Dare to be Fascinated Again: A Lesson from my Four Month Old

I think we tragically lose our fascination with simplicity as we get older. Caught up in the rush of an ever-changing world, our attention spans stay relatively short while the list of criteria for our admiration grows longer and longer. Then there are children.

Today, I was clipping my toenails (you’re welcome).

As I did so, my four month old baby boy was on his belly playing with some cloud thing that lights up when you smack it. I began to clip and suddenly, that little cloud took a backseat to what was clearly the most delightfully wild thing Aidan has seen to date. It was precious.

With every clipping sound, Aidan would get wide-eyed, squeal with delight, and flail about. He would then get still and watch, captivated as I moved to the next toe. I’d clip the nail, and the process would begin again.

Now, obviously, my point here isn’t that you should stare at people and giggle as they clip their toenails.

Weirdo. Unless you’re into that. Do you.

Anyway, my point is that we are so caught up in the rat race of life that we miss a lot of great things.

We miss the intricate cloud formations drifting across a blue sky.

We miss the nonverbal cues of loved ones we are barely listening to as we try to process our own day while eating dinner.

We miss the chill in an October wind that blows scattered leaves in swirls along the ground.

We miss the joyful feeling of laughter in our friends, family, and even ourselves.

I’m sure you can think back to a ton of situations today that you just “floated” through. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to do or be things that we forget to just “be.” I think it’s time we take a lesson from our little ones and find a way to see the miracles in life again.

Peace be with you!

A Prayer Problem

‘Pause a while and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted over the earth.’ — Psalm 46:10, JB

I grew severely frustrated last night as I tried to engage in some good ol’ fashioned prayer. Words came and were thought/said/expressed, but it just felt like total and utter nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the object of my prayer (the Light). I felt God was there, as It always is.

What bothered me was the practice itself. The words came effortlessly, and they sounded just like the fancy kind of seminary-influenced words that get you compliments at Thanksgiving. It should have been a moment of great connection with the Divine.

But it wasn’t. Those words were hollow and empty. The more I said, the more full of crap I felt.

Even the trusty, “magical” prayers of tradition were ineffectual. Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, all just ringing about in the air like annoying cymbals.

So I stopped. I just quit trying, and I unexpectedly felt more peace, release, and connection as I just stood there brooding in the shower. I reflected on this experience this morning and I think I’ve nailed down my issue.

Life is supppsed to be prayer.

In the Quaker faith, we worship in silence, waiting to experience… whatever happens. Ideally, there’s no agenda or attempt to “get anything.” Silence allows God and the heart to commune however they need to. We acknowledge that all people, things, places, and times are sacred… we just have to acknowledge it.

When one walks with the Divine in every moment of every day… there really isn’t much to be said. God is here. Our thoughts, our struggles, our triumphs, our questions, all things happen in the presence of the Source of it all. God doesn’t need directions, information, or pursuasion.

What is needed, most times, is for us to shut up, and “pause a while and know” that God is there. That’s what I was missing last night. I went for words and formulas when I should’ve just silently dropped all of the distractions and shared in God’s “being,” recognizing the sanctity of that moment and everyone in it, just like we do at our Quaker meeting.

It’s important to remember that, as promised, the Divine is with us “always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:20). We don’t have to hit our knees, say the right things, or even say anything at all. What God desires is for our hearts to draw near and bask in the sacred Presence, the holiness of everyday life.

So if you are seeking connection with the Light, if you are trying to pray, but the words don’t feel right, perhaps they’re not meant to. Our world is full of words and noise, but it lacks stillness and peace. It could be that these are what God is trying to offer you. So sit back and enjoy.

Peace be with you!

***AFTER-THOUGHT***

I am not saying prayer with words is bad or a sign of spiritual immaturity or somesuch nonsense. Pray in whatever way helps you connect! This post was simply geared toward those moments when words fall short. Do what draws you closest to the Sacred in all things!

A Blessedly Tense Week

For the last two weeks or so, I had been in the midst of a spiritual beating. If you have ever seriously been a part of a faith for a long time, you know there are moments when you question the validity of what you’re doing with your belief, time, and gifts. For me, this was a hefty instance of that. Years and years of doubt and resentment came boiling to the surface in the form of apathy and denial.

I’ve always struggled with certain aspects of orthodox Christian belief. The Trinity, Church authority, and the idea that a corpse rose from the dead 2,000 years ago all fail to appeal to me at times. In the last two weeks, this sense of resistance was heightened to the point that I thought I was becoming what would essentially be a Unitarian with very little investment in traditional Christianity outside of believing in one God. I felt I was being torn from something I had always loved, defended, and tried (unsuccessfully) to follow.

Fast forward to Maundy Thursday.

I was driving to our church, an Episcopal parish, representing all I was currently detaching from. Frankly, I was dreading sitting through the foot washing and Communion service.

At the end of my rope, I decided to pray. I asked God to lead me and guide me to the truth. I wasn’t strong enough to try to manage the journey I was on, and I was desperate to experience some level of peace.

Welp. God showed up.

I walked in the doors and was greeted by the smile of our wonderful clergy. I took a seat and prepared for what I thought would be a liturgical ass-whooping, only to be pleasantly surprised by a rapidly building spiritual experience that I’ve only had maybe one or two times in my life.

The music and readings aligned perfectly with where I was. My favorite hymn (“What Wondrous Love is This”) preceded the Gospel reading, and when our deacon read John’s foot-washing account, I was undone. I actually felt tears forming in my eyes as I was overwhelmed with God’s simple response to all of the complicated theological and religious pondering I had been losing sleep over.

“It’s not about that stuff.”

Just like that. I settled into worship with a renewed sense of comfort that I’d been trying to reach for all of my Christian life.

So what’s the point of this story?

I can tell you it’s not to dump on Unitarians. It’s also not to tell you that a desperate prayer will fix whatever problem you face. I also should say that I don’t intend to stop questioning and examining the faith to which I have dedicated myself.

I suppose the teaching I want to put forth is the one I received from God in that moment of brokenness.

“It’s not about that stuff.”

It’s not about all of humanity’s formulas concerning the substance and essence of God. It’s not about the historicity of the miraculous claims of the Bible. It’s not about being right.

It’s about actually, honestly, and expectantly seeking God.

The relief for me came not with answers to all of my theological questions, but with God’s presence with me in a moment of deep need. I can say this was the first time I remember actually opening myself up to that possibility, with no exceptions, add-ons, or parameters. It was a moment of actually seeking what God had in mind for me instead of trying to make God work through my own sense of logic and reason.

So what about all of those other details? They are, after all, pretty important.

I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a story that has changed my life. I have experienced the truth of its teachings firsthand, and I do believe that God’s nature and work are revealed in the Incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. For now, for me, that is enough. I am more than content to sit in that tension, not knowing exactly how it all works or what the “historical reality” might be.

There’s no real “wrap-up” here. I simply hope that this testimony of mine is useful and edifying for you. Life isn’t about having everything figured out and in place. It’s a journey on which we are to learn about God, each other, and ourselves, and sometimes all we can do is sit in the glorious tension of it all.

Peace be with you!

Never the Twain Shall Meet

But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has wrought deliverance in Israel. — 1 Samuel 11:13, RSV

There are somethings that just don’t go together. To avoid offending those who would disagree, I will simply leave you to your own imaginings, as I’m sure that first sentence conjured up all kinds of interesting things. I simply don’t want to start another “pineapple and pizza” debate. If, however, you have strong feelings on the subject, my “comments” section is open for your use.

The point here is that certain things don’t or can’t coincide, and this is a truth that holds for the life of faith. When eternal life meets life that is temporal, there are particular conditions that need to be met for that to work out well. This is the entire point of Biblical texts like Leviticus, Halal in Islam, or the act of confession in Christian circles. When we are attempting to live in communion with God, it’s best to be accommodating.

The quote above comes from the First Book of Samuel, the prophet who anoints the first king of Israel, Saul. In this particular story, there are those who refused to acknowledge Saul’s kingship who are about to be executed. Saul, in the better phase of his rule, decrees that because God’s deliverance has come to Israel, no one is to be killed. This struck me as a reminder that for us to cling to God’s saving presence, there are certain things we need to be willing to release.

A great example can be found in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Spoiler alert (it came out in 1989…), they find the Holy Grail, save Indiana’s dad, and are trying to escape the collapsing ruins when the Grail falls into an ever-widening crevice. Indy’s somewhat lover Nazi dives in after it. Indy catches her hand, but because she couldn’t help reaching for the coveted chalice, she plummets to either her death or what I imagine would be the least fun ball pit ever. Subsequently, it’s Indiana’s turn to reach for the chalice, but the soothing words of Sean Connery urging him to “Let it go” snap him back to disastrous reality, just in time for him to leave the cup and escape with his life.

Now, I hear you. “Cool recap, bro, but what’s the point?”

The point, dear reader, is that while death and life are inextricably linked, there is no room for death-dealing vices in eternal life, that is, the life we live when we start walking according to God’s way. We can’t flee the crumbling structure of our selfish lives while also trying to satisfy our greed. This is not a “have your cake and eat it” kind of situation.

While God understands our human condition and loves us all the more, to choose a life with God is to choose to play second fiddle to His will for us. That will is that we transform our lives from self-centered behavior to a practice of love for God through our love for each other as evidenced in the life of Jesus Christ. This is not some kind of ascetic practice or punishment, but it is a demanding lifestyle that, in the end, enables us to truly live.

We cannot hate a single neighbor or enemy and claim to love the God that created them. We cannot refuse grace and mercy to others while expecting it from the One who offers it to us. We cannot cling to our old fears, grudges, and destructive habits while seeking to abide in the presence of the Living God. Just as Saul saw that execution did not rightfully express the salvation of God, so we must do all we can to recognize and root out those behaviors and habits that fall short of the love God has for us.

Now, this is not easy, and it is not a “step” that you can check off as complete, moving on to a life of piety and ease. This is a lifelong endeavor, for as long as we are in the world, we will be affected by it, for better or worse. We will always need to be on guard when it comes to our hearts, minds, and how we treat one another. If we are lax, then all of those things we set aside can crawl right back into our lives.

Naturally, this means everyone is a hypocrite. Here’s a fun fact, though: Every human who ever tries to change the world for the better is a hypocrite, because none of us can live up to our ideals. In fact, the best teachers are those who personally know the disastrous consequences of making the wrong choice. I would take one of those over ten who are self-righteous or who have gone relatively unchallenged in life. Jesus aside, the screw ups have the best lessons to impart, and I gladly count myself among such people, assuming anyone finds my words useful.

We all have our demons and struggles and temptations. We all have things we need to release before we can fully enjoy the presence of God and the fullness of this good creation. My prayer is that you will join me in this lifelong effort of discipleship. Let’s pray for one another that we may walk together and heal what needs to be healed in order that we may not just live, but be fully alive.

Peace be with you!