Refocus from Discouragement to God’s Resume

Questions on my author Facebook Fan Page this month were from folks who are discouraged with the evil all around us and/or discouraged with the bad name that Christians are getting so that others do not want to claim the name of Jesus. I said I would weigh in, which I can do only by telling of my own experience. It is important for us to stay in touch with the things going on in our world, but not to let them suck us in. 

I have found that the most effective way is to refocus on God by reviewing God’s “resume!”  Review God’s resume by sitting quietly and reflecting on your life and on specific instances of God’s presence, God’s action, and God’s help in your life.

The more trouble you have refocusing on God, the further back in your life you should go, even to your infancy —  and then back beyond that, to God’s acts in history and in creation itself!

This kind of prayer focuses your mind on God, attacks worry, and builds trust in your heart.  I know.  I’ve tried it many times.

When I was having radiation after cancer surgery, I was told by the staff that after it was over, I would be depressed – not might be, but would be. The main reason for that certainty was that for five days a week for six weeks I would be seeing medical providers and having treatments at the hospital. Suddenly all of that would be over, my body would be weakened from the radiation, and the reality of having gone through cancer treatments would finally sink in. This would not be the kind of clinical depression that needs ongoing medication but would be another part of the treatment and healing cycle.

Well, I did get a little bit depressed, and according to my own efforts to control, I “allowed” myself a certain length of time to be depressed. When my depression didn’t lift when I wanted it to, I talked with my pastor.

He said simply, “Praise Him!”

“How weird is that?” I thought to myself. “How is that going to help anything?”

But I began to follow his advice. I had memorized the first few verses of Psalm 103 as a child, and I began to pray that passage whenever I felt depressed or blue:

Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me! Bless God’s holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercy, who satisfieth thy mouth with good things so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me! Bless God’s holy name!

Using that prayer of praise and thanksgiving speeded the end of my post-treatment depression. How much more does thanksgiving bring joy and peace into our everyday lives!

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Summer/Earth

 

Earth and work and heat

and sex and growth and weeds

and then:

 

Out of the dirt made of earth and sweat,

Out of the hope and trust and labor,

Comes the harvest promised to those

who live and love and bear fruit in God,

in loving surrender to the creative purpose,

with humility, humus, earthiness.

 

They shall go in and possess the land

in peace and joy and freedom,

in harmony and humility

with all of creation.

© 1996 Nancy R. Smith

 

(See also Fall/Fire, Winter/Wind, and Spring/Water in the series “Seasons”)

 

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How I Gave Up Water and Apples and Joined the Dance!

Matthew 28:16-20, John 14:18, 20, 26, John 15:4, 11

Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, but it is often ignored or scarcely mentioned in many protestant churches. The Trinity is among my favorite mysteries, along with the Incarnation, Resurrection and Pentecost, but that was not always the case for me! I didn’t pay much attention to the concept of the Trinity until I was middle-aged. Today I invite you to join me in the dance with this Mystery!

Mystery implies a sense of awe, an understanding that we are in the presence of something that is bigger than us, beyond us, — something that transcends us. And so it is when we speak of the Trinity. In Hunting the Divine Fox: Images and Mystery in Christian Faith Robert Farrar Capon has said that our attempt to describe God is as foolish as an oyster trying to describe a ballerina!

Our human thinking tends to lead us to what is considered the heresy of modalism – understanding God to be in three forms, or modes – kind of like a science fiction shape-shifter! This is a comparison of the unity of God like H2O and the trinity of God like ice, water, and steam, an analogy I heard as a child. Or likening the Trinity to an apple with three parts – seeds, flesh, and peeling. These were not at all satisfying, even then, and my response was “So what?”

In my middle-age I was surprised and delighted to discover the Mystery of Dance! I learned that the concept of Trinity comes from the Greek word perichoresis, which means “revolving” or “circling around.” It comes from peri, meaning around and choresis, meaning dancing and comes from the same root word as choreography. Roman Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson elaborates:

“God is not a singleness but a communion, a living fecundity of relational life. For God to be is to be in relation, this is the primary characteristic of God” [and] each of the three divine ‘persons’ [of the Trinity] dynamically circles around, pervades, and interweaves the others in what some theologians call a dance of divine life” [1]

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, articulated it in a most interesting way, as explained by 20th century Roman Catholic Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B:

We are the People of God, dancing on pilgrimage….

The great Church Father St. Gregory Nazianzus, in the fourth century, gave us a Greek word to describe this marvel: perichoresis. The word literally means “moving around.” It’s how the Greek theologians in the early Church described the dancing in the Trinity. It’s the sign that God’s love is so full that it can’t stay still.

Some of these Fathers of the Church even said that God’s love was so great that it had to break forth. Creation itself, they say, is nothing but God’s love looking for more things to love….

But the next marvel is also incredible. God wanted to come down and swoop up all of that creation into the dance of love, the perichoresis. And … why God becomes one of us…. God’s love and God’s life swoop down and that God somehow wants to pull up all of creation, including us human beings, into that dance, God’s inner life….

That’s why the next marvel is even more wonderful. The mission of Jesus Christ is handed over to us human beings. What a risk Christ took! He’s telling all of us that’s the Good News; that we have to dance to the right tune (a love song, actually), we have to be a part of and eventually share totally in the dance of the Trinity. [emphasis added][2]

As this understanding of the Trinity developed, it came to include the concept of  interpenetration – the mutual indwelling of each Person of the Trinity with each other. Donald G. Bloesch describes it this way:

[God] is capable of having fellowship with humanity because he has fellowship within himself. He is capable of caring because he embodies love within himself…. He is a gregarious God, seeking to include man in fellowship with himself….[3]

Unlike a single Person or a Couple, a Trinity leaves room for us, as C. S. Lewis explains:

The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.[4]

The doctrine of the Trinity is not clearly stated in the New Testament but it was part of the life and experience of early believers. The early church’s experience of God was as One and as Three. This is powerfully and mysteriously expressed in the Gospel of John:

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you..…you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. ….the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  (John 14:18, 20, 26) Abide – that means “pitch your tent” —  in me as I [pitch my tent]  in you…. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:4, 11)

Shaun McCarty, S.T. wrote a little book which totally changed my understanding of the Trinity and has brought me joy ever since I first encountered it: Partners in the Divine Dance of Our Three Person’d God:

We best reflect their divine life and activity when we live as they do, as “partners” in the divine dance—in spiritual community with them and with one another.

By “spiritual community” I mean the experience of … a unity-in-diversity engaged in mutual dialogue and selfless love…. This is an invitation to become partners with our three-person’d God in their divine dance. [emphasis added] [5]

This understanding of the Trinity invites us to celebrate God with great love and joy!

What is more hospitable than the invitation to dance, an invitation to intimacy? ….the dancers and the dance are one—and the whole world needs us to dance and to invite them out on the floor with us, all hearing the same music and responding to it in our own ways. Or is it that the whole of creation is dancing and we’ve just caught the music?[6]

We are invited to Dance and, equally important, commissioned to continue to invite and include others in the Dance of God’s Divine Life and Love until the prayer of Jesus is fulfilled that we all become one and Joy shall be full!

Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost, where worship settings often include fiery-colored streamers and helium-filled balloons. Perhaps next year, our Trinity celebration should include round dancing!

 

 

[1] Elizabeth A. Johnson and Julia H. Brumbaugh , “Trinity: To Let the Symbol Sing Again,” http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/SFS/an0599.asp
[2] http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jun1999/feature1.asp#F4
[3] Donald G. Bloesch, The Struggle of Prayer
[4] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 13
[5]Shaun McCarty, S.T.,Partners in the Divine Dance of Our Three Person’d God (NY:Paulist Press, 1996, p. 4-5)
[6] Shirley Cunninghamat the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation Residency in 1990

 

 

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Who Will Read My Book?

Today’s post is something different! This blog is an experiment in revealing personal aspects of my spiritual journey as I prepare to write a spiritual memoir. But today I am focusing on things I have learned in an intensive five-week course called “Book Marketing Challenge” by D’vorah Lansky.

When asked to reveal my favorite challenge, I have to say that it was the very first day when the topic was “Identifying Your Target Audience and Building an Author Platform.”

When I published my Workplace Spirituality: A Complete Guide for Business Leaders  in 2006, it was easy to identify my target audience: I wrote the book specifically for supervisors and middle managers in business and also for college students beginning or considering a business degree.

The book that is now in the planning stage is a spiritual memoir.  I had not given any thought to defining a target audience, so these thought-provoking questions gave me pause:

  • What is the message of your book?
  • Why do you want to share your message with the world?
  • How can the message of your book help your readers?
  • Who are your ideal readers? (Be as specific as possible.)

My answers at that stage of the game consisted of variations on the following theme:

“Gee, I dunno… I’m sharing a personal story and I thought you might be interested, in case you have had similar experiences and are afraid to express them.”

That was clearly inadequate!  Who thought you needed to define an audience for a personal story! Now I knew!

I spent most of the rest of that day working on answers. First I did some research on the reported frequency of religious or mystical experiences, or “peak experiences” as described by Abraham Maslow. Then I made significant progress in clarifying the message of my book and creating a working definition of my audience, with these answers to the day’s questions:

The message of my book is that direct experiences of God – what I call “startle experiences” –are real! Nearly 50% of Americans have had these experiences.

I want to share my message because traditional versions of nearly all religions are based on rules and retribution.

My message can help my readers  understand that God is not an angry, offended God seeking vengeance against them, but a loving God seeking intimacy wtih them.

My ideal readers are:

  • Christians who question the traditional message of a vengeful God who demands retribution in the name of justice.
  • Everyone who has had unexpected “startle experiences” of God and wants to know more.

With this as a foundation, I also reworked my book descriptions, elevator speech, and possible book titles.

Sometime in the next 10-12 months I will invite my followers to vote on my book’s title. The present version of my elevator speech, including one possible title, is:

Discovering Fire: From burned hands to a burning heart invites you to struggle along with Nancy Smith, as she deals with a severe burn and grows from passionate fundamentalism to a mystical experience of being stalked by the fiery Presence of God.

My target date for this book is September 2015 and I took the “Book Marketing Challenge” because I know that marketing and writing a book need to go along together! It is a book’s death knell to delay marketing until the writing is done!

P.S.  Please come and Like my Author Fan Page on Facebook.
I just set up the bare bones of it last night!

blog-hop

 

 

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Downsizing

Luke 12:13-21

I’ve been trying to downsize for years. I’ve had my share of yard sales. I’m not very good at them and tend to flail around wondering how to lay out the merchandise.

During and after my move from Maine to Michigan I went through books and papers that I hadn’t seen in decades!  “Experts” advise throwing out such things without looking carefully at them, saying that if you haven’t needed them by now, you can live without them!

Certainly I have disposed of college papers and tests, giving them only a quick glance. But reading reflections that I wrote during the Women’s Movement and when I was immersed in workshops on white racism, has helped me in the “life review” that is one of the tasks of aging. Those reflections have also inspired me to share some of my inner experiences with a wider audience.

I am challenged by the man who wanted to build bigger barns in Luke 12:13-21.  It’s easy to keep one’s distance in thinking about this parable because very few of us depend on crops for our livelihood, and perhaps there are some reading this who have never seen a barn!

Comedian Steven Wright quipped: “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” and George Carlin observed that the “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”

We have garages that are too full of stuff to have room for our cars, storage lockers we rent to contain more stuff, and cloud backups of all sorts of technical stuff.

The “stuff” I want to preserve is my writing and the books that have inspired me. When I lose some part of that I feel like I have lost part of my life. That is where I feel vulnerable, but isn’t that the same as the farmer and his barn? Both he and I want to preserve the tools and results of our work!

What “stuff” do you have where the idea of losing it makes you feel threatened?

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Spring/Water

Rains come to replenish the earth
and snows melt into tiny streams
while tears cleanse the heart whose hope
is in the promise of spring.

Waterfalls splash and tumble and fall
in beauty and speed and trust,
with no fear of losing themselves,
gaining power through every act of giving.

Rivers rise and threaten those
who stand in their path,
thinking they can control them,

While the thirsty,
driven panting and braying to the depths,
drink their fill in awe and adoring gratitude.

From the ocean water, the first earth life —
From the rain water, preservation of life —
From the womb water, individual life —
From the well of living water, new soul life . . .

 

(See also Fall/Fire, Winter/Wind, and Summer/Earth in the series “Seasons”)

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Christ Is Risen! The Lord Is Risen Indeed!

John 20:19-31

On Easter evening, the disciples were gathered behind locked doors. In spite of the beloved disciple’s belief when he saw the empty tomb, and in spite of Mary’s announcement “I have seen the Lord!” the disciples still feared persecution. The hostility of the world around them still carried more weight for them that Jesus’ words and resurrected reality. They were still letting fear determine their actions and attitudes.

But the risen Christ cannot be held back by a stone-sealed tomb or a locked door. He breaks in on us, as he did on the disciples. And he comes pronouncing and bringing peace and power. He suddenly appears and shows them his hands and his side, thus making the connection for them between his crucifixion and his resurrection.

As soon as this is accomplished and the disciples have rejoiced in his presence, Jesus gives them a commission, just as he did with Mary Magdalene. In John’s account, this is the time when Jesus breathes on them the power of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, the first power that Jesus mentions is the power to forgive!

All of the Easter witnesses were victims of misunderstanding or outright unbelief.

“Doubting Thomas” does not fully convey the state of mind of Thomas. The word doubt sounds to me like someone is a bit skeptical or sort of on the fence about something, not sure which way to jump. “I doubt it” is not a very firm conviction about something.

Disbelief implies that a person has evidence in front of them that is so astounding that they are not able to fully believe it.

But unbelief, especially in the case of Thomas, demands that specific criteria be fulfilled before the person will accept the evidence. Thomas makes demands:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in this hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Of course, when Jesus did appear to Thomas and offered himself to be touched, Thomas did not touch him. He already had enough evidence to believe.

The risen Christ continues to break in on us. Can you see Him?

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