Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Examination of Conscience
I’m finding incredible insight as I begin to lead out the work that I’ve been working through, praying about and preparing for more than six months. Inspired by the book Deepening Your Effectiveness, I’m looking more deeply at a meaningful definition of discipleship and looking more intently at how I can order the life of this congregation to better move people toward deeper experiences and expressions of God’s grace. Using the concept of “core principles” as those experiences and practices that shape our life with Christ more completely, I’m in the midst of introducing these principles and practices through worship and a companion class. This week I’m on the third of the seven principles.
The third principle is “Fully formed disciples of Jesus are committed to living incarnationally according to the example of Christ.” As a way of teaching this concept and drawing people into a deeper understanding of our life with Christ I’m using the image of the Christ of the Maryknoll and Ignatius of Loyola’s Examen. Rooted in John 1, I’m exploring with the congregation the truth of the incarnation. Out of this reclamation and deeper understanding of the incarnation, I’m seeking a deeper understanding of why incarnation matters to modern disciples and how it can be an integral part of our life of faith.
I’m being drawn into a deeper understanding of the Examen. I’ve spent time practicing the Examen; it was one of the more compelling practices that I learned through the Two Year Academy. At the risk of being too hard on myself, my recollection of how I approached the Examen was more from the standpoint of a self-guided tour. I know that I did it prayerfully. I did try and explore the deeper and more difficult elements of my life and practice. At the end, it was still self-led. I’m coming to understand that the Examen needs to be different. It needs to be Christ led.
This is a challenging concept. It could be difficult to do a true self-led Examen, but it could smack of masochism. Alternately, it would be all too easy to gloss over important things that we would need to deal with. However, to give the reins of the journey over to Christ, to have a Christ-led Examen is all together different. It is truly an exercise in living without a net when we let Christ guide us through the reflection of our day, our action (inaction) and our faithfulness. Yet this is absolutely vital to growing into a deeper relationship with Christ. The truly Christ-led Examen is made possible through incarnation.
Incarnation is the expression of faith that bears witness to the depth to which God is present in Christ. When John speaks of the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, he bears witness to a depth and intimacy of God’s presence in Christ. When through faith Christ abides with us and we with Christ, we have before us the possibility of an indwelling experience with Christ that approximates incarnation. When we engage in a Christ-led Examen, Christ leads not from outside us, but from ever more deeply within.
As we engage in the Examen the door is opened to the experience of God’s transforming grace from the inside out. As I have sought to live more deeply into my faith and relationship with Christ, I’ve come to realize that there are stubborn, persistent and deep seated attitudes that are getting in the way of what I seek. What God is revealing to me is that the answers and the healing I seek lay in the practice of the Examen. So, tonight I reenter into the Examen. This time…I let Christ take the wheel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Connecting the Dots

Over the course of the many months that I’ve shared my pilgrimage with God, I’ve shared about the troubled relationship with my father. I’ve talked about the pain of that broken relationship. I’ve talked about how the imprint of that relationship has impacted my life and ministry. I’ve been thinking about all of this in a slightly different context given what I’m doing currently to lead my congregation into a deeper and broader discipleship. The path that I’m currently following in leadership is one that encourages this community of faith into a deeper and more intentional relationship and experience of the risen Christ in their life. Through this relationship and a deeper desire to live as a disciple of Christ my hope and prayer is that this community of faith will explore and practice incredibly profound ways of expressing that grace in ministry in the world and community.

I’ve come to understand that one of the major obstacles that are part of the journey to a deeper relationship and discipleship is the legacy of pain, brokenness and hurt that is part of the human experience. I’ve come to understand in my own life that for a long time there were hurts that I sought to avoid and even hide (as if that was truly possible) from God. I think about this in terms of that closet that we all have (literally and figuratively). This is the closet that we pour the garbage and junk that we don’t want to deal with, but can’t bring ourselves to take to the curb of our life so that it goes out with the trash. The result of filling this closet is that we created a space that we very easily want to hold back. Out of pain, embarrassment, fear, or some other reaction we hold back this part of our life. Any part of our life that we want to hold back and keep from God becomes an obstacle to experiencing God as deeply as possible.

I found that I was following this course with regard to the pain around my relationship with my father. I was holding back. I was not seeking the healing and grace that God all too freely offered. Partly because I was unaware of just how deep it ran, partly because I was embarrassed because of how I felt. In some respects I thought that to admit failure in the relationship would be to admit failure…period. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. As a result of not being completely and radically open to God’s presence and grace to heal, I found myself challenged to serve and grow deeper with Christ’s call and claim on my life.

Over the course of these last two years, the healing has been slow; at times it was more in fits and starts. This is more about my unevenness in seeking God’s healing than about unevenness in God. As the healing has taken hold and the scars diminished, I have found a deeper passion and experience that seems to be oozing out of every pore of my life and ministry. I’ve come to understand more deeply Paul’s characterization in 2 Corinthians of having this incredible treasure of God’s grace in clay jars. God’s great power seen in Christ’s resurrection doesn’t remove our vulnerability. Our human lives are just as frail as always. However, by God’s grace that vulnerability and frailty is still capable of carrying the extraordinary power of resurrection and eternal life.

I know that this is not the last deeply seated hurt that I will have to deal with. I’m all too aware that this is not the last obstacle that I’ll have to surmount. However, this experience has been instructive and life-giving. It has opened the path of discipleship more widely than before, and into this wider path I feel even more deeply drawn.