Holiness 101: People Matter

If you react to the term “holiness” like I do, this may help you breathe. May even help redeem it. Take a listen and let me know what you think.

Episode 73 – Holiness is Better Than You Think // Trevor Hudson – Renovaré

https://renovare.org/podcast/episode-73-trevor-hudson

21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today to Simplify Your Life – Slow Your Home

Like many of us, I’m in the struggle. Slow and simple are not characteristics of my native habitat. Yet they are helpful–no, essential–in opening space for God, for others, for ourselves. Suggestions like these point me in that direction. 

Most are practical tasks that nudge the process forward. The piece finishes with a grace-filled framework. Enjoy…and implement. 

What would you add? [or eliminate… :)]

http://slowyourhome.com/21-quick-actions-simplify-life/#_a5y_p=5259893

Awareness: Day 17 of “31 Days” – Maybe I Just Need to Write For 4’s

#4 wooden coastersIt occurs to me after listening to Leigh Kramer on Tsh’s podcast, that maybe I just need to write for 4’s; that maybe nobody else has experienced the kind of discontent around their life with God that we/I have!

Whatever our deepest desire, it’s one of the ways God comes to us, calls us forward, causes to us to put our gifts into the world. For a ‘4,’ it’s often an unrequited longing that becomes a prayer expressing what another needs to say but can’t quite get in touch with. (Or maybe we 4’s just wish that were the case because we can’t bear to be left out, thus we create everyone else in our image so that we’re not alone!)

I googled “enneagram 4 blog” because I wanted some specific info on how 4’s tend to see things and found the little gem. I mostly found that we 4’s have a certain method and motivation and rhythm–or not!–even for blogging. Of course. I just hadn’t thought to reference it against the enneagram. Many things make more sense when run through the E-filter. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s simply a way to organize information about personality including thoughts, feelings, behavior and the like. It makes me both appreciate and lament the struggle and the celebration that is this life. In fact, it kind of makes me want to re-title this whole blog endeavor and start over–which is also very ‘4’.

What it mostly makes me aware of is why I have written only four, now, four (4!) days out of the 31-Day challenge. And that on this day, knowing my 4-ness helps me be okay with that. And I hope that on this day, wherever you are and whatever you find yourself doing, you’re okay with it–especially if you’re also a ‘4’. If you’re a ‘1’ it will be even harder–but you can do it! Just a little inside enneagram humor, which you can find out more about right here.

It’s no magic bullet, but almost. Discovering the why underneath what you and others do–or don’t, fosters empathy and graciousness. And God knows we could use a little more of that. Yes?

Awareness: Day 12 of “31 Days”

I’ve been immersed again in the wisdom that the enneagram offers (and apparently a lot more since it’s now Day 12!).

The Enneagram offers an awareness of the filters through which we see; how we view ourselves, experience God and interact with one another, for better and for worse.
Awareness at the capacity available to humans is a gift bestowed on no other creature. It is foundational to the understanding necessary for growing safe, loving relationships with God, ourselves and others.

Especially at this time of year, awareness travels a meaningful path.

  • Awareness with intent toward appreciation leads to gratitude.
  • Gratitude assumes a source.
  • Source points to “in the beginning.”

As a 4 on the E-gram, I’m not a fan of the church year’s Ordinary Time– or ordinary anything else, for that matter. In spite of it not being my natural habitat,  I’m learning through practicing awareness, to value the ordinary. 

October is the last of it and is a great build-up to Festival season. All Saints Day then November with its focus on gratitude. Thanksgiving, Christ the King Sunday then right into Advent. 

Yep, it’s here folks! Right around the corner. Almost time to untangle the tree lights.

And when I pull the lens back into the present,  all of a sudden, ordinary time is anything but. In fact…

  • a glance out the window at the brilliant Autumn hues
  • the joyful chaos of kids’ Fall sports
  • breathing the stimulating chill of morning’s air
  • monitoring weather reports for mountain pass travel 
  • sitting in a surgery waiting room
  • celebrating milestone birthdays

…all nudge me into full consciousness. I am reminded that the present moment is gift. I am alive. I am aware.

Awareness: Day 5 of “31 Days”

If I’m honesr, it’s days four AND five. But who’s counting, right? 

————-

One moment our small formation group was celebrating that we were back together after a break. The next, we were grieving news that the passing of someone we all love was imminent. Cancer treatment had been halted and family called.
The reality of what her absence would mean settled over us like a cup of strong coffee sobers a drunk. 

One shed tears, some had to speak their grief, another was uncharacteristically silent. 

Yet, rather than leaving us under a morose, dark cloud, we were graced with a gift that comes only through shared pain. 

Our misshapen circle in the sunlit living room seemed to grow smaller. It was as if connective tissue was being formed between chairs drawing us more tightly together.

In that instant, I became aware of how we are shaped by sorrow, formed by community. That trudging through dark places nurtures empathy and trust, moving us beyond ourselves as perhaps no other experience can.

Since we are not spared life’s difficult milestones, of which death is one, I find myself asking,  “Am I becoming the kind of person who can hold both the agony and the ecstasy, and be at peace trusting that God is present and at work in it all?” 

I am becoming increasingly aware that it is possible, even glimpse it from time to time. And so my prayer is, “May it be so”.

—————-

Where are you being asked to hold both joy and sorrow? How are you being formed by being in community?

What I Want You to Know About My Silence | Addie Zierman

Addie writes my heart with her pen in this post. I hope you will read, thoughtfully, all of it. 

http://addiezierman.com/2016/07/14/what-i-want-you-to-know-about-my-silence/

Why I Am Pro Choice

constitution_thumb_295_dark_gray_bg…agency is the “capacity of an entity…to act in any given environment.

I’ve been thinking these 3 things about agency recently and I like this definition from trusty Wikipedia. For some of us whose default setting is compliance, agency is a foreign concept. We agree in theory but have no skill in practice In fact, it needs some unpacking before we can grasp its meaning and allow it to be our lived experience. Continue reading

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)


12 Lessons from a Jigsaw Puzzle: Putting Together the Pieces of Spiritual Formation

Jigsaw puzzles often appear on our table during long January evenings. We’ve done several this year.  As we worked at the one pictured, I began to notice what the process has to teach you and I about spiritual practices that help us know and encounter God. Here are a few things to think about next time you reach for a puzzle. I know I won’t approach it again in quite the same way.

First this, though.

Q: If “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phillipians 2:13), why engage in regular spiritual practices at all? Why our effort, if the work is God’s?

A: Because we get to be a part. Our part is to turn–repent is the religious word, to turn toward God and consent to the recreating, renewing work of the Spirit routinely taking place in us. And because it seems we humans are masters of resistance, it helps if we acquire some new habits to reduce the friction.

Quoting N.T. Wright, “Virtue is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices requiring effort and concentration to do something which is good and right, but which doesn’t come naturally. And then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required automatically. Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices become second nature.”
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters

Since I’m talking about the forming God does in us, not what we accomplish ourselves, the one wise and courageous choice I hope will become my second nature is the turning. It’s the one choice that gives me the most trouble, yet holds the greatest promise; a promise of freedom and life for me, and of living and loving others authentically and well.

Dallas Willard says that training in turning involves VIM–vision, intention and means. It’s from his weighty text, Renovation of the Heart, but I’d skip that and go straight to Jan Johnson’s stellar study guide by the same title–unless you’re of tougher cerebral material than me–which you can also exercise with a jigsaw puzzle.

Consider these 12 lessons:

  1. Know your options. Once you open the box and dump the pieces on the table, turn them all over so you can see everything you have to work with. There is a long recorded history of the many ways people have been helped along in their life with God. Learn about those beyond your own tradition and experience. Find out what is available to you.
  2. Establish the framework. Assemble the border by finding and connecting all the edge pieces. My established framework defines the scope of my  own practices. a) God initiates my desire for him. b) My response is enabled by his grace. c) God does the heavy lifting. d) My practices are aligned with scripture and the revelation of God as seen in Jesus. e) God is good, loving and trustworthy, therefore I can have confidence in the process.
  3. Approach with intention. A system helps. Once the pieces are turned over and the border put together, work on objects, areas, then colors, then shapes. Resort to process of elimination if necessary. Random growth in love and freedom happens by God’s great grace. But there is a special kind of life that comes through being awake and engaged intentionally in the process.
  4. Keep the big picture in view. Put the boxtop where you can easily see the completed picture and refer to it often. To live and love as Jesus…that’s not a shabby picture to keep in mind.
  5. Stressing takes the fun out. Remember to breathe. What is intended to be a pleasant activity can turn to frustration when several minutes go by without finding a piece that fits. It’s good to be reminded that there are no gold stars for finishing first or best. We can become so intent on doing it fast, right, efficiently, etc. that the simple fun of partnering with the Puzzlemaker and a partner to create a thing of beauty is lost along the way. Speaking of…
  6. It’s MORE fun with a friend–mostly. Buddy up. It can be hard to persevere if you’re going it alone–even if your friend gets in the way, or hogs the boxtop, or beats you to the piece sometimes. Still, a task shared is worth a little inconvenience. It’s the paradox of community.
  7. Start small. Every puzzle goes together the same way–one piece at a time.“1000 pieces sure is a lot!,” we kept saying, a little overwhelmed by the size of the task we had taken on. That’s why the kids started with 25-piecers that their grandma bought them, graduating to 100, then 300. 500 is just right for a quick night of relaxed fun. Our first in this recent puzzlefest, though, was 750 before we graduated to 1000. (Not heroic, but it’s about capacity for now. ) There are myriad disciplines to choose from but start with just one or two that fit your lifestyle and season, and to which you feel drawn. It takes God very little to make a lot.
  8. Do what you can. Begin with something you can work at. While the majority of pieces seem to belong nowhere in particular at the beginning, there’s usually something that stands out.  Don’t be stubborn, insisting that the one piece you want to make work, simply doesn’t.  Someone may insist on a practice that is life-giving for them, maybe for many. But if it doesn’t make sense for you at this time, lay it down and pick it up again when you can see where it fits. Follow Dom. John Chapman’s counsel, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” But start.
  9. There are surprises along the way. Spending time working piece by piece, reveals much you might miss when you only look at the picture on the cover of the box. The latest surprise was a bird in the window when all we saw was the countryside house. There were 20 birds total and the euonymous bush in the corner was hiding a ladybug–Who knew?! Come with at attitude of openness. There is much to discover.
  10. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Not all the surprises are pleasant. One of the puzzles we purchased had only partially-cut pieces and bizarre, ill-fitting shapes. The shades of color were quite different from those represented on the cover. It was unlike any we had attempted before, presenting difficult and unexpected challenges. We came very near putting it back in the box and giving up. The satisfaction when we finished, however, was that much sweeter. There is discomfort when we are presented with the opportunity to shed old, unloving ways of being. It means encountering parts of ourselves that may surprise us. We may want to stuff it back in the box and give up. Don’t. Anyone can start but only those who keep going know the joy of having persevered.
  11. Change your perspective. View the pieces from a different angle. When I hit a wall and was making no progress, I moved to a different side of the table. It opened up fresh possibilities and shook loose what seemed stuck.  I had new energy to continue as the pieces began coming together again. Find a spiritual director to help you see some part of your journey in another way; participate in a different tradition; meet new friends who share your faith but not your expression. These things can bring a new, rich perspective. Consider shifting your position at the table on occasion.
  12. Take a break. Know when it’s time to do something else…like sleep, or dinner. Stay mindful of time and your immediate reality. (So, like…it’s 1 a.m. before you realize it–not that it’s actually happened or anything… ) God has a timeline for you. Stay grounded and connected to the ordinary moments in life. Put aside a practice that isn’t serving you right now, that has lost it’s life-giving quality. Consider that it may be an invitation to explore some other way God wants to be with you. Move on. Relax. It will all get done when it needs to. Don’t obsess. God, Who began this good work in you, will complete it. Trust that. And rest. Maybe doing even do something non-religious–like a jigsaw puzzle.

BONUSES:

Greg McKeown explores the psychology and behavior of habits in Essentialism. “We have a choice. We can use our energies to set up a system that makes execution of goodness easy […ier, I would add] or we can resign ourselves to a system that actually makes it harder to do what is good. We can apply the same principles to the choices we face when designing systems in our own lives.” Great book; check it out.

Adele Calhoun explores a host of spiritual practices in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. You may be surprised to discover that she lists things you are already doing. With a shift of intent they, too, can serve as spiritual disciplines. See it here.

~~Remember to support your local independent booksellers. In Yakima, it’s Inklings Bookshop. 

What “lesson” resonates with you? What other things have you learned from your experiences with various spiritual disciplines?