Identifying with Christ

Will someone please take my place? I’d like to not have to worry about where our next paycheck is coming from, or make difficult decisions, or deal with house maintenance issues. I’d like life to be easier than it is and to let someone else face the challenges. I don’t feel equipped to tackle them on my own.

Fortunately, I am not alone. There is One who lives in me who is unfazed by the perception of limitation. I proceed from God, the infinite source of all power, love, and wisdom. I can take all my cares and worries and lay them at His feet. In the instant I do this, I know I am not alone. I am completely safe, and I am completely loved. I experience an overriding peace that transcends my limited understanding. (Philippians 4:6-7) My vision opens up to who I am and I understand that I am not my worldly troubles. I am not my limited perceptions and false notions of lack and limitation.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1) The image of God in us is calling us forth to enter into that larger life befitting who we are as sons and daughters of God, as sisters and brothers of Christ. Anything less is an affront to the artistry of our Creator. As humans, we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” (1 Peter 2:9) If we try to exclude ourselves—or anyone else—from this honor, then all at once we dishonor God, ourselves, and each other. For “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

We hold ourselves back by refusing to acknowledge and take responsibility for our own divinity. Jesus did not have this problem. He is our leader, our example, our template, our Savior, our “oldest brother”; yet we have kept him at arms’ length, turning him into an idol. “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.'” (Luke 18:19) To destroy this idol, we must not only worship him; we must worship him and identify with him. We must serve him and serve as him. We must see the light and be the light. We must own the responsibility and identity we share with Jesus, saying with him: “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) Lest we doubt, he affirms this for us: “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (John 14:10) When we attribute our own power to any source other than God, we distort the truth. To set ourselves apart from Jesus is to make ourselves independent from God, which is nothing but a lie and an illusion. “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) Jesus was the most dependent man who ever lived. We would do well to follow his example.

“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) When we say that Jesus is that and we are not, we become simple idolaters. We imagine that our life stems forth from another power and another source than the Father. The truth is that God is the only source, and thus we deceive ourselves. We are taught to imitate Jesus, but only in behavior and not in thought. We are taught that to think the thoughts of Jesus would be blasphemy. And yet the truth is exactly the opposite. Jesus showed us the way, and it is this: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) When we see ourselves as some other way, some other truth, and some other life, we cut ourselves off from our Father, the one and only source of all that is. And thus we read, “no one comes to the Father except through me”—except through this identification. We speak of our “identity in Christ,” yet we dare not actually identify with him. To the degree we resist identifying with Christ, we remain lost. Our failure to be like Jesus stems from our failure to identify with him. The good news is that as we succeed in identifying with him, we will succeed in being like him. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

To connect with God and be led to the “rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2) is to connect with that highest part of ourselves where God already dwells. Our prayers have power because they change us from within, opening our field of vision to the bigger Reality of which we’re a part. They help to heal the split between our lonely, weak individual selves and the Spirit of Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) who lives within us and among us and around us and through us—the source of our life, the wisdom by which we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and the One who sustains the very beating of our hearts. At this deepest level, our identify is found in God. At this deepest level, we are God at work in the world—the body of Christ, the eyes and hands and feet of Jesus. If not us, then who?

The absolute necessity of loving yourself

The more you love yourself, the more that Love flows through you. When you do not love yourself, you spurn the Love that is your Source. You get in your own way, and this begins to show in your interactions with others. However, when you rest in the Love that is your birthright and your true nature, you effortlessly overflow with love for others. Your simple existence becomes a blessing to everyone around you.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:19) The degree to which we love ourselves is the degree to which we’ll be able to love our neighbors. The Spirit that God has given us is a Spirit of love. (2 Timothy 1:7) If we do not first inhale, then we will not be able to exhale. In the same way, if we do not first receive God’s love for ourselves, we will not be able to share it with others. If you are suspicious that self-love is contrary to loving others, then you will limit your ability to love not only yourself, but others too. The two go hand in hand. Deeper in-breaths enable deeper out-breaths. You do not increase one by diminishing the other. Similarly, the degree to which you fail to love others is the degree to which you are failing to love yourself—no matter how much you say, “I love myself.” True love is abundant and indiscriminate and waters every plant in the garden.

“Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) When we try to love others without loving ourselves, we are attempting to manufacture love. We are attempting to give what we have not received. And when we focus on loving others without actually loving ourselves, we make an idol out of loving. Our egos are very sneaky. Despite our best intentions, we see that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) We snap at our kids and resist helping around the house (this is all hypothetical, of course). What we need is to be filled with the Spirit. “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6) We need to open ourselves up to the flow of the Spirit of God, which is Love. Loving ourselves—agreeing with and basking in God’s love for us—is essential to keeping that channel open. When we experience this, we naturally want it for everyone. When we love someone, our desire is that they too would love themselves, wholly and completely and unconditionally.

How do we love ourselves? Perhaps it’s easier to answer this question: how do we fail to love ourselves? What kinds of things do we say to ourselves? My self-talk can get pretty mean and brutal. “Who do you think you are? You’re not so special.” Or I start to believe the lie that my love for myself has to be somehow balanced out with my love for others. That’s like saying, “I’ll take half of infinity and you take the other half.” It’s not love if it’s limited and has to be divvied out. It is impossible to love too much, and it is impossible to love yourself too much. Unless I’m vigilant about my thoughts, showering myself with reminders of God’s unconditional, infinite love for me, old cultural conditioning starts to reassert itself. I start to think self-diminishing, self-belittling thoughts, which makes me feel the need to assert myself and defend myself, and which lately has led to a desperate sort of greediness.

With help from a wonderful NLP practice session last night, I reminded myself of how important it is to guard my heart, taking captive every thought, continually renewing my mind with new affirmations of unconditional self-love and new songs to play in the background of my mind. (Proverbs 4:23; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:19) I had been lacking vigilance in this area, which led to confusion and turmoil. Now I am learning again that the best policy is to take the bull by the horns when it comes to my thoughts, consciously yielding to love and trusting that love is the life force that will keep me safe and functional and at peace. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

A pregnant creation

I’m in the middle of watching a movie called The Music Never Stopped. It’s based on a true story about a man who suffered brain damage and is unable to form new memories. Most of the time he is apparently absent, talking very little and unable to carry on a normal conversation. However, when his favorite music is playing, he comes alive. For a time, he becomes himself again, expressive, thoughtful, and articulate, revealing the hidden reservoir of his delightful personality. The movie reminds us how little we understand about the workings of our own minds. In contrast, when our conscious minds sustain a never-ending, unbroken stream of thoughts all day (as they normally do), we find it easy to assume that they are running the show. We even tend to identify with our thoughts. “I think, therefore I am.” Our simple, noisy thoughts belie the profound complexity of who we actually are.

Don’t get me wrong. Our thoughts are important, even transformational. We are taught in the New Testament to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) and to “take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to “repent,” or change our minds. But sometimes, no matter how diligently we choose our thoughts and how steadfastly we affirm them, inexplicable things happen. We wake up with a deep sadness. Or we become unaccountably angry. Or our love seems to drain out despite the ongoing, sincere, devout opening of ourselves to God. Something deeper within us overrides our thoughts, making a mockery of them. We learn that the depths of our own being are far beyond our understanding. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:6)

I am experiencing an inexplicable dry spell myself. Although I continue to write and teach and coach people in reportedly effective ways, I am not really feeling it. Here’s the song that’s been running through my head:

Don’t let my love grow cold
I’m calling out
Light the fire again
Don’t let my vision die
I’m calling out
Light the fire again

Despite my pervasive optimism (hallelujah!), there’s a certain numbness and a desire to feel more passion. I’ve been through this before, at much more extreme levels. Though I’m far from being depressed right now, I’m also no longer afraid of it. I’ve learned that depression has its uses. I’ve learned that those unaccountable inner rumblings are purposeful and I can trust that something new is afoot, that something inside is trying to make its way out even though I don’t yet know what it is.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
(Romans 8:26)

This was never more true for me than on April 16th, 2012. I sat at the top of the stairs to my office waiting to begin the day’s work. Will this cycle never end? I see no way out. Each week, each day has less meaning than the last. I’m so tired. That’s when my mind checked out and I gave in to moaning, then groaning. It seemed to open the door to the full darkness of my depression. No longer mediated by my mind, no longer put into words, it descended upon me in full. Had I been thinking thoughts, prayer would have been the furthest one from my mind. Not only did I not know what to pray for, in that moment I had given up on prayer altogether. Even so “the Spirit helped me in my weakness.” I now see God’s presence in those wordless groans of mine. It wasn’t predicated on my attention or even my belief. God knew exactly what I needed. My estrangement needed to become complete. And from that place of darkness, death, and despair, I began to find my life.

And so for today too, on a much less extreme scale, I trust in the wisdom of the Spirit that lives within my body. Seen from this perspective, it’s actually exciting. It takes the pressure off my having to “figure it out.” Yes, I’ll continue to attend to my thoughts, focusing on what I know is true. But among those thoughts is a reminder to set my thoughts aside and make room for the Spirit to intercede on my behalf. Meanwhile, “I” will be waiting over in the corner, watching with curiosity and anticipation.

What “inner rumblings” are you experiencing? Are you working with all your might to keep them at bay? Staying as positive as you can in hopes that they’ll go away? Try something counter-intuitive. Welcome the feelings and trust that they are working for your own good. Set some time aside to empty your head and be in your body, allowing the wordless groans to express themselves. Something new is being birthed in you. You do not yet know what will unlock your healing, but the Spirit within you does. As you let it bubble up, it will first sound wild and cacophonous, but let it flow and it will transform into the most beautiful music you have ever heard, bringing you “into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)

I leave you with an image of the bigger birthing process of which you are an integral part. This is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 8:22-25:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
(Romans 8:22-25, The Message)

Being born again

I was 16 years old, almost 17. My airplane had just taken off and that’s when it hit me. I had no return flight planned. This was it, the moment I had been looking forward to for years. It was actually here. I was flying off to college.

From the time I first heard about college, there was never a moment when I didn’t know this was what I wanted to do. My bedroom closet was filled with boxes of college catalogs and viewbooks. (I can’t remember if I sorted them alphabetically.) This was (just) before the dawn of the World Wide Web, which meant I had to call up each admissions office to request information, something I had been doing regularly since I was 12.

Now, at 10,000 feet and rising, the realization kept hitting me, over and over again. I had no frame of reference for such a trip. I kept looking for it, but, nope: it wasn’t there. I was not coming back any time soon, and neither my mom nor my dad were coming with me. It would take my breath away each time. “You mean I’m not dreaming? I won’t be waking up from this?” The feeling was of being uncontained and unbounded. A dream has bookends: bedtime and morning. But this had no boundaries. It was just real. My world had changed.

Our world changes when our old frames of reference no longer work. Imagine what your birth must have been like. You are safely contained in a warm, loving, nurturing environment. You are intimately connected to your mother and every one of your needs is constantly met. Then, one day, the walls of your increasingly cramped home start caving in. Your world is falling apart, and your safe container—the only frame of reference you have had for all of life—is being destroyed. This must be it. This is the end. But then you find that you are not dead. You have awakened in a new world. And there’s no going back, no matter how much you’d like to.

We all have had this experience, and we all will experience a final transition too, a final loss of the world as we know it. I’d like you to pause here and reflect on this fact: regardless of what separates you—culture, nationality, religion, space, or time—you share this heritage and this destiny with all of humanity, and all of humanity shares it with you. You have been thrust into a new world, and you will be thrust yet again. During the in-between time, we are all in the same boat, doing our best to live and make sense of our lives. Understanding this, allow yourself to be filled with compassion for yourself and your fellow humans on the other side of the world. This trip ain’t easy!

——

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
(John 3:1-3)

Here Jesus speaks of another transition, another birth, after our first birth but before our final “birth” (into the great beyond). As a result of such birth, our world will change: we will “see the kingdom of God.” We often associate great joy with the idea of being “born again”—and rightly so! But we must also remember the cost of birth: the fear and the loss and the disorientation that precedes such joy. When our old frames of reference are being destroyed, we don’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) What ends up being birth feels at the time only like death. All of a sudden, being born again doesn’t sound so fun. It means being launched from the safety of our current womb. It means being thrust into an unknown larger world for which we have no map. It means being deprived of all our current sources of comfort.

So…new birth, anyone? Depending on your life’s Divine plan, you may not have much of a choice. When the contractions come, the results are inevitable. At best, you can delay it, holding fast to the walls of the womb, kicking and screaming with all your might. That’s how I experienced my own recent transformation, the most powerful one of my life so far. After passing through what felt like an eternity of final abandonment (but which really only lasted for about a day), I told people I had entered the second half of my life. A friend reflected back, “Wow, that sounds like being born again.” I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but he was right. About a month later, I reflected on the experience in my journal:

I fell into hopelessness, experiencing a sort of death, moving directly through my fear when my depression reached its worst. My faith died before I had anything to replace it with. I wouldn’t wish such darkness on anyone. But it didn’t last forever. “It is finished.” I really had no idea what was happening to me, but I now see it was a necessary passage—the death that precedes new life. And thus the Christian story takes on new significance and wonder for me. The sun rose again. Only this time, I found myself in a new world. God had brought me home!

Compared to this experience, going off to college was a walk in the park. But there’s an important parallel: in both cases, I got what I most deeply desired. In the ensuing months, God became, as I’ve said before, both more real and more mysterious to me than ever. Most importantly, I experienced the joy of being loved and safely contained—but this time, by the entire Universe. Today I live from what I learned by direct experience—not from theology or even the Bible, but what theology and the Bible do confirm:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

God is your biggest cheerleader

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) Your deepest desires and God’s plan for your life are a perfect match for each other. You are meant to succeed in what you came here to do, and God is your biggest cheerleader. This is wonderfully good news. It means there is no need for compromise or “balancing” your desires with God’s desires for you. There is no need for an internal battle between what you want and what God wants. If you’re experiencing such an internal struggle, it just means that this truth hasn’t fully sunk in for you yet—which is more good news! Life can be and is meant to be more wonderful and fulfilling and exhilarating than you now know.

“[Y]our Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:14) That includes you and me right now, in this moment. Are you “perishing” under the mistaken belief that life must be a struggle? That God is against you, or that you are against yourself, or that life has wronged you? Then you are believing a lie. It is as simple as that. To one degree or another, we all believe such lies and need to repent, i.e. change our minds. It is a healing process in which our eyes are being opened, progressively transfiguring our world. Where we once saw disaster, we now see providence. Where we once felt pain, we now feel guidance. It’s not that we don’t experience tragedy or suffering or even that we understand it when it does happen. But we no longer fight it within ourselves, creating unnecessary suffering, and we no longer linger in blame or resentment. We are convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39), and this becomes the bedrock foundation of our trust in Life.

“[T]hose who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6) The “mind set on the flesh” is the mind at enmity with itself and with God. It’s the false concept of yourself as separate and independent from the Source from which you came. To “live in accordance with the Spirit” is not to despise the body. On the contrary, it’s to heal the split, abandoning the false dichotomy of body and Spirit. It’s to recognize that “your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19) and that “we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 6:6) To have your mind “set on what the Spirit desires,” then, is to be in touch with your own deepest desires. It’s to see and trust that God is not at odds with you. Therefore, you need not be at odds with God. It’s to see and trust that your desires and dreams were planted by God and to be confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6) It’s to know that the Spirit of Christ—the incarnation of God, the “word made flesh”—also lives in us and that that word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) It’s to know that you were made by God and God makes no mistakes.

Now here is your task. Give yourself permission to ask yourself: What are my highest hopes and my wildest dreams? What have I routinely dismissed or buried because it seems too good to be true? Then, with all your might, reject the lie that says you cannot have it. Believe unflinchingly that you are designed to have your heart’s desire. Trust that God, “who is able to do abundantly above all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) is for you and not against you. (Romans 8:31) Own the power of faith, which is the mountain-moving force of creation. (Mark 11:22-24) Delight yourself in the image of your dream come true, and you will receive the desires of your heart.

Hallelujah

“Hallelujah.” This is one of my favorite words. Short for hallelu-yahweh, it literally means “Praise Yahweh,” or “Praise the Lord.” The word itself is musical. It naturally lends itself to singing, whether through simple chanting, structured song, or free improvisation. And when I sing only this word, it gives me the freedom to set my thoughts aside, entering into a meditative state of gratitude.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6) To “praise the Lord” is to celebrate life—to say “Thank you!” for everything. While it’s wonderful to be thankful for specific things, we can also adopt a general state of gratitude, where any given breath can be a reminder of the gift of life that continues to sustain us. Far from being a duty or chore, the practice of gratitude opens us up to more and more of what life has to offer.

“But what if I don’t feel grateful? What if my circumstances make me feel anything but grateful?” The good news here is that you still have a choice, even if it doesn’t seem like you do. “Hallelujah” is not just a response (“Thank you, God!”), it is also a command—to yourself. “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all that is within me, praise his holy name.” (Psalm 103:1) It’s an active decision of the mind based on the knowledge—or if not yet the knowledge, the faith—that you have the power to impact your own experience. It’s choosing to believe that gratitude will lead to the manifestation of things to be grateful for, not just the other way around.

I have learned that this is how life works. We get to choose our experience. When we think of ourselves as powerless, we will experience powerlessness. When we think that our happiness and joy and gratitude are dictated by our external circumstances, we get a very mixed bag, if not an altogether downward spiral. We think life is full of ups and downs; having no idea there could be another way, we believe in the ups and downs. In other words, we put more stock in what we see happening (the effects) than in our power to change what we see happening. Is it any wonder that life is such a struggle, when to varying degrees we think of ourselves as victims in some necessarily inescapable way?

But when we catch a glimpse of who we truly are (magnificent creators being created in the imagination of God!) and own the responsibility that comes with our identity, we start paying more attention to our thoughts and feelings. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) We cultivate an unshakeable faith:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.
(Psalm 27:1, 13-14)

“Hallelujah,” then, is a choice, not just a response. One of my favorite evangelical praise songs is “Blessed be your name,” which affirms this choice no matter what the circumstances:

Blessed be your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

Songs like this are what got me through my depression—when my own belief in the goodness of God was at its shakiest (still very much faith instead of knowledge). Having emerged on the other side, I am so grateful! I now proclaim it aloud: Hallelujah!

Psalm 139

God is the One who always knows whatever I do, say, think, or feel:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Wherever I go, God goes with me. There is no place where God is not:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Even before I was born, my life was complete in the mind of God:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Yet I so quickly forget that I am safe, loved, and guided—believing the lie that others can be threats, to me and to God:

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.

I would do well, with David, to seek to remember all that I’ve forgotten:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Here I am

Have you ever felt a calling on your heart? Have you had the distinct impression that you are here on this planet, at this time and place, for a reason? Perhaps it was only an inkling or a hint. Or maybe you just have a faint desire or curiosity to know exactly what you’re doing here. If you don’t right now, can you think of a time when you did? Use your imagination to find that sense of destiny inside yourself. Once you’ve got something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, enlarge it.

Perhaps you have an old dream that hasn’t gone anywhere, that has never gotten off the ground. I have good news for you: your dream hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still planted in the ground of your soul. You may have experienced disappointment or heartache. You may have lost faith in your ability to see it come to fruition. You may have even given up on your dream. But know this: your dream hasn’t given up on you. It is still calling you.

Maybe your dream seems impossible to you now, so you’ve accustomed yourself to drowning out the call, thereby saving yourself from the pain of disappointment. This is understandable but misguided. Your desires are there for a reason—especially the ones you feel you must drown out. They represent a faithful calling that won’t ever shut up until you answer it—until you open the door.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.”
(Revelation 3:20)

This promise of Jesus (written through John to the church at Laodicea) is a promise of communion and reunion. When you reconnect with your highest callings—the highest parts of yourself, you reconnect with God. This inner relationship is the most important one you will ever cultivate. You will experience it as a leading and following, a guiding and obeying, a loving and being loved.

If you are feeling a lack of love in your life, consider this: when you estrange yourself from your dreams, you estrange yourself from God, the creative source of your dreams. Estrangement is not the way of love. If you are here, then you still have time to follow your dreams. If you are here, you still have time to water the seeds that are planted in your soul. As you do, the plant will grow, coming nearer to the sun, where you will experience the warmth and fruit of God’s love for you.

So, are you here? If so, then you can declare with the psalmist (and with Jesus, who can be seen here to be answering his own highest self!):

“Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.”
(Psalm 40:7-8, as quoted in Hebrews 10:7)

Letting go of searching

To realize God lives within us is a most wondrous thing. It astonishes us to find that what we have been searching for all along has always been already with us. That we are not alone and have never been alone is a wonderful revelation to us.

In these moments of awareness, there is no room for fear. Fear is nonsense in the presence of God. As long as we experience God as separate from us, we will fear him. Our instinct is to run away from such power. What we don’t realize is that we are running from ourselves. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), yes, but it is precisely that: the beginning. To attain to wisdom—to return to wisdom—we must move beyond that fear.

Just now I lost my pen. I looked all around me—on my chair, on my lap, on the floor, in my hands. But I had no memory of setting it anywhere. My head darted to and fro, searching, but it already possessed what it desired. I had put the pen in my mouth! As soon as I stopped searching for it, there it was.

This darting action, this frenetic searching, may be a necessary part of your perfect path to God (as it has been for me)—or it may not be. However we come to it, what we all desire is to be in that place of perfect peace. I am still searching. I still have a lot to learn. While we’re in these bodies, I think that will always be true, at least for most of us. But we can experience God in increasing measures. The key is not to search, but to let go of searching.

In this moment, I heed the words of Jesus to a searching woman: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) Like Mary, let us sit contentedly at the feet of Christ, who is always already with us and within us.

Co-creation

“Just take the first step. God will take you the rest of the way.” I’ve been learning to truly trust that when I awake, put my heels on the floor, and grab my pen and notepad, words will be there, waiting to flow from my pen. The more I experience this, the more my faith grows. I usually have no idea what I’m going to be writing about. All I know is that, when I first sit down, two or three words will come to me. Then I will faithfully write them down not even knowing how the sentence will end. But without fail, every time, the words do come and the sentence is completed and the next sentence comes more quickly, and so on. I love the term “co-creation,” because that’s what this really feels like. First, I show up. Then, God faithfully shows up giving me just a few words. Then I complete the sentence—in a sense, taking it from there. It is so freeing not to have to think about what I’m going to write. All I have to do is show up.

This makes sense, you know. If God is always with us and always living within us, then we have 24/7, immediate access to inspiration. To see this truth for ourselves, we need only believe it. Once we do start to believe and do start to see it, it’s the most natural thing in the world to consciously connect to that Source and draw on its infinite power and creativity.

This isn’t limited to “creative” pursuits either. God provides inspiration not just to write or to paint but also to live and to work and to eat and to sleep. God’s presence, after all, is what enables us to do any of these things. But when we’re conscious of that fact and choose to listen, trust, and follow that deeper wisdom, that’s when we say we are “inspired.”

At one level, we can’t not be inspired. Every breath we take is God breathing into us. But when we realize this and relax into the freedom of the Higher Power that sustains us—when we go with the flow and stop doubting it or trying to fight it—that’s when life becomes beautiful and effortless and winsome and sweet-smelling. We become “the pleasing aroma of Christ…that brings life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15,16) Others are drawn to the Love that naturally flows through us, and we ourselves become “a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:13)

Spiritual discipline

Making the most of what life brings you is a practice and a skill. It is a mental discipline. It consists in first remembering that you always have a choice about what thoughts you entertain. It is also a matter of understanding that your thoughts matter—that they do make a difference. And even beyond that, there’s a place of unshakeable faith, where you have no reason to ever think that you are a victim, or are hopeless or alone or unloved by God. Such thoughts no longer make sense to you. Choosing to think them would be like choosing to put your hand in scalding water, inviting senseless and unnecessary pain.

How does one reach this place of “blessed assurance” that nothing and no one can ever separate you from the love of God? There is no formula. And yet there is. Spiritual disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, reading scriptures, etc.) represent another of life’s paradoxes. We cannot by our sheer effort attain this “salvation,” yet our efforts in pursuing it will not be wasted. They are for us a matter of cultivating our receptiveness and intensifying our desire. The gift of God’s grace, however, is always a gift.

“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) We tend to read this verse as if it’s a command: “You ought to love, because you owe it to God, who first loved you.” Then we get self-conscious and say, “Well, that would be loving for the wrong reasons—just because we get something out of it.” But here too we’re stuck in thinking it’s about what we ought to do. When you experience the love of God, there’s no thought of, “Should I then love?” No! You’re swept off your feet and carried by love. That you then love is simply a consequence of being loved. You don’t experience it as “you loving”; you just experience it as love. Love begets love. This is a simple statement of fact, not a command.

The relationship of love is like a circle: God sustains us, which leads to us loving God, which leads to God revealing more love to us, which leads to us wanting even more, and so on. It’s like an upward spiral worth catching and being caught by. It’s like I’m a child trying to board an already-turning merry-go-round. At some point I finally realize that I’m already on the merry-go-round and it’s bigger than I ever had imagined. I’ve been trying to find God and all of a sudden God finds me! At least that’s what it feels like. The truth is that God never lost me. The lost sheep in Jesus’ parable was never really lost; it just thought it was. Yet the Shepherd pursued it, because that’s what love does. The sheep then finally knew that it was loved.

By all means, practice spiritual disciplines. But don’t do it to attain the gift; do it to cultivate your awareness that the gift is already given. Don’t do it to earn God’s love; do it to realize you are already loved. Don’t do it to find God; do it to wake yourself up to the presence of God—God who is already with you and within you.

Disillusionment

Light was made for the eyes, and eyes were made for the light. Though our vision can be distorted, we were meant to see clearly. What motivates you to see clearly? What motivates you to not see clearly? There are many possible benefits to not seeing clearly. We can imagine that the isolated worlds we create are as real as things get. We can avoid many forms of pain that come with disillusionment—the loss of hope, the loss of pride, the loss of our own bearings.

Our illusions serve many purposes. They protect us, they empower us, they gratify us. What does it mean then to call them illusions? It is to recognize that the benefits they bring eventually run out. We invariably find ourselves no longer safe, no longer empowered, no longer feeling pleasure. It is thus a matter of when, not if, disillusionment will come. It is up to us to decide whether to face it earlier…or later, when we have “less life left”—at least that’s how our primary illusion would put it. Yes, there are many illusions, so relief from them is not typically a one-time thing. Disillusionment is a life-long process.

Now: why in the world would we ever want this? Why would we want to be stripped bare of the things that give us comfort, whether or not they’re actually illusions? Something has to happen. Something has to tell us that there’s something worth knowing on the other side of our illusions. Once the light does start to reach our eyes, we get an inkling that this process is worth pursuing. We begin to know that, beyond illusion, there is a safety, a power, and a pleasure that do not run out. We begin to fall in love with the light that we see and we begin to trust it. Soon, we start to crave disillusionment, because we know that with each vanquished distortion our cravings are actually satisfied. Gradually at first and then at exponentially growing rates, love begins to cast out fear, as light displaces—no, as light annihilates darkness.

Whether or not you want to believe it, disillusionment is coming. But so of course is light, which is the mechanism of disillusionment. There are ways you can invite the process to come sooner. You must start by believing that the process just might be worth inviting, that love just might reside on the other side of fear. How do you know what your particular illusions are? You can elicit them by asking yourself a simple question: “What are my fears?” You may then be tempted to deny them, saying, “I only believe in the light.” But that’s not how disillusionment works. Denial only deepens the darkness. Only when you face your fears do you ever begin to recognize them as illusions. Only when you face your fears does the light begin to make itself known to you.

What if you don’t want to face your fears? Then don’t. You have complete freedom in this matter. And though your fears will eventually face you, you need not fear this. Instead, if you prefer, you can rest in the thought that the light is coming to you and your fears will cease to exist. Either way, the fact of disillusionment is exquisitely good news.

The paradox of devotion

“Your life is not your own.” This is a paradox. Of course my life is my own. It’s not my brother’s or my mother’s. It’s my responsibility to live my own life. And yet there’s another sense in which of course my life is not my own. Did I create myself? Can I make one hair on my head grow? My life is a gift and I am the recipient. My life belongs to Life itself. My life belongs to God.

Many of us fail to embrace this paradox, falling too far to one side or the other. We succumb to either a false devotion (“My life is not my own”) or a false responsibility (“My life is my own”). Unless we hold the tension of embracing both, we commit idolatry. I have a simple definition for idolatry: mistaking the part for the whole. It’s an error in perception, a failure to see things as they really are. In that sense, idolatry is not some grievous offense but something that’s almost always present to one degree or another. Anxiety is a form of idolatry, as is fear of death.

My point here isn’t to judge anyone. When Jesus told the woman accused of adultery to “go and sin no more,” this was a compassionate injunction. He wasn’t just saying “stop doing those things”; he was saying, “Let go of the burden of thinking you are condemned.” Sin is principally not a behavior but a clouding of perception, a failure to see the truth that we are not condemned but that we are loved.

When we finally see and know that we are loved—unconditionally, we become free, like children in the care of the most loving parents you could imagine. We have no need to act out, because we know that all our needs are taken care of. We embrace our life as our own. We joyfully and enthusiastically go after what we want. We are free and unafraid to be ourselves, with our unique talents, interests, and desires.

And yet we do all of this in the context of deep gratitude. We have no sense of guilt or separation because we stay in loving relationship to our Source. We know that our life is a gift and that everything we have comes from God. Our devotion does not have the feel of begrudging sacrifice. Instead, it’s the devotion that passionate lovers feel when they overlook their own desires to please their loved one. They focus not on what they’re giving up (which would just make them suffer); instead, they focus on their lover. Paradoxically, in overlooking their own desires, they fulfill their true desire: to please their lover.

Love is the force that sustains the paradox. In love, there is no suffering, there is no stress. In love, there is no anxiety, there is no fear. In love, life flourishes, chorusing in beautiful harmony. In love, I see clearly. In love, my life is my own and I am my Creator’s.

Power and love

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The most amazing displays of God’s power have come through ostensibly weak vessels. Think of Mother Theresa. Think of Gandhi. Think of St. Francis of Assisi. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. By the world’s standards, none of these people started from a place of power. Their power lay in their yieldedness to God. Precisely because they were not in it for themselves but instead were moved by a higher calling did they possess such power.

Love, the most powerful force in the Universe, was the secret to their success. Without love, displays of power are ineffective at best and evil at worst.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
—1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love, power is envious, boastful, and proud (v. 4). It dishonors others, it is self-seeking, it is easily angered, it keeps a record of wrongs. (v. 5) It delights in evil and does not rejoice with the truth. (v. 6) In contrast, “Love is patient, love is kind…It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (vv. 4, 7-8)

Love never fails. Here’s the paradox. When you have forsaken the hunger for power and given your life to love, you become truly powerful. To varying degrees, each of the people I mentioned above had significant political influence. They most effectively subverted the powers that be by undermining the fruits of those powers: poverty, captivity, sickness (including idolatry, or spiritual blindness), and oppression. Except perhaps for idolatry, we tend to think of these as “social” problems rather than “spiritual” problems. How you address them depends on your particular political persuasion. But by forgetting or denying the spiritual forces of darkness that animate and give rise to these social ills (see Ephesians 6:12), we deceive ourselves. We think it’s a matter of “us” winning a battle against “them”—that those people are the problem. It is only natural then that we demonize our opponents and launch into full frontal attacks. Yet this was not the way of the people I mentioned. They chose the way of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

You might think this absolves you from responsibility to engage politically. Not so fast. Yes, put the horse (love) before the cart (politics), but don’t presume you can then ride off, leaving the cart in the dust. If your love is truly love, it will have power. It will subvert the “powers that be.”

I’d prefer this were not the case. When pressed, I’ve been apt to describe myself as “apolitical.” And such a pleasant fantasy it is! As a white, male, affluent American, I have not known poverty, captivity, or oppression. Yet as a member of humanity, I am responsible for these injustices. They are my problem. That my heart doesn’t break for my own brothers and sisters reveals just how little love I’m letting through. God help me. I have been believing a lie.

We need look no further than the words of Jesus, who quoted the prophet Isaiah to describe why he had come:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
—Luke 4:18-19

That about covers it, doesn’t it! Poverty, captivity, blindness, and oppression.

“Power corrupts.” We would do well to revise this adage. Power without love corrupts. Power is not evil. Indeed, if love is the ultimate power (and it is), then power is a good thing! If you have been oriented around love, it’s time to own your power. If you have been oriented around power, it’s time to own your love. It’s time to recognize the following truth and that every other formulation is a lie: Love is Power, and Power is Love.

Fulfilling your purpose

You are here for a purpose. Else you would not be here. You can take the fact of your existence as proof that you were meant to be. Even if you aren’t aware of what that purpose is, you are already fulfilling it. You can trust that this is true, no matter how old you are. If you’ve never contemplated what your purpose is, that too does not matter. What matters is that you are here now, reading these words.

Whatever your level of current awareness, this is your chance to reflect on why you are alive today at this time and place. Remember: this is not a question of whether your life matters. It does. Instead, it is simply an opportunity to look at your life and notice two things: what role you have played and what role you have yet to play. This can include conventional measures of success, such as your career accomplishments, but please don’t think it’s limited to that. Focus on the impact you have had on other people’s lives, whether you judge such effects to be positive or negative. You may have even hurt someone. As difficult as it is to hear, even that was meant to be. You may not see the purpose in it from your limited perspective, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was purposeful.

As you look forward to what role you have yet to play, ask yourself: What role do I want to play? What do I desire the most? These are the most important questions, because, all along, your purpose has been encoded in the desires of your heart, the longings of your soul. This is your chance to become more conscious of them.

This is not about figuring out the rest of your life, though your mind may love that idea. No, it’s about how you will live your life today. Your purpose is already there and it is already being fulfilled, so you don’t have to manufacture anything. Instead, all you have to do is pay attention today to your deepest desires. What would I love to do today? Trust that by taking small, conscious steps toward what you most want, you will find your way. You will find your way to a new sense of purpose that you can feel. Not only will you continue to fulfill your purpose, but your purpose will begin fulfilling you.

You don’t even need to name your purpose. It may even be better if you don’t. Think of this as a new way of life. You can begin today. Answer the calling on your heart today, follow the lead of what inspires you today. The bigger picture of your soul’s mission will begin to emerge with time, but this is where it starts, and this is where it stays: today. What role do you want to play today?

Unconditional trust

“I trust you, Lord, no matter what.” This is a statement of abandon. I have flung my life—and now fling my life every day—into God’s care. No matter what. This is an unconditional trust. Trust is usually contextual. “I trust that such-and-such will happen.” “I trust God to bring us money.” “I trust that this particular belief of mine is true.” There’s nothing wrong with such statements, but it is possible in each case to be disappointed.

Think of Morpheus in Matrix Revolutions after his ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, was destroyed. He had trusted in a particular prophecy to come true. He had staked his life on that belief. At that moment, he became completely disillusioned—crushed, devastated, bewildered. Such is how I felt at my lowest moment. I was forced to accept that my conception of reality might be untrue. My faith hinged on the denial of other truths. Awareness of these truths became so severe that my faith was brought to the breaking point. Here too my trust was contextual: “I trust that God is principally a person.” “I trust that my belief system is true.”

God, in His infinite mercy, withdrew Himself from my awareness, putting to death once and for all my idols of belief. He became a metaphor for me after that. He became impersonal and thus nothing more than a personification. Words don’t adequately capture the experience, but it was as if my attachment to the Personhood of God was the thing that kept me from knowledge of the Personhood of God. When I was no longer invested, when I no longer had a “horse in the game”—that’s when God became most real to me. That’s when the Universe, Life, God, Ultimate Reality, whatever you want to call it, revealed its infinite, unconditional Love for me. For me!

To experience the love of God, to experience being watched over, cared for, and guided—of course I experience God to be personal now—yet more mysterious than ever before. I’m no longer attached to a particular theory or theology or cosmology. I’m still very curious about it all. I still draw on the rich wisdom and profundity and encouraging expressions of truth I find in the Bible. I even pray to Jesus. But the Love is all a big Mystery to me now. The metaphors and names and concepts and theories are interesting and fun to play with, but I don’t put my trust in any of them.

I see God everywhere now, not only in certain contexts delineated by my religion. For me, Christianity has become an expression of my faith, not the arbiter of my faith. I am so grateful for Jesus and Paul and the Psalms of David and their rich words of wisdom that give expression to the Love that I now know is real. I’m grateful for the promises of God in the Bible which I can “hide in my heart,” thereby guarding it. But my trust transcends the Bible. That’s why I can read it so freely. I don’t need to “make it true.” Lest I construct more idols, I remain, as best as I can, unattached to particular interpretations. I stay curious about what doesn’t resonate with me, suspending resolution. Paradox, after all, being the nature of the Universe, is good for the soul.

So, yes, I celebrate my tradition and engage fully on the path I have chosen. I feed on the words and practices that promote peace and balance. I pray and serve with other Christians. I express my deepest gratitude to God in communal worship. But my trust extends beyond all of these. With wild abandon I cast my life on Life Itself. God is trustworthy!

Learning to love my challenges?!

I had plenty of time to get to my retreat in western Massachusetts. I had flown into Boston the night before and after a relaxing morning at my hotel, it was checkout time. Having spent my last few bucks on a tip, I needed to get some cash for the I-90 “Masspike” tollway.

Three unsuccessful attempts at the hotel’s ATM?! No problem, I’ll just find another one on Google Maps.

Road closed?! No problem, I’ll just go back to the hotel for directions.

Bank missed by a mile?! No problem, I’ll just turn around.

No parking?! No problem, I’ll just park a little ways down the road.

Debit card expired 4 days ago?! No problem, I’ve got another card.

Wrong turn after the tunnel?! No problem, I’ll just exit and turn around.

One-way sign on a two-way street?! No problem, I’ll just turn anyway.

Flashing police car lights in front of me?! No problem, he must not mean me…right? Bye, Mr. Officer.

Deep anxiety over what I just did and thoughts of getting arrested?! No problem, I’ll just stop thinking about it.

Finally find I-90 but go East instead of West?! No problem, we all make silly mistakes like that sometimes.

Bathroom door at Dunkin’ Donuts won’t open?! No problem, learn the secret technique from a friendly local: pull, turn, then pull again.

Two hours later and still in Boston with lingering fears of incarceration?! PROBLEM!!!

Lord, you’ve got me. I give up. I have my limits. I’m still human. I’m not so “with it” after all. Thank you for reminding me. Spiritual awakenings notwithstanding, I’m still the guy whose college roommate‘s sister matter-of-factly identified as a “re-re.” (What exactly does that mean again, Greg?!)

In the end, my wife told me I was being silly and convinced me over the phone not to turn myself in to the local police station. I made it to my destination, nicely tenderized for a divinely orchestrated weekend with Tama Kieves. My challenges perfectly suit me to realize my potential—even and perhaps especially when I lose faith in that affirmation.

Seeing miracles


Seeing miracles – Podcast #7

There are two ways to live your life—one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle. — Albert Einstein

What are miracles? Are they anomalies? That would imply they are exceptional and rare. But some people are regularly astounded and amazed by what happens around them. For these people, miracles are commonplace. What do these people know that the rest of us don’t know? What do they see that we don’t see?

For a period of time following my faith crisis, I eschewed the notion of the supernatural. In particular, I disliked the separateness it implied between the “spiritual” and the “physical.” It seemed to me that these must be different aspects of the same thing. Also, I was not at that point seeing what I considered to be miracles. I had let go of the idea of miracles altogether when I finally embraced mainstream science’s story of the evolution of our world and our species. The writings and videos of Michael Dowd (Thank God for Evolution) had a big impact on me. He eschewed the supernatural, seeing it as an unnecessary concept. I followed along.

But in the ensuing months, I started seeing miracles! It’s like God became most alive to me only after I let him die—when I was no longer trying to keep him alive. I now once again accept the supernatural as a useful concept. And I do believe in miracles, extraordinary events that seem to defy natural law. This has not been the result of an intellectual or philosophical investigation. This has been the result of direct experience—many, many moments of what SQuire Rushnell calls a “godwink”: “a direct and personal message of reassurance from God to you.” This, of course, is something I can’t prove to anyone else. The proof is for me and me alone. But once you do have these experiences and open yourself enough to see them in the first place, you too will know that you’re not alone—regardless of what you call that Presence: “God,” “the Universe,” “Cosmic Intelligence,” etc.

The natural is supernatural. A miracle is what happens when someone notices a miracle. The distinction is in our awareness, not in the nature of reality. Reality is of one substance. The “natural” describes what we can explain by our physical laws of science. The “supernatural” (or “paranormal”) describes the phenomena that we can’t explain by those laws, or perhaps that might be explained by more metaphysical laws, such as the Law of Attraction. The nice thing about this is that there is no investment in keeping the handcuffs on science. Science cannot do away with miracles, but it might explain some of them. There’s no contradiction here. After all, the revelations of quantum physics are nothing short of miraculous.

So I would not define “miracle” as something that won’t ever be explained by science. No. It has more to do with its impact on us. A miracle is an event that astounds us, surprises us, engenders wonder, hope, a feeling of being watched over, a sense of being cared for. A miracle awakens us to a larger reality beyond the conventional world we’re used to operating within. A miracle is a personal proof that Life is magical, God is real, that we’re not alone, that there’s a greater Intelligence to our lives and our world.

Today I love to hear stories of miracles, large and small. They help build my faith. Some of them might be made-up, but it doesn’t matter. That’s no less true with conventional, “non-miraculous” stories. Most of them are simply true stories. My experience of faith-filled people has been transfigured. The people who I used to respect less because of their faith are now the ones that I’m most interested in hearing from. However, the more “respectable” people—the ones who know a lot more about theology, for example—have become less interesting to me. They know what miracles “should” look like, but they haven’t necessarily received the gift of seeing them.

Some of the most faith-filled people at church used to make me blush, because I thought their examples of “miracles” could be easily explained away or seemed selfish or just trivial. But “God is no respecter of persons.” They’ve experienced the miraculous and they know it, whether it’s healing from cancer or the convenient appearance of a parking spot. The larger majority of us stand at arm’s length, in unspoken doubt and judgment.

But now, that arms-length stance looks so funny to me! So silly! It’s so clear to me that most of the time we walk around with blinders on. The world in which we live is absolutely brimming with aliveness and energy and magic and color. If we could just get a glimpse of who we are, we’d be utterly astounded! This is what was so maddening for Jesus: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (John 4:48) But even then it’s not enough. When our minds are already made up, it doesn’t matter how many stories we hear, or how many miracles take place before our eyes. The miraculous is hidden in plain sight. It’s like the emperor with no clothes, except the emperor represents all of us.

How can we cultivate sensitivity to seeing miracles? Faith precedes knowledge. It’s a different route than philosophical or theological speculation. It’s a reversal of the familiar, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Jesus understood that you’ll see it when you believe it. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23) Yes, there is a leap. But on the other side you can find true knowledge. Not rationally deduced or logically argued, but a deep, cellular knowing.

It’s not about joining a particular tribe or religious affiliation either. Now, thinking that it is won’t necessarily prevent you from seeing miracles, but it might blind you to the miracles God is performing among people of other cultures, religions, and walks of life. Every time we put a restriction on what God or Nature is “allowed to do,” we only limit ourselves. “Don’t put God in a box” is a Christian cliché. But every time we make a point of saying what we don’t believe, we do just that. With every denunciation or negation of what’s outside our understanding, we erect another wall. What we’re really doing, of course, is putting ourselves in a box, setting up a nice, comfy prison for our mind. Not only that, but we pride ourselves on just how small we can make it, giving it respectable labels like “orthodoxy” or “skepticism,” depending on our particular persuasion.

So what holds us back from believing? Undoubtedly: our preconceived notions about the nature of reality, whether they’re theologically, scientifically, or just plain culturally mediated. A theological straitjacket is no better than a materialistic straitjacket. Either way, God remains elusive. Even for Jesus! “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:5,6)

Truly believing is easier said than done. I spent most of the first 35 years of my life seeking after this knowing—desperately wanting real knowledge, not just faith. Things did not go as I planned. I became very sick (Lyme disease was among my diagnoses) and very depressed. The struggle between faith and doubt reached a breaking point, and all my faith drained out—and, with it, all my investment in any religion, let alone a specific one. But my despair lasted only for a moment. The world has become more and more magical ever since. God is both more real and more mysterious to me than ever before. Letting go of my theological preconceptions paved the way for God to truly appear to me. Now, joy of all joys, I am finding great meaning and truth in my own Christian faith tradition! Who could have ever predicted this?

What do you need to let go of? Or loosen your grip on? What leap do you need to make? Crack open the rusty hinges of your mind. Look around and begin to wonder. Look for evidence in your life that you are being guided. And imagine. Imagine that what I’m saying is true. Imagine that your life has great purpose, that you are here for a reason, and that you are known and dearly loved—even when you’re not aware of it. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Wake up! “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

Words come second


Words come second – Podcast #6

Salvation, redemption, sanctification, repentance, incarnation, conversion. What do these terms actually mean? We often treat them like technical terms, using each to signify a precise component of a constructed system of theology. But what if these terms are actually poetic terms about life? In that case, they’re not so tidily defined. But isn’t that a good trade-off? Isn’t it worth compromising some precision in favor of making them more relevant to our lived experience?

“Twenty people got saved that night.”

“Wow! That sounds amazing. Tell me more!”

“What do you mean? I already told you: they received salvation. They accepted Jesus into their hearts.”

That certainly sounds promising, but what does it actually mean? What did it then look like for those people as they went home? What changed in their lives? Were they happier? Healthier? More loving? More grateful? Did they transform in some way? What new impact did they have on others?

We often don’t ask these follow-up questions. We tend to stop at the certification, the “diploma.” It’s like deciding to hire someone based on a credential they got from taking a test, while ignoring their actual skills and experience.

This is a sure sign that our religion has become divorced from life. We go around speaking a code language, evaluating ourselves to make sure we’re speaking it correctly. That’s fine as far as it goes, but that’s often as far as it goes! Getting our theology right easily becomes a substitute for living a truly redeemed life. Not only that, but we are discouraged from talking about it in other terms. If, for example, we borrow a term from another religion, others look askance. We then focus all the more intently on how we’re speaking so as not to stray from the boundary lines. And lo and behold, our experience of God is diminished.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a sense of freedom around language instead of fear? Consider the freedom with which Paul spoke. Do you think he was trying to use only the accepted lingo? Of course not! He had direct, ongoing mystical experience of God. His words flowed forth like a fountain from that experience.

Now wouldn’t it be ironic if the people who were reading Paul’s words missed the point, thinking it was all about the words rather than the experience behind those words?

It’s not that we don’t care about experience. We do want to feel God. We do want to love God, to feel God’s love for us, and to love others. But we are stricken with a peculiar mental illness: we imagine that when we get our words, concepts, and beliefs just right, our life will fall into place. It’s like turning a secret code ring. In just the right configuration, God’s favor will be unlocked.

Not only does this illness limit our own experience of God, but we also fail to perceive the image of God in others. We check for their certification, their credentials. If they don’t conform to our requirements, then we completely distort or even shut down our perception of them as human beings! I’m speaking from experience here. When I saw people more loving than me who got “certified” at a different “school” or who weren’t certified at all, I had to do something quick to make sense of what I saw: I looked for the bad in them. Then I could tell myself, “See? There’s the sin.” My certification idolatry made me more, not less, judgmental.

Christianity is not God. It’s a formulation of our understanding of God. The key is to trust in the Reality of which the formulation speaks. If that Reality is truly real, we should not be surprised to find that there are other formulations. Indeed, we would expect this to be the case. Otherwise, we are no longer worshipping God but our own religion, our own formulation. “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:17)

When you’re in touch with a great truth, you will find more than one way to describe it. When I say “we possess Infinite Intelligence in our very DNA” and “we humans are Magnificent Creators,” some Christians become uneasy. Yet if I say that we are “children of God” and “made in the image of God” and that God has “given us everything we need…to participate in the divine nature,” (2 Peter 1:3,4), they don’t bat an eye. Some verbal expressions of the truth are allowed and some are not. But is being “made in the image of God” such a trivial reality that there can be no other way to describe it? If we find ourselves policing our language in such ways, we should be highly suspicious that we’re not talking about known truths anymore. Instead, we’ve become dealers in static, lifeless words and doctrines. God, on the other hand, inspires poetry.

Since truth is only expressed—never captured—by language, we naturally are always finding new words to describe our experience. This is why Paul emphasized the importance of inspiration not only in writing the “words of God” but also in reading them: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 2:14)

We need a shake-up. We need real experience. We need to open our eyes, to look around, and to feel the sensations in our body. God is here right now! We need to spend time alone and with each other in a profoundly more present way. We need to see each other for who we are. We need to practice letting go of our thoughts for a time so we can begin to hear that “still, small voice.” We need to wake up! Then we can talk all we want about our experience and enjoy the new poetry and words that flow from it.

The return of devotion


The return of devotion – Podcast #5

It’s 6:30am and I’ve only gotten 5 hours sleep. Why in the world am I up writing now? Usually, this would mean that I received some direct inspiration—a fully formed insight upon waking which I then need only “download” through my pen onto paper. This is a wonderful experience, and it still happens from time to time. But this morning, I only have a vague sense that I need to get up and start writing, and to not do so would be disobedient.

What’s returning in my life is a sense of devotion. Devotion to a higher calling that goes beyond who I experience myself to be. I am being called out of myself to create external structures and habits that put me more consistently in the place of receiving inspiration—even when I don’t feel inspired to do it.

The popular praise song “Breathe” is running through my head right now:

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

And I, I’m desperate for you
And I, I’m lost without you

There is a sense of feeling lost, when I’m out of sorts or unhappy with how things are or aren’t progressing. I feel discontent and the pain of that discontentment drives me to take a new step forward. This happened most dramatically when I quit my job two months ago with no other income sources lined up. All I knew is that I was being called to take a leap of faith and to trust that we would be okay. Since then I’ve been learning to live from inspiration on a daily basis, to let go of all forms of self-abuse and be gentler and more loving to myself than I ever have been before. It’s been a profoundly healing process.

I’m still committed to living from inspiration. But after a couple of months of much napping (which I will continue to do, unabashedly), some divine discontent is returning. Mind you, fears have been confronting me all along, and I’ve been continually facing them and releasing them. But this is not fear. This is a desire to grow up, to take responsibility, and to prepare myself to take on even more responsibility. For that, I need to step outside myself and exercise some muscles I haven’t used in a while.

This is surely, undoubtedly another paradox. My mind would love to formulate the difference between fear (“Things aren’t moving fast enough!”) and divine discontent (“Things aren’t moving fast enough!”). And if I was forced to do so (I can’t resist), I would say the presence or absence of peace is the difference that makes a difference. But you know what? I’m not sure that’s always true either. God can use anxiety, guilt, and shame pretty effectively to launch us forward too. So it comes down to “it depends” and “trust your own best judgment” and “heck if I know.” 😉

I am also experiencing this as a return of masculine energy. I have been in such a receptive phase—mothering myself, nurturing myself, comforting myself. This is in great contrast to the masculine drive that was playing such a destructive role in my life: you must force yourself to go to work, even if it’s killing you. Letting go of this was absolutely essential. But now it’s as if the masculine energy is returning to me in a more supportive, self-honoring way. My mind has been resisting it: “wait a sec, I don’t want to make myself do anything. Isn’t that self-abuse?” But again, this is a paradox and not so easily formulated.

The words of Jesus are so helpful here:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Here we have the perfect picture of co-creation. We are not to bear the burden of the whole world—not by our little selves anyway. Instead, we are to receive rest. Yet neither are we to offload the burden entirely. We are to take this “yoke” upon us. It’s easy and it’s light, but Jesus still calls it a burden.

If you’ve got no clear sense of direction right now, then it’s probably not time to force yourself to do anything. You need to listen and heal and rest. But as soon as you receive a “nudge,” act on it! I’ve been doing that on a smaller scale—moment-by-moment. At the 140-character scale of Twitter. Now I’m being called to act on a larger scale—do some planning, create some new habits, make time to write. Even when I don’t feel like it! This is a stretch, but it’s a good stretch. I’m learning that my mood is irrelevant when I’ve got a higher calling on my heart. I will obey no matter what.