Transfiguration

Mark 9: 1-8

When we are given a glimpse of the glory of God, the reality of the Kingdom, our own mission whether big picture or small picture guidance, it is easy to get stuck between the worlds. It’s scary to trust God and to have the courage to live the reality of the truth that is witnessed. As human beings, we don’t like to risk…we want to follow God but we want to be sure that our pension plans are set and that our friends, church family, real family, and others will support us and approve of us and validate our respectability…and therein lies the tension…between living heaven on earth or living on earth and simply worshiping heaven. Worshiping heaven can be good, but it also can be an excuse for not living the new truth that is revealed…what is possible when transformation takes place.

Do we consider ourselves courageous or a cowardly? Do we spend more time creating excuses as to why the time is not right or creating strategies and acting on them? Do you want to live a courageous life? Or do we want a safe life? Perhaps religion draws some people in the first place because they are looking for safety, and they have the perception that and if they could just get on the good side of God, then they’d have ultimate safety. Then something like the transfiguration in the story happens…you see a glimpse of God manifested, of the potential that is possible. The encounter with the Divine is meant to liberate you now, by helping you to see the limitations and fears that you have…wants you to yearn for what could be if you had courage. What would we be as individuals, in relationship, if we didn’t sabotage the transformation or try to control and diffuse the light of the divine acting in our world so that the light wouldn’t be as bright?

The trap in the story of the transfiguration is to think it is just about Jesus. If we make it just about recognizing who Jesus is then we don’t have to put ourselves on the line and hold ourselves accountable for following the grandest vision and the greatest truth of who God is and who we are called to be and how we are called to midwife heaven in this world. How many times have we put aside a spiritual truth or another truth so that we don’t have to be accountable to it because we are afraid?

We are called to be transfigured by the transfiguration…to live the love of God that passes understanding…to be channels of grace and blessing in the world…and to have enough courage, self esteem, and personal integrity not to allow fear and doubts (often of humiliation) to keep the light under a bushel.

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Removing Barriers

The art of spiritual formation is a process of removing barriers between one’s self and God, and between one’s self and other people.

When people think of spiritual formation, they often think about specific tools, like prayer practices, meditation, or retreat work. These tools can be useful at certain points in our lives, but the danger is in them becoming a substitute for true spiritual formation. The real thing, in my opinion is being a part of the mystical aspect in life and being responsive to the burning fire that is within. I have always felt like church, spiritual practices, etc. are like a boat that carries us to the other side of the river, but then it is our job to get up out of the boat and walk on the other side.

Authentic spiritual formation, and spiritual practices remind me of when my father was talking to me about chess awhile ago. He was saying that when computers play chess, they make use of their ability calculate possible moves. Strong computers can out calculate human players. Human chess masters, however, are able to see what are referred to as “deep combinations.” In these combinations, the first move seems inferior to another move by all conventional doctrine, yet opens up hidden possibilities for the second, third, and beyond moves that would have been closed off if conventional doctrine were followed. To compete at that level, machines have to be programmed to imitate the “inspiration” of a chest master and add that to their calculating ability. That’s difficult to understand, let alone program, because chess masters act intuitively and may be unable to articulate the patterns they see. The way that I think about it is that it is an artistic, in the moment, co-creative knowing in much the same way that being prophetic is. Spiritual formation programs can “imitate” the inspirations of those who are highly spiritually formed, but they cannot promise to provide access to the “deep combinations,” or grace which forms us spiritually.

I had a dream of myself sitting on a black and white checkered floor. There were many halls leading in various directions. Each hall contained possibilities for my life. Achievements, projects, people, etc. I was in a place of deep sadness and frustration because I could bypass time and space and check out the outcomes of all of those hallways…and they were all essentially interchangable, like changing the color of one’s shirt doesn’t really change what one is. I also knew that none of them led to what I ultimately longed for, which was to experience and express communion with God in my life and with others. There was a gap and nothing that I, as a human, could do could bridge the gap. So, I gave up the search and sat down on the floor and sad, “You’ll have to come and get me because I can’t get to you.” The next day, I started to have symptoms and found that I was sick with an illness that required that I spend a full month resting.  I realize that I was being presented with an opportunity for transformation and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss it or do it half way.

I have seen others presented with opportunities for transformation and have seen some walk into the fire, be burned, and in that burning be transformed into a new being. I have seen some decide that the cost of doing so would be too great, kind of like the story of the rich man that wants to follow Jesus but when he learns what it costs decides that he doesn’t want to pay that price. I do believe that Jesus blessed that man in his decision and I believe the God blesses all of us whatever we decide in those opportunities for transformation. I pray that I will have the courage and grace to not only walk in the fire, but stay there long enough to let everything burn that needs to, and not come out half baked like an undercooked cake.

Dark Night

darknightIn the accounts of the Dark Night, the darkness eventually recedes and the light comes back on. The question I have is approached in this way:

To what extent does an individual choose? What if someone says yes to
some light, but not to all of it? Does God in God’s grace allow the
light to come back on, perhaps at a lower intensity than might
otherwise be offered, honoring the individual’s free will and still
allowing that person to be of service in whatever ways she can be?

I am thinking that perhaps it is the choice, not necessarily a
surrender, that brings the end to the dark night. One choice leads you into mystical relationship in new depths with the Divine and a transformed life where you are more like Christ than ever before and the intensity of light is turned up, and the other allows you to still come into the light, but like a dimmer switch, at a lower intensity than might otherwise be possible. God lets you go gently and still very much blessed on your way to be in service in whatever ways God can work with you to be.

Perhaps the dark night gives us an opportunity to decide who will be and whose we will be and to what degree when the light does inevitably come back on. In that sense, the dark night is infused with God’s gentleness and mercy at the same time that it intensely pursues us to answer the question and say yes or no, and to what degree you can say yes to the relationship.

The movement spirals us closer to the Divine and we may go over the same ground multiple times, but at a different layer. Life has movements of consolation and desolation. To master life we need to be able to fully feel both while simultaneously being what I would describe as affectionately indifferent to both. Perhaps that movement, that cycle between light and dark is in some ways can be described as the multiple dark nights that people go through. The affectionate indifference can also be thought of as a faithful witness and reminds me of the quote from someone from the Holocaust who wrote on the walls of a Concentration Camp: ” I believe in the sun even when it is not shining And I believe in love, even when there’s no one there. And I believe in God, even when he is silent.”

I think that there often is the appearance of the plateau in working with the Spirit. I am in training to run a 10k, and I can tell you that as I train, I hit a new “plateau” after I have made some gain in strength or endurance. Then I don’t see much change for a while, and then, all of a sudden, I will notice that my body can do something it couldn’t do before.  These aren’t training plateaus in the sense that they are flat; after all, our biology doesn’t like flatlines, rather what is taking place is a dynamic equilibrium where the set point shifts. Before the set point can shift though, the body must make preparations to ready itself. I think that sometimes it is like that for us in terms of the Spirit. We may rest around a certain area for a bit, flickering between what we were and what we are called to be, and then we may take a small step in the direction that bids us to come.

Transformation

Butterfly Carton

The Christian life is transformation, being formed in the image of Christ. This does not mean that we are to live Jesus’ life as he did when he walked the earth. Rather we are to live our lives as Jesus would. Like Jesus says “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Romans 8:29 states that the ultimate goal of the Christian life “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” We are to become bearers of Christ. Paul writes:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

A number of versions of the Bible include the word “beholding” in this passage, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (English Standard Version).

We can learn a number of things about transformation from this passage. Paul writes that with unveiled faces we will reflect God’s glory. Earlier in 2nd Corinthians Paul said that Moses veiled his face so the people would not see its radiance after he beheld God (3:13). We are permitted to reflect or behold God’s glory uninhibited. These words imply more than a passing glance. They imply contemplation. Moses’ face was radiant when he was in the presence of God. So, too, as we contemplate and dwell with God we are transformed. Paul says in 3:16 that our veil is removed when we turn to God. Notice, also, that Paul says that we all are being transformed. Additionally, we are told that Christ’s likeness is ever-increasing glory. This suggests that transformation is a process rather than a one-time change.
There are a few approaches to transformation that I want to mention. The 2nd Corinthians scripture focuses on a mystical or meditative approach, being transformed to more closely reflect God’s image by contemplating God and dwelling with God. There is unity that arises in the intimacy of beholding God. Disciplines such as prayer, contemplation, partaking in the sacraments, worship and celebration, compassion, silence and solitude can help us walk this path. Another route is through a “less-is-more,” ascetic approach. This route focuses on simplicity and discipline to enable us to encounter ourselves and to strip away the things that keep us veiled, both from beholding God and from sharing God’s light with others. Disciplines such as abstinence, silence, solitude, study, and humility can strengthen us along this route. Another path is through piety. Through devotion and faithfulness expressed through charity, good works, confession, and witness we develop our capacity to encounter and share God’s holiness. Practices helpful to this method include participating in religious rituals, doing charitable work, making confession a regular part of our prayer life, and sharing God’s ability to transform our lives with others.

I wanted to mention two practices that I have found to be beneficial. I have come to think of it as  lectio divina (spiritual reading, for an introduction to the original practice of lectio divina click the link) applied to daily living, spiritual reading of everyday living. The idea is to focus on reading the Spirit behind and within situations that we encounter on a given day, just as the practice of lectio divina focuses on reading for the purpose of encounter God’s message. This practice involves allowing ourselves to encounter life, to reflect on what we have encountered noting a particular event or exchange that grabs our attention, inquiring about how encounter speaks to our lives, and then listening to God’s invitation expressed through the event.

All of these aspects and practices can be beneficial, and it has been my experience that each route and each practice strengthens the others. I mention the different approaches to highlight the variety of ways that we can encounter God. Also to emphasize that what is important is not the particular approach or methodology but intentionally being in God’s presence. It is God who transforms us.

Divine: Just in Time

I used to play a Super Mario Bros. game on Nintendo where the last levels of the game had a map where only my location in the game was illuminated and the rest of the map was pitch black. In the many years since I have played that game, I have encountered many situations where the next step was illuminated just in time.

Even when I have had a strong sense of what needs to happen next or in what direction I should go, everything often falls in place to allow me to take those next steps just in time.

Henri Nouwen talked about lessons learned from a circus troupe, specifically a group of trapeze artists and how they were a metaphor for trusting in God as the ultimate catcher. The metaphor applies to this topic too.

Flying Trapeze

The trapeze “flyer,” the one who will leap off his bar and be caught by the “catcher,” cannot leave his bar when it looks safe to do so…when the catcher is in place to catch him, because if the flyer does, then the catcher will have moved to a different spot by the time the flyer gets to the targeted spot. The safest move is to release from the bar before the catcher arrives at the spot, so that the catcher arrives just in time.

My sense is that we, as a planet, as human beings on spiritual journeys (or spiritual beings on a human journey, if you prefer) are moving into a new time where new ways of doing things are needed. We are taught that being prepared is a virtue, and it is, but so is honoring uncertainty and trusting that God will provide…that bridges will be built as you cross the body of water, not necessarily days and weeks and months earlier when you’re trying to decide if it is safe to make the trip.

Lesson from Balance Beams

I have always been fascinated by the gymnasts who can jump and twist and flip, all without falling. The gymnast who isn’t willing to risk, can’t really be a gymnast. Besides the courage to risk, the gymnast must have discipline to practice and to build skills to new heights of difficulty. To be successful on the balance beam, the gymnast must also be present. Lose focus and concentration and it’s easy to let gravity take over and the fall begin. The balance beam has a lot to teach us about life.

8/28-Restoring Honor Rally in DC

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered near the Lincoln Memorial for a rally to promote faith, hope, and charity. The rally was not political in that it didn’t try to push the agenda of one party or another. However, it called people to live with honor in their own lives and to learn to listen to how God called them as individuals.

The times in the world are such that they require that we be the best of who we are in order for each and all of us to survive and thrive. Let us rise to such a challenge.

Creativity is Discernment + Courage

Creativity is in demand. Creativity doesn’t mean that one is a fine artist, although creativity and art can go together well. Businesses are looking for people who can innovate and who can think along the edges of the box. Real world problems like the gulf coast oil spill, health care, poverty, energy, and a host of others all need fresh perspectives. In the self-help culture there is this notion that you have the power to create your reality. In some religious orientations, we speak of this creativity as free will…we can choose and in so doing create our fate. But as so often is the case with a good idea, we fall into to the trap of thinking that held the Ancient Greeks and Chinese, that the sun and stars revolved around the earth…to believe that the universe revolves around us and our job  is to get as much out of it as we can. To really be creative we need a dose of Copernicus and to recognize our role in the creative process. Our job in being creative is to discern the voice of the Divine and to have the courage to follow this guidance. Sometimes we can get too religious in this in the sense that we talk about God’s will and our will as being entirely separate things and having to sacrifice what we want to follow God. But very often, the best things in life come to us either at a time or in a way that we don’t expect. The sun being at the center means that the earth can orbit and find its warmth and we can enjoy its bounty. The universe doesn’t seem to be stable with a start revolving around a much smaller planet.

Personality Type

One of the most widely used measures of personality is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is based on the personality theory of Carl Jung as adapted by Myers and Briggs. The type indicator recognizes 16 different personality types based on preferences in four categories:

  1. Energy orientation–Introverted (get recharged from inner world, imagination, time alone or with a few close friends) or Extroverted (energy from outside world, people and activities).
  2. Information gathering–Sensing (five senses) or Intuition (hunches, patterns, possibilities).
  3. Values in decision-making–Thinking (logical, rational) or Feeling (consideration of emotions and others).
  4. Way of interacting–Judging (structured, closed-ended) or Perceiving (open-ended, flexible).

There is a lot of information about the different types and theories that is available to better understand this and the link above goes into more detail.

Seems to me that different personality types would have preferences for different types of spirituality. For example, extroverted individuals would likely prefer more group interactions and fellowship, whereas an introverted individual might prefer a silent retreat or more time for reflection. People with a preference for sensing might especially like to walk a labyrinth or experience God in nature, whereas an intuitive might especially appreciate a religious symbol or ritual. A thinker might be interested in the scholarly writings or to ensure that his or her belief system was logical, whereas a feeler would want to be engaged emotionally in the experience. Those with a preference for judging would do well with a regular spiritual discipline, whereas those with a preference for perceiving would rather sense the Spirit and go with the flow.

The creators of the MBTI are careful to point out that type should not be used to stereotype people (just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t like a good group discussion or that if you’re an extrovert you can’t handle a silent retreat), but perhaps personality type is another area where we could customize spiritual formation to some extent, provided we don’t lose the balance needed for wholeness.

Teeny Teamwork

A hot topic in microbiology is that of quorum sensing, which refers to single-celled microorganisms displaying social behavior. Small signal molecules are the means of communication through which the microbes can coordinate gene expression within a community. This type of teamwork may be an evolutionary precursor to multi-cellular organisms and may provide possible pathways for improving the use of beneficial bacteria or destroying pathogenic bacteria. So, bacteria cultures may actually have a culture. It’s amazing how the interaction between individual and community can be seen at the tiniest levels as well as the largest levels of “life” in the universe.