Archive for the ‘blindness’ Category

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.

from http://tennoshima.com/Events.html

In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.

Rising to new life

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Lord Jesus, lift me from the death of sin to new life!
Christ is risen, He is truly risen!

Reflection on readings for May 5 – Acts 13:44-52, Psalm 98:1-4; John 14:7-14

Acts 13: 44-52: Paul and Barnabas had preached the Word of God to the people and many were receptive to the message. But the Jewish leaders were resistant and stirred up trouble, inciting prominent women and leaders to create an atmosphere of persecution. Scripture tells us the Jewish leaders were filled with jealousy when they saw the crowds, to the point of violence.

What was pushing their hot button?

Being Chosen

For generations the Israelites were known as the Chosen People. One could get accustomed to that, being chosen. It could be clung to as a title; one could take pride in it.

One could say that because they were chosen, others were not. A sense of superiority and entitlement could rise up as a result.

Leaders of the Chosen

The Jewish leaders were not only chosen, they were also appointed as leaders over the chosen, making their position even more important. Leadership mixed with pride created the perfect breeding ground for jealousy, and for a closed mind and heart.

Unmoved

Now these leaders were witnessing their people being swayed by the preaching of Paul and Barnabas. If the people came to believe in Jesus, the leaders could lose their power and position.

The leaders desperately clung to their power. Pride blinded them to something so much greater. For leaders, their vision was small indeed.

In danger of clinging

What am I clinging to that blocks my vision? Am I proud of my accomplishments and am I ambitious for more? Are there things in this world that I love so much that it competes with my love for God and His people?

Tug of war

In the last couple of years, the Lord has lead me into reading and writing. I had not read on a regular basis since I was a child and now suddenly I live to read. Reading has born its fruits in a new love for writing. I find myself hungering to immerse myself all the time in these pursuits. I take pride in all that I am learning.

And yet, I feel the tug of competition between my new passion and my love for the Lord. I schedule time in the morning to read and reflect on the scriptures, and also to pursue my new passion. I feel that urge to “hurry up” with the scripture study so that I can get to what I “really” love.

And yet God gave me this new love! What sense does this make?

Worshipping the gift or the Giver?

Like the Jewish leaders being blinded by their love of power and position, denying themselves eternal life with Jesus, my passion for reading and writing can do the same. Even if the gift came from God, the gift can never become a god in and of itself; it must be lorded over by the only true God.

Lift me up

And so I pray for Jesus to offer his hand and lift me from this sin as He lifted Adam and Eve out of Hades and to new life  as shown in the above icon.

I ask Him to help me bring all the pieces of my life together into one whole, fully integrated so that there is no competition.

Nothing must compete with the only thing that truly matters – a growing, vibrant loving relationship with Jesus.

What’s blocking your vision?