Post-Flu and Ready for Resurrection

This is my real life. We’re on the home stretch of a two-week bout with flu—not the gross intestinal type, but the respiratory variety that keeps you awake coughing and pinned to the couch with nary enough energy to lift a pinky. It’s been brutal. Mr. S got the shot, I didn’t. I guess this strain sneaked through. I tried as many immune boosting remedies and DIY recipes for relief as I could possibly find on Pinterest as well as the OTC “tried’s and true’s.” (Thank you, God, for Nyquil.) I’m sure I would have gained several honey-cayenne-ginger induced pounds were it not for the lack of appetite that accompanied this bug. But we’re all better–or almost, and life is getting back to normal. A new normal since Daylight Savings Time happened in the interim.

While I was down, I had the opportunity to face the reality of my attachments. Continue reading

It’s Not Complicated: How the Liturgical Year Can Simplify Your Life (Lent, Pt.2)

Too Many Words
If all it takes is words, I am, with Paul, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Mr. S has been known to say, “That’s too many words. Can you please say that another way?” I’ve learned to be less offended because he’s right. (To my accusers who would say I am for other reasons, I can only reply, “Likely, guilty as charged,” and ask your forgiveness.)

Clarity seems to reside in the DNA of some. Others of us arrive only by hearing ourselves talk a thing through. I know because we have lamented it together–after I went first! It does tend to complicate things (many thanks to our longsuffering friends) but we have other gifts.

Maybe the John 7 account of Jesus’ exchange with the religious leaders of the day is just for us. But I don’t think so. I think there is something more systemic at issue than the word count.

Where Am I?
In the last post, I wrote about the value of observing the liturgical or church year, how it simplifies one’s life serving as both guide and reminder. Today, I write about an insight from that practice, one that keeps me mindful of my location in time like a GPS does as I travel.

Cover of book: Engage-Pastel brush strokes

In the day’s reading in Engage, the brass is getting all worked up because Jesus pokes around in their insistance that connection with God requires navigating their complex labyrinth of requirements (John 7).

Historically, what began as ten reasonable guidelines given for the good of the whole became a highly developed code to illuminate humanity’s need of grace (that in the present cultural context seems foreign at best, repulsive at worst). Enforcement of The Law of Love fell into the capable hands of a corrupted power structure until life with God was understood as an exhaustive and exhausting system of external behaviors–Leviticus on steroids. But Jesus entered the conversation, cut through the crap and created clarity where clerics had clouded most everything with complexity. Yeah, like that.

Aaarrghh!
Spending time in the scene revealed how easily I, too, confuse internal consent with external compliance, a heavy yoke, a way to prove to others, to myself, to God, that all is well with my soul. And how easily I expect my yoke to be worn by another, at least invisibly if not aloud!

For example…

  • Squirming if another expresses or experiences their creativity or passion or restraint as I do–or don’t (Tattoo or not…, hands lifted or not…?)
  • Uses a vocabulary with which I am uncomfortable or unfamiliar to explain their life experience or mine. (Do you get pissed of or just really ticked?)
  • Prioritizing a particular value over one another has deemed more valuable (Bible study before mercy ministry, or vice versa?)

Judging, assessing, measuring… Exhausting! As long as external behaviors come into compliance, I am to assume that internal consent has been given, or that the reverse will be true?

Frankly, Jesus lifts from me the burden of assuming anything. It’s not in my job description, though I’m pathologically inclined to assist wherever I think the watchful eye of the Spirit may have overlooked something!

A Bigger Story
Living the liturgical year calls me back in regular rhythm to the Bigger Story, the simple invitation to a life with God, here and hereafter. It tells me God can be trusted with that Big Story and with my little one. It walks me through the one Jesus lived on earth rather than clamoring after this or that variation on The Theme.

Any one of our pet distractions (the nicer word might be emphases), interesting, exhilarating, or well-intentioned as they may at first be, can, without the larger canopy of grace, become its own complicated system of dos and don’ts; death-dealing dogmas with heavy, excess baggage we are not asked to carry. Before we know it, we lose our way. Centuries of religious tragedy, comedy and glorious, epic love story are proof.

Instead, hear Jesus’ invitation: Come to ME, you who are weary. I will give you rest.

Jesus + X = Rest
I suppose I could be the only one. But maybe not. My early experiences of “coming to ME” had moments of relief, but they resulted in my finding anything but true rest. Over time, it came to be understood less like an invitation to fine dining and more like a McDonald’s menu (Jesus plus X = the “full meal deal”):

  • Jesus plus the proper moral code
  • Jesus plus the right social group
  • Jesus plus the right theological language
  • Jesus plus the right physical manifestations
  • Jesus plus the acceptable fashion
  • Jesus plus a sanctioned career
  • Jesus plus a quota of gatherings attended
  • Jesus plus the right political ideaology
  • Jesus plus the right view of eschatology
  • Jesus plus a specific worship style
  • Jesus plus financial sacrifice
  • Jesus plus _______________________________ (fill in the very long blank).

No longer. Less truly is more. If you’re in a similar place, perhaps you’re ready to hear again–or for the first time, the invitation to rest, to step onto the simple path of trust and walk with God through the eyes and life of Jesus… for the love of God! It really is that simple.

AND YOU?  It’s midway through Lent, the seaon when generally we give up something to give our attention more fully to what God offers. What “plus” are you carrying that makes your journey heavy? Are you unaware of a “plus” you might be asking another to carry? How might God be inviting you to them up?

In simple rest,
Gwen


P.S.
Lest it seem that rolling to the rhythms of the liturgical year is just one more “Jesus plus ______,” this:

“Once again I should emphasize that what I’ve been describing here is not a matter of biblical rule. You don’t have to recognize the Christian year to be a faithful follower of Jesus. But the experience of countless believers throughout the centuries should at least encourage you to consider shaping your yearly life by the themes and narratives of Scripture – and this is, after all, what the Christian year is really all about.”
(Mark Roberts, Patheos Blog, Bible Gateway)


It’s Not Complicated: How the Liturgical Year Can Simplify Your Life (Lent, Pt.1)

“What’s a good Charismatic girl like you doing in a practice like this?!”

EngageHere we are, well into the new year. Advent, Christmas and Ephipany are behind us, the first period of Ordinary Time is nearly over and Lent is just around the corner.

A couple of years ago, I worked through Engage (Kai Nilsen & others), Renovare’s 2014 Lenten Guide, and what I experienced stuck with me. That’s one of the things the liturgical year does. It provides natural markers for those special moments in your journey, like photos next to that giant sequoia you took on your recent road trip (which I almost posted the picture of but was scared off by Getty’s copyright infringement notice…!)

The spiritual practice of observing the liturgical year, the church calendar, has allowed me to engage more fully with the essence of the story of God without adding to its complexity. Yet I encounter a range of responses when I talk about its value :

  • Fascination with its symbolism and unfamilar vocabulary
  • Curiosity, but with caution
  • Ambivalence within their own views
  • Perplexity over mine
  • Resistance
  • Disinterest. Period.

In my case, the ordered simplicity has helped me unwind a tangled accumulation of theological threads. As an Enneagram 4, notorious for our skills in creating chaos from clarity, it has been helpful in ordering my life around stated beliefs, something Barna’s research says we Christian types apparently aren’t so good at. On the other hand, Jesus was quite skilled at living with focus and great intention.

So…About Lent

Lent is not native to my formative Protestant tradition. Growing up, I heard it most often associated with Mardi Gras, the huge party filled with unspeakable iniquities  that served as its kickoff the night before. Therefore, Lent was implicated in the trangressions. Bummer. Because it’s much, much more.

In reality, Lent is the 40 days before Easter set aside for an honest look at our human condition, emphasizing our mortality and the need for repentance, or turning, from our selfish orientation toward God. It begins on Ash Wednesday, with a reminder that we will not live forever as the beings we now are, and that to experience our God-designed wholeness here and the best of life hereafter, we might consider looking to something outside of our mortal, finite selves; that we need–and have–a Savior. That’s the reason for the cross-shaped ashes drawn on the forehead. And yes, it feels weird and it gets in your hair and doesn’t always wash off easily–just keeping it real–in the way doing so keeps it real, which we don’t usually think of ’til someone we love dies in a rollover or loses a child.

Abstaining from sensory pleasures of some sort, prayerfully chosen, holds space for more focused reflection and an increased awareness of something more important than, say, the next episode of Blacklist–or whatever you’re currently binging on. Sorta like not texting at the dinner table so you can join the conversation…Archaic, I know.

While these are routinely practiced by those intentional about their life with God, setting aside time each calendar year, guarantees that we won’t get accidentally occupied and conveniently forget–a sort of spiritual Alzheimers. It means we participate with the community of Christian faith around the world, many traditions, at the same time. Engaging in such activity is an overwhelming prospect for some. Apparently that’s what all the partying is about–one last dance before the lights go out.

Living the God Story throughout the calendar year, reminds me that observing the life of Jesus creates clarity where I cloud most everything with complexity. It’s noteworthy that Easter follows closely with its promise of resurrection and new life. Now THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Thank you, Sweet Jesus, for being so uncomplicated! I am in desperate need of such a Savior. And such a Savior You are.


BONUS:

Engage is available to download this year for a small donation to Renovare and is an accessible introduction to the lenten journey. Great for doing with a small group of friends.

Next time, an example of How Jesus Was Uncomplicated. 

Who Suffers More? When Life Hands You a Red HOT Chili Pepper…

Sometimes the sweet, youthful voices on the radio do more to irritate than inspire me. It’s nothing personal. I was once one of them. I remember singing in the childhood family trio with my nieces, “I Found the Answer”–loooong before any of us knew any real Continue reading

Writing 201: Poetry 4 – On Marshawn

It was fun to reminisce about the crazy ride we took in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks and our remarkable running back, Marshawn Lynch. It may seem a stretch to link my love of football with Lent, but since I’m being prompted to give Continue reading