On Being Human 7: Presence

The night had a bite. That crisp, dry cold that quickly whisks away any moisture (however little) that might be on your lips or nose. The sky was just letting go a fresh, dry, powder snow. Bundled up, I made my nightly walk down to the barn to bring in the horses, feed them evening grain and fresh water, and close up the stable against the winter elements. I finished the evening chores and bundled back up to head back to the house, and the chill seemed to steal my breath as I gasped at the fresh half inch of fresh snow that fell while I was busy in the stable.

Everything looks different with a fresh coating of snow. It seemed I had new eyes as I saw my familiar surroundings that cold winter night. I noticed the silhouettes of the leafless trees outlined in snow against the midnight-blue sky, the stars piercing the darkness of the night, the snow seemingly falling from the darkness overhead. It all called out to me, afresh. Then it hit me—the stillness, the quiet, the silence that seems to accompany a snowy winter night—and it stopped me in my tracks. It seemed I couldn’t take it all in: the stark and brutal beauty of the bitter cold, the snow-covered landscape, nature in its barren rest; the freshness filled my every sense.

Standing in the stable drive, halfway between the stable and my home, I was awestruck. Nature in all its beauty, power, and force had arrested my attention, and I sensed afresh my connection to all that was made. In that moment I came to my senses; aware that I was present, that I belonged, and that I was welcome to be a part of the landscape on that winter night, standing on the gravel drive along our horse pasture. I was overjoyed, and I spontaneously raised my hands to receive all the moment had and to take it all in. My voice broke the still and silent frozen air as I whispered, “Thank you.”

A Prayer for Being Present

Creator and Maker of all, open our ears so we might be aware and appreciative of your creation and alive to you and all who bear your image today. Help us have eyes to see you in that which is around us, ears quick to hear you in stillness and in the words of others, and hearts soft to your touch and full of compassion toward all that moves your heart. May we come to our senses today, wholly centered on the here and now.

May we be fully conscious of the truth that you are near, here and with us. We ask this in the name of your Son, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.


On Being Human 6: Authenticity

Authenticity demands a vulnerability that too few have the courage and trust to reveal.

For the past eleven years, my wife and I have had the privilege of working in dog rescue. We have offered our home as a temporary oasis for no fewer than fifty dogs over the years until we could find a family who would adopt these canine refugees. One of the ways we gauge each dog’s transition from uncomfortable to at ease with our home and its occupants is when our foster dog lies on its back. This cockroached position of revealing its belly is one that demonstrates a trust and level of comfort that tells the story that they have transitioned well.

For a dog to show its belly is a position of great vulnerability. A dog on its back is revealing its soft underbelly, putting the dog in a position of trusting that no foe will take advantage of it. For humans, as babies and as young children, our vulnerability is apparent to all. As a result, laws, expectations, and social safety nets are established to ensure that infants and children are protected and cared for. But as we become older, most of us tend to hide our soft underbellies. Our vulnerability is something we don’t show; we cover it up, often revealing it to few people, if anyone.

Despite this, the fact remains: We are all vulnerable. To grow into a deep humanity means growing in our authenticity and demonstrating a vulnerability that is too rare in our world. Through prayer, a good friend, God-given discernment, and courage, we can reveal our true selves.

A Prayer for Healing and Vulnerability:

Mighty and gracious God, slow to anger and quick to forgive,

Thank you that we can come to you with our honest and vulnerable hearts.

Thank you for sending Jesus that we might find in your presence welcome, a hearing, grace, mercy, healing, and adoption.

Forgive us,

Heal us,

Cleanse us,

Empower us,

That we might be able to represent you, our speaking, moving, and active God.

Send us out and lead us in this new beginning. Amen.


On Being Human 5: Otherness

When we live in such a way that we are attentive to the present moment and growing in our awareness of the wonder of life, it helps us see the extraordinary in the ordinary of life. We become able to see each individual as unique. We hopefully see others as having a deep significance, worthy of love, dignity, kindness, and mercy. Until we see others as more than an extension of ourselves (as unique individuals) we have no hope of seeing the presence of the Transcendent Other. It may be that we best begin to see God’s presence when we encounter him in providing hospitality to strangers.

Extending Hospitality:

  1. Ask God to give you new eyes to see your community with ability to see the hurting and needy in your midst.
  2. Once God begins to reveal those who are in need of care and hospitality, consider the following ways to enter their world and listen to their story:
    • join their routine and enter their day for a period of time
    • buy two cups of coffee and share a coffee break with them
    • spend your lunch with them (share a bag lunch together)

3.  When you feel there is a mutual respect and trust

    • invite them to a meal in your home
    • involve them in a family tradition/picnic

 

A Prayer for Others

Open my eyes that they may see the deepest needs of people;

Move my hands that they may feed the hungry;

Touch my heart that it may bring warmth to the despairing;

Teach me the generosity that welcomes strangers;

Let me share my possessions to clothe the naked;

Give me the care that strengthens the sick;

Make me share in the quest to set the prisoner free.

In sharing our anxieties and our love, our poverty and our prosperity,

we partake of your divine presence. Amen.

With All God’s People: The New Ecumenical Prayer Cycle (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1989), p. 344.


On Being Human 4: Wonder

You remember that deep emotion that wells up within us when we stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon or watch a child discover his or her fingers for the first time? The astonishment and awe that overcomes us in those moments taps into our capacity to decipher the mystery in the mundane and the sacred in the everyday. So often we walk inattentive to all the wonder-filled dramas going on about us; burning bushes go unnoticed.

Wonder seldom emerges in our lives if they are crammed with work, people, words, and noise. We need to make room in our lives to cultivate an outlook of wonder. It takes care to refresh our senses to see beyond the programming of our culture where efficiency, technological distractions and consumeristic tendencies are glorified. With effort, perseverance, and desire, we can definitely open our lives to God’s reshaping and recapture a sense of wonder.

Wonder is essential in our befriending mystery, cultivating hope and helping us discern where God is at work in our community and world. If your childlike wonder has been blunted by the battering of years filled with pain, questions, doubts, and skepticism, don’t lose heart. With prayer, some time in creation, and an openness to God’s Spirit, the wonder can return.

Restoring your Wonder:
1. Watch the sunrise or sunset.
2. Lie on your back on a star-filled night.
3. Sketch a landscape or your hand.
4. Go to an art gallery and lose yourself in a piece of art that captures your attention.

Transfiguration Prayer
You were transfigured on the mountain,
and Peter, James, and John saw you in your glory.
Master, Beautiful One, Jesus
Shine clearly in all your radiance, in our world,
reveal your glory today through the wonder of our world.
May we have attentive eyes and open hearts to receive
and clear minds to comprehend your love and truth
for us today.
In the name of the one who is the radiant splendor of
the Maker of All. Amen.


On Being Human 3: Awareness

“Pay attention!” One of those statements we have inevitably encountered coming from a parent, teacher, or spouse over the years. What that often meant was to quiet the imaginations, fantasy worlds, or thoughts that had captured our minds and pulled us away from the present moment. In our spiritual lives, learning to pay attention or growing our awareness of the present moment is an important matter that also calls to us. To become deeply human in the likeness of Jesus demands that we pay attention. To be aware is to take a long, loving gaze at the real; to be open to and receive from the present moment; to be present.

The exercise that follows is one you can return to again and again to develop your awareness. The intent is that, over time, you will spend more of your time and attention living present in the world God has made, where God is present.

  1. ENVIRONMENT: Find a place where you can sit and not be interrupted by a phone or acquaintance for the duration of your time.
  2. TIME: Schedule a minimum of 20 minutes (which can increase over time) to go through the awareness exercise.
  3. PREPARE: Become aware of your breathing and take a few deep breaths. As you inhale, pray, You are here, and as you exhale, pray, Here I am. Slow down and become conscious of this rhythmic prayer that flows with your breathing.
  4. BE HERE: Come to your senses. Take in one view and focus on observing one vantage point. Avoid too quickly diverting your attention from that focus (you can look down and take in all that is seen in a patch of grass or trunk of a tree; just choose one line of sight). When your mind wanders, return to your prayer: You are here; here I am. Then focus again on what is before you. Just take it in and be there, fully present.
  5. RETURN:  When your time is up, take a minute or two and give thanks for being with God and ask him to help you grow in awareness.

On Being Human 2

What makes us human? Is it our ability to reason? I think; therefore, I am? Is it our ability to connect emotionally and sustain long and deep relationships? The question is one that has been discussed and debated for many years and will continue to be batted around for years to come.

I contend that to be human is tied up in our ability to be and our drive to become. One of the unique aspects of being human is the desire in the depth of our being that longs and often strives to be all we can be. The quest to flourish and become is embedded in what it means to be human. It is part and parcel of what it means for us to be created in the image of God.

Within us is a spiritual hunger to grow, be formed, and realize the purpose and intent that our Creator has for each of our lives. When we listen to “our life/our becoming,” it can be a guide to curb our penchant for pursuing any and every activity, falling into the trap of doing and acquiring to achieve (the one with the most [fill in the blank] wins mentality). Inherent to this understanding of being human balances being and doing. Our striving and the focus of our work/doing is toward becoming and being who God has made us. With our becoming always in sight, we keep our doing in better equilibrium.

What makes us human? How would you respond to this question? Do you think the response to this question I offered above gets at the heart of it? Chime in using the comment box below.


Should “Bad” Kids Be Allowed in Church?

To the passionate and missionally oriented youth worker, the answer is, “No! Never! Don’t even think about banning a teen from church.” To the youth worker who is driven by God’s unrelenting love for the outcast, broken and hurting there is no possibility that our love for teens would allow us to exclude them.

But then we read an insightful comment on Mark 10:17-31 by James Smith. He explains:

Specifically, after the young ruler has announced–quite sincerely, I think–that he has kept all the commandments from his youth, Mark tells us in his typically direct language:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him…
And because he loved him, Jesus then tells the young man something that shocks and dismays him, homing in on the “one thing” that is lacking.
In an age where love is often reduced to uncritical affirmation and unprincipled embrace, we might be stopped short by a love like this–a love that is strangely willing to grieve and sadden and dismay the beloved, but is not for that reason any less loving. Indeed, it is more so, and shows up “affirmation” as a parody of agape.1

So it seems prudent that there is a tension that exists. Love doesn’t exclude while at the same time love creates boundaries for the sake of the beloved. How then do we practice this tension in youth ministry? How do we love in such a way that we are strangely willing to grieve and sadden and dismay the teens we serve? And are we ever supposed to direct this type of action at the “bad” kid?


On Being Human

Formed of the dust of the earth and the life-giving breath of our creator we became human beings. To be human is not an excuse to be flawed. To be human is not something we are to avoid. To be human is a reality to embrace and become more fully.

Jesus goes before us, and we are to keep our eyes on his example and strive to be as he was. If this is our goal, then to be deeply human is a path we must embrace, a way we are to go, a reality we cannot put aside. One thing we know: Jesus was fully human and the greatest example of a human being who has ever lived. To follow in the way of Jesus demands that we become comfortable in our skin, learn to live in harmony with our senses, accept our limitations, and bring our heads, hearts, and hands into union with God’s will and way.

Being human entails that our spirituality, faith, and our practices will be rooted in our everyday living and embodied in the soil and sanctity of the mundane. Over the month of April we will look at a spiritual and formative approach that makes us ever more human (and, as a result, ever more formed in the likeness of Jesus). The aspects of a humanizing spirituality we will sketch out are:

  1. Accepting our humanity: the spirituality of being and becoming.
  2. Awareness: the meeting of body, spirit, and soul.
  3. Wonder: making mystery our friend.
  4. Otherness: loving others, including our enemies.
  5. Reality: embracing authenticity and unmasking the impostor.
  6. Presence: being here, now.

More Than A Day

The day we often refer to as Easter is only the beginning. Easter is not a day; it is a season of fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. In contrast to the fast of Lent, Easter is a season of feasting. A celebration and time in which we focus on Christ risen among us and the new life he has won for us to put on.

Easter is a time when we are called to remember that we are raised to new life, just as Jesus was raised to walk out of the tomb after three days. As we enter each day of the 50 days of Easter, may we do so conscious of our new lives as daughters and sons of God; full of God’s Spirit, we are privileged to reveal love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, patience, and many other good things toward all God has made. This is why we rejoice!

A Prayer for Us During Easter

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

[Contemporary Collect for Easter Day, The Book of Common Prayer]