Thursday, June 28, 2007
Paris Hilton is free! Almost two hours on CNN was dedicated to the release of Paris from jail last night. While it sounds like the time alone did her some good (I watched a little of Larry King), I have to ask, why do we care? Why do we allow ourselves to get so caught up in the drama of other people’s lives? Doesn’t getting caught up in this stuff just add to “the swirl?” Don’t we have enough problems of our own?
Now, I live in a house with two teen age girls and a wife who is a natural evangelist. We also have female boarders most of the year, so talk about the potential for drama – we’ve got it! One of the ways to escape the swirl that our lives sometime become, is to not take on the drama of other peoples lives. This doesn’t mean we don’t care – we do – but we do what we can, and we leave the rest up to God.
Again, I have to return to recovery programs on how to avoid getting caught up in the drama of other people’s lives. In recovery Sponsors deal with some of the biggest human tragedy possible. People who will do anything to get high, and in the process leave a trail of pain and human suffering; so why don’t Recovery Sponsors get burnt out?
There are several reasons why, but one of the ways sponsors avoid losing themselves in the drama of the lives of the people they sponsor is: sponsors are encouraged to never lose site of the fact that they are recovering too, and that their own recovery comes first before all else. If they get too caught up in the recovery of the people they sponsor they risk losing their own sobriety.
You could substitute the word “recovery” for the words, “relationship with God.”
Our own relationship with God has to come first before we are ready to go out and save the world. Losing our relationship with God, even in circumstances where we are helping others, means losing “the pearl of great price.” Staying aware of how we are feeling, and our connectedness to God is essential. We need to keep asking, what am I feeling? Am I feeling connected to God? Am I getting enough rest? When was the last time I had a good talk with my wife, kids, or best friend? And then not relaxing our boundries when it comes to our spiritual disciplines in favor of relieving other people’s pain, is essential too.
Through prayer and experience (doing it wrong!) we can develop a healthy detachment to the drama of others. Prayer and meditation helps us focus on your own relationship with God first, before the junk of others.
Prayer and mediation helps us to “let go” - the foundation of all true spirituality.
A final key is trusting the drama – ALL OF IT – our own, our family’s, our friend’s, the world’s, to God.
learning to pray: "Do what you can, and leave the rest up to God." - a recovery saying.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
From within reach from where I am sitting right now I have a cell phone, a land line, a fax machine and color printer, a black and white laser printer, stereo, MP3 recorder, and of course, a computer. My cell phone alone, has the internet, e-mail, calendar, games, note pad, and oh ya – a phone. Talk about plugged in and over-stimulated; I’ve got it all and it makes me wonder sometimes – if God tried to reach me, would I hear the call?
This week I wanted to talk about healthy ways to escape "the swirl" that life can become so we leave room for God. One very simple way to make room for God, to hear the “whisper” (1 Kings 19:12), is to unplug.
“The desert is a place where we are deliberately under stimulated” - Richard Rohr, “Everything Belongs.”
A while back we got a new Sports Radio station in town and I got hooked. I LOVE sports, and now I could listen 24-7 in my car, and even on the Internet at work, if I wanted too. And then there was a hockey strike. Now Vancouver, BC, CANADA, where I live is a hockey town, and this town without hockey is like Boston without the Red Sox – a lot of people were going nuts.
I began to get a little depressed. Not because I missed hockey so much, but because the end of the strike was like the proverbial dangling carrot, and the talk was so negative. Several times it looked as if the strike might end and all the fans hopes would rise, and then another deadline would pass, or promise would go unfulfilled, and everyone would be down again. Unfortunately, because of my attachment to the local team and to talk radio in general, I rode this rollercoaster of emotion along with all of the other fans.
Eventually, I just had to turn the radio off. I didn’t switch to another station, I didn’t start listening to CD’s; I just unplugged and sat in a silent car wherever I drove.
A funny thing happened. I began to pray whenever I was in the car, I began to feel better about life in general, and I began to feel more, and more at peace.
There’s a spiritual desert that people sometimes go through, I’m not talking about that here, per se, but what I am talking about is intentionally unplugging, so we can hear God and abide in his loving presence. We could go a lot deeper than this with the desert principle, but let’s leave it there for now.
learning to pray: What can you unplug?
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
About 2 years ago around this time of year I was driving to the Denver airport in a taxi cab. My cab driver – let’s call him Fred - started to tell me how he became a Christian back in his native African country (I can’t remember the country). A friend of his had basically gone crazy and disappeared for about a year. One day his friend showed up, cleaned up, and in sound mind. His friend had become a Christian and his sanity was restored. I’m thinking there was a lot more to it than that, but we’ll leave it at that!
His friend invited Fred to church and Fred reluctantly went. The pastor seeing Fred was pretty nervous about entering the church asked him to go and talk with him in another room. The pastor shared the Bible story of God's love and forgiveness, and eventually Fred accepted the invitation to follow Christ. The pastor encouraged Fred to silently confess every sin he could think of and said that God would forgive him on the spot. Fred said that when he was done he felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders, and that he’s been happy ever since! Fred said he shares his conversion story as often as he can to anyone who will listen.
I could tell story after story about people who have felt depressed, and weighed down by all the burdens they feel, who made the decision to follow Christ, and the weight was lifted off, just like it was for Fred. If you have never made the decision to follow Christ and accept God's love and fogiveness, why don't you do it now?
Even as Christians we tend to get weighed down once and a while and I think prayer can help relieve us of this weight, or whatever our individual burden might be. I for one get chronically weighed down by everyday life, and it’s one of the reasons I spend so much time praying. Through prayer I’m reminded that I am a forgiven child of God. I’m free, the burden and weight of sin is lifted off. Through prayer I simply rest in what God has done for me, and you can too.
learning to pray: My friend Jesse, the hot rod preacher, said something on Sunday that I thought was great. He said we don’t always have to experience something for it to be true, sometimes we just need to know, and that’s enough. Today KNOW that you are forgiven. KNOW that Jesus paid the price for your sin and that you are free! If you need a little further help, meditate on Romans 8:1, Colossians 3, or Psalm 103. Here’s a bit of Psalm 103 to get you started:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Have you ever been on a carnival ride and wanted to get off because it was making you sick? When I was 11 or 12 my sister and I were on a Tea Cup ride in Bellingham, Washington that went on, and on, and on. It started out fun, but soon made us sick. Admittedly, the Tea Cup is a very tame ride (I can hear my friends – and wife - mocking me now :), but by the time we got off the ride we were both feeling so sick we were considering sticking our fingers down our throats to try end the misery!
Have you ever felt that way about life? Have you ever said “I can’t stand the swirl that my life is right now, and I want to get off, but can’t?” I sure have. There have been times in my life when I have been so miserable, and busy, and feeling trapped, that I have asked God to let me get rich, check out, and go live in a secluded log cabin near Whistler, or a condo in Hawaii, or both! For the next few days I want to talk about escaping the “swirl” that life can sometimes be, in healthy life enhancing ways, and how to find peace through prayer, and Jesus Christ.
I want to start with some of the lessons I’ve learnt through the 12 Step Program because some of the core teachings of the program involve taking care of oneself and ending the “swirl.” Most addicts are caught in a destructive cycle that doesn’t seem to have an end, and by the time they darken the door of a 12 Step Meeting they are desperate to find a way to end the madness that their life has become.
If you are reading this right now, your life may not be at this depth of insanity, but there are things we can all learn from the 12 Steps about prayer and taking care of ourselves. I think, addict or not, and in today’s society it’s hard to find someone who isn’t addicted in some way to one thing or another, we all desperately need to practice this step.
Did you know that the 11th Step is about prayer and meditation? Here it is:
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.”1
The 11th Step is what people in the 12 Step Program call a “maintenance step.” In other words, you usually get to this step when you have some sobriety, although under the care and guidance of a sponsor, you can start this particular step as soon as you feel comfortable doing it.
People in the 12 steps have discovered, through the 72 years or so that the program has been around, that prayer and meditation, and improving ones conscious contact with God, are powerful ways to maintain lifesaving sobriety and transforming lives.
If it works for the addict, shouldn't it work for everyone else as well?
I’ve never met a sober addict who doesn’t practice this step to one degree, or another. For example, I have a friend in the program and his way of praying and meditating involves walking his dog for an hour or two each day. As he’s out walking he thinks about his life, monitors his feelings and thoughts, presents his problems to God, and prays for other addicts in the program. You wouldn’t have wanted to know this guy in his active addiction days, however, after years of struggle, pain, and practice, he is now one of the most humble, and wise people you could ever meet.
In a way, I think addicts who embrace this step are almost at an advantage. They have been to the bottom and they KNOW they need this step to stay and grow their relationship with God. Prayer and meditation, improving their conscious contact with God, have become almost a matter of life or death. They know that unless they do this step there is a chance that they will slip back into addiction, which literally could mean an early death, and on their way to the grave, considerable pain for themselves, and those they love. After a certain period of time, the peace and the deepening relationship with God that one experiences through this step, becomes the internal motivating factor: something the addict never wants to compromise again.
learning to pray: what can you do today to improve your conscious contact with God?
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Aren’t we humans funny creatures? God offers love, strength, and salvation, and what do we typically do? WE RUN FROM HIM. Sometimes we even run as far away as we possibly can.
I have thought about our tendency to run from God on numerous occasions - usually while I am in full flight! I was reminded recently in a Devotional from Richard Rohr where he asks, did you notice God had to close the ark to keep the animals and the humans from running away from their salvation?
Earlier this year I spoke at our church regarding Isaiah 30:15-18:
13 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
16 You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.'
Therefore you will flee!
You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.'
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
17 A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill."
18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!
This is an often quoted passage and a favorite amongst contemplative people, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” We tend to leave out the part about “but you would have none of it.” I had to chuckle when I was preparing my talk for church. Here is this nice little passage about quietness and rest and then BAM - rejection! God is offering the Israelites salvation and strength, but they reject it, and he knows that they are going to “flee.”
The good news is, God knows us, and our salvation isn’t up to us. He knows our propensity to rely on our own strength instead of his, and “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you” Do we get the picture? God is NOT like some jilted lover who "goes postal” because we reject him. He is the exact opposite. God is so gracious and compassionate. He "longs" for us to return to him. We may say no to God a hundred times a day, and yet, AND YET, he still longs for us to trust him and rises in compassion as soon as we turn the slightest bit in his direction.
learning to pray: Our part is to discover and practice the prayer(s), or the spiritual disciplines that will help us to return to God again and again. It doesn't have to be something major that takes a lot of time - simply return, simply remember. The key is who God is: He is waiting with open arms, longing for us to return to him.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Yesterday my wife and I drove our two daughters to summer camp where they will both be working for the summer. On the way down I began to feel really proud of them. They are awesome kids, and even though they are going to have a blast this summer, they had to make some sacrifices to work there.
Now work with me for a minute…How twisted would it have been, if as my kids were introducing themselves to their fellow staff members, I butted in and started blurting out their faults. For example, “Oh, I see you met Tracy (the name has been changed to protect the innocent - me!). She’s a great kid, but back in May 2000 she lied to me. She doesn’t really deserve to be here.” Wouldn’t that just be wrong?
Where am I going with this? Well, earlier in the day I had read this verse from the doxology in Jude 1:24:
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joyAfter meditating on this verse for a while, the words “without fault and with great joy” started to really hit me. I envision Jesus, who died for my sin, standing beside me, with scars in his hands and body, presenting me to the Father “without fault and with great joy.” Think about it, put yourself in this position. Jesus says to the Father
This is (put your name in here) I present her/him to you “without fault and with great joy…”
Personally, I can kind of accept and grasp the “without fault” part. I have had that grilled into me since I was a young child in Sunday school, and I am continually thankful for God’s great mercy. Without his love and forgiveness I am lost. I am in great need of his mercy and forgiveness. A lot of the time, I carry around shame for the things I have done and the way I have hurt the people who are closest to me, so the words, “without fault” are a great comfort and relief – even if I “can kind of accept it.”
However, Jesus doesn’t stop there! The words “and with great joy” are just over the top for me. In Godlike fashion his love doesn't just stop at forgiveness, he goes even further. These are the “proud papa” words; this is how I feel driving my kids to work at camp for the summer, or when they do something else great, loving, or unexpected. Like I said above, after all this time in relationship with God, I can kind of grasp that he forgives me, but to think that it gives him “great joy,” to have me in his presence, well that is almost indescribable and drives me to my knees in awe and amazement. What a great God.
learning to pray: 1_ Read and re-read Jude 1:24-25. Listen to what God has to say to you. Rest and be thankful.
Friday, June 15, 2007
June 15, 2007
SoulStream is launching www.soulstream.org. What a cause for real celebration! Steve Imbach who along with Jean, his wife, and Jeff and Joy Imbach, founded SoulStream in 2002 says, “Our SoulStream family is growing and with that growth we wanted to augment what we normally do to support our fellow pilgrims.”
The website is really an extension of our commitment to community. We want to provide connection for those seeking support in their contemplative journey and helpful information about SoulStream and it’s work. It is our hope that this resource may be used to encourage folks to open their lives more deeply to God’s tender love for them.
Speaking for all the partners, Jeff Imbach notes, “Many today are discovering the wonder of a relationship with God that is not focused on performance but on receiving the gift of God’s loving and healing presence.” We desire to create opportunities for people to freely encounter Jesus and live faith authentically by receiving the gift of God’s intimate presence in all of life.
This website is mainly informative in nature – introducing visitors to the SoulStream partners and support boards as well as outlining SoulStream’s mission and values. You will find brochures and applications for SoulStream courses and workshops here in addition to articles and reflections about living contemplatively. Students will benefit from the communication opportunities the website presents: messages will be posted regarding course, assignment and retreat details and students will be able to blog their responses to course content. Another feature is the SoulStream store: visitors are able to buy books written by Jeff Imbach and others.
SoulStream nurtures contemplative experience with Christ leading to inner freedom and compassionate service.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I have a friend who has inspired me to pray. For several years now she has gotten up very early in the morning to spend time with God. I actually don't know a lot about her prayer time, but one thing I do know is she begins each morning by asking God to "teach her to abide in Christ." I love this because I think it sets the right posture for prayer and that is to be teachable and open.
Lord TEACH me to abide in you…I’ve been doing this for years, but I still have so much to learn…teach me to rest in your loving arms.
That is basically what prayer is: opening ourselves up to the love and abiding presence of God. It can be, but isn't always, approaching God with a lot of words, an agenda, or trying to get God to do something we think is important. Richard Rohr in his book Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer says:
Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is rather, a stance. It's a way of living in the Presence, in the awareness of the Presence, and even enjoying the Presence.
If you are a parent, have you noticed that when your kids are young they can't get enough of you? This is how we need to be with God. We need to come to God like a little child. Every time the disciples start arguing over who is going to be the greatest in the Kingdom, or the subject of greatness comes up, Jesus put a little child in front of them and said, "If you want to be great in my Father's Kingdom, be like this little child." For the most part children are open and eager to learn. All they want to do is be with their parents.
learning to pray: Read Matthew 11:28-30. Do you need divine rest? Are you aware of your need for God? Have you come to an end of yourself? Jesus has promised to be there for you, all you need to do is humble yourself like a child, and return to him again, and again, and again all throughout the day. He WILL give you rest.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Last night I was thinking about the danger of praying alone and I was trying to determine if I was overstating it (see part 1 below)? Obviously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with simply praying alone and admittedly I am being a bit sensationalistic. I can and should pray alone - continuously! The point I am trying to make is concerning the “contemplative prayer journey.” One of the authors and spiritual directors I really respect is Jim Imbach (author of The River Within and more!). He has said,
“The contemplative journey is too hard and too dangerous to do alone. It’s too counter-cultural to sustain, too much of an upstream swim to make it if we have to do it on our own.”
In a way we are going off the traditional path, like I described in Part 1. When I do that in my spiritual life I need to have a guide. I need to have someone who knows the spiritual territory I am going into. When I had my hiking accident, if I had gone with someone who knew the area I was hiking, they could have warned me about the slippery rocks on the bank I was climbing down. In the very least, they could have helped me when I fell, bandaged me up and walked me to safety. In the contemplative life I am going to fall, I am going to fail, it’s a part of this journey and it is so helpful to have someone to communicate God’s grace to me and to simply let me know God’s love never changes, and it is going to be okay.
Had I had someone to bounce things off of in the early years of my contemplative journey it would have been SO helpful. Not as far as technique or anything like that, but concerning the issues of my heart. I have so many blind spots that need to be , sometimes painfully, pointed out to me if I am going to grow in the love of God. On my own I continually seem to miss the big picture.
I think the thought of finding a spiritual director first entered my mind when I was reading Father Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart. He repeatedly encourages his readers to join an group of fellow contemplatives, and to find a spiritual director.
learning to pray: Where do you go to find a spiritual director? If you live in B.C., Canada you can contact SoulStream (Jeff and Jim Imbach's organization) by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. SoulStream will also have a website soon – www.soulstream.org. Other organizations and materials that I highly recommend can be found at www.contemplativeoutreach.org and www.renovare.org.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I did something really foolish back in April 2007 – I went hiking alone, and it could have been fatal. Everybody knows you shouldn’t hike alone, and to make matters worse I went about a quarter mile off the trail to get a better look at a creek. As I was crawling down the bank I suddenly slipped and cracked my head open. When I opened my eyes I could see blood on the ground, so I grabbed a t-shirt out of my backpack and quickly wrapped it around my head to try and stop the bleeding. I could feel my upper back getting really stiff and I thought, “I better get out of here and back to the main trail.”
Thankfully, as soon as I got back to the trail I met a woman walking her dogs and she agreed to help walk me out of there. Can you imagine what she must have been thinking when she saw me? Some bloody guy coming out of the bushes asking her for help! Thank God she was there though. I was beginning to worry about getting out of there as my back continued to stiffen up, and I wasn’t sure if I was all there mentally.
We had to walk about an hour back to the parking lot. I ended up having to take an ambulance out of the park. I got 13 staples and 3 stitches in my head and another 3 stitches in my elbow. My wife and my friends continue to give me a hard time about how stupid I was to go hiking alone, let alone go off the trail. To say the least, it could have been a lot worse.
Changing gears here…I want to ask the question;
Is it just as dangerous to pursue the contemplative prayer journey alone?Of course, the potential dangers are totally different, but I would have to say, from all I have read, this is a journey that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and it IS one that should be taken with a friend, mentor, or spiritual director, if you can find one.
I have had the good fortune of finding a spiritual director and I can’t say enough about how wonderful it has been to meet with someone on a regular basis to learn how to pray from someone elses perspective, discuss what God is doing in my life, and figuring out what is keeping me from fully trusting and accepting God's love.
Monday, June 11, 2007
St. Francis of Assisi’s connection with animals and nature is the stuff of legend. Although most scholars believe St. Francis was actually quite conservative in his beliefs and practices, legend has it he would preach to birds, and once made peace with a wolf that was terrorizing his village. Legend, or not, St. Francis clearly believed that nature was a sign of God’s goodness and that it could inspire us to a deeper love and praise.
Yesterday as we sang this hymn in church it made me think of the times I have been moved to praise by; sunbeams streaming through the trees on my favorite trail, a night of cross country skiing under a full moon many years ago, and watching huge, beautiful, billowy clouds go by while I sat and prayed on my front deck. For those of you who have had similar experiences, and been humbled to the point of worship by the great outdoors, you know what I mean.
I like the humanity and grace of this hymn too; "And all ye men of tender heart, Forgiving others, take your part,...Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, Praise God and on Him cast your care!" Wow! Love it.
learning to pray: Take a moment to quiet yourself. Read this hymn slowly, prayerfully. If you sense the presence of God, stop, and rest in his presence. If a picture, or memory comes to mind that seems to be from God, stop, let the picture, or memory go and just rest in God's presence. How does this touch your life? Listen. Be thankful for what God has given.
All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
O praise Him, O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Allelu-u-ia!
Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heav'n along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!
O praise Him, O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!
O praise Him, O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
O praise Him, O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Words and Music by St. Francis of Assisi and William Henry Draper
For music see: http://www.higherpraise.com/lyrics1/AllCreaturesOfOurGodAndKing.htm
For more information on the life of St. Francis of Assisi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Experiences in contemplative prayer, and in the Spirit, are hard to translate into words. Someone said, “Stillness is the language God speaks, everything else is a bad translation." In that case, I guess what follows is a bad translation. Better go to the next blog!
Trying to express experiences in contemplative prayer is one of the reasons why mystics are sometimes accused of having their heads in the clouds and not being more practical, or down to earth. It's hard to find the words that adequately describe what goes on in our spirits and in the Spirit. That said, I want to try and relate a recent experience to you that has got me on a “stillness” kick.
I have a favorite place I like to go to pray in a local park. I love it because I can often pray there undisturbed by people for as long as I like to stay there. I say undisturbed by “people” because there is a fair share of frogs, bugs, and birds that can create quite a ruckus, especially during the spring and summer, but I digress...
Here's the head in the clouds part (it feels embarrassing to even write this, but here goes)...One day I was in the park in my favorite place, and for some reason I thought, “I am going to stand as still as this tree behind me and focus my attention on one of the trees in the distance,” so I did! Almost immediately I had an overwhelming sense of inner stillness, and being fully present to my surroundings. I could feel the stillness. I wasn’t simply and observer, I was one with it all. There was a gap in my thinking too; the continuous stream of head noise that I have going on most of the time stopped for a minute, or so.
Eventually, I turned to go, but the tall fir and cedar trees in the area caught my attention. I got caught up in their stillness for a moment, or two. I felt as though all of this, experiencing the stillness and the beauty of the trees, and my earlier experince, was a loving gift from God.
A few moments later I was back on the main trail and the verse “Be still and know that I am God” came to mind. The presence of God as this verse came to mind nearly knocked me over.
Being still - what a seemingly crazy way to get to know God, and yet, when you look back over history for thousands of years, religious teachers of all kinds have all taught the same thing: God is to be found in “quietness" and "rest.”
learning to pray: See the Stillness exercises on the right column of this blog.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Five days a week I (used to) work out in a gym. The gym is noisy, and according to my wife, who seems to have a superior sense of smell, it smells funny. On Saturdays I like to get away from the noise and the smell, and go run in the park. For some reason this particular day turned out to be a special day of expriencing God's presence.
On my way to the park I passed by a pond. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two young Canadian geese floating on the pond together. Usually seeing a pair of geese is not a big deal in this part of the world, but everything was so perfect. The way they were situated on the pond, the light, and the color; a painter couldn't have painted it any better.
After I parked and got out of the car, the overpowering silence hit me. Our house backs onto a busy road and the traffic noise is almost constant. The silence in the park was in sharp contrast to what we hear all day. The silence felt good. I tried to breathe it in, and I was so thankful to be outside on a sunny, quiet day.
I stretched a little and began to walk down the trail. The foliage was now thicker than it was the last time I was in the park. The sun's beams cascaded through the trees. What was going on? I've probably walked, or jogged in this park a hundred times and yet it all seemed so fresh, so enjoyable, like seeing snow covered mountains for the first time. The geese on the pond, the peaceful silence, the green foliage and the sun beams streaming through the trees; it was like every moment was a new experience even though I had seen it all before.
Normally, I'm in my own little world when I go jogging. On this day, everything seemed amplified for some reason. Either I was more present, or God was, or a combination of both!
As I continued jogging I noticed a quiet symphony going on. First it was the peaceful sound of the creek. Then I noticed the birds singing and the squirrels chirping as I jogged by. I thought, "God has a continuous concert of praise going on." Sometimes the sounds in the woods can be annoying, or frightening. The sounds I heard as I jogged along on this day were uplifting and gave me a further sense of peace and invited me to join creation’s choir in worship.
As I ran beside the river there were some horses and a young foal with its mother. Man, this was too much. I whispered a prayer of thanks and kept on running. Ten minutes later I was back at the car having just had an experience with God.
"He is like a tree planted by streams of water,…" Ps. 1:3
learning to pray: Next time you go for a walk or jog, try to be present to your surroundings. Presence can be accomplished in several ways using your senses. Here are a few suggestions (do each separately, in other words, only concentrate on one at a time):
- First and foremost, try to be present to your surroundings and not in your head
- Smell the air. If it smells bad – stop! If it smells good, without further judgment, or thinking let the air move through your nose and in and out of your lungs.
- Feel your breath going in and out of your lungs
- Feel the ground beneath your feet
- Look deeply at the plants. Try and absorb and be grateful for their beauty
- Look at the way the sun streams through the trees and the different shades of light it creates
As the sun set outside my window at the monastery, I pulled my chair to the window to watch it disappear beneath the coastal mountains. This was my first time at the Abbey in Mission, B.C. Despite the beautiful views, and the fact that I was in a monastery, I was feeling dry spiritually and having a tough time connecting with God.
Being a bit of a dreamer I thought I would go to the Abbey for a few days, the heavens would instantly open up, and I’d return home with a glowing face, a la Moses coming down from Mount Sinai. After 24 hours the only thing that was shining was the car parked outside my window as the sun reflected off it. As a matter of fact, just prior to my move to the window to watch the sunset, I had called my wife and complained that I didn’t know why I was there.
Out of nowhere the thought crossed my mind that maybe I was too much of a jerk to experience God’s presence. The instant I had that thought shame from the stupid stuff I had done, and probably would do in the future, washed over me. I asked God for help and wrote in my journal “God I really need your help. All of my attempts to be less of a jerk have failed.” Sounds silly, but that’s what I was thinking and feeling at the time.
As the sun was just about to disappear, I think I heard from God. He seemed to say that he loves me, and that he accepts me just the way I am. He wanted me to love myself. He also seemed to say that he had hope for me, and I was reminded that he came to die for me, and in the process gave me the hope of having new life, both now and in eternity. He seemed to encourage me to really live!
After writing this down, I felt washed. I wrote in the very last line of my journal that it wasn’t so much the words, as His presence in the room that had cleansed me of my earlier thoughts of guilt and shame. Then more doubt followed. Was this really God speaking to me?
I moved away from the window, turned on a light and sat down in another chair. I grabbed the Brennan Manning book I had brought with me, “Reflections for Ragamuffins”. Almost the very first thing I read was “If you love yourself intensely and freely, then your feelings correspond perfectly with the sentiments of Jesus.” Hmmmm. Heavenly Father, thank you for your intense, unconditional, life changing love.
learning to pray: This may seem crazy, but ask Jesus what he thinks about you. Listen for an answer. Write down what comes to mind.