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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Joyful Suffering

"A silkworm was struggling out of the cocoon and an ignorant man saw it battling as if in pain, so he went and helped it to get free, but very soon after it fluttered and died. The other silkworms that struggled out without help suffered, but they came out into full life and beauty, with wings made strong for flight by their battle for fresh existence."
              ~ Sadhu Sundar Singh, 20th Century Indian missionary

Sometimes when we struggle in life it can be easy to get wrapped up in ourselves, our own suffering, pain, frustrations and lose sight of the plans God might have for us. God wants His children to be strong men and women of character, our lives living testimonies of His glory. To do this, He has to shapen us and mold us to be more like Jesus. This is oftentimes an uncomfortable and painful experience. But if we endure, great fruit is born, and blessings pour into our lives, including the beautiful peace only He can provide.

 I found this quote a beautiful  illustration of how suffering is sometimes necessary not only  in the natural world but also in our spiritual and physical realities, for it oftentimes is catalyst for growth as well as a way of bringing about glory to God. 

I thought I'd look up some scripture verses to in hopes of providing some encouragement and to give us some insight into why sometimes suffering is necessary. So here's what I found. If you have verses you'd like to add, please add them in the comments section, I'd love to hear them!

God lets us suffer so that we learn to lean not on our own understandings but to be obedient and trust fully in His commands and laws. This brings glory to Him and helps move us towards holiness:

Psalm 119:67: 67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
   but now I obey your word.

Psalm 119:71 71 It was good for me to be afflicted
   so that I might learn your decrees.

Hebrews 5: 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered

Hebrews 12:7   Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Hebrews 12:10-11  10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

So the Glory and Works of God are displayed. Oftentimes in our weaknesses and trials God's glory is revealed and we are made stronger:

Upon coming across a blind man, Jesus' disciples asked whether it was because of the man's sins or his parent's that he was afflicted. Jesus answered,3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:3)

2 Corinthians 12:10  10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

James 1:2-4  2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

1 Peter 1:6-7 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Jeremiah 29:11 11 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.

To inspire others to proclaim their faith and the glory of God despite their sufferings:

Philippians 1:12-14
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[a] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[b] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

What should we do when we suffer? Christ was the true example of this:

1 Peter 2:21-24 1 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin,  and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[a]
 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Heavenly Father,

Life is not always easy and sometimes the obstacles, trials and sufferings that are hurled at us threaten to take our focus off of You. Help us keep You soveriegn in every moment, seeking Your will and Your glory for our lives.

May we be instruments of peace and light and look through our sufferings and see You and may that produce in us great faith and hope and joy, that we are never forsaken. May we help those around us who  start to stumble, help us lift them up and share the hope that is in Christ.

May we enter into times of suffering with boldness and courage, knowing that we will endure and triumph for with God we have victory. Like the silkworm, let us struggle through our trials, through our painful dark nights and enter into the joy of a new morning, transformed in Your love, made new through Your Grace.

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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Giving God Praise

 Psalm 63

 You, God, are my God,
   earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
   my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
   where there is no water.
 2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
   and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
   my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
   and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
   with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
 6 On my bed I remember you;
   I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
   I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
   your right hand upholds me.
9 Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
   they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
   and become food for jackals.
 11 But the king will rejoice in God;
   all who swear by God will glory in him,
   while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Heavenly Father,

Whether we find ourselves in a church surrounded by walls and lined with pews, bordered by beautiful stained glass, a tribute to your glory...in a school cafeteria with fluorescent lights blinking overhead...or whether we find ourselves in a living sanctuary of pines and birch as we walk across the earth you laid out for us, may we praise Your name!

Inundate us with Your Love, surround us with Your peace, bless us with Your presence as we declare you Sovereign over our hearts and lives, kneeling before Your throne of Grace, yielding all we are to You.

May we lose ourselves so that we may be found wholly and utterly in You. Redefine us, as we strip off all of our attachments and illusions, redefine us so that our characters are not shaped by the world but defined by Christ.
Help us be attentive to the Whispers of Your Grace, help open our hearts so that we may treasure Your commands and find living out Your laws a living expression of devotion and love towards You.

We give you all glory honor and praise.
In Jesus' name,

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The End of Self: John Piper

How shall this insidious motive of pleasure in being made much of be broken except through bending all my faculties to delight in the pleasure of making much of God! Christian hedonism is the final solution. It is deeper than death to self. You have to go down deeper into the grave of flesh to find the truly freeing stream of miracle water that ravishes you with the taste of God's glory. Only in that speechless, all-satisfying admiration is the end of self.
                  ~ John Piper

I was thinking this morning of this passage from Piper when in my mind I envisioned a scale and then did a little experiment, perhaps you might want to do it too. It's an interesting visual activity that helps us measure the priority God has in our lives.

Ok, here it goes...picture a scale....

You have stones of equal weight all around you.  On one side put the amount of stones that represents the time you think about yourself each day. Estimate how many thoughts you have and each thought is a stone. We all do it, we all daydream and have conversations and thoughts continually running through our heads. About our dreams, our desires, our plans for the day, what we are wearing, eating, conversations we've had, etc.

And then on the other side put the number of stones representing the number of thoughts you have about God each day. His plans for you, your praises and prayers lifted up to Him, time in His Word, reflecting on His laws and the beauty and gifts of His grace and mercy.

And then...see which way the scale tilts.

Are you more consumed with thoughts about yourself or are you consumed more with your passion and love towards God?

 Don't worry, only you and God know the answer!

I know there are times when the scale can tip either way for me. Some days I am transfixed with God, coming back to His Word again and again, lifting Him up in prayer, His peace penetrating my soul as I encounter Him in the present moment, wishing nothing more than to bring Him glory in word and deed. And then...there are those other times...the scale is dramatically tilted in the opposite direction. When I let my worries and fears, insecurities and bitterness consume me and I lose sight of God...kind of like Peter did when he walked out on the ocean's surface to meet Jesus. He looked away. And then started to sink.

When the scale is tilted in our direction that means we are sinking. Losing focus on the one thing that truly matters, the one supreme treasure that we are to hold dear above everything else ....God!

So it's important, at that point, when we realize we are sinking and losing focus, to come back. How do you come back after you've had a moment of groundlessness..when you feel you've stumbled and tripped? Do you turn to scripture first, prayer? I'd say that I turn to the psalms and then pray...and after that my heart is open enough for meditation. Whatever one's means, it's important to take the steps to get back on the pathway to God. Someone once told me, you can take a thousand steps away from God, but it only takes one step to come back to Him.

So let's take some steps today...away from ourselves and towards God.

Heavenly Father,

We thank You for Your great mercy and grace which makes eternal union with You possible. We pray that You help transform our hearts so that our strongest desire would be to dwell in Your presence, finding supreme joy and peace in you, and not in ourselves. As we learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, in the process may we also learn to lose our attachments to self and world. Shatter our illusions so that we may be inundated with the pure reality of Your presence and Love. 

May we bring You all honor, glory and praise.

In Jesus' unmatched and precious name,

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Honor of Sanctity of Life Week

It would seem that with the advance and accessibility of contraceptives, coupled with public schools offering sex education to students, that abortion would largely be a thing of the past. This is not the case unfortunately. Statistics just revealed that New York City has an alarming abortion rate-41 percent of human life conceived in NYC is terminated through means of abortion. http://www.aolnews.com/2011/01/07/41-percent-of-pregnancies-in-nyc-are-aborted/

I do not intend to judge those who have opted for abortion nor turn this blog into a political platform. I believe the loss of any life is tragic and it is important to take a moment to recognize this sad reality that plagues our country. No matter which side one finds themselves on, I think we can all agree that it is a sad thing to end a life before it has the opportunity to reach its full potential. That each human is uniquely woven into a creation that is amazing and the termination of that life is no doubt a painful decision by the women who choose that path.

To judge such women, I feel, is also a great crime. In Shane Claiborne's book, Irresistible Revolution, he brings up a good point with this issue saying that if one were to judge a woman who is getting an abortion, telling her not to, they should be willing to help her through that pregnancy financially and emotionally and help secure a future for her and that child. See, it's easy to judge someone, until you walk in their shoes. It's easy to tell someone not to have an abortion and then walk away, leaving a homeless teen suffering on the streets alone with a life now totally depending on her. We just never know a person's circumstances. I'm not saying every mother who makes the choice of having an abortion faces such dire consequences, but many do. Perhaps not homelessness, but many are stuck in abusive relationships, poverty, etc.

I remember driving by a Planned Parenthood where there was a protest going on against abortions. I felt saddened at the thought of abortions happening, and even angry but at the same time I also felt angry at those protesters. For sometimes it is easier to judge a situation and harder to help solve it. Let's be problem solvers not problem agitators. Let's extend ourselves with compassion to others, building a bridge to understanding and a bridge towards solutions.

Below is a video that I found a beautiful and touching tribute to the sanctity of life, complete with meaningful scripture verses. I hope you enjoy it.

Heavenly Father,

We grieve at the fact that Your Will for the life which springs up in the wombs of Your children is prevented from reaching fruition due to the tragic act of abortion. We know that all of life is sacred, woven by Your love and grace, planned out before the foundation of the world was laid out, and pray that Your light penetrates through our culture of darkness, bringing about a new awareness of the sanctity of life.

We pray for all those parents who have decided to end their pregnancies. Bind their broken hearts, heal their wounds and bring them freedom and restoration as they turn their hearts towards You. Penetrate the hearts of those who judge such parents with compassion and understanding.  We pray that You give them the desire to reach out in love, rather than condemnation. To find solutions to those who have difficult decisions to face regarding their pregnancies.

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.

A Moment in Time

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

A moment you want to pause, savour and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane.

This is my moment!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Light Within

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a Light from within.”
                                  ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The light of the Spirit blooms within us, vanquishing all darkness, when we open our hearts to the reality of Jesus' sacrifice and the gift of redemption. When we choose to put God sovereign over our lives and view Him as our highest treasure. I loved the above quote from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and it made me think of the light within all children of God, so I decided to look up some verses regarding God's light and the light within. May we shine our lights brightly into the world today!

Luke 11:35-37  35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

Psalm 18:28  28 You, LORD, keep my lamp burning;
   my God turns my darkness into light.

Isaiah 60:19 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

Romans 13:12 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for Your gift of Grace that gives us eternal life. Thank You for Your Spirit which shines its light within our souls. May we cast our lights into the world's darkness and be messengers of hope and of life-bearing good news to the weary and hope to those who have forsaken it. May we give you all honor, glory and praise.

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, January 25, 2011

"What Would You Do?"

I was having a conversation with my friend about the ABC television series, "What Would You Do?".  They set up an experiment where they will have actors play out a scenario and then record the bystander's reactions. It's amazing at how people react. They will play the scenario usually a few times, switching out the actors so that the ages, races and genders will vary and record the differences in the reactions from bystanders.

Everything from children being bullied, women being verbally harassed and assaulted by "boyfriends", underage public drinking and more have been highlighted on the show. Unfortunately, the majority of bystanders usually walk by and ignore the situation. But it is always refreshing when somebody stands up and speaks out against the wrong they are witnessing or reaches out their hands and voices to help those in seemingly desperate or perilous situations.

After this conversation yesterday I was doing some reading when I came across something that Martin Luther King Jr. once said:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

On the episode that showed a young teen being verbally assaulted by her boyfriend (all actors) a man stood up and threatened to call police, turning his anger on her boyfriend verbally, voicing that he had no right to treat her that way. Afterwards, when he was interviewed he noted that he couldn't help but think of his daughters at home and how angry he would be if he ever saw them treated that way. When he had been yelling at the young actor that played the verbal assailant he had questioned the young man, asking how he would feel if his daughter was someday treated that way. The young actor retorted that he had no daughter, he didn't care.

Ah...the issue of empathy arises. Empathy and action. The man who had intervened had empathy...he tied in what the girl was going through with his experience of being a father of daughters. He knew that young girl was a daughter of someone, held precious at one time as a baby, consoled when feelings were hurt as a child, and now being abused verbally in public and in need of a defender.

Sometimes it's not easy to step out and speak up for someone who is a victim. Though, that it is becoming less and less excusable. Most people fear for their own safety on such occasions, but with the fact that most people now carry cell phones and have the opportunity to safely walk away from the situation and then call for help anonymously (which many still never do on that show who have cell phones), what really could be the excuse for not doing so? More troubling is the question...why wouldn't they? It's noted that most times when a bystander stands up to an assailant that that's all that is needed for a deterrent, or even if it isn't it oftentimes spurts on other bystanders to get the courage to stand up as well. Just one person standing up can change the whole situation around.

What do these type of scenarios mean for us Christians? Let's go back to the idea of empathy. Sometimes there are people we might never relate to. How can we still feel empathy towards them? How can we still feel empathy for a child, even if we never have had a close connection with one? Or how can we still feel empathy and compassion for a black homeless man addicted to heroine when we might find ourselves as a white upper class citizen who has never had anything beyond an aspirin and has never known being cold beyond our ski trip excursions to the Alps? How can we relate to people when our realities seem world's apart?

I'd like to give a five word answer that settles it for me anyways. Ok...sit back...here it is:

Christ is in us all.
Christ is in the child who you see slapped up against the head at the grocery store. The eyes of Christ are looking back at you as you walk by the man who is holding up a sign to work for food. The eyes of Christ are staring blankly at the cluttered garbage lining the streets,  wrapped in the scantily clad garb of prostitutes.

When we start to see Christ in everyone...when we start to recognize the fact that salvation is not meant for just those who have stuck to the rules and laws of man and have bought the clothes that come with flashy labels but also those who are alcoholics, who have stolen, abused and even murdered others...then we open up our capacity of compassion to encompass all of humanity. And I feel, when that happens, anyone that sees Christ in someone cannot possibly walk away from Christ when he is being abused, when he is being slapped, beaten or verbally accosted. It is our duty to stand up and raise our voices against the condemned, against the abused because without Christ we would all be condemned.

So, I have to ask, if you were a bystander watching something wrong happening, what would you do?

                                                           Heavenly Father,

We thank you for bringing us safely into another day. Thank You for Your great mercy, Your grace which  makes salvation possible. Forgive us for falling short and sinning against you. We pray that You bless us with courage to speak out against wrongs when we witness them, to stretch our hands out to take hold of those who are suffering, even if their differences intimidate us or are hard to understand or relate to. May we see all life as sacred, all life as holding within it the Spirit of Christ and may our compassion and love help be the catalyst for others to recognize Christ within themselves. May the Spirit usher more and more souls to be awakened to Your reality and by that may the whole world resonate with praises lifted high to You.

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.


Monday, January 24, 2011

God is the Gospel: John Piper

"Until the gospel events of Good Friday and Easter and the gospel promises of justification and eternal life lead you to behold and embrace God himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God. You have embraced some of his gifts. You have rejoiced over some of his rewards. You have marveled at some of his miracles. But you have not yet awakened to why the gifts, the rewards, the miracles, have come . They have come for one great reason! That you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and by delighting display his supreme beauty and worth with ever-increasing brightness and bliss forever."
                           ~ John Piper, God is the Gospel, p. 38

Right now I'm reading an amazing book by John Piper, God is the Gospel. Piper is always a good read. He is an author and pastor who has an incredible passion and devotion towards God. I don't always agree 100% with his theology, but come many times close to it. (But when do we ever really always agree with any one particular person?) He describes the aim of the book as to establish the reality that the blessings of the gospel aren't the reasons for the gospel. That it is true that they are amazing, beautiful, and to be cherished but they aren't the reason, just factors that help one derive at the true meaning. They are all designed to do one thing: move one closer to God and towards seeing Him as one's highest treasure. 

 God, essentially,  is the gospel, not the blessings that come from receiving the gospel.

May God be our highest treasure! May we not just rejoice in being redeemed, or receiving healing and freedom from the attachments that bind us to our sins and sorrows. May we see God's glory as part of that all...the means and the end. May God be our primary source of adoration and praise, and worship, not the gifts He gives us.

Piper explains it well with this illustration:

The Final good of the gospel is "God himself seen and savored in all his glory. Focusing on facets of a diamond without seeing the beauty of the whole is demeaning to the diamond."


Heavenly Father,

We thank you for Your great mercy, and Your grace which redeems us and is the doorway to having a relationship with you. Through your grace You sent Jesus, through Your grace we are saved. We thank You for Your abundant and steadfast love. May You be our supreme treasure in our lives. May everything be pale in comparison to beholding You in Your glory. May we long to bring Your name glory as we serve You, praise You and worship Your great name.

In Jesus' precious name,


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Do Animals have Souls?

"A tool in your hands I am dear God, the sweetest instrument you have shaped my being into. What makes me now complete-
feeling the soul of every creature against my heart. Does every creature have a soul? Surely they do; for everything God has touched will have life forever. And all creatures he has held." - St. Francis of Assisi

When I came across this quote from St. Francis it reminded me of the loss of our dear dog, Rocky,  about a year ago. He had only been with our family for two years when he was taken suddenly from us due to an undiagnosed congenital condition. It was a tragedy for, as with many, our pets are very much part of our family.

I remember afterwards posting a poll on my facebook page, asking whether or not people thought animals had souls. I didn't get too many responses, but would love to maybe get some of my reader's thoughts here on this blog. I'm no expert in theology, as the intro of my blog mentions, but I do have my own thoughts towards this subject...before sharing them, I'd like to share some quotes from a site I found. Most sites I went to flat out denied the reality of animals having souls, but this one did provide some interesting verses to ponder and a slightly different perspective.:
Most interpreters of the Bible assume that man’s likeness to God and animals’ subservience to man implies that animals may have the "breath of life," nephesh in Hebrew, but not an immortal soul in the same sense as man’s.

Even so, the prophet Isaiah says God will include animals in the new heavens and new earth:
"The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD." (Isaiah 65: 25, NIV)
In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the Apostle John’s vision of heaven also included animals, showing Christ and the armies of heaven "riding on white horses." (Revelation 19:14, NIV)


I remember attending a law conference at Pace University several years ago where I was blessed with the opportunity to hear Jane Goodall speak. She shared many of her personal experiences she had living with and studying chimpanzees. It is no longer a mystery that animals are sentient-they experience feelings very similar to ours. Sadness, joy, fear even depression.  For this reason I have been demonstrating against circuses that use animals for over twelve years. I'm also a vegetarian.I don't feel that man has any right to inflict any unnecessary suffering on animals...they have the right to live out their natural lives without any unnecessary fear or suffering or pain inflicted on them by man. So animals have emotions like us...they experience loss, some of them have been recorded to mourn their dead and actually shed tears...but do they have souls?

One thing that meditation has really provided me with is a deep sense of the interconnectedness that we share with all of life. When I meditate I feel God all around me, in everything, sustaining life, breathing life into the world. As God is eternal, I believe His breath is as well...and the breath of life that sustains the lives of creatures does not die when the physical creature does, but goes on into eternity. Does that mean pets or other animals have a place in heaven? I'm not sure...but I do believe that means they have souls that are, indeed, eternal.

Heavenly Father,

We thank You for the wonders of creation that You have blessed us with that fill us with awe and reverence for You. Thank you for the diversity of creatures and life that surround us in the world that You made for us. That oftentimes enrich our lives, bringing us joy and blessed memories. Forgive us for sometimes taking for granted the blessings You've given us and at times, abusing them. Mankind has not proven to be the best of stewards of creation that You called us to be. Help plant the seeds of compassion in mankind so that we might extend compassion and love to all of life, human and nonhuman.

We give you all honor, glory and praise. Thank you for Your mercy and Your great love.

In Jesus' precious name,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Experiential Knowledge/Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade

"We can only be truly instructed by the words which God speaks to us personally. No one grows in knowledge of God either by reading books or by curious historical research. These means give us but a vain and empty knowledge, which serves only to confuse us and inflate us with pride

We only know perfectly that which we have learned by experience through suffering or action. This is the school of the Holy Spirit, who speaks the words of life to the heart; and all that we say to others should come from this source. Whatever we read, whatever we see, becomes divine knowledge only by the fruitfulness, the virtue the light which this experience gives. Without this experiential knowledge, all our learning is like unleavened dough, lacking the salt and the seasoning of experience. Without this experiential knowledge, we have only vague, untried ideas to act on, we are like the dreamer who, through knowing all the highways of the world, misses the road to his own house.

Therefore we have only to listen to God from moment to moment in order to become learned in the knowledge by which the saints lived, which is all practice and experience.

Set aside what is said to others, but listen to what is said to you and for you; you will find enough in that to exercise your faith, because this interior language of God, by its very obscurity, exercises, purifies and increases your faith."
                             ~ Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Joy of Full Surrender

Reading this just reminds me of the importance to live and experience life actively, thus experiencing all of its facets and becoming an actor on life's stage, not just an observer. It's hard sometimes to step out in faith and serve God through our actions but when we do we are exposed to experiences that, through  guidance of the Spirit, can give us tremendous insights that wouldn't have been achieved by reading another's account of that same experience. We need to have our own experiences so that God can work uniquely through our hearts in the ways that will invoke a relationship between us and the Spirit, between student and teacher. To live out our faith and not just read about other's isn't always easy. The Spirit will train our hearts to conform our will to God's if we let it carve off our false attachments, illusions...if we let it mold our egos so that God is glorified more and we are glorified less in our minds. The Spirit will help teach our hearts purity, humility and deeper levels of love and compassion. The Spirit is our guide to becoming more and more like Jesus.

I think this passage also provides a healthy perspective when it comes to seeking knowledge about God. Words that I have chosen to read over and over again for I surely need to be continually reminded of them! I love to read books from writers and theologians of our faith. My heart and soul thirsts for God...I want to know all I can about Him and experience Him to the fullest. I have found times though when I  have to stop and think about what I'm reading. Oftentimes, I find myself entering Scripture less and less as I dive more and more into the words written by man. In those times I find my mind wrestling with theological questions rather than entering into simple devotion for our God. I find my soul inattentive to the whispers of the Spirit and more attentive to my own desires. That's when I need to take a break from man's written words and return like a prodigal child back into God's.

I've found that when I go back to Scriptures, in repentance for seeking answers outside of His Word, that like an eternal spring of the most filtered and pure water, the Spirit rises up within me filling me with insight, peace, and yes-knowledge, far beyond what any book written by any theologian can supply.

Proverbs 1:7 says:

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
   but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

It's my belief that when we go back to the simple and pure reverence of God, the fear of the Lord, that that begins an active relationship between our souls and the Spirit, providing spiritual manna and true knowledge of God.

Heavenly Father,

Help us lean not on our own knowledge but help us to continually seek Yours, inclining our ears towards understanding and living each moment attentive to the teachings and whisperings of Your holy Spirit. Give us the courage to be participants in the world, not just observers of it and may the meditations of our heart and the outward expressions of them be pleasing to You.

We give You all honor, glory and praise.

In Jesus' name,

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reflections of Compassion

When we meditate, we enter the mind of Christ by entering into meditative states of awareness of all that we hold in common as human beings. We sit, silent and still, and learn the intimate texture of thoughts, feelings, memories, and bodily sensations that all of us as human beings experience. In doing so we drop down into levels of oneness with others that transcends the differences between us. I am not you. But if I have intimately tasted my own aloneness, my own experience of thoughts arising and passing through my mind, my own breathing-then I already have in my intimate awareness of myself an intimate awareness of you.

This knowledge is not that of the words written on the pages of my mind, rather, it is a knowledge of the human experience of the mind itself. The experience is not simply my personal feelings about this or that. It is rather the intimate understanding of the texture of my own heart as feelings play across its surface, flow through it, and alter its state from one moment to the next. Grounded in this self-knowledge, I am grounded in awareness of oneness with you at a level that precedes and transcends the differences between us. I know you with an empathatic, heartfelt knowledge of what it means to be a human being.

It takes time, but little by little we enter the social dimensions of the mind of Christ in awakening to how perfectly one we are with everyone living and dead. As this awareness slowly seeps in, we are able to grow, day by day into a more patient, gracious recognition and acceptance of and gratitude for others. Little by little the graciousness of Christ’s emphatic mind of oneness with others is translated into a thousand little shifts in the way we think about people, our attitudes toward them, and the way in which we actually treat them day by day.

As we learn to see ourselves through the eyes of Christlike compassion we start to see others through the eyes of Christlike compassion as well. In learning to be compassionate towards ourselves as precious in our frailty, we learn to be compassionate toward others as precious in their frailty.”
                                          ~ James Finley, Christian Meditation, p. 96

I've come to believe that compassion is a crucial component in glorifying God and bringing glimpses of His Kingdom to the world.  Jesus lived with great compassion-healing, preaching, teaching and extending himself out to the margins of society where many wouldn't dare to go. To be instruments of His peace and love it's essential as we grow with God to reflect Christ's compassion to others. As important and central as that is in our mission towards service to others, I think sometimes it's often overlooked to invoke that same compassion we extend to others to ourselves as well. It seems that sometimes we are more willing to forgive others and less willing to forgive ourselves. When we harbor guilt, feelings of unworthiness, etc. against ourselves that can only serve as a stumbling block in our mission to help others.

We become imprisoned by our own illusions about ourselves instead of being liberated from them. God offers us full liberation and redemption from our sins! As Christians, I feel it's important to take hold of the offer God holds out in His hands and allow Him to break the chains that bind us from serving Him more fully and living a more joy-filled and productive life. In fact, it should be one of our prerogatives! God wants us to find pleasure in Him, joy in Him. How can we find joy in God if we are trapped by our own prisons we have built around our hearts?

I love this passage from Finley because I can relate to so much that he says. Contemplative prayer, or Christian meditation,  has been an invaluable experience for me in so many different ways. To experience the unfolding of your consciousness, to see more clearly with objectivity your thoughts and realize them for what they are...oftentimes impermanent illusions built upon the shaky foundation of attachments and other impermanent illusions, is transforming. It allows one to enter into and experience a new diminsion of God's reality. When stillness of one's mind is acheived and all of one's desire stretches towards the depths of God and is then enveloped in union with His love and peace...one does not walk away unchanged! It is also a beautiful way to realize profoundly the interconnectedness that we have with all of life that surrounds us. To treasure it, for it is a manifestation of God's glory, it is His love breathed out.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for bringing us safely into a new day. I pray that You guide our hearts to an ever deeper and fuller understanding of Your love, Your Grace, Your compassion. May You illuminate the areas in our lives where we need to come humbly before You in repentence and help us walk as free sons and daughters of God so that we might reflect Christ's compassion and love fully and boldly in all the corners of the world.

May we give You, and You alone, all glory, honor and praise.

In Jesus' precious name,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Praying the Psalms: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I read this passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "Life Together" and decided to share it with everyone because it explains a quandary that I found myself in at one time when I started off trying to read the Psalms as prayers.  I love how Bonhoeffer explains the quandary which so many can relate to and the explanation that makes the understanding of the dilemma make sense almost at once. He starts off with a question so many have asked at one point of another:

How can God's Word be at the same time prayer to God?

The question brings with it an observation that is made by everybody who begins to use the psalms as prayers. First he tries to repeat the psalms personally as his own prayer. But soon he comes upon passages that he feels he cannot utter as his own personal petitions. We recall, for example, the psalms of innocence, the bitter, the imprecatory psalms, and also in part the psalms of the Passion. And yet these prayers are words of Holy Scripture which a believing Christian cannot simply dismiss as outword and obsolete, as "early stages of religion."...He can read and hear them as the prayer of another person, wonder about them, be offended by them, but can neither pray them himself nor discard them from the Bible.

The practical expedient would be to say that any person in this sitaution should first stick to the psalms he can understand and repeat, and in that case of the other psalms he should learn quite simply to let stand what is incomprehensible and difficult...this difficulty indicates the point at which we get our first glimpse of the secret of the Psalter. A psalm that we cannot utter is a prayer, that makes us falter and horrifies us, is a hint to us that here Someone else is praying, nor we; that the One who is here protesting his innocence, who is invoking God's judgment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other than Jesus Christ himself. He it is who is praying here, and not only here but in the whole Psalter.

...Even if a verse or a psalm is not one's own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship; so it is quite certainly the prayer of the Man Jesus Christ and his Body on earth. ...The Psalter is the great school of prayer.
                                              ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.45

Here is how Ambrose, a 4th century bishop of Milan viewed the Psalms.

"Yes, a psalm is a blessing on the lips of the people, a hymn in praise of God, the assembly's homage, a general acclamation, a word that speaks for all, the voice of the church, a confession of faith in song. It is the voice of complete assent, the joy of freedom, a cry of happiness, the echo of gladness. It soothes the temper, distracts from care, litens the burden of sorrow. Day begins to the music of a psalm. Day closes to the echo of a psalm."

So, when we read the Psalms and come across passages that we think have nothing to do with ourselves, we shouldn't skip over them!  Or merely think of them as something that has no application to ourselves and that should be perceived from simply a historical viewpoint.We should be reminded that the Psalms speak for all our brothers and sisters, including ourselves. Even if we are having a great day and then come across a Psalm that speaks of being in despair and surrounded by one's enemies..it is a reminder of the persecution of others in the body of Christ...others that need our prayers.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for bringing us safely into this new day. May we be guided by Your Holy Spirit to communicate with love and understanding to those we encounter. Help us, in our cluttered lives, to find time for simple devotion. To feast upon the  spiritual manna, the bread of Life, that is Your Word. Help us to open our hearts to greater depths of love as we grow deeper in our relationship with You. Help us to shine Your light into a world that desperately needs it. May our prayers be like incense, rising up to you as fragrant offerings of devotion.

We love You and give You all glory ,honor and praise.

In Jesus' precious name,


Monday, January 17, 2011

Remembering The Dream

Martin Luther King Jr. had a message of hope and a vision of love that he unabashedly shared with those of his time and that continues to carry on long after his tragic and untimely death. In these modern times when the media tends to focus on bringing to our attention individuals of unsavory character who represent the radical fringe of Christian fundamentalism that fuel hate and intolerance and inflame the fears and aggressions of ignorance, it's more important than ever to reflect back on the critical message MLK jr. shared with us all.  

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who has inspired countless many to go out into the sometimes hostile world and sow seeds of peace, understanding and justice. He was a bold man with a bold message. A message that was able to shake up America's culture and bring foreward change. His words continue to stir hearts and challenge people to take greater steps towards loving more like Christ and keeping the spirit of servitude and compassion that Jesus taught us alive. May we remember him today.

In honor of Dr. King, this post will simply include one of his most famous and inspiring speeches, "I Have a Dream".

I hope you find yourself inspired! :)

I Have a Dream

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. [Applause]

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.                   

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Beauty of Creation: John Calvin/Thomas Merton

" The creation is quite like a spacious and splendid house, provided and filled with the most exquisite and the most abundant furnishings. Everything in it tells us of God."

                                      ~ John Calvin

The Sowing of Meanings
~Thomas Merton

See the high birds! Is theirs the song
That dies among the wood-light
Wounding the listener with such bright arrows?
Or do they play in wheeling silences
Defining in the perfect sky
The bounds of (here below) our solitude,

Where spring has generated lights of green
To glow in clouds upon the sombre branches?
Ponds full of sky and stillnesses
What heavy summer songs still sleep
Under the tawny rushes at your brim?

More than a season will be born here, nature,
In your world of gravid mirrors!
The quiet air awaits one note,
One light, one ray and it will be the angels' spring:
One flash, one glance upon the shiny pond, and then
Asperges me! sweet wilderness, and lo! we are redeemed!

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power --
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

Until, in the amazing light of April,
Surcharging the religious silence of the spring,
Creation finds the pressure of His everlasting secret
Too terrible to bear.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light,
While the wild countryside, unknown, unvisited of men,
Bears sheaves of clean, transforming fire.

And then, oh then the written image, schooled in sacrifice,
The deep united threeness printed in our being,
Shot by the brilliant syllable of such an intuition, turns within,
And plants that light far down into the heart of darkness and oblivion,
Dives after, and discovers flame.

When my husband and I were dating we took a cross country trip that started from CT and went to Oregon and back. I had always enjoyed nature, but I had seen very little of its diversity until I was blessed with the opportunity of experiencing some of our nations most glorious wonders.

I remember standing in a field of wildflowers at Glacier National Park in Montana completely enchanted by the wonders all around. I couldn't help but think that the meadow in which I stood had untold varieties of flowers, all beautiful and unique, vibrant and full of life. It was like I was standing in a garden planted by God Himself. I had never been in a more beautiful place. In fact, I even decided on that day that if I were to ever have a daughter I would name her after the most beautiful place I had ever been....Montana. And that's my daughter's name...Montana Skye. :)

I couldn't help but think that no matter what one's beliefs are when they stood amidst such beauty their heart would not be able to help but declare that there is, indeed a God. Perhaps we don't always agree on God's name...but nature itself sure points to His existence. To think that God is even more brilliant and glorious than His creations is a humbling thought. That such a great and glorious God is taken all too lightly by many of us is one that makes me want to confess to God those moments in life when I let the world influence me more than God. May God always be King of our lives, King of our hearts...sovereign over every activity we engage in. And may His glory that is manifested in nature never cease to make us tremble at the holy magnificence, power, beauty, grace and mercy of our great God.

~many blessings