Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Christian Atheists

“If yas gonna pray – then yas don haft ta worry.
If yas gonna worry, then why bother to pray?”
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies


Though a majority of Americans claim they believe in God, most of us function in our lives as atheists. Little seems to cause us more trouble than the godless belief that the ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. Parker Palmer calls this “functional atheism.”

This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who make it happen – a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.

This shadow causes pathology on every level of our lives. It leads us to impose our will on others… stressing our relationships, sometimes to the point of breaking. It often eventuates in burnout, depression, and despair, as we learn the world will not bend to our will and we become embittered about that fact. Functional atheism is the shadow that drives collective frenzy as well. It explains why the average group can tolerate no more than fifteen seconds of silence: if we are not making noise, we believe, nothing good is happening and something must be dying.

~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Functional atheism is not a new affliction for the believer’s soul. Remember the story of the father of the epileptic child who asked for Jesus’ help? Jesus said to the man, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9: 23-24)

The rough and tumble scramble of our daily lives reveals our hidden atheist. Our unbelief makes itself known in our worry and irritability. We see our betrayal of God in the way we clamp down on having things our way and in insisting that we are right. Such unbelief gives us heartburn, high blood pressure, sleepless nights, and anxious days. Try as we might, we will always fall short of being able to be God in our own lives. Such an enterprise only leads to misery.

So, let’s practice belief. Slowly, step by step, stumble by stumble, we can move more deeply into the conversion of our unbelief.

Here is a prayer exercise to try.

Find a quiet spot. Let yourself relax. Take five or six deep breaths in through your nose, and release each one slowly through your mouth.

Now, imagine yourself in a vast open spacious field: a mountain top, a plain, a meadow, and a lake or ocean shore. See the space on all sides stretching into the distance.

Next, put the things you are worrying about: finances, work, family, various tasks, or responsibilities — whatever has you tied in knots, into that spaciousness. Once you have spread out your concerns at some distance from yourself, simply be there, breathing.

Imagine the Holy Spirit is moving among and penetrating the many tasks, people, and issues with a vibrant, pulsating energy you cannot see, but may sense. As you remain in peace, centered in Christ, the work of God goes forth into all your concerns through your faith, your consent, and your belief that God is more powerful and effective in your life and the world, than you could ever be.

Watch. Wait. Trust. If you become anxious, ask God to help your unbelief.

After taking time to be present to God’s activity in your life concerns, ask if there are any specific responses or actions you are to take. Allow God’s response to rise up from your center of peace, rather than your anxiety or fear.

Here in the field of your life the One who knows you better than you know yourself is always healing, creating, mending, and summoning.

Relax. It is not all up to you. You are not alone. You are not even in charge.

You are just part of the field, a member of the family.

Amen.

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Prairie Lamentation

Driving west on Interstate 70 from Topeka, Kansas around ten in the morning, I plunged into that green swath of oceanic beauty called the Flint Hills. Named by explorer Zebulon Pike in 1806, the majestic sweep of bluestem prairie extends north to Nebraska and south all the way to Oklahoma.

Formed 250 million years ago when Kansas and Oklahoma were covered with shallow seas, the land is compared to the undulating roll of a great body of water. The shallow soil rests on seabed layers of flint, shale, and the fossilized remains of sea animals.

Reveling in the beauty, I was sailing down the road, when I came abruptly upon a sight that brought my heart to my throat and sent a chill down my spine. A huge shimmering whiteness moved off to the north along the road. Bigger than the side of a barn, it lifted and fell back to the ground. It seemed alive somehow, but no animal could be that large.

I slowed, curious and wary. The highway was deserted. Was this a UFO? Maybe I should look for an exit and turn back. I drove a bit further, then coasted onto the shoulder, and stopped about 100 yards away, watching that white thing waving.

It looked like huge wings. One wing spread up the side of a hill, the other lay nearer to the road in the valley. A few iridescent feathers lifted in the wind and reflected the blue sky like mirrors. The wings were rising and falling slightly in a convulsive shudder.

It’s hurt. It needs help. But it’s huge. Would I scare it? Would it attack me? And what is it?

I looked up and down the road. Still no traffic. I opened the car door and slid out. A sudden rush of wind whipped past and slammed the door shut. The air was cool and smelled of grass. The only sound was the soft swish of shuddering feathers. Standing by the side of the road between earth and heaven, I pressed my hands over my mouth and stepped forward. I had taken a few more steps when, suddenly, the thing, the bird hiccupped. It convulsed and heaved in a ragged sob.

I nearly jumped out of my skin, but I saw that it was crying. The beautiful bird had spread herself over the sea of grass to weep. Don’t ask me how, I just seemed to know the bird was a she.

I moved a little closer, wondering if I could be of comfort. May I help you? But before I could finish the thought, a river of grief and anguish engulfed me and I tumbled over and over, gasping for air, drowning in sorrow. A deafening roar of cries and sorrow filled my senses. Then a battering wind and hellish screams pulverized me into tiny pieces, flinging me into darkness. After that, nothing.

When I came back together as myself, I was there in the quiet August morning with the hills, the sky, the empty highway, and the still bird. She seemed calmer now. The shuddering had stopped.

Are you all right? I asked. Are you able to fly? And again, instantly, I was drawn out of myself in a sickening swoop over mountains. We dove into the depths of the sea, peered into the eye of a whale, and crawled with a crab on a shore. I saw the molecules of a heart valve, and plummeted into the shrunken belly of a child in Sudan. We whooshed through glittering palaces of power and stood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She laid those wings over a pile of bodies in Pakistan and sat on the shoulder of a man holding an AK47 rifle. We splashed in a child’s swimming pool with a little girl in a pink and green striped bathing suit. She whispered to an artist bent over a painting, and coursed up the stem of a tomato vine in Fremont, Nebraska.

This time, reeling and breathless, I didn’t want to ask any more questions, or bear the answers. I gazed upon her wings spread over the prairie grass and the reflection of the blue sky, the puffy white clouds, and the tall grass waving. In the play of light and color I caught of glimpse of a woman peering back at me and realized with a start that the woman was myself.

Then she lifted one wing. She drew her head out from under it and turned her eyes on me. A bolt of love and compassion seared through me with the crackle and snap of flames rising from dry wood.

I sank down beside the bird. What do you want of me?

Tell them.
To stop.
Hurting me.

I cringed, shaking my head. I can’t. I am complicit. I have blood on my hands, too.

She waited for me. The wind ruffled her feathers. The puffy clouds moved across the sky. Somewhere a meadowlark called.

Okay. How?

Be brave.
Be brave, she told me.
Be brave.

_____________________________

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4: 29-32 (NASV)

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. Ephesians 4: 29 (The Message)

We invite you to become a fan of the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org,
Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
Contact the author at lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

What’s Going on Here? Drunk on Cheap Wine?

 

LightHarold, awestruck and elated, told me that he had seen God. He said that God showed him hidden mysteries. No, he was not psychotic. He was simply full of Holiness bigger than his britches. Divinity burst through his immature psyche in sparks and streaks. He scared most people, impressed others, and annoyed his pastor.

He was angry and frustrated with church authorities who did not ordain him on the spot. He fussed and wore his experience like a badge of martyrdom.  He was impatient about getting on with his life as a spiritual teacher or guru, and frustrated that no one seemed to recognize his superiority in this field.

A word for this fellow’s condition might be illumination, sometimes mistaken for the apex of the spiritual journey, but, rather, a roller coaster period characterized by swings of ego inflation and deflation which may last a number of years.  I recognized this because I have been through such a painful period a time or two myself. I don’t know how people stood me.

According to some models for understanding the process of transformation in Christ, illumination is the middle period of spiritual development, occurring between purgation and union. In my experience these passages of spiritual growth do not proceed in an orderly linear fashion, but rather circle, repeating, and weaving in and out as the Spirit’s expression in the specific life of an individual. A person’s transformation is related to God’s purposes and the particular aspects of a personality and life situations that need cleansing, healing, reordering, and setting free.

The church and the Bible describe this passage of spiritual development in many ways – the vision of God, an opening of the heart, being born again, accepting Jesus as one’s Lord, a spiritual awakening. Though there are many ways of describing it, most would agree it is not the culmination of the journey. An individual receives a sudden infusion of the Holy Spirit – not once or twice, but over and over. Sometimes people receive more than they can “metabolize” and become intoxicated with God. When it happened to the gathered disciples on Pentecost, people thought they were drunk.

They are speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.” Acts 2:12-13, The Message

Such experiences, as Evelyn Underhill puts it, “fatigue the immature transcendental powers.” We get more of God than our personalities and bodies can handle. We lose our balance and appear a little wacky for a while. This happened to Paul on the road to Damascus when the voice of Christ knocked him off his horse and left him blind and blubbering. He had to lay low for a while as he integrated this experience. And even years afterwards, he was still a little hard to take.Conversion of Paul1 People have varying responses to large draughts of God. Not everyone becomes insufferable. In Harold’s case he felt that nobody really understood and knew God the way he did. To him all the other laborers in the vineyard, slogging away without a glimpse of the master, appeared as witless dullards. And I have to admit some of them probably were. Instead of focusing on what is wrong with those around them, some people respond to the Spirit infusion with a burst of creativity, an outpouring of  service, the expression of their gifts, or art of some kind. Then there are the hidden souls who only want to withdraw to sit in silence and solitude, where they feel alternately forgotten and useless, and enraptured and blissfully happy.  

However we respond to the bracing presence of the Holy Spirit blowing through our lives and being, there is likely more work to be done. This inglorious mundane work of dying to self and waiting irks us no end. We chaff and fuss as God slowly reshapes our motivations to conform to divine motivations. People do get drunk on the wine of God, but believe me the wine is not cheap.

Harold told me he had already died, done all that. I didn’t have the heart to disabuse him of his belief. First, because what did I know really? And second, what I would say would make no difference to him. I trusted God at work in him, more than anything I might prescribe.  Some kind of growth and transformation was afoot which I didn’t want to mess up.  I did have a sense there was some pruning ahead for him, and considerable surrender before sweet humility would blossom more fully in his being.  

Even though Harold began to get on my nerves, I felt compassion for him as one ought for anyone in this condition. He was pretty miserable. Over time the man calmed down and found his way to service. He became able to hold his degree of glory in one hand and the reality of his sin and brokenness in the other without tipping over and wallowing in one or the other. Instead of bursting with pride or sinking into a pit of despair, anger, and suffering he grew into the largeness of the gift of God’s revelation to him. He attained the strength of soul and groundedness in the soil of humility to grasp this paradox of the human condition: our frailty and our glory. That sort of balance and strength in Reality is something to behold.

Watching the purposes of God unfold in someone’s life as a spiritual director is a front row seat to seeing God and hidden mysteries. The winsome way of God with an individual soul keeps me, entertained and delighted, on the edge of my seat. Now I must be honest. I made Harold up. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is not intended and purely coincidental. If,  in an adaption of Carly Simon’s song, “you probably think this post is about you,” it is not.  I really have no idea what God is up to in your soul, except to say without a doubt it is something wondrous, breathtakingly beautiful, and beyond your wildest dreams. For the record, I am still working on finding my balance. 

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