The Fragrance of God

English: Grandfather Mountain
English: Grandfather Mountain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Awhile back, after waking up and shaking the fog out of my head, I became aware that I was thinking back on an experience I had undergone many years ago. Perhaps I had dreamed about it or it could be that the Holy Spirit was bringing it to my attention for some reason. As I go through my day I need to be aware of this, in case the Spirit is indeed trying to communicate something to me. I have found that, at least in my case, God often gets messages past my thick mind by speaking to me in this indirect but unmistakable manner.

Sometimes I wish I could hear from God a little more easily. I find myself from time to time wishing that I could just walk out in my back yard first thing in the morning and find God waiting there to talk to me out of a burning bush. I would even settle for a braying donkey.  It doesn’t matter so much how he did it, just that it was a little less troublesome and inconsistent.

My old friend Jesse often tells me that God speaks to all of us all of the time, but we rarely have ears to hear. He claims that many people’s dependence upon thing like Bible reading, sermon-listening, and book study have blinded us, or perhaps I should say deafened us, to the crystal clear voice of God. For Jesse, God speaks through three primary media, nature, the inner light and other seekers. It could very well be that Jesse is right when he says we have become so dependent upon the ways we have been instructed to hear God’s voice that we can’t discern his speaking when it comes in other ways.

Jesse reminds me of my grandfather when he talks like this. A southern, rural man to the core, my grandfather was devoutly attuned to the rhythms of the natural world. As a child I often marveled at his knowledge, wisdom, and uncanny ability to see things that others couldn’t see. A Quaker and a mystic by birth, from the time he was a teenager my grandfather was a consternation to his parents because of his stubborn resistance to going to First Day Meeting as the Society of Friends called it. “Church” is basically what it was to others. This resistance did not go away once my grandfather reached his adult years and now, rather than to my great-grandparents, his absence became a consternation to his wife, my grandmother.

The reason I mention all of this is that it was often through my grandfather that I learned that God did indeed speak through venues other than the church, the preacher, the Bible, and, in his day, radio-evangelists. I carry to this day one distinct memory of my grandfather’s approach to religion that was for me an epiphany of sorts. I was 12-years-old and our family was visiting my grandparents during the Easter season. Little did I know at the time that this would be a Palm Sunday I would never forget.

As usual, my grandfather had resisted the family’s repeated entreaties that he join them for the Sunday morning meeting at the “Meeting House.” Even more to my surprise, he asked me if I wanted to stay home with him and “help him take care of a few things.” You can’t imagine my delight at this turn of events. I responded that I would love to stay home and help him and that pretty much settled the matter.

After putting out some extra feed for his two mules, my grandfather took me for a walk in the woods adjacent to his farm. Eventually we came to a clearing, a meadow actually, that was dotted with patches of wild flowers. From our vantage point, the meadow seemed to extend forever and the patches of flowers were like explosions of color in a sea of green. As was often the case, we walked and talked about all kinds of things. I had something I wanted to ask him about and finally got around to it, although I was somewhat apprehensive about asking him.

“PaPa,” I began. “Why is it you never go to church with the family? I have only seen you go a couple of times. Do you hate church?”

“No, son….I don’t hate church. In fact, I like it,” he replied, chuckling under his breath. “I just like to spend my Sabbath day being with God.”

I recall being mystified by his answer and, after scratching my head for a minute or two, go around to asking the logical question a 12-year-old boy might ask.

“But church is where God is,” I said. “If you want to be with God, why don’t you go to church? It doesn’t make sense, PaPa.”

“God isn’t in church much these days, son. At least I haven’t seen him there in awhile,” responded PaPa. “At church preachers preach (they were Evangelical Quakers), singers sing, prayers pray, and gossipers gossip. That doesn’t leave much time for God to say anything.”

I remember he paused for quite awhile to let his words sink into my still young mind.

“I figure if I need to be with God, to talk to him and listen to him, I need to come out here where it is quiet,” he continued. “God didn’t build that church, but he sure as hell made these woods and this meadow. I figure if I want to talk to God I need to go where he lives.”

“I think I understand, PaPa,” I recall saying. “But isn’t religion important? My Mom says my religion is the most important part of life and that when I grow up, I can’t live without it.”

After a long silence, my grandfather looked me squarely in the eyes and told me in no uncertain terms what he thought about my question.

“Just keep in mind a few things and it will make your spiritual life easier and less troublesome,” he said. “First, understand that religion doesn’t have anything to do with God, and vice versa.” My grandfather had to explain what vice versa meant. I was only 12.

“Religion is an invention, just like the wheel and the telephone,” PaPa continued. “Spirituality is sometimes a part of religion but most of the time it isn’t. Unlike religion, spirituality is not an invention. It is something as much a part of being human as breathing, sleeping, and sex. All of those things are built into us from the start. So is spirituality. Our job is so make our lives spiritual every day. Religion is supposed to help with that, but most of the time it prevents spirituality, it doesn’t create it.”

I guess my grandfather was one of the early people to be dealing with the religion vs. spirituality conflict. These days the familiar adage about being spiritual but not religious is so commonplace it has lost much of its real impact. I should not be surprised, however, at my grandfather’s words. As I mentioned, he was a Quaker and a mystic throughout his life. In fact, he knew the Quaker mystic Rufus Jones quite well and often told stories about Jones. I never had the opportunity to meet Rufus Jones, although I would have loved to. Jones died in 1948 I think, which was a year before my birth.

As for me, I was thoroughly confused by this time. I struggled to understand what my PaPa had said, especially the business about spirituality and religion. I asked grandfather if he could tell me again about the difference between the two. Here is where the epiphany came in and also where Rufus Jones fits into this story.

“Come over here,” said PaPa as he got up and walked toward one of the flower explosions in the meadow. “Now, pay close attention and I think you will get the picture.”

Grandfather kneeled down and picked an absolutely beautiful bright purple flower. As I knelt beside him, he said, “I want to teach you something Rufus Jones taught me many years ago. This is probably the most beautiful flower in this whole meadow. Imagine this is the church. Sometimes churches can be really beautiful places, inside and out. And the folks inside can be beautiful, too.”

I listened carefully and appreciated the flower, but wasn’t sure what he was getting at.

“Now, hold the flower to your nose and take a good whiff. Smell it deeply.”

Taking a deep breath I held the flower to my nose and smelled of it. Oddly, there was no fragrance, either good or bad.

“There is no smell, PaPa,” I reported.

“Isn’t it strange that a flower so attractive can have no fragrance?” said PaPa. “Churches can be like that as well. Our family goes to a church a lot like that.”

He then picked another flower, not unattractive by any means, but far less striking than the first. He held it to my nose. The fragrance was exquisite and almost immediately brought a smile to may face and a sense of lightness to my heart.

“It is wonderful, PaPa,” I said after drinking deeply of the fragrance of this rather ordinary looking flower. “What is it, PaPa?”

“Spirituality,” he said in a voice filled with quiet certainty.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2013/All Rights Reserved

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Encountering Sacred Silence

English: The Shekinah Glory Enters the Taberna...
English: The Shekinah Glory Enters the Tabernacle; illustration from The Bible and Its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons. Edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer. 1908. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

I have always been an early riser and consider this a bit of a blessing. I have found that in those early morning hours, especially during the period of time leading up to dawn, I am at my best in terms of being able to quiet down, allow myself to be restful, and when so blessed, hear the Spirit speaking to my soul. I than God for these moments and have learned to count on them for both spiritual nourishment and, when needed, divine consolation.

I know that not all of you are “morning people.” Studies have shown that some folks are at their best in the evening, or even late at night. If you are one of the people wired in that manner, I hope that you have found a way to be with God during that peak time in your biology. The benefits of such an endeavor are countless.

I want to share an experience I had during one of my pre-dawn quiet times. I think it might serve as an example of how the Lord often speaks to us when we are sensitive to those times when we might most readily hear his voice. This particular experience also points to the reality that the blessed silence is often the venue in which the voice of the Spirit is most audible. At least, I have found this to be so.

One Sunday morning, as is my habit, I arose early. I spent time asking God to speak to me regarding an issue I had been struggling with for some time. As is often the case, my tampering with this problem eventually led me to a state of perplexed paralysis.  It was an issue related to how I was to proceed with one aspect of my professional life.

After praying, I sat quietly and gradually began to feel the peace of God fall over me. It was nothing earth shattering and no burning bushes spoke to me, nor did any donkeys give utterance, but I had a palatable sense of God’s presence. This is significant in that it had been months since I had felt any sense of God’s light in my life. It seemed that in my busyness, God had somehow gone on sabbatical. I longed for his touch, even if only brief and subtle. I was, in essence, in a stark period of spiritual dryness.

I had several books at my side that I had been reading prior to my prayer time. I opened one of the books and soon came across these words by the French mystic Francois Fenelon:

Be silent and listen to God. Let your heart be in such a state of preparation that His Spirit may impress upon you such virtues that will please Him. Let all within you listen to Him….

Now comes the good part!

Don’t spend your time making plans that are just cobwebs – a breath of wind will come and blow them away. You have withdrawn from God and now you find that God has withdrawn the sense of His presence from you. Return to Him and give Him everything without reservation. There will be no peace otherwise. Let go of all you plans – God will do what He sees best for you.

Fenelon’s words hit me between the eyes like a Louisville Slugger. I knew immediately what I needed to do, even if it was going to be difficult. Like Abraham and Sarah, I had grown impatient waiting on God’s timing and gave birth to an Ishmael. I needed to return to God, wait in silence, and trust his promise of an Isaac. Basically, in my own anxiety and uncertainty of potential outcomes, I took charge of the situation and ended up at what seemed a dead end.

Trusting God to guide us and lead us to the place we need to go is not an easy proposition. This is especially true for those of us who are used to “making things happen.” I made the decision that Sunday morning to let the entire project go. I put it in God’s hands and, in his time, not mine, the situation worked out better than I could have ever manipulated on my own.

Of equal significance was the validation of the importance of encountering the “Sacred Silence” in my spiritual life. My hectic schedule and my mental strategy sessions had left little time for being still. I now make silent meditation or, if you prefer, contemplative prayer, the foundational practice of my spiritual life. If I neglect this practice, I rapidly become like a thirsty elephant trumpeting around a dried up waterhole.

Countless Christians have stressed the importance of regularly entering this sacred space of blessed silence, for it is in this space that we are renewed, refreshed, and more significantly, encounter that “still, small voice” that carries the message of our true source of knowledge and inspiration. I am especially drawn to the words Quaker writer Thomas Kelly, in his classic work A Testament of Devotion, uses to describe that inner sanctum that is so vital to our spiritual formation:

Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life. It is a dynamic center, a creative Life that presses to birth a casts new shadows and new glories upon the face of men. It is a seed stirring to life if we do not choke it. It is the Shekinah of the soul, the Presence in the midst. Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action. And He is within us all.

Kelly’s words are truly powerful and hold much meaning if one takes the time to really reflect upon what he is getting at. One-third of the Godhead has been placed in each of us, and is there for our guidance, direction, and assistance. It is for this reason that Christ told us: Abide in me….

However, we have to learn to be still enough to hear his voice and, further, be able to understand the language he speaks. This process takes time and discipline and only you can make the decision to begin and apply the will to continue. The question is: Will you do it?

Over the next few days, spend time examining your own life. Are you in a similar predicament? Is there an area where you are spinning your wheels, going nowhere? Go back and meditate on Fenelon’s words, and then go to God in prayer and wait in silence. And please, don’t skip or skimp on the silence. This is the place of quiet; the place of both emptiness and yet fullness; a place of paradox. In this reverberating silence, you will eventually here your answer and, beyond that, find your purpose. It is in this silent space that you will not only hear your song, you will learn how to sing it.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2013 All Rights Reserved.

* (Originally published in 2008, Encountering Sacred Silence is as pertinent now as it was then)

Spiritual Disciplines: New Wineskins for Ancient Wellsprings (Part Two)

English: Tail-piece to Ephesians. Ephesians 3:...
English: Tail-piece to Ephesians. Ephesians 3:14-15. Vignette with rays of light emanating from a Hebrew inscription including the name of God; letterpress in two columns above. 1800. Inscriptions: Lettered below image with production detail: “P J de Loutherbourg del”, “J. Heath direx” and publication line: “Pubd by T. Macklin, Fleet Street”. Print made by James Heath. Dimensions: height: 485 millimetres; width: 395 millimetres. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L.D. Turner

*Continued from Part One…

 In Paul’s remarkable prayer to the Ephesians (3:19) he petitions the Lord that “you may be filled with the fullness of God.” Have you ever really reflected on the magnitude of what the Apostle is saying in these few words? Basically, what Paul is asking God is that the believers in Ephesus become like Jesus. Any close examination of scripture reveals that the goal of our development as disciples of Christ is to become Christ-like; in essence, we are to cultivate Sacred Character.

Later on in Ephesians (4:15) Paul goes on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” This statement by Paul should not surprise us. Two verses earlier he flatly that in achieving maturity, we are to attain “the measure of the full stature of Christ.” I don’t know about you, but when I read this statement two things immediately occur within me. First, I am strongly convicted about how far I am from manifesting this kind of maturity in my daily life but, secondly, I am filled with hope that it is at least remotely possible. Paul would have never put it this way, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, unless it was indeed true.

In addition to the church’s general lack of focus on the spiritual disciplines and their strategic necessity in the life of the believer, two other problems seem to complicate the issue and result in either lackluster commitment to practicing the disciplines or, even worse, a general paralysis on the part of Christians when they attempt to make the disciplines a vital part of their walk of faith.

First, even though many churches are now speaking directly to the importance of the spiritual disciplines, it seems that this renewed focus spawns a loud and most often irrational outcry from fundamentalist believers who feel practicing the classical spiritual disciplines is somehow either a “New Age infiltration of the church,” or worse still, “the work of Satan.” This resistance is usually based on the general lack of understanding of what advocates of the spiritual disciplines are trying to accomplish. Writers such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brian McLaren, and countless others are branded “arch-heretics,” “apostates,” and even “dupes of the enemy.” This is highly unfortunate because nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of leading people away from the truth of the gospel, these authors are, instead, making a compassionate attempt to direct people toward experiencing the very heart of the gospel.

The blather and fear-based banter of these self-appointed doctrinal “watchmen” only serves to confuse sincere Christians even more and many times prevents them from finding the true heart of the gospel message. Even worse, keeps them bound in the chains of a narrow, rigid world view which is devoid of spirituality and arid when it comes to Christian love.

A second problem stems from the fact that the classic spiritual traditions were formulated centuries ago and are often wrapped in language and tone that is quite alien from our 21st Century world. I know from personal experience that studying the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages is a very fruitful endeavor, but can be quite a challenge due to the archaic language used in the texts. What is needed is a reformulation of the disciplines that is both understandable and engaging to the modern reader.

With this thought in mind, here at LifeBrook we have developed a method of exploring the principles that are contained in the classical spiritual traditions that is hopefully more pertinent and practical when it comes to life in the 21st Century. In brief, we teach workshops, seminars, training programs, and e-courses based on the following breakout of the disciplines:

Discipline of Consecration

 Discipline of Connection

 Discipline of Cognition

 Discipline of Contribution

 Discipline of Community

 Discipline of Comprehension

 Discipline of Calling

 Discipline of Cultural Engagement

 Discipline of Cultivation

  Consecration includes: decision, determination, diligence, commitment, perseverance, patience, etc.

 Connection includes: prayer, meditation, contemplation, solitude, nature

 Cognition includes: taking thoughts captive; tearing down strongholds; mindfulness; positive thinking; sacred imagination.

 Contribution includes: sacred service; spiritual gifts; mission; sacrifice, and most importantly, continuing incarnation.

 Community includes: our family and friends; our church; our community; our nature; our world.

 Comprehension includes: sacred study of Scripture and other inspirational writings; understanding of God’s Great Story; realization of where we fit into the “Big Picture,” including the role of the church in the coming years.

 Calling includes: discovery of where we, as individuals, fit into God’s unfolding story in terms of our calling, our mission, and our vision of how to live out our God-ordained destiny.

 Cultural Engagement includes: making ourselves ready to incarnate God’s plan within the context of post-modern, post-Christian culture in general and our own unique cultural setting in particular.

 Cultivation includes: ongoing growth in Christ-character by internalizing a Christian value system and acting in accordance with it; and the development of a Christian worldview, along with the capacity to have our actions consistently flow from said worldview.

  We fully recognize that this methodology does not represent the final word as far as contemporary expression of the spiritual disciplines is concerned. We have found, however, that looking at the spiritual technology of the Christian tradition in this way helps students and seekers understand the disciplines more clearly.

It is my profound hope that an increasing number of churches will come to understand the importance of equipping congregants with practical, time-tested methods for deepening the Christian walk of faith.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2009/2013 All Rights Reserved

Spiritual Disciplines: New Wineskins for Ancient Wellsprings: Part One

English: Altar and Reredos, St Wolfrida's Chur...
English: Altar and Reredos, St Wolfrida’s Church, Horton The reredos is early 18th century raised plaster work, coloured and gilded. The Dove in the centre symbolises the Holy Spirit; the four cherubs are said to be the four children of a vicar of the parish who died as infants. The “Pelican in her Piety” above is an emblem of Jesus Christ “by whose blood we are healed”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L.D. Turner

Solomon wisely tells us in the Book of Proverbs:

Keep watch over your heart, for therein lie the wellsprings of life

 The question that often comes as one reflects on these words of wisdom is simply this: How am I to go about keeping watch over my heart?”

 Throughout the history of the faith, one of the primary ways that sincere followers of the Master have gone about keeping watch over the heart, the deepest part of ourselves, is through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Meditation, prayer, sacred study, self-examination, confession, service, worship – all of this classical spiritual traditions have a role to play in helping us become more aware of ourselves and our behavior and, as a result, have withstood the test of time as quality ways in which we can deepen our walk of faith.

As Christians, scripture tells us that we are to increasingly grow into the character of Christ – in other words – become more Christ-like. Left to our own devices, this would be an impossible demand. Tainted by sin and mostly dominated by our lower nature, who among us could generate even a sliver of hope of emulating Jesus in thought, word, and deed?

Fortunately, scripture tells us that we have an omnipotent ally in this process of spiritual formation. The Holy Spirit walks along side of us, giving us strength to offset our weakness, wisdom to overcome our ignorance, and divine love to gradually eradicate our extreme self-centeredness. It is this promise of the Holy Spirit that gives us a reason to proceed down the road of spiritual formation and further, provides us with a legitimate assurance of success.

Still, we cannot fold our arms, lean back, and wait for the Holy Spirit to magically turn us into exact replicas of Christ. Over the centuries countless numbers of Christians have tried this approach with predictable results. Scripture is clear in stating that we have a part to play in the attainment of what we here at LifeBrook call “Sacred Character.” Sacred Character is based on the character and integrity exhibited by Christ during his mission here on earth. By studying the character of Christ, we can gain valuable insight into what it means to live our own lives from the sure foundation of Sacred Character.

As Jesus walked this earth, he revealed the character of God. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Christ and in this statement he revealed a profound truth. Christ was so intimate with the Father that his character and his behavior were perfect reflections of his heavenly parent. Our goal, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is to live in the same intimacy with Christ as he lived with the Father. If you want to gain a deep and abiding perspective on this kind of intimate relationship, I suggest that you prayerfully read through the 17th Chapter of the Gospel of John.

In order to grow into this type of intimacy with Christ and increasingly manifest Sacred Character in our daily lives, we must engage in certain activities that foster spiritual development in a positive and proven direction. These activities have a long and valuable history in the Christian tradition. Here I am speaking of the classic Christian spiritual disciplines.

In some quarters, sincere believers become edgy just at the mention of spiritual disciplines. Steeped in the theology of God’s unmerited and unlimited grace, these well-meaning Christians believe that pursuing the practice of the classical spiritual disciplines is somehow “salvation through works.” This kind of thinking is both incorrect and unfortunate. It is incorrect in the sense that the spiritual disciplines are not related to salvation or the final destination of one’s soul. Pursuing spiritual disciplines is more concerned with placing ourselves in a position of receptivity to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is about allowing the Holy Spirit to form us into the image of Christ. Although this spiritual formation is ultimately a work of the Spirit, we are told to do all that we can to assist in the process. As the great Quaker writer Rufus Jones once said,

“The grace of God is like the wind blowing across the Sea of Galilee; if you want to get to the other side, you have to raise your sail.”

 The notion that practicing the disciplines is “works” is also highly unfortunate in that this misguided belief has prevented countless Christians from availing themselves of the very thing they need in order to foster the deeper, more effective walk of faith. I am of the belief that the great “faith/works” controversy of the 16th Century, although beneficial in many ways, gave birth to a trend in Protestant Christianity that resulted in pews filled with believers that were both powerless and confused. This tragic trend continues even today.

As the Body of Christ moves forward in this challenging age, establishing ministries focusing on vibrant, dynamic discipleship is of paramount importance. Unless the church develops consistent ways to grow its members deeper in the faith, it runs the danger of becoming, at best, irrelevant to the contemporary culture, or at worst, dead.

To begin, I think it is critical that we come to understand just what a disciple is. From all evidence, it would seem the church at large has lost touch with a crucial element of its mission – disciple-making. Just prior to his ascension, Christ did not tell his inner circle to “go and make converts.” No, he told them to go and make disciples. It is obvious that constructing a workable definition of a disciple is a high priority. Margaret Campbell gives us a great jump-start:

A disciple of Jesus is a person who has decided to live in attentiveness to Jesus. We live in attentiveness in order to become like Jesus on the inside and, thereby, able to do what Jesus would do on the outside. As maturing disciples we progressively learn to live in attentiveness, adoration, surrender, obedience, and thankfulness to God, and all of this, without ceasing. Through the hidden work of transformation, God writes his good way on our minds and hearts and this is very good. By his grace, our hearts are divinely changed. We are progressively conformed to be like Jesus in mind and will and soul and word and deed. What we say and what we do more consistently reflect the glory and goodness of God.

 If that isn’t clear enough, let’s listen to George Barna:

True discipleship is about a lifestyle, not simply about stored up Bible knowledge. Often, churches assume that if people are reading the Bible and attending a small group, then real discipleship is happening. Unfortunately, we found that’s often not the case. Discipleship is about being and reproducing zealots for Christ. Discipleship, in other words, is about passionately pursuing the lifestyle and mission of Jesus Christ.

 From these two definitions it should be clear that real discipleship, the kind of Jesus-following that makes a difference in a person’s life and the life of others, involves more than wearing a “What would Jesus Do?” bracelet.

It is apparent, however, that the church lost its focus on the practice of spiritual disciplines over the years. As mentioned in Part One, I think this is one of the unfortunate side effects of the historical “faith/works” controversy. The result has been a general sense of confusion on the part of the Christian community in terms of the spiritual technology available to those who desire a deeper walk of faith.

One of the primary reason today’s church is becoming less of a force in society and even in the lives of those professing to be Christian is the fact that for many years the Body of Christ as a whole had lost the real meaning of the word “disciple.” Dallas Willard speaks directly to this tragedy:

 For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional.

 This lack of emphasis on discipleship in the contemporary church has led to many unfortunate circumstances, not the least of which is that so many Christians are walking around feeling as wounded, depressed, and hopeless as those outside the faith. That this is so, however, should not be surprising. Christ did not call us to a “country club” religion. In fact, he didn’t call us to religion at all. He called us to relationship and mission. To participate in this life-giving relationship and to fulfill our mission as Christ-followers, we must indeed become just that – Christ-followers. Tragically, few realize that this involves far more than belief in a few arcane doctrines, tossing off an occasional prayer, and being a tithing member of a local congregation. And perhaps nothing is more essential in this challenging age than having an army of true Christ-followers. Willard understands this necessity:

Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world. Any other offer fails to do justice to the drama of human redemption, deprives the hearer of life’s greatest opportunity, and abandons this present life to the evil powers of this age. The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.

 The notion that deep discipleship was optional was not a part of the early church. Willard continues:

…there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggest that you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with him.

to be continued…….

(c) L.D. Turner 2008/2009/2013/All Rights Reserved

Wise Words for Today

Cover of "An Altar in the World: A Geogra...
Cover via Amazon

The practice of paying attention is as simple as looking twice at people and things you might just as easily ignore. To see takes time, like having a friend takes time. It is a simple as turning off the television to learn the song of a single bird. Why should anyone do such things? I cannot imagine – unless one is weary of crossing days off the calendar with no sense of what makes the last day different from the next. Unless one is weary of acting in what feels more like a television commercial than a life.
The practice of paying attention offers no quick fix for such weariness, with guaranteed results printed on the side. Instead, it is one way into a different way of life, full of treasure for those who are willing to pay attention to exactly where they are. 

Barbara Brown Taylor

(from An Altar in the World)

A Prayer of St. Patrick

English: Saint Patrick stained glass window fr...
English: Saint Patrick stained glass window from Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven;

Light of the sun,

Splendor of fire,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

 

 I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me;

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s hand to guard me.

  

Afar or anear,

Alone or in a multitude.

  

Christ shield me today

Against wounding;

  

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

  

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

 

 Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ in me.

 

 I arise today

Through the mighty strength

Of the Lord of Creation.

Engaged Spirituality: Radical Compassion and Selfless Service (Part Two)

English: page with text of the Gospel of John ...
English: page with text of the Gospel of John 16:30-17:8 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Continued from Part One

It is not my intention to travel too far down this road of quantum physics at this juncture. Suffice to say that contemporary science is increasingly coming to grasp the same fundamental truths that mystics and shamans have voiced for many centuries. Simply put: Everything is interrelated and interdependent and when one part is affected by something, at a very core level, every other part is also impacted.

In teaching about the interrelated aspect of the universe, I often use a simple analogy that explains these principles in a basic way. I use the example of raisin Jell-o. Imagine you have concocted a delicious tub or raisin Jell-O. Choose your favorite flavor if you like. The raisins are the important thing, here. Now, what happens when you take your index finger and thump one of the raisins? All the raisins move. Crude as this metaphor is, it makes the point that all the raisins in the bowl are connected and if one raisin moves, they all move. This is what the mystics, and the quantum physicists, are talking about when they speak of interconnectivity.

This move toward proactive compassion is a move of grace. Perhaps you are not accustomed to looking at grace that way, but grace is what we are dealing with. As stated earlier, a major part of Christ’s incarnation and our ongoing mission is to give flesh to grace. Caroline Myss makes this cogent observation in her book, Invisible Acts of Power:

 What really happens inside you when you respond to someone in need? Why do some people jump out of their seats to help another person, while others look the other way? No doubt, some people have been taught to be kind and others may be naturally thoughtful. But I think something greater than compassion or good manners is at work, something beyond the motivation of the strong to help the weak or the wealthy to help the poor. I think it is the invisible power of grace, moving between the open hearts of give and receiver. The action itself, the lifting of a heavy piece of luggage or the drink of water offered to the thirsty man, may be small. But the energy that is channeled through that action is the high-voltage current of grace. It contains the power to renew someone’s faith in himself. It even has the power to save a life.

It should not be too difficult of an intellectual jump to see why this concept of interrelated reality should lead to a true and radical sense of compassion. What happens to me in the ultimate sense, happens to you and vice versa. When a child dies of hunger or disease in a poverty stricken nation, some part of each of us dies. We may not feel it, understand it, or even recognize it. Still, it is a fundamental spiritual and quantum truth. It is wise to remember the words of the 17th Century poet John Donne as he spoke of the custom of the time which involved ringing the town’s bell whenever someone died:

Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind;

Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

  Proactive Service

Many sincere aspirants have the mistaken notion that the ultimate goal of the spiritual path is enlightenment. Although a sincere desire for enlightenment is one of our most treasured possessions, it is actually penultimate. The real aim of the spiritual journey is simply this – Sacred Service. All that we do is dedicated to the greatest good of all beings in all the worlds. Our gain is their gain, our loss is their loss, our advancement is their advancement, and it is to this sacred reality that we offer our benedictions at the end of our times of meditation and prayer.

 In the Christian faith as exemplified by Jesus, personal enlightenment takes a back seat to serving others, spiritually and materially. Perhaps no where in the sacred writings of the world is this reality presented so directly as in the 13th Chapter of the Gospel of John.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and you, your band of rag tag friends, and the Master arrive at the Upper Room after a long, tedious, dusty day going about your business. You sit for a moment to catch your breath and unwind a few moments before you go wash up for the evening meal. You close your eyes for a few minutes, only to feel something or someone taking off your sandals. And to your utter disbelief, kneeling in front of you is the Master Jesus with a basin and a towel. Incredible….

The Master taught his disciples, and all of us who have read of this amazing episode, a clear and concise example of the essence of spirituality: selfless service with a heart of humility. If only more of us, especially those who claim to be followers of Jesus, would take this lesson to heart, our world would have much less pain.

The Kingdom of God is a divine realm of proactive compassion. This is the message that Jesus came to deliver and through his actions as well as his words, he delivered it consistently. In all that he did and he said, Jesus revealed to us the nature of God. This incarnational revelation was hinted at in the Master’s magnificent prayer in John 17. In the 21st verse the Master says:

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

 In the Bible’s most well known verse, John 3:16, it is stated that for God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. (NLT)

 Now, to make this even clearer, let’s look at one more verse in John 17. In verse three John records:

And this is the way to have eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (NLT)

Putting all this together, Jesus gave us a powerful but very real theology in this prayer and his disciple, John, fully caught its significance by saying in 3:16 that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to save it. On God’s part, this was a perfect example of “proactive compassion” or what we often call “grace.” Motivated by the purest form of love, God was moved to have compassion on we fallen creatures, even in our blind ignorance, and he literally gave that compassion flesh by sending us the Master Jesus.

(c) L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved