the sufferings and pain of our neighbors go unnoticed or ignored. I'd suggest, and this is only my layperson suggestion...but let's get angry. Let's feel anger towards the groanings of the world under the yoke of darkness and oppression. Let's get angry enough to be stirred towards casting our light into the darkness. Towards lifting our hands to help, our voices to speak against wrongs, our feet to walk the path that Jesus did.

Let's cultivate a holy rage against complacency and a holy love towards our neighbor. In the eyes of the homeless, of the sick and the dying, of the depressed and diseased, of the murderer and the robber...let's see Jesus. And let's battle against complacency by extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones and lifting others up, encouraging them, giving them hope in Jesus.

I'll conclude with these verses that apply to this message and are worthy of consideration. (As is everything in our holy scriptures)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’