I am indebted to insufferable stinkers for a good deal of the understanding I possess. The people I dislike the most, usually have the most to teach me.
I enjoy nearly everyone I meet, but I have come across some corkers. I think this is because God has so much to teach me about myself and love. When I hit a learning plateau, the Almighty with a sly grin sends a new teacher into my life to help me over the hump.
I work in a profession where my job description is to love everyone, including my enemies. Such an expectation holds one’s nose to the grindstone, as the Holy Spirit sets out to polish and refine her servants in the friction of human relationships.
I am grateful that love is deepened in us in this way, because if I could have discounted the difficult, or avoided the boring I would be far more difficult and boring myself. So I give thanks for all the needy, self-centered, mean-spirited, self-pitying, abrasive, annoying, and crazy, scary people, whom Christ places before me to welcome and love.
Without these opportunities I never would have discovered how much I have in common with such lack luster, irritating souls. I would have felt no responsibility to change my impression of them or curiosity about the source of my aversion. I would have missed out on the wealth of gifts they bring to me in their outstretched arms and infuriating ways.
I think you know the sort of people I am talking about: the ones who enrage you, disgust you, upset you, or frighten you. Among these are people who are so easy to dislike, that you may take a perverse joy in dwelling on their shortcomings and talking with friends about just how awful they are.
Forbearance is a word seldom heard these days, except in its legal sense as an agreement to delay a mortgage foreclosure. As the word appears in the Greek scriptures, to forbear means to refrain from doing something and refers to patient endurance and self-control. Forbearance is the virtue of bearing with another’s sins and weaknesses. Forbearance is more than refraining from saying what is on the tip of your tongue, rolling your eyes, or wringing someone’s neck. Love enables us to bear with one another; and disciplined prayer and self-examination help us to love.
Sometimes my negative response to another may involve my unconscious projection of some unattractive attribute of myself, which I have not fully accepted. We tend to see our own flaws more clearly, when they show up in others. The offending party mirrors my own vexing habit. Or perhaps the negative feelings I carry for some other person in my life become attached to the person before me, who has some resemblance to my nemesis, and the unwitting soul must endure my unconscious dislike of him.
Or maybe – I just do not know the whole story.
He stopped me at the end of the meeting. He was the kind of person who, if you were in a hurry, you might duck down a hallway to avoid one of his tedious monologues. The man took forever to get to the point and gave you a whole lot of details that didn’t seem all that important and led to long, winding digressions.
As I listened, I felt the impatience and irritation rising up in me. Yet, because I was called to love and accept him, I took a breath, prayed and listened. I watched my internal irritation, wondering what it might have to tell me about the man and about myself.
I began to see that what I was feeling was instructive and likely how others felt listening to him. How hard that must be for him. What was going on here? Why was it so hard for him to be clear and concise?
I sensed in myself anxiety. Was he anxious too? Yes, I could see that now. He was anxious to be heard, fearful of being dismissed, of being devalued, or ignored. I recognized that needy feeling to be approved and valued in myself.
Who had made him feel this way? Where did it come from in me? That was when, in a flash, I glimpsed his suffering and all I wanted to do was give this man my total attention and acceptance. I realized that it didn’t really matter what he was saying as much as receiving someone’s caring attention. There might be a time later to explore the roots of his digressions. For now I wanted him to know how it felt to be heard without worrying the person you were talking to was eager to walk away.
Compassion rearranged my calendar, and I had all the time in the world to listen.
Rudy Rasmus is the pastor of Houston’s, St. John’s Downtown, a church with one of the most culturally diverse memberships in the country. Speaking to the United Methodist Kansas East Conference in 2010, Rudy said, “The kingdom is big enough for all the people you are afraid of, or think are wrong, or that you can’t love.”
Of the 9000 members at St. John’s 3000 are or were formerly homeless. Part of Rasmus’ success is due to his ability to help his members learn to move past judgment to compassion. In his address last year he asked his audience to practice compassion. His exercise went like this:
With attention on the person [you are judging] say to yourself:
Just like me this person has known sadness, loneliness, and despair in his or her life.
Just like me this person is trying to avoid suffering in his or her life.
Just like me this person is learning about life.
Then he shared what his Auntie used to tell him, “Rudy, people only do what they know to do.” The safer and more valued a person feels in my presence, the more they share of themselves and the more compassionate I become, as I grow in understanding and appreciation of the child of God before me.
The words of Oswald Chambers have helped me over and over to listen, to be curious, and open my heart to another, even when I don’t feel like it:
“Of every person there is always one more fact of which you know nothing.”
Put up with each other,
and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Colossians 3:13
Disclaimer: Any resemblance here to former or current church members, clients, friends, relatives, or dear readers of this blog is purely coincidental.
All the corkers I have known are now dead or live on Mars.
He went out, not knowing where he was going.
Waiting in the check out line, I indulge in my guilty pleasure – scanning the headlines of the National Enquirer. BILLY RAY RAGE: DISNEY DESTROYED MILEY CYRUS! GAGA-MADONNA WAR ERUPTS! I resist pulling an issue of Celebrity News off the rack to catch up on Tom and Katie. I save that for the beauty salon, when I am less apt to run into someone I know.
Back home as I haul in the groceries, my dog gives me a good sniffing, reading me front and back like a newspaper full of local scandals. All of us critters seem to be created with curiosity, as we wave antennae, bounce sonar, phosphoresce, and sniff out the news of our world and of one another, often shamelessly poking our snouts in our neighbor’s crotch.
Such knowledge – lurid, informative, or life saving – may empower, entertain, set us free, or provide our supper. Knowledge opens doors to invention, opportunity, and innovation.
The Bible understands that the highest kind of knowledge is knowledge, not of my neighbor’s stupid acts and reckless behavior, but of God. Knowledge of God is not for sale in the supermarket check-out line, but is given free through growing intimacy with Holiness. Knowledge of God flows from creation, scripture, people, even, sometimes, the check out line at Savemore, but, most significantly, from companionship and personal communion with the Holy One. Such knowledge and understanding develops through the exchange of love in the experience of a life shared with Christ through prayer. Like my dog, Elijah, one begins to know God, because I have sniffed at God long and often enough to recognize his scent.
Understanding of God is arrived at by literally standing under, that is to say, by lowering and humbling oneself. We stand beneath God, looking up, aware that we see only a portion of what is there. In faith we surrender to hints and intimations, glimpses and sudden dazzling displays of grace.
But inquiring minds want to know! We yearn to know where our lives are headed and to grasp with our minds what is and what shall be. We hunger to secure ourselves. We hitch ourselves up to institutions, college degrees, causes, and ideas. We cinch ourselves into relationships of aggression or hate, boredom or lust, dependency or bullying. We set our agendas and bind them to our foreheads.
Yet, deepening knowledge of God always asks us to trust. As we know God more, faith becomes the consent to knowing less and less about most everything else. As Oswald Chambers wrote, “God does not tell you what he is going to do – he reveals to you who He is.” Such not knowing is almost certain to make us really anxious.
Have you ever been asked to crucify your intellect, to kill that inquiring mind that has to know everything, understand and control everything, and be right all the time? Your life experience may lead to the painful crucifixion of your intellect. On this Golgotha, pinned by the circumstances of your own experience, you find that nothing you can figure out or find out or do can move you out of this impasse. You, left hanging there, can only wait, trust, and abide in love not knowing.
In a time of such acute unknowing we are likely to be filled with an overpowering panic and rising anxiety to secure ourselves with certainties, assurances, undeniable truths, and absolutes.
Now the Lord said to Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I shall show you.” Genesis 12: 1
Seventy five year old Abram and his wife, Sarah, showed a great deal of courage heading off on a journey on the word of the Lord alone without a clear destination. They had no maps, realtor photos of their new home, or contracts to wave before the querulous neighbors. They headed out in obedience under the cold moon and starry skies into a great unknown.
Though I doubt if it happened this way, I like to think of the old couple heading down the road to nowhere, waving their hats, urging the camels forward, and hollering, “Let ‘er roll!”
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss than upholstering a rut
James Broughton (Little Sermons of the Big Joy)
- The Fullness of Emptiness (theprayinglife.wordpress.com)
- Love and the Wind (theprayinglife.wordpress.com)
- The Amaryllis and the Evangelist (theprayinglife.wordpress.com)
Posted in apophatic spirituality, Christianity, Contemplation, prayer, faith
Tagged christ, God, Hebrews11:8, James Broughton, National Enquirer, not knowing, Oswald Chambers, Religion and Spirituality
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I Corinthians 2:2
“He went out, not knowing where he was going,” says the writer of Hebrews. Abraham, the father of our faith, didn’t have a clue where he was headed, no map, five year plan, or GPS device. Just faith.
Most of us want a little more than simple obedience to the word of the Lord burning in our hearts. We want a backup plan, some insurance policy to guarantee that our wandering about in the dark and hard work will be justified. We do not want to look back in shame or sorrow at the choices we made.
Most of all, when someone asks what our plans are for this year, we want that calm sense of security that comes with being able to answer clearly: My goal for this year is to plant a garden, go to Greece, or graduate from the Neuroscience Institute. You need something with a nice ring, which wins a nod of approval, or even better envy. So we consult a bevy of advisors. How long do I have, Doc? Madame Sylvia looks in her crystal ball. We check our horoscope and give our broker a call.
In our sleepless nights we pray, “God… please… let me know things will be all right.”
Instead of a five year plan in the mail, we get the present moment.
This frayed and tattered now.
My old buddy, Oswald Chambers, writes in his January 2 entry in “My Utmost for His Highest”:
One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “What do you expect to do?” You do not know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what he is doing….. Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what he is going to do – He reveals to you who He is. … You must learn to “go out” through your own convictions, creeds, or experiences until you come to the point in your faith where there is nothing between yourself and God.
Wanting to know the future, and to possess absolute clarity about where one is going is the last stronghold of the ego and a defense against intimacy with God, where the way is revealed only as I have surrendered my desire to know anything, except, as St. Paul puts it, “Christ and him crucified.”
We are nearest to God when we have gone out from our egos – our own knowing, our worries, and desires – and are vulnerably present to Holiness. As we become present to the Presence, we discover a relationship so wholesome, nourishing, and tender in its embrace that our notion of direction and purpose is transformed. My life’s direction is not something I grasp by knowing, but rather is given to me as I allow myself to be known in the mutual exchange of love that is our relationship with Christ.
This seeking, palpable, grace filled Presence of Christ is what allows us to go out into the unknown, empty handed and clueless. Jesus told his followers: “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” Luke 9: 3
We learn to trust more in the ever present power of the One who sends us, than in our own preparations. And oh how much easier life becomes then!
How does one do this? Be aware. Allow space in your consciousness for God. Shovel away your lists and agendas, goals and objectives. Make a clear path through the snow drifts of your ego to the great I Am.
This is how I tried to do that today. All morning I prayed in the sunshine pouring through my window. I began with a list. A stream of words and worries that gradually slowed to a trickle. Still in my pajamas and robe at 11:00, I am happy as a clam. Wrapped in love, I do not want to stop.
Often when I pray with others it is like this. Saying amen is a strain; lifting my head and opening my eyes, an effort. The magnetic pull of God captures me. To pull away is a sorrow, a sudden brutal severing from the heart’s true home. But the hour is up, the person who has come for prayer needs to go and is wondering if I am half crazy. So I return to “normal,” which seems ever more strange and artificial to me.
I know. I am weird. I also know many of you share this sense of God drawing you into Love.
I prayed for you this morning, for nothing in particular beyond peace, love, and joy. It is true I may not know you, yet I feel an oceanic rush of love and desire for your well being that hollows me out and leaves me breathless. I think it must be God’s love for you passing through my awareness. I hope it sweeps you off your feet today and tosses you hither and yon without a clue as to where you are going.
And on this cold day may you, beloved object of God’s devotion,
feel His warm breath upon your cheek.
Tell me about your prayer, the love song God is singing to you today.
Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org
Contact Loretta at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
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Posted in Contemplation, prayer, faith, God, Prayer, Spiritual Practices
Tagged Abraham, direction, Hebrews 11:8, I Corinthians 2:2, Oswald Chambers, present moment, the praying life