The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 4

I know.  I’m a big fat liar.

“Read about my top five books in the next five days,”  I bragged.  (As if it really is a habit of mine to post EVERY day.)

*sigh*

Well,  you can take the procrastination out of the girl, but you can’t take the girl out of the….

Eh. Never mind.  I’ll tell you another time.

For now– RIGHT now– I’d like to go ahead and reveal that book that’s been waiting at my #2 spot since last Thursday or so.  Because this one took the Word of God (a.k.a. Scripture, a.k.a the Bible) and just broke it WIDE OPEN for me.  And I do mean WIDE.  And OPEN.

Because after reading this book I FINALLY got what so many of you had long since understood:  that the words in the Bible are about God.  And me.  And God in me.  And you.  And God in you.  And God in you and me.  And you and me in God.

And not 2000+ years ago when he walked the earth as Jesus, but right now.  Here.  Today.  Everything still applies.  Especially when you do what the title of this book commands and enter the story

2.  Enter the Story: Biblical Metaphors for Our Lives by Fran Ferder

This book and what it holds within its pages is more difficult for me to write about than the rest.  Mostly, because it is the book that I feel is responsible for helping me to “see” Biblical moments when I live them.  Ferder brings so much of these stories to the here and now of our lives that all I feel I can do is encourage you to read it, too.

And let it change you.

Let your eyes open because of it.

For me, personally, what happened after reading this book is that I now have an awareness of these Biblical “moments of grace” as they are happening.  And it nearly takes my breath away.  And I’ll show why.

In this book I walked  each step with Mary as she traveled to Bethlehem for the birth of her child.  A child she had no part in creating (She was a virgin, after all).  A child she only felt the first flutterings of in her heart, opened herself to the possibility of giving birth to, and raising.  Simultaneously relishing and fearing the love, sweat and tears it would entail to raise it.  How daunting that God would ask her– HER– of all people, to do this.  Why her?  Why there?  Why then?  The answers to those questions were not hers to know.  It would require a great amount of trust on her part.  And a great amount of courage.  So much could go wrong.  But when “the angel of the Lord” appeared and made it undeniable that she was being asked to give birth to the child that would be the Word of God made flesh.  All she could do was say, “Yes.”

In my own life I walked these steps with Mary, but it looked like this:  I found myself near to bursting (you might even say “pregnant”) with a desire to write.  Write about God, about life, and about God in my life.  I was full of worry and doubt and fear, and I had no real hand in creating this desire or the ability to carry it out.  But I  knew what I had to do.  Or wanted to do.  Or both.  And then despite all my fears and doubts and worries, I was suddenly hit with a moment of peace.  A moment of calm.  Though I saw no angel, I was so calm that if one had appeared at that moment I swear it wouldn’t have unnerved me.  I would have just been like, “Hey, Gabriel, how’s it going?”  Because I knew.  I knew what Mary knew.  I knew that there was no room for fear because when it comes to matters of the heart like these,  you find that despite all “common sense,”  all “reason,” all the so-called facts, you still must say yes.   Even if the thing you love is certain to fall short of everyone’s expectations (including your own), or even die a slow, painful death, saying yes is still (and always) worth it.

So I looked to the heavens and I said YES right then and there.

It was the first day of Lent.

I put down Ferder’s book…and I gave birth to this blog.

Advertisements

The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 3

*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God.  I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1.   If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.

So here it is (a day late, with my apologies).  It’s a bit daunting finding the words to introduce the one book that more than any of the others on this list “washed the mud from my eyes.” (John 9:13-15)  So, for once in my life, I won’t even try.

Drumroll, please…

3.  The Naked Now:  Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr

To date, this book  is one of the most life-changing books I’ve read.

Did you hear me?  I said

THE.

MOST.

LIFE-CHANGING.

This book brought to light much of what I’d learned in the previously two mentioned books, but more importantly it finally gave me answers to the nagging thoughts and questions I still had after reading them.  In this book, once and for all, I became aware of the polarizing way in which our minds are shaped from a young age about right/wrong, left/right, either/or thinking.   And here, Fr. Rohr shared what he calls “nondualistic” or, more simply “both/and” thinking.  It is this type of mindset– this type of heartfelt contemplation– that is the mystical way of greeting the world.  It is also what I think Dr. Phil means when he asks his famous question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”

It truly was life-changing to suddenly realize how sticking to what we believe is “right” is a great way to stay sedentary in our thoughts and in life itself.   Happiness doesn’t come from being right all the time.   That kind of happiness– when we have to fight and grind and bully our way into changing someone else’s  thought processes so that we can celebrate our personal victories –is self-serving and short-lived.  Happiness comes from choosing happiness.  In everything.  Finding joy in pain.  Noticing our own shadows in the light.  Being present in each moment we are given.  Rohr states in his introduction to the book,

“The early, but learned pattern of dualistic thinking can only get us so far; so all religions at the more mature levels [my emphasis] have discovered another “software” for processing the really big questions, like death, love, infinity, suffering, and God.  Many of us call this access “contemplation.”  It is a nondualistic way of seeing the moment.  Originally, the word was simply “prayer.”

It is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment,” that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad or ugly, and how to let them transform us.  Words by themselves will invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.

When you can be present you will know The Real Presence.  I promise you this is true.

And it is almost that simple.”

And to think this is only the introduction!

What happened for me in this book, was that almost from the beginning  (but most definitely by the end), a peace came to my heart about so many things I’d struggled with (specifically in regards to religion, but it’s applicable to everything) over the years.  Suddenly, I didn’t have to change my religion to be “right.”  And I didn’t have to insist that someone else change theirs to be “right” either.  Because no single one of us (or group of us) is “right.”   ALL OF US are “right” when we allow ourselves to be lifted to those more mature levels of religion where we are (again and again) transformed by God.   That’s when we’re free to move about within–and paradoxically beyond–the boundaries and paramenters of our various religions into the realm of  simply knowing God.   “Without this balance, religion invariably becomes arrogant, exclusionary, and even violent,” says Rohr.

It’s no wonder we, in our various religious traditions for countless centuries now, insist on these so-called “holy” wars.  We are so busy insisting to “the others” that they need to know and love God the same way we do, we seldom stop to hear what it is they know and think and feel about God.

This thinking about religion and transformation and mysticism brought to my mind an image.  I pictured people we all know who are surely examples of people living (or who lived) at the “more mature levels” of their respective religious traditions sitting around the same table:  Mother Teresa.  Gandhi.  The Dalai Lama.  Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Hold that image for a moment.

What do you see?

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them getting into fights or stomping off mad and insistent that one of their experiences of God/Love/Truth/Divinity was better than the others.  And they certainly didn’t rally their followers into starting a war.

And suddenly with that image, I knew WHO I was meant to be in this world, and HOW I was meant to be in this world.

I realized that like them, we’re all meant to share the same space together in a peaceful, relaxed, respectful and truly loving way–and I don’t mean loving in the sentimental way that we say in cards and poems with little hearts and rainbows.  I mean loving in its truest sense.   That purest of loves that exists in the quiet energy of our being.   That place where we are so content and secure with God-in-us, that the only thing we could actively will on another is a desire to see God-in-them and to allow it to look differently than we may expect.

After that, it seems, the rest is just details.

The Five Books That Have Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 2

*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God.  I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1.   If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.

From time to time people who’ve read my blog have asked me for suggestions about what books I’d recommend they read.  (I’m speaking about popular culture here, not Sacred texts like the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, etc.  I think that goes without saying, doesn’t it?)  This is always a tricky question to answer because everyone has a different journey experience, a different past, and different wants/needs for where they are going.

That being said, I can tell you which books really launched my awareness and shaped my thinking along the spiritual journey that is my life, as well as why and how they’ve shaped me:

4.  The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew — Three Women Search for Understanding  by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

If you’ve not heard about how this book came to be, that story is pretty interesting in and of itself.   The idea for it began with the intention of being a children’s book to help kids better understand the similarities between religions (the Abrahamic traditions, specifically) after the events of September 11, 2001.  But, when the woman who had the idea, Ranya Idliby, a Muslim, got together with the other two authors, a Christian and a Jew (hence the title), they quickly realized they had many of their own personal issues to face and overcome before they could write something to bring children together.   To my knowledge their children’s book never did get written.  They wrote this book instead.

This book had in it the beginnings of an answer for me to  a life-long troubling question.   I was born into what the Catholic Church of the 1960’s and 70’s (and still today, I believe) called  a “mixed marriage.”    This meant I was the product of a Catholic and a Protestant  (Catholic mother, Protestant father in my case).   Now, this certainly had some advantages, and my parents focused more on the beliefs they held in common rather than their differences, but still for much of my life I struggled with how to come to terms with the sometimes clashing differences in their two “religions.”

Having no real answers by the time I went off to college (still in Midwest Iowa), my world got a little bigger and I began to meet people from other cultures and truly from other religions– not just Christianity in its various denominations– and I began to really wonder, how do we all fit together?

Wanting to carry on the family tradition, I suppose, (well and also because he’s pretty great and I happened to fall in love with him), I entered into a “mixed marriage” of my own.  Though, by this time we both had seen a larger world and, like my parents, chose to focus on the beliefs we held in common rather than those that may divide us.   And that is a great recipe for success that still works for us today, by the way.  But I still wondered how do we all fit?  How can God be in “my” church and in “yours”…and also in the mosques and synagogues? 

I’m reluctant to admit that even after reading about Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) taking her trip to Italy, India and Indonesia, I still was troubled with thoughts of her having a Guru after being raised Christian.   Did you have to leave Christianity to find God? Would I have to leave the Church? Was God Christian? Was He/She NOT Christian? The thoughts were stifling. This book was the first time the door opened enough for me to get to see beyond the differences within our Christian denominations  into the meat of the differences between these three Abrahamic religions–Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

But more importantly, it showed me what these three religions had in common.

And suddenly, the “mixed” marriage I’d been born into, and the increasingly “mixed” world I’d continued to explore, suddenly seemed less “mixed” and more “blended.”

I’ll admit that it was surprising and a bit troubling to me initially that it was the Christian woman who found herself struggling the most with her faith as their “Faith Club” continued to meet and question each other.  It was the Muslim woman and the Jewish woman who grew deeper in their faiths from the beginning.  Eventually this became more understandable for me as I realized that growing up in a predominantly Christian culture, it is difficult to really face challenges of our faith– especially when we spend so much time arguing with our own Christian brethren.  In reality, I’ve come to understand that the greatest challenge is never to point out what is true in my faith and untrue in yours, but rather to ask, how does the Truth that I know reveal itself in the Truth that you know?

But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

Yes, it was these three courageous women –a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew–and their willingness to share their story and their struggles, that began to help me see this.

But it really wasn’t until I read the book I share tomorrow that I was able to see how holding opposites together is a sure way to reveal the Absolute Truth of God.

Stay tuned!

The Five Books that Have Most Shaped My Mystic Mind…

*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God.  I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1.   If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.

From time to time people who’ve read my blog have asked me for suggestions about what books I’d recommend they read.  (I’m speaking about popular culture here, not Sacred texts like the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, etc.  I think that goes without saying, doesn’t it?)  This is always a tricky question to answer because everyone has a different journey experience, a different past, and different wants/needs for where they are going.

That being said, I can tell you which books really launched my awareness and shaped my thinking along the spiritual journey that is my life, as well as why and how they’ve shaped me:

5.  Eat, Pray, Love:  One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

Admittedly, this may seem like kind of an “amateur” pick since it became SO popular and was turned into a movie.   (I generally try to stay away from such popular culture when I can), but the idea of it intrigued me:  a woman goes on a geographical journey around the world that coordinated with her spiritual journey within.  This coincidently was published in 2006 which happens to be, for me, the year my own personal geographical journey began (we moved from Wisconsin to Utah, which, though understandably not as challenging as some people’s adventures, was certainly geographically different enough for me).

This book is a true story.  A memoir of Gilbert’s own experiences as she discovers much about her passions, her relationship with God, her relationship with herself and so much more.  It was an easy read and at times laugh out loud funny, which is always a big plus for me.  What I learned most here, though–and it seems so ridiculous to say it now because it’s become so ingrained in me–was that most likely God is not going to communicate with us through a booming voice from the heavens as is described in the Old Testament.  Instead, Gilbert made me realize in her telling of her experience that God comes to us in our minds through our own thoughts, or (though I don’t remember her saying this specifically, it’s been my personal experience since then) by pressing words or ideas into our hearts.   (Or, as I’d later hear Paula D’arcy say, “God comes to us described as our own lives.”)  Still, as ridiculous as it may sound now,  at the time in my life that I read this I was still waiting, I guess, to hear God in a booming voice from the heavens.  But she spelled it out for me so clearly saying,

“It was merely my own voice, speaking from within my own self.  But this was my voice as I’d never heard it before.  This was my voice, but perfectly wise, calm and compassionate.  This was what my voice would sound like if I’d only ever experienced love and certainty in my life.  How can I describe the warmth of affection in that voice, as it gave me the answer that would forever seal my faith in the divine? “  (pg. 16)

It was Gilbert’s acknowledgment of this, that prompted me to pay more attention to the thoughts I was having.  You know those great thoughts you have and you start to think you’re a total genius for having come up with them?  I hate to break it to you, but there’s a good chance God put it there for you to take hold.

But, since making this realization, I’m happy to report that it’s changed nearly everything about how I think and act.  It didn’t change it overnight, mind you, but I can remember the time in my life before I read this book.  I was a young mom, with young kids, transported to a “foreign land” (a.k.a. NOT “HOME”), and any time I spent thinking was pretty much synonymous with worrying.  Worrying about the future, about my kids, about my husband, his job, our house, our money, our time, etc. etc.  And then trying to control whatever of it I could.  Newsflash here:  this was largely unproductive, and a waste of time.  I know, like I said…newsflash.

But once I made this discovery–that God was in my thoughts–I was able to pick out a thought here or a thought there that brought me some peace, some solace, some calm in the middle of a storm, and it slowed me down enough to be able to do whatever real cognitive thinking I needed to.

Though to be honest I’m not sure I put all this together until several years later.  But I do remember some of my earliest discoveries with this.  For instance, I was worried about something and I’d find myself humming a song.  I’d suddenly think to myself, What am I humming?  Most of our worrying is about things we can’t control, so let’s say I was worrying about whether or not my kids were going to miss me at school that day, and I’d realize that  I was humming my answer to those worries in song.  And what I was humming was The Beatles’ “Let it Be.”   (It turns out God is prevalent in the secular world, too. He doesn’t just linger in the churches. Who knew? wink. wink.)  That’s just one example in a bazillion, but I think you get the idea.

Or maybe not.

I’m still not sure if the way I’ve described it here makes any sense, but I can promise you this:  if you become more aware of your thoughts, you’ll likely become more aware of how God works in your everyday life.  Sifting through our thoughts is no easy task, because many of them (not surprisingly) are not put there by God.  They are put there by our own ego, or as distractions to keep us from making progress in our own lives.  So, though it may be a bit off the topic, one way to think of free will  (which is almost always a stumbling block in our faith) is to understand the “power” God has given us to freely choose which thoughts we hang on to and which ones we let go.

It’s like He’s saying, “It’s your choice.  You can spend all day worrying, or you can listen to Me (via The Beatles, via your own humming) and just Let It Be.”

And once you realize that is how a relationship with God really works, you’ll begin to see it’s no wonder we first read about Moses speaking to God in the clouds.

It just sounds so much less crazy when you say it that way.

What Dr. Hfuhruhurr and His Two Brains Taught Me

 

Years ago when I was a tween, my brother and I rented a video (yes, no DVD’s or Blu-ray back then) of a Steve Martin movie called The Man with Two Brains.  I don’t remember a whole lot of that movie except for one scene:  Steve Martin’s character, the laughably named Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, is wanting to marry a woman who is clearly (in everyone’s eyes, but his own) all wrong for him.  Not wanting to do something that he’ll later regret, he walks to the foyer in his mansion and looking to the sky he tosses the question up to God saying, “If I’m not meant to marry her, give me a sign, God!”   At that moment the ground begins to shake, the pictures on the wall begin to spin, Dr. Hfuhruhurr losses his balance and begins teetering around the room, the lights flicker off and on, and finally a booming voice from the heavens shouts, “NOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOO!”    All of this is as clear a sign as one could imagine from the viewer’s perspective.  But when the shaking stops, the lights stop flickering and the thunderous “NOOOOOO!” is quiet, Dr. Hfuhruhurr, now disheveled and sweating from the whole experience says this, “Just give me any sign, God.  ANY SIGN, and I’ll not marry her.”

It is laugh out loud funny to see someone miss such obvious “signs.”  What is also clear to the viewer is this:  we see what we want to see.  We spend a great deal of time and energy trying to get God to see our side of things.  To convince, persuade, entice, beg, even bribe Him to give us what we so desperately want at any given moment.  It’s so much harder to put aside what we want and in those moments try to see what God might see.  And because of our limited human nature, it can sometimes seem impossible.

But I think, like so many things in life, the prayers we say reveal more about who we are, than we realize.  Have you ever examined what it is you’re asking?  Just the other day I found myself saying, “But, God, you have NO IDEA how badly I want this…” and as if for the first time, I really heard what I was saying.    If I believed that, then why was I praying?  Did I really believe that?  That GOD –the God who I claim knows everything –has NO IDEA what I want?

Uhn uh.  Not the God I believe in.

So how is it that I could think otherwise?

I needed to find the Truth.  And the Truth (as He laid it on my heart) was this:  I was trying to get God to do what I wanted.  To be my winning lotto ticket in life.  To hand me the jackpot of whatever my heart/mind was desiring in that moment.  To show me the sign I wanted to see.

It was a humbling thought.

And like Dr. Hfuhruhurr, I now had a choice.  I could continue to ignore the signs, or…I could change my prayer.

It’s been nearly two decades since I saw that movie, but I’m finally learning something from that scene.   And so from this moment forward (or at least until I forget–because isn’t that a big part of the struggle, to remember forever what it is we’ve learned?) I have changed my prayer from, “Please show me/tell me, God,”  to one that seems more consistent with the God I claim to know and believe in, the God who already knows what is best for me, the One who very likely wants more for me than I can ever dream or imagine for myself.

I pray the only words I can think of that the faithful, trusting servant I claim I’m trying to be would say…

“Open my eyes, Lord.  Help me to see.”

Traffic Lights

As I was reading my devotional yesterday over some verses in the Book of Ruth, it brought up a point about the difficulty we often have trusting in God.  It went on to say that we have almost no difficulty hitting the gas when we see a tiny green lens light up on a busy traffic corner, fully trusting that all other drivers will stop for us because a simple red light tells them to.  We just fly on through.

And it asked, “Why do we not do the same thing for God?”

It was an interesting thought.

And so I vowed to spend today in a spiritual “driver’s ed.”  Trying to “see” the green lights as they stretch out before me, and trying to  “go” without hesitation.

So, I started with big plans of cleaning the house.  (Always a thrill a minute around here.  What can I say?  Still, I couldn’t argue with the dog hair and dust bunnies that  housecleaning was overdue).   I grabbed the vacuum and a dust rag and got busy.

Five minutes later the phone rang.  Caller ID informed me it was a friend.  Probably wanting to chat.  Normally I would let it go to voicemail because  I HAVE A PLAN FOR TODAY.  But I felt the urge to pick up.  The friend did most of the talking.  I listened.  (Oh, stop it!  I know that’s not normal for me OK?  But from time to time I do let others talk.  Really.)  I then shared my opinion some wise insight where I saw fit.

Then, while still on the phone, a knock at the door.  Another friend.  Bringing me some goodies!  Hmmm….a choice to make here.  The house is a mess.  I need to clean.  I could stand at the door and talk.  (They usually get the idea then).  But my motto has become, “You know you’ve become my friend when I let you see my dirt.”  So I let her in.  I even pointed out the dog hair.  (As if it needed to be pointed out).

She stayed a while.  Turned out she’d gotten some bad news and was trying to come to grips with the near imminent loss of a family member.  There is little to do then, but listen.  (Not much talking on my part again.  Shocker number two for the day, I know).  Still, I was in no hurry.  And since I rarely listen without throwing in my two cents and then meandering onto different topics of interest plus throwing in a smart remark or two, the friend and I parted ways laughing and smiling at each other’s good humor and fun.

I shut the door and then I did a little vacuuming.

I remembered the interrupted call with the first friend and called her back.  No answer.

I went about the rest of my chores, and got done with many of them in record time.  After all, what’s more revitalizing than having just spent time with friends?

Then I sat down here ready to think of a brilliant post for today.  Wondering when my green light would come (hoping it would light up an idea or two).

And so I asked God…Why aren’t You giving me a green light here?  Should I not write today?

And the God of Wisdom Who Can Never be Outdone asked me to review how my day had gone so far.

Ok. Easy enough.  *I* wanted to clean house today.  *I* wanted to come up with something to write about while I was cleaning.  *I* cleaned the house, PLUS visited with some friends.  *I’ve* been doing quite a bit of work around here.  Seriously, You are GOD, is testing my abilities to answer your “green light” with my “go” so much to ask?  Especially when it would give me something to write about??!?!

Then a flutter in my heart … I did. (FYI, God speaks very softly to my heart, but it’s rarely faint or fuzzy.  It’s almost always crystal clear.  Even if I don’t understand it oreven agree with it.  So I print it in bold.)

So I looked back at my day and wondered when God had snuck into it.  What threads had He woven together in the fabric of my life, that I may have missed?

And suddenly.

Suddenly I saw my day as He may have seen it:   friends crossing paths and phone lines, bringing gifts and sharing laughter and seeking comfort in one another.  With plenty of time left to do what was on *my* list, too.

And I smiled.

Cheater, I teased.  It’s not much of a challenge when the green lights comes disguised as friends. 

But I was grateful and humbled nonetheless.

Because what He’d shown me here (and you, too) is what He’s continued to show me all year.  Or at least since I made that Lenten promise last Spring.  Remember that promise–embarrassing as it was– to love myself a little more?

What I’ve learned REPEATEDLY since then is that the old adages are trite, but so true:  GOD IS LOVE.  Always.

If He wasn’t, how else could I explain this?  That at every opportunity I take to think and learn and TRY REAL HARD to get things “right,”  He comes along and  “tests”  me with “green lights” disguised as my own friends.   Then He holds and soothes me by pressing into my heart these words:   Relax, Kid, you’re doing just fine.

Room for More…: My List

Introductory comment:  Last week I told you a bit about my friend Anne and her new book, and the question it got me thinking about which was “How do I make room for God?”   And I promised to share with you a list of ways I’ve learned to do just that.  So, as promised (except later than I promised) today’s post is in response to that question.  I hope and pray this helps you realize ways that you already make room for God, and gives you ideas for more.  Feel free to leave a comment about your own ways of “making room for God,”  because the possibilities are truly endless here.  I’d love to hear from you!

Before I begin sharing my list, I think it’s important that I tell you how life was for me before I “discovered” the mystic way of viewing the world. I’m not sure I can properly express to you just how narrow and shallow my understanding of  “having a relationship with God” was back then.   You see, I thought I was supposed to pray (ask God for stuff and thank Him for stuff)  and He was supposed to answer (if He wanted to), but most of the time He was going to just exist (in silence).  And every earthly thing that I did “wrong” would count against my “being saved” (whatever that meant…a life in Heaven?…wherever that was).   And every earthly and prayerful thing I did “right” would be a little check mark in my favor on God’s Giant Scorecard .   And that was pretty much how I thought it was supposed to go with me kind of patting myself on the back when I’d done “good” and berating myself for the times (that were plentiful) that I’d done “bad”  But it wasn’t very inspiring or motivating– spending all that time talking to God and asking for things that I wanted RIGHT NOW, and seemingly getting nothing in reply.   So, those experiences turned what was supposed to be a relationship with God into words-I’d-say-to-a-Silent-Existence-in-moments-of-extreme-desperation-or-panic.

Which really isn’t much of a relationship,  you see.

But like I said, that was before.

Now?

Now, my understanding is much different.  And I hope that if you are struggling with any of the experiences I mentioned above,  you will be able to find something in this list that opens new possibilities for your relationship with God, too, and all the ways I’ve learned to make room.

  • Devotion –  When we hear this word in terms of spirituality we often think of it as worship.  I’m asking you to think of it another way.  Think of devotion as dedication.  Any relationship, in order to be successful, takes dedication on the parts of both parties.  Since we *know* that God is already devoted to us, we need to think about making room  to make some commitments ourselves.  One of those commitments should be in the form of community prayer.  To Christians,  that may sound a lot like going to church.  Good.  That’s a great idea!  Take the time to go.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t been to church for years.  Mark it on the calendar and commit to going.  If you want a relationship, you’ve got to spend some time at it.   In addition, I’d heard for years that the only way to know what God is saying to me as a Christian, was to read the Bible.  And since I was an English major that pretty much survived on making up a lot of b.s. about the things I’d read (or I’d read parts of) in college to get me by, I was pretty sure I could work with God the same way.  Read a giant, seemingly boring book?  No thanks.  I’m sure there must be a shortcut here somewhere….  But if there is, I still haven’t found it.  Instead what I’ve found is that more than anything else what I was lacking was a clear understanding of how to read the Bible in a way so I could understand God’s Word for myself.  (And I still haven’t read it all).  But I have read a lot of it, and I pick my way through it bit by bit.  If you’ve still never really cracked the spine of a Bible (or downloaded one), I suggest you start by finding a version that you like.  (FYI, there are lots of different versions of the Bible available, and in general there are more books in the “Catholic” versions than in some “Protestant” versions.  Don’t let this stop you.   If you’re worried about this, find a book that explains the differences in the versions of the Bible at your local library.  Do that research first to make you more comfortable, and then pick a version and read it!)  Contrary to what someone else may tell you, I don’t believe that one version of the Bible is better than another.   How can God’s Word be better than God’s Word?  As the deacon at my last parish liked to say, “The best version of the Bible…is whatever one you’ll read.”
  • Discipline – If you’re anything like me, you can get real excited about starting something new.  I can devote myself to eating healthy right up until I see the cookie jar.  Then I forget all about eating healthy and I think about how good sugar sounds right about now.  And usually sugar wins.  So I know that making room for discipline doesn’t exactly sound like a fun start to a loving relationship, either, but hear me out.  There is a reason the followers of Jesus were called “disciples”.  They made a commitment.  They disciplined themselves to following Jesus even though most of the time life was probably pretty mundane.  From what I can tell they spent a lot of time on the road walking from town to town with  no money or food for the journey, and no loyalty card at the Hampton Inn.   That takes a tremendous amount of discipline that I’m fairly certain I don’t have.  And thankfully God isn’t asking me (or probably you either) to make that kind of sacrifice.   Instead, we simply need to make a committment to form good habits about church going and Bible reading and then do our best to stick to them.  Once you begin to go to church more regularly, you’ll usually begin to see that it really doesn’t take as much from the rest of your week(end) as you thought it would.  And as for Bible reading, I personally have found that a Bible that contains a daily devotional or meditation of some kind really helps to keep me going, because after struggling with God’s Word, I can relax a little and let someone else share their thoughts on it from a 21st Century perspective.  This has helped me tremendously, as have Bible study classes.  Feel free to experiment with what feels most natural to you, but try it for a while and if you don’t like the devotionals or reflections that accompany your Bible readings, by all means don’t quit!  Try, try again.  There are plenty more writers out there willing to share their thoughts on this…just discipline yourself to keep looking until you’ve found one you like.
  • Contemplation (or Mindfulness) –  I will confess that this and all remaining points on this list are my favorite ways of making room for God in my life.  I hope you’ll see why, because these practices are what took my relationship with God from sporadic dating to a full-blown love affair.  Contemplation is one of those things (like meditation) that sounds so big and intimidating that we’re often afraid to try it, but once we get the hang of it we wonder how we ever lived without it.  Or we realize that we’d been doing it all along.  I explain contemplation with God like this:  it’s looking for him in the simplest of things.  For instance, you may remember from my post a week or so ago how I pondered the depths of my “dishwater soul”.  That was contemplation (also called mindfulness).  This is what I usually try to practice throughout the day after I’ve opened myself to a little  dip in God’s Word.   It’s as simple as folding laundry and thinking about how God has “ironed out” many a wrinkle in my life, or as easy as going to the mailbox and thinking about how waiting for God to answer my prayers can sometimes feel like I’ve spent weeks on end opening empty mailboxes… only to turn around one day and discover that the package I’d been looking for had been waiting on the front porch the whole time!    And sometimes the words and verses I read in the Bible that morning  will come back to me during the day, especially if I loved the words…like the time I read how David “danced with abandon” (2 Sam 6:14) before the Lord.  I swear my heart pounded to the rhythm of those words all day long and even though I never “busted a move” I know my heart was dancing for God.   And I’m certain He knew it, too.  But most of the time my Bible reading is unrelated to whatever I contemplate that day.  Maybe someday it won’t be.  But I know that making a commitment to both reading the Bible and spending time in contemplation helps me to feel balanced.
  • Observing nature – I really can’t get over how long I’ve just ignored nature.  But ever since I moved to Pennsylvania and got a dog, I’ve made sure I’m outside EVERY day and then I observe my surroundings.  And it’s amazing how many rules for life we can learn from nature!  The changing of the seasons used to mean nothing more to me than shoveling, umbrellas, mowing and raking.  I was missing so much that to think about it now nearly breaks my heart.  Just this morning I went walking with my dog down a long road that goes between two corn fields across from my neighborhood.  And now all the corn’s been chopped and combined and the alfalfa (at least I think it was alfalfa) has been mowed (or baled or whatever) and I thought of how it’s good every once in a while to just strip away all the “stuff” that we think is “us” and look into our hearts with a fresh set of eyes, because maybe some of what I insisted is “just the way I am” wasn’t really who God wants me to be.  And then, as if God himself were nodding along with me,  I saw in the distance a manure spreader fertilizing the stripped and barren soil, and I thought again,  Yes, it’s not only good, it’s necessary to strip ourselves of “us” every once in a while and start anew if we want to continue to grow.
  • Celebrating sacred spaces –  When I say “sacred space” what do you think of?  Is it your church?  Your prayer chapel?  Your bedroom?  Your kitchen?  Your family room?    Now let me ask you this,  what is it about that space that is so sacred to you?  Is it the silence and stillness you find there?  The laughter of your children?  The warmth of the fireplace?  The peacefulness of solitude?  Whatever your answer, I’d venture to guess that how that space makes you feel is as much a sacred space to you as the place itself.  Have you ever considered that?  Consider it now:  Laughter as a sacred space.  Silence as a sacred space.  Warmth as a sacred space.  Peacefulness as a sacred space.  Stillness as a sacred space. etc.  This may sound a bit far-fetched at first, but sit with it awhile, and see if it begins to make sense to you.  And if it does, then you’ll soon see that if that “space” can be sacred  you’ll be able to “go to” those sacred spaces at times and places you’d never imagined.   Finding peacefulness in a long grocery line?  Warmth in the middle of a blizzard?  Stillness in the midst of your screaming toddlers?  It’s not out of the realm of possibility.  And if you can center yourself enough to go within and find that sacred space, then God is sure to be there with you, too.
  • Embracing paradox & mystery – These are two areas that most likely, in my mind, would completely deadend without a mystic understanding of them.   Jesus’ life and teachings are all about paradox and mystery:  the last will be first (Mt 20:16)…whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Mt 23:12)…death leads to new life (John 12:24-26).  And on and on.  Trying to understand these from any type of reasoning or logic has never worked for me.  But when I opened up myself to the way, as an English major,  I would look at poetry or literature for another meaning… a deeper meaning… a hidden meaning, that was when I felt my relationship with God really change.  And  then I began to “understand” how He “talks” to me.  And now I see that He talks to me all the time.   The sun that disappears behind a cloud and leaves rays of light shooting out from behind it?  That says, “Even in darkness my Light will prevail.”  And that tree that’s dropping its leaves out my window?  It’s saying, “Trust that even though now you feel like you are losing everything, soon you will be in abundance again.”  And that giant rip down the side of my son’s gym bag?  Well, as far as I can tell that’s just saying, “Wait for your mom to come fix it.  She can sew better than you.”  My interpretation’s not 100%, you see.  But I’m getting better.

So that’s my list.  I’m sure it’s not complete at all.  But I hope it helps you see that the God we Christians (and others) proclaim to be “everywhere” really IS EVERYWHERE.  And I can’t help but wonder… even though I continue to “see” God in more and more places…how many places am I still missing?

But then I remember.

My understanding of God does not come from me.  It comes from Him.  And so I only need to continue wondering and marveling and thinking these things, and trusting that He will shine His brightness on what it is I need to see.

Because that’s what happens when you learn to “dance” with the Light.

It moves with you, continually opening the darkness.