Thursday, January 24, 2013

Faith's Channel Markers for the Spiritual Journey

Sometimes, I fear we drift about the sea of faith, not knowing for certain where we are going or have gone. How do we measure loving God with "all of our heart, soul, mind and strength?"

There are many willing to set buoys, marking religious channels for us to follow. Some offer us checklists for the voyage. It is all so simple, definable and settled. "Pray (instruct God about what God needs to do and how to do it), journal (in this $14.95 blank book with a cross on the cover), read scripture (from a specialized bible for 'grandmothers who crochet,' for 'teenagers who are cool' or for 'fishermen who have a bass boat,' or from one of roughly seven-hundred and sixty-seven other bibles) and all should be well."

I'm looking for channel markers of a different sort. For now, I've decided to look for some "fruit" the first missionary said will show up in my life if I'm intimate with God. Love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Galatians 5:22 & 23a) Although I can think of plenty of that fruit born from my living along the way, the baskets aren't really overflowing in my life right now. I need help. I'm going to the Source.

Yes I'll pray. I'll even pray some of my own words. But I'll also pray the prayer Jesus taught us, and The Jesus Prayer and others from saints through the ages. And I'll certainly pray using scripture, pleading from my barren heart for vital Life-giving nutrients to siphon their way up from the soil of faith and into my living. And I'll seek God's presence in candlelight, Gregorian chant on Pandora, hikes, scents, art and in the presence of other seekers. (You'll need to find your places.)

I'm looking for the Holy One, and choosing to join my sojourners in faith on the road marked before us. And hopefully, the breadcrumbs we leave behind will look a great deal like the handholds and footholds of those throughout history who have been desperate for the fruit.

Lord have mercy, and grant us longing hearts.

Any markers of your own? Any places where you find the Holy about which you'd be willing to share? Please feel free to comment here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Abandonment of Mystery

Last week I stood in a holy place, a building where worship has happened for more than sixteen hundred years. I came face to face with mystery. And it was beautiful, though I cannot describe just how or why. And I don't want to try.
Candles flickered. Incense smoked from a censor. Ancient chants enfolded the space. But they were not in themselves the manifestation of "presence." No, that was invisible, yet very real.
From the perspective of my protestant background, these expressions are foreign at best--unnecessary at worst. Yet--as the years roll on, and I journey along the path of faith; I sometimes feel bored with the pathway. It is so well lit with bright incandescent bulbs, and swept clean of any ritual. It is safe and explainable. I can stand with a couple reciting wedding vows, or in the waters of baptism or at the table serving communion and tell you exactly what is happening, reciting which things are symbols of what realities. But in my heart I know that I am standing in the midst of the unexplainable, misrepresenting what I know...and don't know.
Is there no longer any patience or room for mystery in our Christian world? Must all be clearly explained, sung about and performed with precision? Three points to learn or eight reasons why or seven sins to avoid. All things so tidy, so complete, so concise...and so grossly inadequate.
I struggle with how we wrap up the almighty into such trite and mundane formulae. If God is anything, God is mystery. And our desertion of that mystery has made God seem inane and unnecessary to the souls around us.
We need mystery. We need the unexplainable. We need God, not a definable idol. Bishop Kallistos Ware speaks of this reality in The Orthodox Way, a book which has probably impacted me over the past ten years more than any other. He says something like this:
Moses first saw God in a burning bush. Bright and clear.
Then he saw him in both fire and cloud. Bright and dark.
Then he met him in thick cloud of unknowing. Dark and unclear.

Is it possible that spiritual maturity could be marked by decreasing spiritual clarity? Isn't it plausible that in our relationship with God, the closer we get, the more mysterious God is to us?
Loved and dear, but so very distant and longed for.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First Church of the Clueless

The wise men--kings or magi--whatever they were, they were curious about holy things.  They were curious enough to study stars and then travel across desert lands and borders and into a foreign territory.

Such spiritual curiosity, desire and hunger is all around us. And often, like in the story of the wise men, that seeking is done by those beyond the boundaries of where holy folks hang out.

Cluelessness, like that of King Herod, is fairly common amongst God's people. "WHAT? A king? Who? Where?" That was the best response the guy in charge of God's capitol could come up with when the "unholy" ones came seeking.

Do you see the irony? Outsiders "getting it." Insiders, "Meh, not so much." Outsiders longing for God and finding their way toward God, while insiders are singing holy songs and eating holy meals at First Church of the Clueless?

How long has it been, Christian, since you have followed an inkling that God was up to something? And acted on the belief that God wanted you to go out of your way to discover and honor the birth of Something New...and Vital...and Life Changing?

Often, for me, it is easier to sing God-songs and show up at God-events, than it is to tune my radar into the current broadcast. 

I pray for a hungry heart.