Friendship with God: Day 47 Easter!

He is Risen!
Happy Easter!
We hope you have enjoyed our time together in the cloister garden of your heart.  And we pray your visits to your garden will continue to deepen your friendship with God.
He is risen, just as he said! (Matthew 28:6)
The Resurrection was and is today. May you embrace and live the Resurrection life in Christ, which he offers to each of us.
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Friendship with God: Day 46

DAY 46

 

On our journey together over the past few weeks, we have not begun to walk from any particular point or place. We simply began where we were, almost unaware of the landmarks. With God, we always begin exactly where we are and nowhere else. God is both the path (the way) and the compass (the truth). Though we can look back on our spiritual journey and notice, with the benefit of hindsight, places where we may have taken a wrong turn, this is not a reason to despair or to give up the journey. It is the life with God that we seek, our lives in Christ as participants in the great Trinity of Love, not a collection of spiritual prowess markers. We simply begin again. The growth of our Godseed is a journey of many beginnings, and the more we walk the more we will understand this. With God, we are always beginning and we are all always beginners.

 

It is important to remember, as we keep walking, that it is God whom we seek, and not a particular path, not an illumined spirituality, or a set of progress points in which we can take pride. The real God (as opposed the god of our own making) will confound all of these because they are creations of the self-elevated ego, and nothing more. The transformation, the turning, the metanoia, from the pusilla anima (small soul) to the magna anima (great soul) is the path of grace, and the more grace we embrace, the more we understand that we are simply a pipe through which this constant stream, this river of life, flows.

 

Every life is shot through with little dyings, and though as we ‘suffer’ them, we might think they diminish us, when we use the wisdom of hindsight, we may well see that they become the very points at which we become fully alive. The bottom falls out of our buckets, and the buckets become a pipe, through which grace flows, and is free to flow though our open-ended hearts. We can no longer define ourselves in terms of our beginnings and endings, as if these gave us identity. When God removes our “brackets” and leaves us feeling naked, and bereft, he is actually throwing open our limiting barriers and exposing us to the pain and glory of eternity. There is pain, surely enough, because we cannot bear lightly the truth that we are not ourselves the purpose of it all, but the containers through which the Purpose flows. And there is glory, because that Purpose is so infinitely greater than anything our hearts could have imagined.
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As we sit in our cloister garden today, observing holy Saturday, we can give thanks to God for his friendship, for how he has been using the deepest desire of our hearts to draw us towards him. And we can remember that wherever we are, in the here and now, is where we are with God. Even if we are broken and lost, we can know that God, because of who he is, gives his special blessing upon those very places where we ourselves feel most vulnerable and broken and lost. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18) Where we are is the place of God’s blessing. And especially on this Holy Saturday, we can know this because we see exactly the extent to which God has gone to offer this blessing.

At the deepest level, the cross was the reason for the Incarnation, the “place” to which God longed to go, the throne that he wished to mount. As Jesus says so often in the Gospels, the passion is the “hour” for which he came, the undoubted climax of his life and ministry, that which was indispensible to his self-revelation. Even more compelling, this is the hour which God the Father wanted. The cross did not happen to Jesus as an unfortunate and tragic accident; rather, it is willed by God as the telos of goal of his self-disclosure. This is why Paul wrote: “I preach one thing: Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor 2:2).

 

What besets us, what practically compels the curving in on the self that is the essence of sin, is the fear of death. The fear of dying and the fact of dying are the greatest prompts to sin, for they compel us to cling to ourselves. And because of this, it is into this fear that the Word of God journeys. This is the heart of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. All of Christ’s ministry is but a prelude to his great assault on the stronghold of death itself. He moved through the outer defenses, the myriad effects of sin, before coming to the citadel, the origin of all sin, which is the terror of dying. And how does he fight it? He comes as a warrier, but fights bringing to these dark corners the light of the God’s compassion. He walks calmly into those places at the furthest remove from God (“he descended into hell”), and simply brings the divine presence. Christ approaches those who believe themselves to be most alienated from the sacred, and he throws around them the everlasting arms of divine mercy. He raises the dead.

 

Jesus, at Gethsemane, fully entered the spiritual and psychological world of the sinner. Having lost the link to the divine, the sinner is without anchor, tossed about from influence to influence. Jesus identifies with this splintered consciousness as he is repeatedly betrayed. But it is the Father who sent him, not the high priest of Judas nor the Romans. Jesus was the one sent by the Father to go into the godforsakenness of the sinner, and then the Father “rejects” him, delivers him to his torturers. He did not spare his son but gives him over for our sake. He delivers his son who “becomes” sin. What we see on the cross of Christ is the inner tension of the Godhead at its fullest pitch of intensity: The Father has sent the Son out from himself into that state which is most alien to the divine, into hostility to God, into God-abandonment. Embracing the utter darkness of physical pain, psychological agony and even metaphysical despair, the Son of God shows that there is no place, no condition, no state of being which is beyond the outreach of the divine. And so Paul can say with certainty: “For I am certain that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God that comes in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39). In the cross of Jesus, God has conquered sin by throwing his arms around it.



Friendship with God: Day 45

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When we began this Lenten journey together, in the cloister garden of our heart, we reflected on who we most truly are, at the heart of ourselves, our truest identity where the Godseed is implanted. And we began to see that it is here, in this “point vierge” or virginal point where God meets us, where God’s dream for us is unfolding. Our lives are the space in which that dream is formed, watered, cultivated and takes shape, and our gift to God is his dream come to life, where we are truly free to see him more clearly, follow him more nearly and love him more dearly. If, over the course of this Lenten journey, you have felt this dream come to life even a little, stop where you are, and give thanks to God for this. If, over the course of your time with God in the garden of your heart, you have felt drawn to him, in a growing, though perhaps shy, friendship, praise him for the gift of this nearness in your life, for the gift of himself, with you. And if, as you walked with God through Lent, you felt a growing courage and faith such that you were able to wade knee-deep into that great river of Life, thank him for this amazing grace, and for the growing freedom you enjoy.
 
We have learned, and learned again, how we needed to recognize the heart of ourselves, where God is, incarnate in each of us, and our truest self is hidden in Christ, just as God was incarnate in his Son, who called us to be brothers and sisters. We know that through his Son we are adopted children. We have explored together how we are free to direct our lives either ‘home’ towards our God-center, our lives hidden in Christ, or away from it. We have observed that our fears and our false images of God get in the way of the unfolding of God’s dream for us; and we have witnessed our deepest desires nourish this dream and show us something of its shape and beauty, for, as Augustine wrote, God has created in us that powerful desire that only he can satisfy. We are learning to recognize the addictions and attachments that divert our energy away from the unfolding of this deepest desire, and keep us clinging to the riverbank, rather than wading in, awash in God’s grace. And finally, we have embraced the day by day, lived moment by lived moment, that deepens our intimacy with Jesus, and draws us in to the great love of the Trinity, which is unending, and strengthens the roots of our Godseed, causing it to grow even stronger towards the unique person our Creator longs for us to become.
 
This is a very great mystery, and it is not. It is also tremendously simple. Our increasing intimacy with God will inevitably cultivate in us a desire to become the person God created us to be, and when that is truly our deepest desire, that will be what eternally IS. By surrendering the lesser desires of our lives, and submitting to whatever kind of ‘dying’ that entails, we will cross the threshold of resurrection, just as Jesus promised we would. And so on this Good Friday, we can embrace this ‘dying’ of our false selves, knowing that God has taken to himself all our disordered desires and sins, and we are safe in Christ. We can have confidence, knowing that he says to us as he did to Paul, “but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor 12:9)
 
For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the “place” where heaven and earth meet, where the holy is present uniquely and forever, where God with us became Real. The baptism of Jesus (Luke 3: 21– 22) and his transfiguration (Mark 9: 2– 13) exemplify how heaven and earth meet in him. In Jesus, God is so present that he is, in some mysterious way, both fully human and fully divine. To meet Jesus is to meet God. Jesus is “holy ground” par excellence, and this is the way we experience God. Jesus reminded us that if we know him, we also know the Father (John 14:7).  As we continue our journey past Easter, we can reflect on where we experience God and where is our holy ground.
 
The ancient Celts spoke of “thin places,” where the border between heaven and earth, sacred and secular, seems especially porous and God is believed to “leak through” more easily. Because God can leak through anywhere, and is always present, perhaps it is more accurate to say that in such places people find, or are aware of, the presence of God more easily. So as we continue or journey, and seek t grow in friendship with God, we can cultivate an awareness of the thin places in our lives because they make experiences of God’s desire for each one of us, and our desire for God, more possible by capturing our attention and pulling us out of our ordinary routines and concerns. They help to create space for our friendship to grow and flourish. Time alone in your cloister garden is surely just such a ‘thin’ place. Scripture, either heard or read, can be a thin place if we let the words capture our imagination and attention as we have seen throughout this time together. All too often, we don’t let the Scriptures do what they were written to do— namely, to give God a chance to be heard and met.
 

The seemingly unlikeliest ‘thin’ place in all of history is Golgotha, where church and state conspired to kill an innocent man. Yet even here the Roman centurion who led the soldiers who crucified Jesus gasped, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15: 39). Ever since that awful and awesome day, Christians have contemplated Jesus on the cross and there have found God and hope and peace. It seems counter-intuitive, yet it is true: we find these ‘thin’ places where heaven and earth meet amid beauty or devastation, amid sorrow or joy. Christ is with us in both. As the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Every place on this earth can be a thin place. All that is required to experience God is our openness to God’s presence. So on this Good Friday, in your garden, spend time reflecting on Jesus’ on the cross, and as you pray, ask God to grant you the grace to contemplate Golgotha as a thin place in all its sorrow and joy, a place where heaven and earth met amid beauty and devastation.

 



Friendship with God: Day 44

DAY 44

 

Over the course of these Lenton devotions, we have met together in the cloister garden in our hearts to draw nearer to the one who calls us to be friends. Hopefully, this time together with Jesus in your garden has become a source of strength and joy, and you have discovered yourself, rooted in his love, to have inherited a great treasure. You have awakened to the growth of the Godseed within you, and you are opening your heart to God’s nurture and care of it, such that it can grow and flourish. You have waded into the great river of life, and let go of some of the attachments and fears that kept you clinging to the shore, if only a little, allowing it to carry you forward into the life where, like Paul observed in Acts 17:28 “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ “ With grace, we have come to see him more clearly and follow him more nearly, and now, with abundant grace still, we long to love him more dearly.

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Augustine’s beautiful prayer to God, which he wrote in his
Confessions,
is a recognition of this love, which had grown in his heart: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”

 

As we near the close of this gift of the season of Lent, the season of watchfulness and waiting for resurrection, we too can make this prayer of personal surrender of the gift of our hearts. We can reflect on how we will respond to the immense love that God has shown to us. As you enter your garden today, pray your own prayer to God for his opening of your eyes so that you might see, for ears that shattered your deafness and for the fragrance that caused you to breathe deeply of Him. Graced with seeing eyes, listening with the ear of your heart and breathe that takes in and breathes out God’s fragrance, you are becoming the dream God first had for you when he created you.

 

One clue about how we might respond to this immense love comes from Paul, who experienced just this metanoia, this “turning” Augustine describes so eloquently. Paul writes in Acts 20:24: Life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish the race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me: to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace. Serving as a witness means having a particular quality that reveals something of God to those around us. It means that the Godseed in our hearts has germinated and is showing outward signs of life—in growth, in blossom, or in fruit.   If we are called to be ‘expert witnesses’ to the Good News of God’s grace, what does this mean? The word ‘expert’ is related to several other words in our language. It is the past participle of the verb “to experience.” An expert is one who has experienced. The word comes from the Latin verb ‘experior’ which means to try, prove, test, undertake, risk, undergo, experience. Of all these variations of meaning, the one which is perhaps the most fruitful for our journey is ‘to risk.’ When we take the risk of faith, we step out into the great river of living water, and open ourselves up to the experience of God. We begin to swim in that living water, and that experience is our proof, living and lived proof, of his reality and his power and his love: first, it is proof to ourselves, and then to others, who begin to notice its effects on us. We have been risking the exposure of our innermost being to God in prayer, and reflecting on that experience, and testing the truth of our own discernment in the light of how it impacts our real, daily, lives.

 

If we consider the question of “what can I give him” in this context, we might answer that we can give him the evidence of our lived experience as a sign of his real and loving presence in the world. Expert witnesses reveal God out of their lived experience of him, and in the authority of his truth that they hold in their hearts. We know that Christ is the source of all the power and the love in our lives, and simply living from that truth is enough. We can proclaim it, of course, but far more eloquent is the blossom and fruit of our lives with God that gives force and authority to the lived witness of our lives.

 

We began this journey by reflecting on who we most truly are, at the heart of ourselves, where the Godseed in implanted. It is here, in the still center of who we are, the place Thomas Merton called the “point vierge” or virginal point, where God is with us, that God’s dream for us is unfolding. Our lives are the space in which that dream takes shape, and our gift to God is his dream fulfilled.

 

As you sit on the stone bench in your garden, Read John 12:1-3, slowly and prayerfully. In your mind’s eye, imagine that you are in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and Jesus arrives to spend the evening with you. The brothers and two sisters are all present to Jesus in quite different ways, each according to his own nature. How will you choose to respond to Jesus at this meeting? What will be your particular way of showing him that you ‘love him more dearly’? In your prayer, let yourself respond to him in whatever way you feel drawn. Thank him for the grace of this love and this great flowing river which is Life.

 

Mary Anoints Jesus

Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

 

 

 

 



Friendship with God: Day 43

DAY 43

 

As we have been exploring friendship with God through the course of these Lenton devotions, we have looked at different ways of praying our own life’s story; and we have spoken often of the great river of life, with its joys and sorrows. There is another aspect to this river that helps us to draw nearer to the simple, loving awareness of the presence of God. This is the river described by the prophet Ezekiel in his vision of his own relationship with God. Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes a spring of fresh water gurgling up under the doorway to the temple. Imagine for a moment that this temple is your own life, the very truest part of you, your heart, where God dwells. And the spring bubbles up from inside you and from your desire to be in a loving friendship with God and to express this friendship in prayer.

 

Ezekiel 47:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Water Flowing from the Temple

Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.
Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east;[a] and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Mortal, have you seen this?” Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes,[b] every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. 10 People will stand fishing beside the sea[c] from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 
On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
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Yet, though we have this desire, to pray is not always as straightforward as it appears. Consider what happens to Ezekiel. He comes out of the temple by the north gate and is led all around the building, counterclockwise, until he gets to the east gate and discovers the stream of prayer. If he’d only known, he could have had an easier journey. He could have at least walked the other direction and saved most of the journey around the temple! It’s funny how wise we all are in hindsight!

 

However bent and long-winding is the path, imagine for a moment that we have reached the east gate and found that trickle of a stream that is flowing there, flowing out in the direction of the dawn. Only a trickle, but full of hope and desire. We might follow it, yes? As it flows out into the unknown country, or said another way, out into the rest of our lives.

 

Ezekiel notices that his stream is deepening. As you are seated on the bench in your garden today, consider your own stream. If you were in Ezekiel’s situation, if you were to wander five hundred yards downstream and test the waters, you might find yourself only ankle deep. Prayer is happening, perhaps, but it is lapping around your ankles and not making much difference in the way you live. So walk on a bit, perhaps another five hundred yards. You are knee deep. Prayer is beginning to challenge you and become a force to be reckoned with in your life. Another five hundred yards still, and you find yourself waist-high in water. Can you sense this water all around you? Living with prayer is demanding a great deal from you, but God is also showing you his increasing trust in you and sharing more of himself with you. For God, after all, is the stream that is flowing through our hearts and bringing us to the fullness of life.

 

We will spend more time on this river tomorrow, but for now, simply stay with Ezekiel’s story in your mind’s eye, resting in God’s presence with you. Consider that it might be more than a poetic prophesy for the coming of God’s reign in the world. It is also a picture of what prayer can be come for each of us. Think about your own prayer life. Have you struggled to find the east gate and discover that tiny trickle—the first springing up of a desire in you to pray? Have you experienced, over the course of your life or over the course of this Lenton journey, the disbelief, wonder and joy as your trickle has deepened and widened? Share this with God in your prayer today, thanking him for the wonder of this friendship and asking him, as you approach Easter morning, to open your heart and give you the grace to live the resurrection life, fully immersed in the flow of the great river which is God’s love. (Very loosely adapted from Margaret Silf “Close to the Heart: A Practical Guide to Personal Prayer).



Friendship with God: Day 42

DAY 42

 

Over the past few days we have been walking through Christ’s death and suffering, and the grace we have sought is unitive, union with Christ in his suffering. As we begin to identify with Christ’s suffering and join ours to his, we move out of ourselves toward Christ in much the same way Jesus moved out of himself all through the Passion. Jesus gives himself for others; he forgets himself. We have contemplated the events of the Passion in order to embrace Jesus’ suffering for us. Jesus suffers for each of us. Because Christ is the second Adam and the head of the human race, his sufferings have a universal meaning. But Jesus’ suffering on the cross is also for each one of us alone. So we pray to be united with him in his suffering and that we may experience that his suffering is also a purifying and freeing experience.
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How is it freeing? When we escape our narrow selves, we die to ourselves. In dying to ourselves through union with Christ’s suffering, we gain strength, courage, freedom and conviction—all the graces necessary to become the person God created us to be and to live out his will in our lives. We are born anew to resurrected lives in Christ. God knows how greatly freedom and love outweigh the evils of suffering and death. The freedom necessary for love raises and glorifies us.   It gives us the new life, Christ’s life, that survives and transcends the downward pull of suffering and death. We might say that God gifts us our freedom so that we can love; yet we are simultaneously given the freedom ton sin. God allows for the possibility of sin and evil in the world because evil is the result of our selfishness.

 

Much of this is revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus is love incarnate; his reason for being is love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” (John 3:16). Jesus is the revelation in human form of God’s love for us. He teaches us that God our Creator is compassion and love and that the expression of our love for God is fulfilled in compassion and love for others. Jesus is the being whose total life force is love. What we see in Jesus is that, in the moment of suffering, this love triumphs over sin, suffering and death. Love is greater than death. Not only does Christ triumph over sin, suffering and death, but he also becomes the instrument for us to triumph over sin, suffering and death. Through contact with us in the Spirit, Christ gives us the courage and strength to triumph, even over the fear of these evils.

 

There is also an aspect of suffering that is mysterious, and goes beyond what is merely physical. The messages of the cross and the Resurrection meet the deeper dimension of suffering. Christ’s life meets the deep needs of all people: the need to be known, to be accepted and to be loved. Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead are the ultimate expression of the fact that we are accepted. Jesus’ death on the cross is the great sign of Christ’s compassion, love and forgiveness. Paul wrote: “Our faith will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:24.25) We are saved, not only from our sins, but even from the self-centered fears that prevent us from loving as we might desire. The grace of joining ourselves to Christ’s suffering draws us out of ourselves so that we fully recognize Jesus as the one who enables us, not only to live, but even to love (Rom 4:25, 5:11)

 

Through our suffering, we are not alone. Friendship with the Lord, in the intimate relationship of prayer, is a gold mine of joy that your explorations will never exhaust Yet, if you allow God to draw your life into prayer, he will, sooner or later, invite you to walk with him to Calvary. Like any true human friend, only much more so, God will settle for nothing less than your absolute truth, the real essence of who you really are. He will die for the sake of that truth, and in some form or other, he will ask you to join him in that dying and to trust him completely for the freedom and the life to which it is leading. Friendship, if it connects heart to heart, is always costly. Intimacy with God may cost all you have. This is what it means for the camel of our hearts to pass through the needle’s eye of Calvary.

 

As we know, Calvary is not the end of the story. As you are present in prayer to the Resurrection, as you were yesterday in the garden, these scenes will resonate with something deep in your personal life, if you have ears to hear. Right at the heart of resurrection is a strong and mysterious sense of the present, the ever present tense, that is not satisfied by our mere ‘hope of the life to come.’ As we have walked together this past few weeks, we have seen the reality of the Godseed in our hearts, and we have witnessed the beauty of its growth in us. As the human heart awakens to the life of its Godseed, resurrection begins, not just for that person alone, but for the whole human family. Far from being passive spectators in the drama of redemption, we are participants through Christ. Every time we touch upon our own True North, we touch his resurrection glory. Every time we feel the freedom that flows when we are ‘living true’ to the deepest part of ourselves rooted in Christ, we are feeling the flow of eternity in the here and now. Resurrection points towards and brings about the fulfilling of God’s dream in us.

 

As you are seated in your garden today, Read Hannah’s story in 1 Samuel, Chapter 1. Hannah’s deepest desire has been fulfilled in Samuel’s birth, and she responds by recognizing her even deeper desire to offer what she most cherishes to the Lord. She makes Samuel over to the Lord. Reflect, in prayer, on how your own deep desires are being fulfilled, and how far you feel able to surrender the treasure of your heart into the hands of God.  Pray Hannah’s prayer in verses 27-28.  How does this story show that love is greater than loss?

 

Samuel’s Birth and Dedication

There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” 12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. 19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” 21 The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” 23 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. 24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. 25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. 28 

Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” She left him there for the Lord.


Friendship with God: Day 41

DAY 41

 

We have seen that The Gospel is the story of the cross, and a map for our personal journey across its bridge, and we have also seen that reading the Gospel stories and allowing Jesus to speak to us through them is one way of walking across that bridge. When we do so, we are opening our hearts to listen deeply to the Gospel events and asking God to show us our own story in the Gospel light, to make connections between what we are living vicariously in our prayer and how we are living in the messy day by day reality of our lives.
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We have also seen that joining our suffering to Christ’s suffering, the reality and immediacy of God’s suffering and death in his Son goes straight into the deepest part of our being, making it present to our lived experience and connecting to everything we are. When we offer our heartfelt repentance for our own part in causing it, some glimmer of the mystery of redemption begins to penetrate our hearts. When our suffering is connected to God in prayer, it becomes, like his, redemptive. The act of consecration that our prayer has made possible has released this redemptive power in us, God’s grace, and made it effective not just within the bounds of our own story, but for the story of the suffering of our fellow human beings. Through God’s grace, we can help others to pierce the darkness and embrace the healing light of Christ.

 

One of the most confusing and ironic of the beatitudes follows: “Happy are those who mourn; they shall be comforted.” Nowhere does Jesus so confound the assumptions of a sinful world than by asserting that which seems most opposed to happiness (mourning) is in fact essential to it. The universe we inhabit is one characterized by conflict and tragedy even as it is beautiful; to live in this world is to suffer and to mourn. One of the strategies of our sinful nature is a weird sort of denial of this inevitability, and we use many attachments to avoid facing this reality. Fundamentally afraid, we are unable to admit the reality of evil, loss or tragedy, convinced that such an admission would lead to the breakdown of our fragile inner life. Accordingly, we create a fantasy world of unrelieved success and accomplishments, a clean, well-lit space where no rot creeps in, as if we are afraid that by admitting to the rot it will become real. This is why, so often, when we inquire about a person’s wellbeing, we are often given the response, or we give the response, that everything is fine, even when it clearly is not. We are afraid of the vulnerability of anguish and grief. We are afraid of the vulnerability of our humanity.

 

 

But grounded in the stillness of our hearts, open to God’s grace, we are able to grieve, and to come alongside the suffering and grief of others, since we know that no suffering, however dreaded, can finally destroy or undermine our soul and there is no anguish that God does not understand. Properly centered on God’s love as the core of our being, we can accept the inevitability of pain because we are in possession of a joyfulness deeper than any negativity. And therefore, in this way, we are not apt to deny, repress or project mourning, but can take suffering in, accept it, pierce through the darkness of it, and learn from it.

 

Jesus tells us that his ‘yoke is easy and his burden is light.’ When you read his promise, does it ever seem to you that you must be doing something wrong, or perhaps Jesus has simply not fully understood your situation? Perhaps your understanding of Jesus’ own suffering might help us unlock this question. Consider how you balance the burdens of your life, and imagine you are carrying them on your shoulder or carrying them awkwardly in your arms. Consider that at the heart of your own balancing act lies the kind of balance that Jesus teaches us in Gethsemane and on the cross: the balance between our own experience and the truth of God which is making it incarnate; the balance between your own struggle and the still center of yourself that you discover in prayer, where your true strength lies. When you feel your own burdens are far from light, you can go to the still center where God is, and regain the joy you have known when walking in balance. This isn’t a magic cure for all your aches and pains, or even for the sheer heartache of the Calvary journey, but it touches your truth, and releases your innermost energies again.

 

After Jesus’ crucifixion, many of his friends encountered his living presence among them. These appearances seem to be characterized by two features in particular: first, the risen Jesus retained the marks of his agony, and invited his friends to “get in touch” with the pain in him, as we have been doing when we consider Calvary in our hearts. Secondly, the friends frequently failed to recognize him, at least initially. Consider your favorite resurrection scene from the Gospel today as you enter your cloister garden. Take it into your prayer and in your mind’s eye, and place yourself into the scene, meeting Jesus. What do you hear?

 

What burdens are you carrying in your life today? Do they often seem too heavy to bear? Name them to God in your prayer and tell him honestly how you feel. Then try to bring your heart to its still place and ask God to hold your heart in balance, grounded in the center where he resides. When your heart is stilled in his presence, take up your burdens again and ask God to balance them across your shoulders in his way.  Remember the Scripture we read yesterday?  “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18)


Friendship with God: Day 40

DAY 40

 

As this is Sunday, and the 40th day of Lent, as you sit on the bench in your cloister garden, read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, slowly and prayerfully, and walk through the four movements of Lectio Divina, or “reading with God.” Lectio Divina is one of the great treasures of the Christian tradition of prayer.   Listening to the word of God in Scripture is a traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ, as if he were suggesting the topics of conversation.
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Read it Slowly, listening with the ear of your heart. Note the word of phrase that stands out to you. Note this in in your prayer journal. Read it through a second time, Reflecting on the meaning of that word of phrase to your friendship with God; think about what touches you. Then Respond to God in prayer, talking with him about what you understand from your reading and share with him your thoughts. Find the still place in your heart, and finally, Rest quietly in God’s presence, enjoying the joy of his company as your still heart breathes in the love present in his home within you.

 

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Living by Faith

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.



Friendship with God: Day 39

DAY 39

 

It may be well to say that to be consecrated in order to be broken and given to others is the vocation of all believers, with sacrifice at its heart, but what does this actually mean in the lived experience of our lives in friendship with God, in the day-by-day walk of faith? How is it that our experience of pain relates to Jesus’ experience on Calvary? There are many everyday stories of anguish and heartache, stories of the pain we cause each other and the pain we recognize in each other. Sometimes we recognize that the very burden we are carrying is the means by which God is drawing us into friendship and intimacy with him. Other times, having a deep sense of our Lord’s pain becomes a healing stream flowing from Jesus through our own grieving and loss, and alongside the anguish of all those who will subsequently share their pain with us. Just as to be human is to be alive to Beauty and Joy as harbingers of God’s mark on our souls, we are also aware of how our lives are often tragic and heartbreaking. But the very pain we experience often points toward the possibility of discovering healing, redeeming power in thee very places that hurt us most.
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When we risk the prayer of Calvary, we are taken to the threshold of a deep darkness.  In Gethsemane, Jesus himself struggles ‘even unto death’ with that darkness that we ourselves experience to some extent in our own lives and see in the lives of others.  In the heart of his darkness, his struggle, Jesus reaches deep into the core of his being, to his center rooted in God and says “Thy will be done.”  When this happens, his pain becomes redemptive.  It becomes a shaft of love that is sharp enough to pierce the darkness, rather like a star that pierces the darkness of the night sky.  The veil of the temple is rent in two and the glory of the Father is revealed.

 

In this same manner, when we look up at the stars, we can imagine that every pinpoint of light is where someone before us has pierced that darkness, gone through it with trust and courage and broken through to the brilliance beyond.   And each of us, when carried by grace pierce our own darkness, allow that shaft of light to open up for those still standing and trembling in the night. And so we can through grace help others to pierce the darkness and embrace the healing light of Christ. We can know that in the great company of our fellow saints, who have gone before, it might be possible to pass through the little gate of Gethsemane, in whatever forms in may present itself. In some way we may not fully understand, or even understand only a little, it may be possible to let ourselves be drawn into the deep dark pools of Jesus’ eyes on Calvary and discover the eternal radiance on the other side of darkness.

 

Consider your own life as you sit on your garden bench today. Do you know any ‘starmakers’? Do you know any people who have known a deep darkness in their lives, perhaps through pain, or heartbreak or handicap, abuse or cruelty, loneliness or depression? Have they in some way “pierced the darkness,” taking their personal pain through a spiritual barrier and become a source of strength, encouragement and light for others? Offer thanks to God for the grace of their presence in your life.

 

What burdens are you carrying in your life today that seem too heavy to bear? Name them to God in your prayer, and tell him honestly how you feel. Where is the worst are of pain in your life at present? Let it come into your awareness in prayer. Lay the feelings before God without fear. This is your Gethsemane. Ask the Lord to stay with you, and watch and pray with you. Ask him to draw your pain into his own. Walter Wangerin in his book “
Whole Prayer”
writes that it is this relationship with God that matters when we pray: “Love and trust are the supreme purposes of prayer: that we pray in a loving trust to our dear Father, and that he answers out of his infinite store of merciful love.” Though God’s is surely the power, “the Lord waits to be gracious to you”

 

Read and pray through the Gospel account of Jesus’ suffering in Matthew 27, his trial, his torture and his death. In what parts do you feel closest to him? Why do you think this is? Note this in your prayer journal. How does this experience connect to your own?



Friendship with God: Day 38

DAY 38

 

As we have spent time together in our garden, we have spoken of the Truth we encounter in our hearts when sharing in the Lord’s Passion through our prayer, and we have begun to see how opening ourselves to God’s grace in our suffering also opens up a whole new freedom within us, which, in turn, becomes a source of healing for us and for the world, the very energy of resurrection. Just as the elements of the Eucharist are consecrated to the sacred purpose of the meal and shared out in communion, our consecration, is not meant to be its own end. As a church is consecrated for worship, a “pilgrim” is consecrated for his or her journey towards God. We are consecrated, or set apart for God and for each other, not for ourselves alone. When God consecrates us, He declares his desire and intention that we shall be consecrated to his truth, and that our lives shall become a space where he can be at home. He then lives in our lives, fulfilling in them the purpose for which he has consecrated them. We follow him more nearly.

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In the Hebrew Law we find the concept of consecration applied to the entire people whom Moses, by a solemn act of consecration, designates as the People of God (Exodus 24). Later on we read of the consecration of the priests — Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29), who had been previously elected (Exodus 28). Here we have the act of consecration consisting of purifying, investing, and anointing (Leviticus 8) as a preparation for their offering public sacrifice. Distinct from the priestly consecration is that of the Levites (Numbers 3:6) who represent the first-born of all the tribes. The rite of their consecration is described in Numbers 8. Another kind of personal consecration among the Hebrews was that of the Nazarites (Numbers 6). It implied the voluntary separation from certain things, dedication to God, and a vow of special sanctity. Similarly, the rites of consecration of objects ,such as temples, altars, firstfruits, spoils of war, etc., are minutely described in the Old Testament.

 

The Bible says, “You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 20:7). Consecration means that you are to set yourself apart from evil, turn to the Lord, and be prepared to be used by God. The Bible says, “…Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the Lord, come near…” (2 Chron. 29:31). Paul wrote: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1) It is the new life in Christ that God wants us to present to Him. Again, Paul writes,”…present yourselves to God, as being alive from the dead…” (Romans 6:13).  It is only as I see that I have been crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised up again with Him, that I can truly consecrate my life to God.

 

Like the Eucharistic bread, we are consecrated in order to be broken and given to others. Like the Eucharistic wine, we are consecrated in order to poured out for others. Consecration is always a community matter, an act of inclusiveness, expressing the all-inclusive love of God. Understood in this way, consecration is a vocation for all believers, and it has sacrifice at its heart. We can’t share in the consecration that was first enacted during the Last Supper, and is re-enacted in every Eucharist, unless we are willing to become part of the sacrifice. So we say along with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

 

Today, in the cloister garden in your heart, Read Galations 2:20 slowly and prayerfully. Reflect on its meaning for your life today. What does it mean to live by faith in the Son of God? Note the word or phrase which stands out to you and meditate on this, listening with the “ear of your heart” for God’s still small voice.

 

Can you remember any moments in your journey with God where you felt that you were being consecrated by him for a particular ministry or role in life? Note these in your prayer journal. You may remember a time of spiritual renewal, or the growing awareness of a vocation, or the moments may have been very private, in times of prayer. Recall them now, before God. If you feel drawn to do so, perhaps renew these promises and ask him to bless your continuing intention to follow him in those special ways, to follow him more nearly.