Thursday, January 31, 2008

Closer Than You Think

I finally have something that resembles a “normal” week (assuming that normalcy and servant ministry have any correlation). The personal issues that I dealt with before Christmas were complicated by bouts of the flu and bronchitis since. I’ve managed to muddle through and get the bare necessities done, but there has been little energy to do more. Now, before you think I’m looking for someone to throw me a pity party, there is a point to this.

I’m sorry to say that my devotional life was one of the casualties of the illness. Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m sick, I generally don’t do a thing. I turn into a regular lump. I do pray, but it bears very little resemblance to the discipline I try to keep at other times. As I’ve emerged from this self imposed cave and have gotten more focused on my spiritual disciplines and rule of life I’ve discovered an incredible gift of grace.

In times past when I’ve had these lapses in discipline, getting back into the discipline was something of a chore. There were many times when I felt like I was starting over. It was discouraging to say the least. This time, however, as I have rekindled my disciplines I discovered that God was closer than I thought! It didn’t feel like I was starting over. It didn’t feel like I had some great distance to travel to “get back to where I had been.” In fact, it felt a lot more like I’d never left, like there had been no lapse. I know that this sense is not that God’s geography was somehow different; I knew that it was a matter of my awareness.

Over the course of many weeks and months, as I have sought God’s presence in a more disciplined and intimate way, I have known God’s transforming grace with a completeness and depth that I had previously unknown. I feel and sense God’s presence closer now than at any other time in my life. I’m different for the encounter. What I learn from this experience is that attention to spiritual disciplines will ebb and flow with the tides in my life. I won’t always be as disciplined as I’d like to be. But over a long haul, but because of how God has drawn me deeper and deeper into God’s own presence those momentary lapses will be just that. The gift of intimacy that has so transformed me will keep me close to God through all the distractions.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Another Important Discovery

In the last month, I’ve been taught a valuable lesson about openness and vulnerability in life, faith and ministry. To be open to the movement of God’s Spirit, to be open to others in life and ministry and to be open to growth in grace is a lot like being pregnant…you either are or you aren’t. From the day that I answered Christ’s claim on me to pursue ordination, I’ve prided myself on the sense of openness and vulnerability that made that pursuit possible. Along the way there have been countless experiences through which God has shaken the chaff of pride free from that vulnerability. The pitfall of pride became relatively easy to spot and repent of and as a consequence I feel like I’ve learned that I am still in the process of becoming truly open to the movement of grace. However, in the last month I’ve come to discover that pride is not the only pitfall on the path to openness and vulnerability to grace.

Over the past month I’ve become increasingly aware how large of a pitfall woundedness can be to the deeper movement of grace and openness to God’s purpose. Even though, I’ve never been one to shy away from emotion and the willingness to be open to showing my pain and fear to others there has always been a limit to how much I would show. I’ve been very selective in how I would show my weakness. As I’ve sorted through the woundedness that was wrapped up in the toxic relationship with my father, I’ve realized the imprint on my life of his inability and unwillingness to be confronted with anything that could be construed as personal failure or rejection. I’ve found that I was more than willing to empathize with the pain of illness, loss, death and the like; however, if the vulnerability in any way exposed the possibility of a poor personal reflection, failure or rejection I would do anything I could to insulate myself from it.

The all out effort to insulate myself from failure and rejection put up huge obstacles to God’s healing and redeeming grace. This insulation work took me from the heart of the Gospel and the work of Christian discipleship. For any Christian disciple the path of discipleship and true openness to the movement of grace means making one’s self open to failings and sin. It requires a fundamental openness to personal rejection and failure. Jesus himself was radically open to people’s perceptions of him as a failure as many of those who shouted “Hosanna!” on Sunday were likely shouting “Crucify Him!” on Friday because he had somehow failed their expectations.

To be truly vulnerable is to trust in God’s grace. To be open to the movement of the Spirit even in our brokenness and woundedness is to trust in the refiner’s fire. To be vulnerable to one’s self and to be vulnerable to God enables us to be vulnerable to others. We are able to enter into deep relationships that bind us together in grace and ministry. Together we trust God and one another and in that trust we become powerful instruments of grace in the revealing of God’s reign of love in all of creation. For all of us…it is a work in progress.