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Spiritual practices for the Easter season

Tuesday April 18 2017

Spiritual practices for the Easter season

This week I’m reposting an earlier post because the ideas are still so relevant. Maybe I’m reposting it because I need to follow my own suggestions!

Did you know that in many times and places in Christian history, Easter has been viewed as a season, not just a day? The Easter season goes from Easter Day to Pentecost Sunday (June 4 this year), a period of seven weeks. Because Jesus’ resurrection is such a huge, amazing, overwhelming, fantastic gift to us, focusing on it for seven weeks allows time to ponder many aspects of what we receive on Easter Day.

The liturgical color for the Easter season is white to reflect the holiness and purity of Jesus, which enabled him to die in our place. White also symbolizes light. Jesus submitted to the darkness of the grave, and Easter morning he came back into the light, and his own light was again revealed. Paintings of Jesus after the resurrection often show him surrounded by light.

What spiritual practices are appropriate in a season of light and joy? This is a season of feasting, not fasting. Celebrate joy and light in whatever ways you can. Ponder, journal or talk with others about the joyful events of Easter and what they mean for you. Here are some suggestions for spiritual practices for the Easter season:

1. Practice thankfulness. Watch for God’s good gifts in your life and your loved one’s lives. Look for signs of Jesus’ resurrection life in events and people around you. Go out of your way to express gratitude and love to people who have cared for you. Pay attention to the small gifts of daily life, and thank God for them. To help you pay attention, consider starting (or re-starting) a thankfulness journal and commit to adding five items to the list each day. Or partner with others to talk through the things you’re thankful for every day. Be sure to pray your thanks as well.

2. Focus on light. Watch for the word “light” in scriptures, praise songs, hymns and poetry. Write a poem or statement about the ways Jesus is your light, and ask for further light in specific areas of your life and in the lives of loved ones. Use various names for God and Jesus in breath prayers: “Lord Jesus Christ, light of the world, shine your light on me” (John 8:12). “Jesus, bright morning star, guide my steps” (Revelation 22:16).  “Word of God, be the lamp to my feet and the light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). “Lord God, sun and shield, give me your light and protection” (Psalm 84:11). All of these prayers can be prayed for others as well as for yourself.

3. Ponder the fact that Jesus has freed “those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15). In what ways has Jesus freed you from that fear? In what ways would you like to experience more freedom? What do you think that might look like? Journal or talk with a friend about the role fear of death has played in your life. Pray your thanks, and pray for further growth in this area.

The seven-week Easter season nudges us to look at life through the lens of resurrection power. Maybe you’ll think of additional ways to do that.

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
   O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
   wrapped in light as with a garment (Psalm 104:1).

(Next week: Support for Earth Day from hundreds and thousands of years ago. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: regret and fear are thieves

Friday September 16 2016

Quotations I love: regret and fear are thieves

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” Fulton Oursler, American Journalist (1893-1952)

I love the metaphor of the thieves. Engaging in regret for the past or fear of the future is like a thief sweeping through our mind stealing important things. What gets stolen when regret and fear dominate our thoughts? Joy in the present. The ability to see God’s hand at work. Gratitude for good gifts. Hope for the future based in God’s goodness.

The quotation highlights three challenges: (1) to see the past with faith and gratitude, (2) to see the future with hope and (3) to look for God’s presence and companionship in the present as much as possible. I want to suggest some spiritual practices for each of these challenges.

1. See the past with faith and gratitude

a. Sometimes regrets about the past are rooted in a sense of guilt and shame. God offers us full and abundant forgiveness, but sometimes we find it hard to receive that forgiveness. My suggestion: write down the specific sources of guilt or shame that contribute to your sense of regret about the past. When I am having a hard time feeling forgiven, I find Psalms 32, 51 and 130 helpful. Read your list of sources of guilt or shame, then pray one of the psalms I’ve mentioned. If a verse in the psalm jumps out at you, post it on your bathroom mirror. Dwell in God’s forgiveness.

b. Sometimes regrets about the past aren’t rooted in sin or shame, they’re just regrets about situations we wish we’d handled differently. Think about – or talk with a friend about – a situation where you wish you had responded differently. List as many aspects of the situation that you are thankful for. Note where God was present in the situation and where you experienced God’s guidance or comfort. Let those gifts from God exist in your memory alongside the aspects you wish you had done differently. You may want to pray Psalm103:1-5 as a way to think about God’s blessings to you, even when there are regrets about some aspects of a situation.

2. See the future with hope

a. In the midst of anxiety, many people find the Serenity Prayer helpful. It was written around 1934 by Reinhold Niebuhr. It’s a great prayer to memorize. Pray it several times slowly:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

b. Pick a scripture about peace or hope. Memorize it or post it in your car, by your desk, on your bedside table or beside the kitchen sink. Repeat it to yourself and let it sink into your heart. Here are two possibilities for passages to use: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

3. Look for God’s presence and companionship in the present

a. Breath prayer is one of the best ways to be present in each moment. Slow your breathing and focus on each breath. In God, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Ponder the fact that you depend on God for each breath, and God gives you that breath in generosity and love. Breathe deeply and slowly, and rest in God’s presence and goodness that surrounds you.

b. Thankfulness is another great way to be present to God’s gifts in each moment. When you stop at a traffic light, stand in line at the bank, wait for a website to download or step outside to get your mail, look around and name several things that come to you as a gift. Or focus on all the individual parts of your body that are working well (even if some parts aren't working so well!), and thank God for each of them. “Wonderful are your works, that I know very well” (Psalm 139:14)

These are just a very few ideas. What helps you rejoice in the past and look forward to the future with trust? What helps you abide in Christ in the present moment?

(Next week: a quotation from Eugene Peterson about a pastor’s chief job, which I think relates to the chief job of a parent, family member and friend. Watercolor painting of Lake Hawea, New Zealand, by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: Henri Nouwen on being beloved

Thursday September 1 2016

Quotations I love: Henri Nouwen on being beloved

In The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes,

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper.

When I was writing my book on communal spiritual practices, Joy Together, a student asked me what I was working on, and I briefly described the book to him. He replied, “There’s so much rhetoric about spiritual practices—the idea seems to be that if I get the practice right, then I’ll work my way to God.” He went on to say that theologians throughout the ages have affirmed that God meets us. He argued that it is not our responsibility to engineer a meeting with God; in fact, it is impossible for us to do so. He also said that spiritual practices are often a form of works-righteousness, an attempt to earn God’s approval.

In order to engage in spiritual practices or to teach them to groups, we must think clearly and theologically about the ways spiritual practices contribute to Christian life, and we must be very certain that we are not attempting to control God or trying to work our way to God. Henri Nouwen’s metaphor about the well in the desert is helpful in that regard.

When we experience that joy of being beloved, it’s like water in the desert. We taste it and touch it, and we want more. Spiritual practices – many ways of engaging with the Bible, many ways of praying, and many other practices like attending church, small groups, Sabbath keeping, fasting, journaling and hospitality – are ways that we act on our desire for more of God’s presence. We draw near to God because we are loved, not to prove ourselves worthy of love or to get God to do our bidding.

Nouwen continues,

The word ‘digging’ might not be the best word since it suggests hard and painful work that finally leads me to the place where I can quench my thirst. Perhaps all we need to do is remove the dry sand that covers the well. There may be quite a pile of dry sand in our lives, but the One who so desires to quench our thirst will help us to remove it.

Spiritual practices help us return to the well over and over. They help us remove the dry sand. And, as Nouwen points out, the “One who so desires to quench our thirst” helps us return to the well and remove the dry sand. We don’t engage in spiritual practices apart from the God who loves us, calls us to draw near and empowers us to do so. This perspective on spiritual practices is essential.

Questions for reflection:

1. Think of a time in your life when you felt beloved. Who was the one loving you? What were the factors that help you feel beloved? Draw the situation or write a few words to describe it. Sit with that belovedness for a few moments.

2. Think about the spiritual practices you engage in: going to church, attending a small group, forms of Bible study, forms of prayer, other spiritual practices. To what extent do you engage in those practicesbecause you are already beloved? Which ones help you feel beloved while you do them or afterwards? Ponder the reasons behind these patterns.

3. If you could bring a spirit of belovedness into your spiritual practices, what would it look like?

 

Previous posts that discuss spiritual practices:
     Open Hands, Open Hearts    
     Spiritual Practices for the Easter Season         
     Do not ride in the car with Lynne                   
     When fear, ego and ambition drive the bus         
     Of clouds and attentiveness         
     Hearing God’s voice        
     The Lord’s Prayer and spiritual practices         
     The Lord’s Prayer and spiritual practices, part 2

I’ve also written numerous articles about spiritual practices which are available on the articles page of this website.

(Next week: my ponderings on a quotation by Rick Warren about compassion for people whose lifestyle you disagree with. Illustration by Dave Baab. Part of this post is excerpted from Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity

Thursday July 14 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity

As we slow down to experience the joy of this moment in this particular place in God’s creation, we understand more deeply God’s call to be careful stewards of all that God made. Part of that stewardship needs to be a reevaluation of the way we live in our consumer society.

Day and night the beauty of nature speaks to us of God’s greatness and calls us to praise and prayer. Day and night our consumer culture is also speaking to us, but the message is very different.

“More is better.” “If you are feeling sad, discouraged, or sexually unattractive, you will feel much, much better if you buy something.” “Shop ’till you drop.” These messages are pervasive. We encounter these voices in advertisements, TV sitcoms and talk shows, movies, magazines, newspapers, shop displays and throughout the online world.

Our consumer culture seriously gets in the way of faithful stewardship of creation in a variety of ways. Possessions cost money, and many of us have to work harder to pay for our many things. The extra time spent working makes us hurried and scattered, much less able to be intentional about the way we live. Possessions have to be shopped for, maintained, repaired, and housed, which requires time and effort that might have been spent doing something more restful and spiritually restoring. Everything we buy had to be made somewhere and then transported to us. The factories that make things and the trucks that transport things are often serious polluters.

Richard Foster is very blunt in describing the seriousness of the consumer messages from our culture: “Our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy.” Foster believes we get sucked into consumerism because “we lack a divine Center.”[1]

One Christian response to consumerism is voluntary simplicity, choosing to live below the level of affluence that we can afford, for the purpose of slowing down consumption, living more intentionally, and striving to be more connected to what God desires for us. Many people who choose voluntary simplicity have a strong commitment to honoring God as creator, because living more simply serves both the earth and the poor of the world. Voluntary simplicity has a particular appeal at midlife as we desire to strip away the extraneous possessions, commitments and values in our lives and embrace what really matters to us.

Voluntary simplicity is not another “should” or “ought.” People who practice simplicity express enthusiasm for the joy they have experienced in embracing a different set of values than the ones promoted by our culture. They talk about the beauty in the words “less can be more.” To understand the joy of simplicity, think for a moment about the difference between a huge bouquet of flowers and a single rose. Sometimes the huge bouquet is appropriate, but sometimes the single rose is the best option because it is more restful, and its beauty is not obscured by a lot of other flowers.

Our culture tells us that huge bouquets, composed of a wide variety of different flowers, are always best. We live, in effect, so surrounded by huge bouquets that we are overwhelmed by them. Simplicity offers a kind of beauty that is spare, clean, pure, and straightforward.

As we begin to see more clearly the sickness of living by consumer values, the beauty of nature can be a source of soothing balm. If I go shopping, I am constantly faced with my desire to possess, and I have to fight against the lust for things that lies just below the surface of my soul. If I walk in some upscale neighborhoods not far from my home, I find myself lusting after huge homes and beautifully manicured gardens. If I go for a walk in a park, however, I can focus on the ducks on the lake, the clouds in the sky, and the wind on my face. There is no way I can possess those things, so I am briefly free from all the seductive desires that sweep across my mind.

Simplicity and looking for God’s hand in creation can reinforce each other in a life-giving ebb and flow. Embracing simplicity can help us slow down enough to hear the voice of creation calling us to draw near to the Creator. At the same time, slowing down enough to appreciate nature can help us desire to simplify our lives and focus on what is really important to us. These complimentary forces can be very helpful and encouraging.

This is the seventh post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         

(Next week: a wonderful example of the joy of voluntary simplicity. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Richard Foster, “The Discipline of Simplicity” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, p. 182.

Spiritual practices for the Easter season

Wednesday April 6 2016

Spiritual practices for the Easter season

Did you know that in many times and places in Christian history, Easter has been viewed as a season, not just a day? The Easter season goes from Easter Day to Pentecost Sunday (May 15 this year), a period of seven weeks. Because Jesus’ resurrection is such a huge, amazing, overwhelming, fantastic gift to us, focusing on it for seven weeks allows time to ponder many aspects of what we receive on Easter Day.

The liturgical color for the Easter season is white to reflect the holiness and purity of Jesus, which enabled him to die in our place. White also symbolizes light. Jesus submitted to the darkness of the grave, and Easter morning he came back into the light, and his own light was again revealed. Paintings of Jesus after the resurrection often show him surrounded by light.

What spiritual practices are appropriate in a season of light and joy? This is a season of feasting, not fasting. Celebrate joy and light in whatever ways you can. Ponder, journal or talk with others about the joyful events of Easter and what they mean for you. Here are some suggestions for spiritual practices for the Easter season:

1. Practice thankfulness. Watch for God’s good gifts in your life and your loved one’s lives. Look for signs of Jesus’ resurrection life in events and people around you. Go out of your way to express gratitude and love to people who have cared for you. Pay attention to the small gifts of daily life, and thank God for them. To help you pay attention, consider starting (or re-starting) a thankfulness journal and commit to adding five items to the list each day. Or partner with others to talk through the things you’re thankful for every day. Be sure to pray your thanks as well.

2. Focus on light. Watch for the word “light” in scriptures, praise songs, hymns and poetry. Write a poem or statement about the ways Jesus is your light, and ask for further light in specific areas of your life and in the lives of loved ones. Use various names for God and Jesus in breath prayers: “Lord Jesus Christ, light of the world, shine your light on me” (John 8:12). “Jesus, bright morning star, guide my steps” (Revelation 22:16).  “Word of God, be the lamp to my feet and the light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). “Lord God, sun and shield, give me your light and protection” (Psalm 84:11). All of these prayers can be prayed for others as well as for yourself.

3. Ponder the fact that Jesus has freed “those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15). In what ways has Jesus freed you from that fear? In what ways would you like to experience more freedom? What do you think that might look like? Journal or talk with a friend about the role fear of death has played in your life. Pray your thanks, and pray for further growth in this area.

The seven-week Easter season nudges us to look at life through the lens of resurrection power and Jesus' pure light. Maybe you’ll think of additional ways to do that.

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
   O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
   wrapped in light as with a garment (Psalm 104:1).

(Photo: Sunset in Bergen, Norway, by Ian Thomson. Next week I’ll begin a four-week series on “Sabbath Keeping a decade later.” I’ll write about what I’ve learned about the Sabbath in the decade since I wrote my book on that topic. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

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