Archive for category: Faith

On Winter Rest and the Imitation of God

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
~Ecclesiastes 3:1

“To everything – turn, turn, turn;
There is a season – turn, turn, turn;
And a time for every purpose under heaven.”
~The Byrds

The frost of an Ozark winter has set in. In the mornings, the frigid sheen of colder nights blankets grass and cars alike. It is a thinner frost this January–the temperatures being more temperate across these hills than in years past–but it is frost nonetheless. This sheen washes the color from the mountain pallet, leaves a nostalgic impression as nature’s white contrasts against the black and gray of the early morning sky. Some may say that winter is the bleakest season, but there’s beauty here if you’re willing to find it.

All of nature is still here. The mole in my front yard has ceased his tunneling, stopped somewhere between the two mounds of rich black dirt pushed up twenty feet from my door. Come spring, I’ll need ideas to rid my yard of the pest (anyone?), but for now, he and I both rest.

The birds have all flown the coop, and they have left the leafless oaks still and quiet. The oaks stretch exhibitionist arms upward, spines straight but still in a posture of rest. The butterfly and moth larva have burrowed deep into the warm earth under these oaks, and the king snake rests in his den under the warmer, lower layers of the compost pile.

All nature is at rest here, all nature–that is–except the squirrels. If God made a single animal with boundless energy, with an inbred inability to cease striving, it is the squirrel. They spring from branch to branch, drop down to the ground looking for opening pecan husks. Even still, they are gathering, hoarding. I consider their dens, the liberality of their nut stores, and I wonder whether God chuckles at the busybodies of creation.

In six days, God created all these things. On the seventh day, he rested. It was his Sabbath, his winter holiday. He created this rhythmic calendar, the seasons that speak to nature’s need for Sabbath. (All nature save and except the squirrels, that is.) And creative as he was, he breathed life into the dormant dust of nature–this nature which itself rests–and created man. Yes, we are made from material that needs a fallow season.

“Cease striving,” he says, “and know that I am God.”

 

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In this month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I’m discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I’m speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines’ household, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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And the Winners Are… (The Lectio Divina Journal Results)

I’ve been practicing the slower, more restful reading of scripture. For those of you who’ve followed along over the last week, you know I’m writing specifically of the practice of lectio divina. Last week, I introduced you to the Lectio Divina Journal, a tool to help with the focused practice of listening to scripture. At the end of the post, I offered a chance for a few lucky readers to get their own copies of the journals, and today is the day of reckoning!

AND THE WINNERS ARE (drum roll implied): Kris Camealy; Micah Smith; RJ.

The winners were chosen by way of an internet randomizer, which is to say that my personal preferences or biases played no part in the above selections. So to Kris, Micah, and RJ, I say a hearty CONGRATULATIONS!

For those of you still interested in the Lectio Divina Journal, may I suggest clicking lectiodivinajournal.com for more information on receiving your own copy? The more I use this journal, the more convinced I am that it is the perfect tool for individual, family, or group devotion.

Thanks to all those who entered. I’ll be doing more giveaways over the course of the year. Check back in from time to time.

But while you’re here, would you visit the comments below and answer this question: what are the biggest hangups in your spiritual devotional practices, and what are you doing to overcome them?

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The Death of Protestant Work Ethic (A Lectio Divina Journal Giveaway)

We are a doing people. Aren’t we?

I’m not sure when I took to the notion that the quantity of my spiritual striving mattered more than the quality of my spiritual rest, but somewhere along the way, I did. The ethos of doing, doing, always doing, took root in my life, and those roots stretched deep. Serve more; pray more; feed more people; lead more worship; start another study group; read the Bible; read the Bible; for the love of God read the Bible–mine was a practice of devotion by action and performance, by tugging up on the bootstraps, by ever-employing that good old protestant work ethic.

Ah, the Protestant Work Ethic.

According to our good friends at Wikipedia, the Protestant Work Ethic “is a concept in theology, sociology,economics, and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith….” It is an undergirding construct, often implied but less often spoken, and it finds its application in both vocation and spiritual discipline. Simply put, protestant Christians work out their salvation with fear and trembling; they don’t get so mucked up in the rites, ceremonies, and sacraments of our more liturgical brothers and sisters. Right?

Do you wonder whether the protestant work ethic has influenced your Christianity? Ask yourself–do you recall the days of scripture memory quizzes, Bible drills, and reading challenges. I do. Conversely, do remember times of silent listening, of slow and contemplative scripture reading, of meditation on the Psalms? I’ll be honest. I don’t. And all this pragmatic working out of my faith, the do-do-do and more-more-more of my southern protestant Christianity, made for a pretty haggard soul.

So much for finding. (Matt. 11:28-30)

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In the early days of my sobriety, a good and right therapist challenged me to sit in the silence with God, to cease striving and begin listening. The practice was simple, he said. Ask God to speak, sit in the silence, and then consider his voice. In my first attempts, the anxieties of the day came to roost, cacophony of crows as they were. These anxieties were too much, and they drowned out the Spirit’s voice. Needing a way to silence the noise, I turned to scripture as a way to anchor my thoughts. I didn’t come to the Bible in the way I’d been taught growing up, though. I didn’t blast through three chapters of my Bible-in-a-Year chart hoping a that some verse would leap off the page and come to the rescue. Instead, I took a more restful approach.

I began my time by sitting in my high-backed chair after the children had gone to bed. After a few moments of silence, of allowing the anxieties to shriek from the edges, I opened my Bible, picked a small passage of scripture, and read. I read the verses twice, perhaps a third time. I prayed, asking God to still my mind and speak to me through the words and phrases of the passage, and then I sat in the silence and waited. And using the scripture as an anchor, I found an amazing thing–the anxieties of the day seemed to retreat. Mind quieted, only the scripture spoke.

This was my first encounter with a smaller, quieter, more restful sort of scripture reading. This was my first real encounter with lectio divina.

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The term lectio divina is a horned-rimmed, blazer-wearing, three-dollar phrase meaning “divine reading.” The practice traces its roots back to primitive Christianity. As stated by Greg Russinger and Lisa Kelly in the Lectio Divina Journal,

lectio divina comes to us from the earliest days of the church; in the third century Origen used the Greek phrase thea anagnosis (divine reading) to describe a way of approaching Scripture for the purpose of finding a personal message for God. This practice became more wide spread when the desert fathers and mothers made the Word of God the basis for their prayer lives, and shortly after this Saint Benedict made the practice of lectio divina central to Western monasticism.”

Lectio divina is not just a historical practice of the church, though. Instead, it’s a way of contemplative scripture reading still used by Christians today. How does it work? I’m glad you asked.

Though the practice of lectio divina could be parsed in different ways, Russinger and Kelly suggest the essential elements are 1) the reading of the text, 2) reflection on the text, 3) responding to the text, 4) resting in the text, and 5) journaling the text. The goal of the practice is less about the do, do, do of the reading (though there is some practical element of effort expended) and more about resting in the text. This being the case, the portions of scripture contemplated are much smaller, and greater time is spent in quiet (or silent) contemplation asking God to speak through the scripture. The practice of lectio divina is the practice of hearing the still, small voice of God in an unhurried, unburdened sort of way.

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Be honest–does the prospect of reading the bible in a year or memorizing another chapter of scripture induce a panic attack? Could you stand to read less but receive more? If you answered yes to either of these questions, or if you’re generally burned out on the whole protestant work ethic thing, then lectio divina might be right for you. But be forewarned–if you’ve never read scripture this way, prepare yourself for the shattering of your protestant work ethic. This isn’t the kind of scripture reading that will result in a large number of memorization note cards, or in honing your Bible sword-drill skills. And because we live in a world of constant information stimulus, prepare yourself, too, for the difficulty of quieting your mind enough to rest in the scriptures. (This is a particular struggle of mine.)

If you’d like a tool to help you get started, though, I have just the one. Consider this Lectio Divina Journal created by my friends Greg Russinger and Lisa Kelly. The journal leads the reader into a day-by-day contemplation of certain scripture passages, and gives ample space to journal your thoughts. (Follow this link for a few sample pages.) It’s a great tool for the beginner and experienced practitioner alike, a tool I hope to use throughout the year.

Over the next week, I’m giving away 3 copies of the Lectio Divina Journal. How can you win one of the copies? Just drop a comment below and tell me why you’d like to be entered into the drawing. I’ll throw your name in the hat. (All winners will be randomly selected.) And for those of you who’d rather not wait, you can order your Lectio Divina Journal here.

This year, would you consider resting in the scripture with me? Would you consider practicing lectio divina? Come along, and find rest.

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On Faith and Cannonballs

“There are some things that affect us so deeply that move us so emotionally that it makes objective rational organizing of thought around a topic impossible.” This was the honest and forthright opening to John Ray’s sermon on faith and pain. He was preaching a passage from Jesus’ teachings on faith, and confessed his struggle with the topic.

He expounded, said that while his daughter lay fighting for her life in the hospital after a tragic accident, a well-meaning woman tried to prop up John’s faith. “If you only have faith like a mustard seed,” she said, “all things are possible.”

Maybe all things are possible with faith, but these words don’t do a hill of bean’s worth of good to a man in the midst of trauma. These are the words that feel less like comfort and more like millstones, as if the entirety of outcomes rests on mustering up of some sort of religious fervor.

John’s daughter would pass later that day, and John expounded on the near passing of his faith, too. He said with all candor, “yes, this passage has been used to deeply hurt me, and it’s not the passages fault.” Then, he fleshed out faith, spoke of the invisible hand that gives us the gift. And it was good.

I’m telling you this story for no purpose other than asking you to listen to his sermon. You can find it here. (For the iTunes download, click this link.)

I’ve been though a similar experience, have had others claim that my son’s recovery from a mystery illness hinged on my faith. Titus pulled through, though, and this begs the following question: what does that say of my faith in contrast to John’s faith? Nothing.

In honor of yesterday’s sermon, and as a reminder to us all, I’m reposting Psalm #11 from my archives.

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Psalm #11 (Mustard Seeds:Cannonballs)

1.

If addiction to grief were a thing,
such would be the carnal cravings
of those with the most authentic lives.
Children with velvet blankets,
we might rub the corners first. Then
we’d pull the edges over the eyes,
shroud ourselves in night, usher in
the dreams of the murder of crows,
the legion of doubt,
or the garden of Eden,
whichever the night might first give.

Lord have mercy.

2.

If tomorrow’s healings rest in today’s faith
are we to bear the eternal fever?
The thing meant for hope–
the smallest seed of faith–
becomes a cannonball to be dodged
as if such a thing were possible.
If faith is a suspension of the will,
the laws of nature, of nuclear hatred,
fear, and the ashes of doubt
that cover every potential promise,
is such a thing possible?
We, our own little gods, have always
turned mustard seeds into cannonballs.

Christ have mercy.

3.

There was a man, said Theophilus’ friend,
with demons aplenty and he lived
among the graves by the sea, among the pigs
on the overlook of the foamy unpredictable.
He was without his wits, and without wits
can there be a mustering of any worthy faith?
His demons were Legion, the usurpers of will,
and they were as obstinate as the tide, once,
but now no longer.

Only say the word and we shall be healed

Theophilus, the demoniac and I know this to be true:
every gentle hope of peace passes first through
addiction; then, through a Word; then through life
and into death. From sea to glassy sea, it moves,
plunging headlong into the sparkling forever.

Lord Have mercy.

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