Tag Archives: Contemplative Living

The Life of St. Francis (What Propelled Him?)

Today (October 4) is the day we celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He’s a guy I want to learn more about – beyond the elementary stories I’ve picked up. I want to learn and experience what propelled him into some of the radical, yet ordinary decisions he made. I want to embody some of the same passion he carried within himself as God moved him along – that kind of passion that allowed him to express freedom as he followed and knew Jesus as savior and lord.

For starters on learning, I read this this morning:

A clip about Francis from www.commonprayer.net:

Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1286)

Francis was born to a merchant family in the Italian city of Assisi. As a young man, he was attracted to adventure and moved by romantic tales of knights. When he himself became a knight, Francis met a leper while riding through the countryside. Overwhelmed by a divine impulse, Francis dismounted his horse, shared his coat with the leper, and kissed the man’s diseased face. Captivated by the experience, Francis began to re-imagine his life in light of the gospel, renouncing his selfish desires and his father’s wealth. A beggar for Christ’s sake, Francis inspired thousands to walk away from worldly success and join his movement of friars who sought to renew the church in their day.

Next step for learning, this soon-coming IVP book: The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and Life in the Kingdom. I look forward to its release!

Peace, friends.

 

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Ben.

The Spirituality of Being Who You Are

Autumn in Napa Valley
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A question accompanies the change of seasons. As visible change marks time, the question rises: “Who are you going to be this season?”

The meaning of the question revolves around your subjective emotional state. In a state of nostalgia, the question means, Are you going to be the person of your favorite traditions and relive those traditions this season? In a state of anticipation, the question means, How are you going to explore something new this season, perhaps something you’ve felt called to explore in the past but have not yet.

The beauty of life with God is that God is the constant, the stability, the source of identity (really).

Why?

I write this post because I have felt the imposed burden to not be nostalgic. I have also felt the imposed burden of not forgetting your story. Some call it lifeless to be nostalgic; others call it lifeless to live without continuous connection to the past, to your rooted story. At either extreme, the imposition barks, “You’re missing out.”

Life with God is a simple journey and recognition that at this very moment, the God who loves us in Jesus and is forming us to be like Jesus, has us right where he wants us – nostalgic, anticipating, or otherwise. Right here, right now – this is the moment we walk in Christ, knowing we are loved, being shaped to love God and others.

Resolution: Just be you. Right here, right now. Walk with God free from impositions and expectations. Walk and imitate Christ.

How Do We Let God’s Love Grow In Us? [Invitations from God | Book Note]

“Learning to listen and respond to God’s invitations is the path to real freedom.” (Invitations from God, p. 11)

Welcome to August.

Many of us are starting to feel the uptick in opportunities and obligations with family, school, or work. We’re facing the seasonal decisions of what to be involved with or not. Invitations come flying at us! The hard part is knowing which ones to entertain and how many of them to accept. We’ve felt the seasons of burnout and overcommitment and do not want to return.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book Invitations from God is a fantastic reading tour in our life’s landscape that is bombarded by advertisements. The questions she writes, the invitations she pinpoints, and the simple things she reveals are very helpful in sparking a prayer dialog with God – a time to search together what God desires in life. As we’re faced with many invitations or feeling stuck in a place where we don’t feel invited, Calhoun’s words bring encouragement and life – and a good number of healthy challenges. She helps us discern big questions in life: What does God desire? How do I walk with Jesus and live? How do I learn to die to self and in so experience a new kind of life?

As I read Invitations from God, I saw Calhoun drawing my attention to this idea: Life at its fullest is life renovated to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Each chapter in the book stems off this and provides exercises, invitations, and questions to help us pay attention to God. This all happens right in the middle of ordinary life. (That’s what I feel is a strength of Calhoun’s writing – she takes the spiritual life and helps make it ordinary again.) Each one of these invitations is a very down to earth, ordinary invitation. They’re a return to human-ness.

Calhoun’s repeated word, “Invitation,” is a word that needs to become more and more natural and recurring in our language of life with God. People need and want to hear again and again that God desires life for us and he wants to renovate our entire selves to experience life with Himself – a life that begins to naturally, and in an unforced way, pour out love. This is an absolute invitation! Come – experience life as God intended. Come – be made well. Come, follow Jesus. Know God’s love, learn how to love, and live a life of free dependence on the Source of Life.

The invitation that was the most striking to me was the invitation to remember (chapter 10). The invitation is: “To become aware of how my story fits into God’s redemption story and how it is meant to set others free.” It’s striking not because it’s hard to do or completely revelatory, but because that’s just where I sense God at work over the last few months in my life.

Remembering took root when I was recently talking with my Grandparents in their house. We live a thousand+ miles apart and don’t talk as much as we could. My two boys played next to my wife Jenny as Grandma and Grandpa streamed story after story, memory upon memory. They talked non stop for two hours. Grandpa kept saying, “Passing on your story is very important – it’s really all you’ve to pass on.” I’d never heard him talk like that before. He wanted me to take it all in, to know him and his details, to perhaps see how part of who I am is also part of who he was and is. This dialog set me on an inner expedition, weaving Grandpa and Grandma’s story together, wondering how I’ve been indirectly affected by it, and how my story will affect my boys and their children. So, it was neat to read Calhoun’s chapter on remembering – it took me back to re-thinking my family’s story and my story and seeing how woven God has been in it all – no matter how hidden or seemingly silent.

I wonder if a failure to remember and explore our Story is what’s causing so much demise in our Christian communities today – why there’s a flood of younger generations no longer keeping company with the Church and perhaps even with Jesus. I think we’ve in a large part forgotten our story with God and forgotten the invitations He’s extended to us throughout history. As Calhoun wrote, “When we forget our sacred story, amnesia about who God is set in,” and, “…how we remember determines so much of who we are and who we become,” (p.172). Also, “…everything finds its place in the redemption story,” (p.176).

I’m thankful for the dialog Calhoun sparked for me and look forward to sharing it with others. I recommend this book to you and to all explorers in the faith who want to be immersed in the language of invitation and who are looking for both an embrace and challenge in their journey with Jesus.

For those interested, Calhoun’s invitations are:

  • The invitation to participate in your own healing. (To cooperate with the Trinity in my growth, healing and emotional maturity. [John 5:6] p.24)
  • The invitation to follow. (To conform my life to Jesus’ path of descent, service, and sacrifice for the sake of others. [Philippians 2:5-7] p.38)
  • The invitation to practice the presence of people. (To see people as Jesus does – as the most important things in the world. [Genesis 33:10; Luke 7:44] p.56)
  • The invitation to rest. (To set aside the compulsion to “do, do, do” and live into God’s creational rhythms that nourish and restore the body, soul, and relationships. [Hebrews 4:1] p.71)
  • The invitation to weep. (To open myself to the naturalness of tears as Jesus did, learning to feel and weep over the things that move God’s heart. [John 11:35; Genesis 6:6] p.86)
  • The invitation to admit I might be wrong. (To humbly accept that my knowing is incomplete and that I don’t have everything right so I can be open to hearing more from Jesus. [Proverbs 21:2; Proverbs 16:2] p.102)
  • The invitation to forgive. (To live into Jesus Christ’s forgiveness so I can let go of the hate, hurt, and brokenness of the past and live into freedom. [Luke 7:47; Colossians 3:13] p.122)
  • The invitation to wait. (To let go of my need to control people and circumstances so I can trust that God is at hand and be present in the moment as it unfolds. [Psalm 62:5; Psalm 37:7] p.136)
  • The invitation to pray. (To live entirely with and in God – relating to him at all times and in all things. [1 Thessalonians 5:17] p.153)
  • The invitation to remember. (To become aware of how my story fits into God’s redemption story and how it is meant to set others free. [Deuteronomy 15:15; Psalm 63:6; Luke 22:19] p.169)
  • The invitation to the most excellent way. (To embrace the ego-sanding way of Jesus, who loves his neighbor as himself. [John 13:35; 1 Corinthians 12:31] p.183)

How Some Read the Bible | Lectio Divina

Codex Bobbiensis – The last page of the “Gospe...
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What’s that? What’s lectio divina?

Lectio Divina is a way of reading that engages the heart, mind, soul, and strength in the reading process and not just the mind alone. It’s intentionally listening as much as you’re reading. It’s as much silence as there are words, in a way. You know, kind of like talking with a friend.

It starts with slowing down – like you might when you sit down with a friend for a chat. Neither one of you is anxious about your coming-chat. You’re just chill.

Slow down… In the process of slowing down, if you’re not the slow-down type, ask God to help you out with that, to slow you down. He’s right there with you, isn’t He? I’m sure he’ll lend a hand sometimes.

Read. (“Lectio” in Latin). Read the Word. Read Scripture. Our ancient friends encourage not reading too many verses at a time. This way you can really listen to something, really hear the Story, the Voice of God and not be overwhelmed with a hundred thoughts, questions, etc. (though that might happen anyway). On average, I’ve seen readings last about three or four paragraphs or as much as a chapter.

Think. (“Meditatio” in Latin). Think a bit. Let your mind wander in the story. Really – let your imagination get involved. Imagine what the scene and smells are like in the Story. What do you see? What to the faces of the people in the story look like? Why in the world do you think that’s the case?

Next: Prayer. (“Oratio” in Latin). Talk with God. What did you hear and see in the Scriptures you read? Why did those things in the Story catch your attention. I bet God would like to hear your thoughts on that.

Live. (“Contemplatio” in Latin). Simple living, really. The “contemplative” life is a life lived in simple awareness, keeping company with God in the very ordinary rhythms of life. Let the Story, the Bible, affect your life. What, throughout your day, will God guide you towards or away from? What does the section of verses you just read say about that? What’s God guiding you toward?

Why Lectio Divina?

Lectio Divina is a relational way of reading the Bible. It’s about the relationship God is working within us and for us in Jesus. It’s all about knowing Someone and not just knowing about Someone. That takes dialog, back and forth-ness. And while that might not be audible, God works within his Word to build faith within us – not a faith just in someone or on something, but a faith-lifestyle with someone. Faith, at its core, is about walking with God, not just for God or about God — with God. With Jesus.

Two Ways to Read the Bible (Which Way Do You Read?)

Cover of "The Life with God Bible"
Cover of The Life with God Bible
I’ve discovered within myself an ebb and flow with theological questions – sometimes I have some and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I read the Bible to learn about something particular; sometimes I read the Bible just to continue to hear the Story.

Do you relate?

Renovare released a Bible a few years back called the Life With God Bible. Good stuff! In the intro, they write about multiple ways people read the Bible – some to collect information, some just because it’s a duty, some because they’re looking for guidance in life. The authors for this Bible go on to say that the Bible is all about Life with God, the “Immanuel Principle” — a life lived with God who is with us. Scripture, they allude, is all about living and learning to live this kind of life – a life of discipleship and attentiveness to Jesus.

Very neat.

I think we need to hear more about that. I think a lot of Bible readers pick up the book and don’t really know what to look for, what to expect, and even where to start. That is frustrating! And there hasn’t been too much help offered from what I’ve seen. I mean, so many books and classes are really just about collecting a bullet point list of things to believe about God, maybe even a list of things that are wrong or good. It’s like you can get through such a book or class and not really pay attention to God, get to know God for God, but instead you pull away with a few more semi-interesting details about ancient cultures… still hungry for an experience with God (yes, experience).

So here’s the hard part: How do you go about reading the Bible as a dialog between yourself and God instead of reading to collect more information about God? Our brothers and sisters from way back created a habit of this – they called it (in Latin) Lectio Divina, or “holy reading.” Google that.

Parish: The Localized and Particular (Parochial)

There is something inside of me that has a deep affinity for closeness, community, or “parish” (as I just learned from Common Prayer). I love when I experience moments of closeness – family and friend closeness. I’ve also seen that the word “community” has become kind of a buzz word – losing it’s meaning through overuse.

Community this, community that. Sometimes I think the word gets used just to sound cool rather than describe what a person is truly experiencing at the moment.

Another word, and old word, is catching my attention this morning: Parish. I’ve only heard it used to describe a small congregation somewhere in the country — St. John’s Lutheran parish. …The parish of The Sacred Heart.

Parish.

It’s an old word. It carries tradition. It’s too clunky to get overused, I imagine.

Parish. The localized. The particular. The right here, right now. The people I’m committing myself to regardless if a higher paying job comes in front of me.

Something that needs rebuilt is a sense of community (opps, there’s that word again) — I mean, a sense of parish. I think it’s something many of us long for, deep within. A sense of belonging to a group in a way that everyone knows that if something bad were to happen to one of the “parishoners” then the rest of us would step in and lend a hand as best we knew. I’m talking about something much more outreaching than the typical local church (though that’s the best thing going right now). I’m thinking of a neighborhood of people, a few block radius, something like that. People who strive to live life together, ordinary life. …sharing things. …paying attention to one another. …talking on the front porches. Things like that.

Now, I think it would be wonderful if this group could pray together, read Scripture together, and be the church, in a true old-fashioned parish way. You know – the kind of way that shows up in a rural congregation when no one leaves after the service is done – everyone’s just hanging out, sharing stories, all those nothin’ too important stories.

Two Questions: How did we get this fragmented? How do we recreate?

Do We Have Any Idea What God’s Invitations to Us Are?

Vindolanda Roman fort. This fort is famous for...
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“Do we have any idea what God’s invitations to us are? Do our yeses to invitations [in all areas of our life] simply divert or stroke our ego? Or do they nurture and grow body, soul and spirit? … Do the invitations we accept make us more free or less? Which invitations are shaping your world?” (p. 15, Invitations from God, Calhoun).

I’ve been reading Invitations from God for a couple days now and at the end of the read I will cook up a comprehensive review. But for now, this question I wrote above.

In a dialog with friends striving to live life together, we’ve come to notice again and again the very distracting environment we live in. There’s so much that comes at us and we see many around us get sucked into a thousand things throughout a week. Not only distracting, but fragmenting.

But these two words, distraction and fragmentation, don’t make any sense once we find ourselves in the middle of life, soaking life up. We might feel: “Distracted? No way; I’m just living it up.” “Fragmented? No way; I’ve made more social connections in the past week than I did in all of college.”

In light of this, we’ve had to ask ourselves about the goals we have in life and about the details of the life God is calling us into. We have been asking, “What does God want to us within us and how is he getting at this destination or working this journey within?”

It’s at this point we see a clash. The invitations of God clash with the invitations we find ourselves exploring. A life of making a name for ourselves clashes against the invitation to know we’ve already got a name, an identity. A pursuit of financial stability clashes with something like Jesus inviting the rich young ruler to get rid of all his stuff. (That story would need about ten or twelve blog posts to unpack.) The impulse to push something through, to force our way, clashes with the invitation to wait. The addiction to run ourselves ragged in the process of getting others to think more or well of us and to provide a stronger resume for our kids clashes with the God-Alive truth that identity formation, creativity and true character strength form most fully in rest, perhaps when we’re plain ol’ bored.

So, the struggle seems to be this: How do we keep the invitations from God in front of our imaginations and within our language? Also: how might we spur one another to become more conscious of God’s ways, his invitations, and encourage one another to walk within them? (How does the life we build by grace through faith become built upon the foundation of Jesus and the Jesus Way?)

 

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