Archive for the ‘ humility ’ Category

Winter Solstice: An Advent Collision

Last night crept in, longest night of my life–farthest north I’d ever been on a winter solstice–and I dissolved into the sort of writhing, fearsome sobs that feel like they ought to produce something. I hoped they would.

“I am feeling overwhelmed,” I told my husband. “I think I’d benefit from some time alone.” I imagined the angels looked down upon me, sorry I was in such consternation.

Two Mary figures vie for my affections. The first, Lady Mary of Downton Abbey. She is not the exemplar of success; it’s only that she fell into the comfort of an aristocratic family and has the pride, class, and stubbornness to hold onto it. And then there is Mary, mother of God. Her most confident cry is one of praise that God has favored her in her humility.

I want to be both, to stop sniveling in apology and worry, to be the listener and accepter that Mary is: Let it be unto me. For three years running, that line grips me. But couldn’t I yet know the graces of being a confident woman, whose etiquette and words are so deftly handled that it’s a social comfort to be with me in any circumstance? On the other hand, if I choose let it be, then I fear my natural foibles will fall undisciplined upon and around me, an embarrassment to the potential of beauty in the universe. In short, surely both Marys cannot coexist in me.

If I accept that I am growing and not seeing my own growth, then I accept that it is okay to be in the dark, to be ignorant. Maybe it’s never a lingering thing, of course, but it seems a weak word anyway: ignorance. Pressing on, accomplishing my version of good, making and remaking–in the name of glory (but never, admittedly, in the name of greed)–those are the prizes of success: not that we are given to, but that we are able to give and must, by all means. Christmas giving, after all.

Oh, our tilted axis, and oh, earth orbiting round the sun–you mean dark days. Clark Strand, in his New York Times article “Bring on the Dark: Why We Need the Winter Solstice”, honors the idea of darkness as something robbed from us in our modern generations’ immersion in artificial light. Darkness used to be a holy space, when people of old “touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life….It was once the hour of God.”

The hour of God. The hour of open hands. The hour of sleep, when there is ample space for rest. Darkness puts a stop to our constant seeing, our intentional discovering. Perhaps it leaves space unfilled, so that we may be recreated and named by God instead of giving in to “the impulse to remake the world in our own image.”

There will be light in time; there will be springs and summers in which to walk and plan and build. But in the darkness, we open the habitual possibility of listening to the words of a messenger angel, who may tell us what great blessing comes to the world beyond all that we could ever dream, through us (see Mary mother of God’s story) or through others (see Joseph the carpenter’s story).

Or maybe we will grow to savor the darkness, when nothing of consequence at all is announced, when we realize that peace has already come.

The Space of Worth

She had already started an uncomfortable widening in my mind regarding God’s love. When I gawked at my invitation into the wild and free space of voicing my own opinions, Fran* stood by my unique worth. After all, when had God ever reneged his gift?

Fran’s words had a chill certainty. That tilt of her head, the little uplift of her chin–you had to believe what she said, even if she made you cower six feet into your chair cushion. Sometimes I’d just let my eyes caress the stretching prairie outside the window–that place always free. Or I’d watch the wood moulding around the windows that was more likely to move than the stiff memory of the men and women in my childhood church–people who were always close to mind in Fran’s living room.

The scrappy book I toted to Fran’s was the sure symbol of stepping into my new worthiness–that worthiness I’d only begun to see. I would read to Fran snatches of my becoming. I needed her to believe I was living up to my new name: Changing One.

I read her a “changing” passage from my journal, one where God had visited me through the words of the Bible and ushered in some magical newness.

Perhaps it wasn’t so new or magical to Fran? My seconds of testimony launched her into ten minutes of reexplaining the passage, in more words, precise words. She piled her thesis on top of my scribbled journal note. And I withered.

But, no! I was worthy, after all, and she was snuffing those pieces sacred to me, smashing out my fragile worthiness. And by God, if I didn’t have a sour opinion of her right now! Well, I’d tell her, if she wanted to know the truth buried in this shivering, worthy girl.

I lifted my chin; I turned on her.

I finished my lament sweaty and avenged.

“So,” Fran said, “because you’re hurt, you’re going to throw blame back on me?” And if that wasn’t a selfish and childish thing to say!

But she wasn’t fighting; she hadn’t absorbed the grenade I’d just launched at her. The fuze sizzled, fizzled out. And there was Fran, standing there in all her chin-uplifted worthiness, not a shadow of fragility about her. It was like in the middle of her living room–molded and still–she could sit there as free and alive and unstifled as the prairie.

In fact, since she had opened no hateful barrage in return, I could only absorb Fran’s words as invitation. An invitation to stand, already worthy, already free. We could stand as tall grasses beside each other, one as worthy as the next, out there in the wind and sun, where there was all the space in the world.

::

*name has been changed

An Artist’s Prayer

I have been pressing forward in my writing even though the odds of relational and logistical stress have been more weighty than ever. Add that to the mix of a slow-coming spring, and it’s easy to assume that everything will always be grey. In the name of Jesus, I refuse to be that dismal. This may have been a heavy winter in the midwest, but it also creates the opportune backdrop for hope.

Inspired by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, I wrote a daily prayer that reflects the truths in which I’ve been resting. If you are an artist (and I believe you are!), you may want to use the prayer or write your own.

Dear Abba, my holy Mama, my Savior Jesus, my present Spirit-God–

I lift to you these hands, these eyes and ears, this voice, this body, this mind, and this heart for your creative purposes.

I acknowledge and honor you as the source of all my creativity, and I worship you as the Great Creator who desires to create miraculous art through me.

I believe — and confess in your presence — that my most beautiful art works with, and not in opposition to, my relationships. Your purpose for me is to love, and as I admit, accept, and live that love, I create the most stunning masterpieces.

I commit to resting in your presence.

I commit to curiosity and not knowledge.

I commit to you my failures, knowing that you have already atoned for them all.

I commit to loving you, myself, and others.

I commit to forgiveness toward myself and others.

I commit to humility and courage — two love-birthed garments to wear every day.

I commit to taking loving, creative risks in faith, even when I don’t fully understand the outcomes.

I give you, Creator-God, glory for all good and all love that flows through me, and I name you as the place in which I find rest, peace, and everlasting, abundant life.

I acknowledge that none of my declarations can generate this new life and that it is all due to the regenerative power and grace of your Son. I offer myself boldly and freely according to what you have already shown me — what I have seen with my eyes that you alone have opened.

I ask that you would help me to denounce the lies of the enemy, as well as his plans for destruction.

I trust that you will allow only the suffering that is being used to generate creative glory for your Son, so I can accept it without bitterness, guilt, or reproach.

I accept the everlasting life, freedom, and joy you have offered me today. I am made for living fully in you and for your name’s glory.

Humbly, joyfully creating,

Amen.

You Can Stop Defending the Bible: A Book Response

We trust the Bible, not because we can show that there is no diversity, but because we believe, by the gift of faith, in the one who gave Scripture, not in our own conceptions of how Scripture ought to be.

I love it when God knocks down my notions about how I’m supposed to be a good Christian. He did it when Kyle and I adopted Ari by totally wiping hero complexes right off our faces. And now He did it again when I read Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Peter Enns).

I love the comparison Enns makes between Christ and Scripture:

Scripture is the only book in which God speaks incarnately. As it is with Christ, so it is with the Bible–the ‘coming together’ of the divine and human sets it apart from all others.

Enns says his purpose is to begin a conversation about biblical difficulties, such as those that exist in Old Testament historical accounts (some in 1 and 2 Samuel differ slightly from the same stories in 1 and 2 Chronicles, for instance); diversity of commands that change according to context (conflicting wisdom within the book of Proverbs); and outright misquoting of Old Testament passages by New Testament authors.  With the specific examples Enns shares, we’d be hard-pressed to argue that no inconsistency exists in Scripture. Even an argument to only read passages within context falls through when we lack the complete cultural lens through which each biblical author wrote. Objectivity is overrated, I’d say, if even the apostle Paul misquotes Scripture in Scripture.

These are uncomfortable subjects, and for many — including me — the knee-jerk reaction is to defend the Bible. After all, if there are inconsistencies within the book, then won’t our system of beliefs fall like a house of cards? If we really believe in God, though, perhaps it is best to admit that He can defend His own word, since He chose to reveal Himself in this manner.

Any clipped “black and white” interpretations of biblical expectations are always up for discussion, are they not? If they hold water, they will not be threatened by honest discussion.

That’s what Inspiration and Incarnation makes me want to do — reach across the mysterious span of my church experience and start thoughtful, love-inspired conversations with people. With you, if you’d like.

It’s been a long journey here, growing up as I did in a church tradition that took select biblical passages literally, such as greeting others with kisses and requiring head coverings for women believers. But this type of literal reading breaks down when Jesus commands us to cut off a body part that causes us to sin. He couldn’t mean that! we say. And so we are bound to biblical interpretation. It takes a good bit of humility to exegete Scripture, and we must be willing to discuss it with those who differ in opinion, resting firmly in the Spirit Himself to guide us into truth.

It is our own limited cultural context that causes us to interpret the Bible one way or the other. But the point that Enns makes is that the incarnation of God through the Bible means that He did come into our messy existence to give us the words that we have.

That God willingly and enthusiastically participates in our humanity should give us pause. If even God expresses himself in the Bible through particular human circumstances, we must be very ready to see the necessarily culturally limited nature of our own theological expressions today. I am not speaking of cultural relativism, where all truth is up for grabs and the Bible ceases being our standard for faith. I simply mean that all of our theologizing, because we are human beings living in particular historical and cultural moments, will have a temporary and provisional–even fallen–dimension to it.

If that sounds hopelessly dismal, Enns reminds us, too, that God intends for us to be strapped to our time and place. Awareness of my limited nature sends me into awe of the One who incarnated Himself in the Bible for us, and it makes me more willing to discuss doctrine rather than demand that my interpretations are right.

I think this gives me space to talk to my brothers and sisters in my former churches, even if the doctrinal differences are awkward. It gives me space to talk to my current community of believers, where we can challenge and strengthen each other. I can also respect and feel at peace in communities like that of the Benedictine abbey I visited. I can talk to soldiers even though I have more of a pacifist bent. I can form friendships with homosexual or transgendered people who love Christ. The same Spirit guides us into all truth. They have access to God’s incarnated word just as I do, and He can effectively handle all of our junk.

And beyond the body of Christ, trusting in the Spirit to teach gives confidence to discuss the Bible with Muslims and Buddhists, and anyone who does not claim Christ as God. We can have solid faith in the One who gave us the Bible without trying to make excuses for its tricky parts. It can stand on its own.

 

Linking up with Kelley Nikondeha

The Humility Story: A Reason to Hunger During Advent

No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God — for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel. God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.

-Oscar Romero

How Worship Creates the Artist

There is no distinction between the artist and the person who has experienced God. No experiencer of God is not an artist.

-Matthew Fox

To create with all abandon — is that worship?

Just as abandon of the heart leaves us open to receive from God His quickening, abandon of the creative powers allows full function of their activity. This abandon is God-worship. God-worship is an opening up, and it enables us to reflect creatively on what our senses have perceived. Without worship, we will be stunted in our expression to only that which we have already seen. Worship opens our creative expression up to more, but that means it must also not be bridled by our personal idolatry. Idolatry is worship limited to created things; it does not worship something eternal and yet unseen, and thus does not give opportunity for human originality in our creating.

God-worship must exist therefore, or what is created will be limited to cliche. We will be tempted to reproduce the work of others we say we merely admire. For instance, I have read Ann Voskamp’s blog A Holy Experience for years, and I find myself tempted to adopt her style of phrasing — and sometimes I do without noticing, which will never create truly worthwhile art. I realized this when I read L.L. Barkat’s book, Rumors of Water.

Writers worry a lot about… voice. They are always wondering if they have one, and if not, how they can find one. The truth is that every writer has a voice. It is probably best heard by listening to oneself speak. However, once a writer starts setting down words, a process of elimination and substitution begins. A writer thinks there is a way to sound on the page, and reaches for it. Sometimes this works out okay; often, it makes for stilted language or turns the writer into an accidental copycat.

In my work [as] an online Managing Editor, I sometimes say things like this to the editors I work with: ‘Watch out for the Ann Voskamp stage; almost everyone who reads Ann’s blog ends up dropping articles. Put the the‘s and the an‘s back in. Cultivate the writer’s own voice.

I love to hear Barkat attest to each person’s unique voice. That means there is space for unique art. I discovered this in the woods last week, as I looked up at a tree, reaching and twisting in a way never done before. The tree would have been mad to demand that it be fashioned like another tree. I was further impressed by how it reached and twisted not of its own volition but of God’s. Neither did the tree gloat about its stout branches, or the curve of them; that too would have been insane. Instead, it stood resolutely because it was quickened in the function of being a tree. Its giving-in, or humility, if you will, did not make it passive. Quite the opposite: the tree was very much alive. Irresistible worship gave the tree its uniqueness and allowed creativity to be expressed in it to its fullest.

God-worship is not irresistible for us, and so can get caught up in self-worship, creation-worship. But opening our hands, minds, bodies to the art we are made to express is the beginning of God-worship. Perhaps that explains why ideas flow more easily in the process of writing more than in my planning or worrying over a piece of work. In those moments, I am already submitted to the Giver of words, even though I have not handled them yet. I recognize Him as faithful to supply them.

I have a book called Space for Godand it is graced with prints of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, a man who said Christ “is more of an artist than the artists.” He was a man who worshiped, who allowed himself to be taught by the infinite.

We like to call Van Gogh great, or e.e. cummings great, or any of the revered artists great. But those whom we call great were ones merely stunned by the greatness of the Other — God — a necessarily humble state. Human creativity cannot happen without that stunning, without glory blinding away our self-worship into worship of God.

A word for 2013

Tonight I sat in a circle of community, the men and women who are here in my day to day life, following Jesus with me. And Ben posed the annual question: If you were to imagine one word God has for your 2013, what would that word be? In what area do you believe God is ready for you to blossom?

After splitting our group into two smaller ones, it was a rich gift to sit with women face to face and hear them speak heart into single words.

trust

create

intentionality

affection

Such good words for such good women. I love them more to hear their words.

Rest was my word for 2012. Eager for physical rest, the word came easy to me. But still lacking rest in the physical sense, I can attest that the rest of being given the gospel, of having open palms to receive goodness from God is much more sustaining than a specific ration of sleep. Yes, He is more than enough. I can take real Sabbath rest because of how He gives.

Could I just pick Jesus for my word next year? He is the right answer to everything. Light Himself, Life Himself. Or gospel — what Jesus came for? It is so precious to me, and it is the driving force behind humility.

Ah, humility. That would be a natural choice. But still it flits about mysteriously, shyly, as if it would rather not have a slot on the word-of-the-year list.

I think I am settling on hospitality.

Three years ago I read a little book called Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of LoveIt was beautiful, opening up the word hospitality to carry the weight of much more than a warm dinner for obligated guests. No, hospitality, as the book demonstrated, is an opening of the heart more than an opening of the home. Hospitality says, “Welcome. There is space for you here, inside of my life.”

I like hospitality for my 2013 word because of how warmly it handles all the other big words God has been pressing into my life: gospel, humility, gratitude, community, grace, surrender.

  1. Gospel: The gospel is what has already been done for me. I cannot function with an open heart unless Christ has already opened His for me.
  2. Humility: In serving the needs of others with intent listening or acts of recipient-minded service, self-focus must, as a prerequisite, be lain down. My accomplishments or embarrassments fade in light of Christ-focus (i.e. humility).
  3. Gratitude: Only when I am conscious of my own riches can I recognize the wide space within me for others. Only open hands can receive; only open hands can reveal all that is already in them.
  4. Community: Our perception of God’s glory is heightened when we worship Him in community. Hospitality — an open heart toward my community — gives me more reason to worship.
  5. Grace: To handle the differences of others with a heart of acceptance is the constant climate of hospitality.
  6. Surrender: To others, I give in to their agenda and their benefit. I release my freedoms for the sake of the gospel. To God, I put up my hands and say, “I give in. You’ve got this one.”

Do you have a word of the year, for this year or next? I’d be honored to have you share it here, so we share in our journey together.