Jim Wallis from Sojo, above, fasts during the U.S. budget crisis.
I hope this turns into a daily series.
The Rabbis frequently suggested that on Mount Sinai, each one of the Israelites who had been standing at the foot of the mountain had experienced God in a different way. God had, as it were, adapted himself to each person “according to the comprehension of each.” As one Rabbi put it, “God does not come to man oppressively but commensurately with a man’s power of receiving him.” This very important rabbinic insight meant that God could not be described in a formula as though he were the same for everybody: he was an essentially subjective experience. Each individual would experience the reality of “God” in a different way to answer the needs of his or her own particular temperament. Each one of the prophets had experiences God differently, the Rabbis insisted, because his personality had influenced his conception of the divine. –Karen Armstrong (pp. 73-4) in her book The History of God.
“Peace is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.” –Thomas Merton
“Sit with God as you might with the ocean. You bring nothing to the ocean, yet it changes you.” –Sean Caulfield, from The Experience of Praying
To engage in this post, read the cited Holy Scripture (bold emphasis by me):
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Let’s point out a few things.
When I read this part of 1 John, I thought it spoke in polar extremes.
One side (If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God) can almost suggest a form of exclusivity for who “knows” God.
The other path (Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God, God is love…Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them) can promote an open and free way for those outside the Protestant Christian fold to seek God.
A few other thoughts. Most likely Jesus’ followers attributed to him the title “Way, Truth, and Life”. Yes, Jesus said this in the Gospel of John. However, John’s Gospel, mind you, is filled with plethora metaphorical terminologies. Jesus said, for instances, that he is the bread of life and the word made flesh. Was he literally a loaf of bread or a letter on a page? Obviously not. Many Christians will agree on this: Jesus was the only way made flesh, in that no other religion had their God in the flesh live a way or follow a path. Other religions have a prophet or mouthpiece for their God but were not their actual God in the flesh. That doesn’t diminish other religions or smugishly elevate Christianity but separates the latter from the former in content. For more on this specific topic, read some of Marcus Borg’s books.
In the end, I come away with a more ambiguous understanding of what John means about who can know God than before. Then again, are we meant to come away from reading The Bible with more answers than questions or vice versa? Your thoughts are always welcome – vgiordano at gmail dot com.
Quiet Time is known as time each day a Christian spends intentionally with God. This may include Bible reading, prayer, reflective reading, writing, written or thought out reflections, and more. In education, much of our school days are made up of repetition. We repeat our times tables, look over and over our Spanish vocab, or try to memorize dates or formulas.
An alternative to some (I see it as a complimentary approach) is deliberate practice:
Deliberate practice requires careful reflection on what worked and what didn’t work. A budding concert pianist may practice a particularly troublesome passage listening for places where his fingers do not flow smoothly. A chess student may spend hours analyzing one move of a world-championship chess match trying to see what the grandmasters saw. This kind of practice demands time for reflection and intense concentration, so intense that it is difficult to sustain for longer than 3 hours per day.
This topic has been expounded on by others, but the general point is that basic subjects and foundations of knowledge are vital for one to creatively and reflectively learn. Without that base, we cannot reflect on our spiritual direction or cognitive processes in learning.
CPC provides a nice run down on the many sides of Michael Scott as he bows out from his show The Office:
No longer is he a figure of anger and frustration, a target for our workplace cynicism. Instead, his pathetic earnestness has brought out the best in the office. The workers have learned to be forgiving, patient, and thoughtful. They participate in each other’s lives, and help each other grow. They see the good in each other and forgive the bad. And against all odds, they have formed a loving community, one whose benefits far outweigh moments of awkwardness and inappropriate behavior. They have learned to make their lives meaningful through relationships.
I received some thought provoking and candid responses to this question:
How much of prayer is meant to change us, not necessarily our/the circumstances?
One respondent wrote:
This is the problem with a providential God. For every atrocity there must be an equal or greater Good, which can only occur if this atrocity does. This, in turn, can cause us to (justly) question the goodness/perfection of God (as well as God’s creation.) In short, an anthropocentric providential God who answers some prayers but not others is not a viable theological construct.Prayer, then, is meant to make us happy. It allows us to feel that we have done something when, in actuality, we have likely done nothing.
I believe Marcus J. Borg has made a point similar to the first one above. Another respondent:
I am just not really sure. I think it is certainly both factors working in concert for the glory of God, but I don’t know in what proportion. Perhaps the proportion varies based on the situation. There is power in prayer to change the circumstance– this is stated as well as demonstrated in the Bible, but it certainly doesn’t work that way all the time. For instance, I doubt God lets people he has more work for die just because not enough people pray hard enough, nor do all people who recieve prayer survive. So on the other hand, scripture also seems to point to the idea that God’s plan is bigger than our temporal circumstances, his purposes are higher, and he is working things out for his kingdom purposes, not for our immediate comfort and ease. So I don’t know.
I’ve been thinking a bit about this, and the best I can manage is that prayer is what God wants it to be. Our perception of it is an expression of our free will, but attempting to quantify or classify prayer’s effect is a humanly impossible task. It would seem that prayer is more about maintaining a relationship with God than changing circumstances, but at the same time there are plenty of examples where both the circumstance and the individual involved underwent a change of some sort.
Prayer is a vehicle for change to occur. The minute we pray about something, the beginning stages of change within ourselves has already occurred (i.e. – we’ve stopped relying on ourselves to ‘fix’ things and involved someone much greater). This breeds more change in us (i.e. – hope, patience, endurance, persistence, adjustments in viewpoints/attitudes, etc. – conversely anger, bitterness, contempt, etc. if we feel our cries have been unheard.)
As soon as the initial prayer takes place, change in the circumstance takes form – seen or unseen. (i.e – it goes away, it becomes easier/harder to deal with, becomes worse/better, peace with the circumstance sets in, etc etc.)
That’s the whole piece of sprituality coming into play. We only see what is happening on the tip of the iceberg but don’t/can’t ever fully grasp what a seemingly subtle change to the tip (like prayer) does beneath the surface of the iceberg (like our circumstances).
This is why we should pray without ceasing – to take everything to God’s throne for the change to start there and move through Him first – change in us, and in our circumstances.
If i come to God with ONLY the desire for my circumstances of my life to change, and finish “my prayer” there, i doubt that i have changed (for the good at least) nor my circumstances. Unless you think God actually listens to prayers like the one i attached.
I have no idea what the ratio would be, but i do believe we will be surprised at the end of our life at just how much our prayers were more meant to change us and not so much just our circumstances. Why? I believe changed people change things. In Matthew 14 there’s a bunch of hungry people (like, thousands) and the disciples want to usher them away so that the recently saddened and overworked Jesus can slip away. In the conversation between Jesus and the disciples, look at where the transformation is:
v 15 let’s slip away, let them buy themselves food
v 16 Jesus tells his disciples, “they don’t need to leave, YOU feed them.”
v 17 the disciples again look only to their circumstances: “We only have a little food.
Then the miracle takes place. And though we don’t know explicitly what happened in the disciples’ hearts, you gotta imagine that they joined Jesus in having compassion (see v. 14) and even thankfulness (see v. 19) despite having little food. Jesus shows that compassion and thankfulness alter circumstances, not the other way around.
He wants us to come to Him not with need, but with compassion. And prayer, i believe is for us to become more like Him so that as we become more like Him, He and we are more able to change circumstances but more importantly properly view our circumstances.
One final respondent:
I don’t know ‘how much’ but do see how it does change a person….I think of two things immediately
A – a friend who’s alcoholic mother had neglected him then abandoned him as a child. He had discovered an amazing relationship with God in college and his life changed, still though he had an anger towards his mother – a mentor encouraged him to pray for her. Reluctantly at first he did and amazing changes happened, but not to her, to him. His anger dissipated – slowly but it did. He was able to love his mother in her pain and her behaviors that resulted from that pain and the choices she made. He became a more loving and understanding man. He credits this to God – God softening his heart as he held up his mother in prayer with more and more compassion and fervor each day.
B – I think of Phillippians 4: 4-7 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ – I think of it because the Lord brings me to it constantly – if I decide to Rejoice in any and all situations wow, what a life and what a statement to those around me about the Lord and his Glory and Goodness and Love. I think of Prayer and Rejoicing and Worship in similar ways – in everything rejoice, in everything worship, in everything take it to the Lord in Prayer…..no matter what, no matter if it changes the situation because it changes you.
Moses was changed by the presence and power of the Lord – Moses came to God and said some version of ‘Look I know you may be settled on this but here are the reasons you shouldn’t do what you are planning on doing’ – did I get that right? hahah…I mean prayer is being in the presence of the Lord…it is! It is spending time with Him – his presence changes us, opens us.
I believe this is something worth thinking about and questioning, especially in the mix of “I’m praying for you” texts and Facebook status comments. Does prayer really do anything for the circumstances or mainly affect the one praying? Of course, how can we even begin or try to gage this?
Seek the things that are above, where Christ is.
Does this call my focus to Godly care and providence? What about my worries? Does His will factor in to this?
Set your mind on things above, not on earth.
Set my whole mind, with all of its thoughts? What about my cares, love, passions?
Put to death passion
I don’t think this means to put to death good passion since this one is nestled between bad descriptors.
Put off the old self
a.k.a. be ‘born again’. Isn’t this a process, and by process I mean life long process? Not necessarily a one time thing / moment or a station you arrive at.
It is being renewed, it has not been renewed.
Christ is all and in all
Is all of what? In all of what? In all humans?
And be thankful.
I have been growing in this.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Such a beautiful description.
What is the value/purpose of prayer? What are the differences between prayer and intercessory prayer? Is all prayer meant to be intercessory? How much of prayer is meant to change us, not necessarily our/the circumstances?
Email your thoughts, faith goer or not, to vgiordano at gmail dot com.
“Without solitude, it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.” –Henri J.M. Nouwen
“In the examen of consciousness we prayerfully reflect on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of our days to see how God has been at work among us and how we responded. We consider, for example, whether the boisterous neighbor of last night was more than just a rude interruption of a quiet evening. Maybe just maybe, he was the voice of God urging us to be attentive to the pain and loneliness of those around us. Perhaps in the glorious sunrise of this morning God was shouting out to us his love of beauty and inviting us to share in it, but we were too sleepy or distracted to participate. Maybe we responded to the Divine Whisper to write a letter or call a friend on the telephone, and the results of our simple obedience were nothing short of startling,” -says Richard J. Foster in his book on Prayer, which is ultra relevant even 20 years after it was written.
I just was chatting with a colleague and the upcoming religious holidays were brought up. I said I wanted to give up coffee for lent but she said now that I am teaching I really need it (ha!). Giving up Facebook now comes to mind:
However, this experiment taught me about the need to be in touch with what’s happening offline, so that my reporting can reflect what’s actually happening on the ground. In a virtual world like Facebook, some self-appointed authors and speakers strut their spiritual stuff as though they are the ultimate faith fashionistas. Hence, one can easily get the false impression that these holy hipsters have a far greater sphere of influence than they really do in the real world.
In Jesus Died for This? I reflected on the need for us to connect with each other, not only virtually, but also face-to-face. The televangelists might claim that they can cure for cash through the TV, but all throughout his ministry, Jesus healed people one touch at a time (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 9:41-56). No matter how plugged-in we get, I can’t hug my laptop. And the ritual partaking of the Last Supper entails that we feed each other actual bread and wine.
“I sit on my favorite rock, looking over the brook, to take time away from busy-ness, time to be… it’s something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don’t take enough of it.”
– Madeleine L’Engle
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
– Luke 14:12-14
“Do not listen to gossip at your neighbor’s expense. Do not spend time talking with those who love to find fault in others. Otherwise, you will fall away from the love of God. You will find yourself alienated from eternal life.”
—St. Maximus the Confessor
“Keep giving Jesus to your people, not by words, but by your example, by your being in love with Jesus, by radiating holiness and spreading his fragrance of love everywhere you go. Just keep the joy of Jesus as your strength. Be happy and at peace.”
…by our standards.
Sitting here in the frozen, winter wonderland that is Detroit (that’s finally melting!), I was struck by the story of Wilson Bentley (wikipedia article here). He’s the man that took over 5,000 magnified images of snowflakes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bentley found that now only is every flake intricately detailed but it is almost impossible to find two that are alike.
I was struck not only by the beauty of this, but also by the contrast to our normal standards of operation. To be honest, I’m tired of snow. We’ve gotten at least 43 inches of it in Detroit throughout this winter season. When it comes down, it flies past my window so fast that I can barely see the individual flakes. Forget about appreciating their unique beauty. Knowing that, if I were to create snow, it would come down in 12 different shapes, max. After all, mass production is supposed to be uniform and fairly easy to replicate. We have limited time and limited resources. Yet outside of my window lies 12 (melting) inches of snow that are evidence that our creator had his own theory of production long before Ford started making cars on his assembly line.
What then does this tell me about God? If nothing else, his infinite nature defies my normal notion of what is wasteful. Beyond that, if he puts that much detail and individual identity into this frozen heap that will be gone in a matter of hours or days, how much more has he put into you and me. Whether you have some snow just laying around outside or not, I hope you know that you are loved by a God who defies both our common reason and logic.
It isn’t hard to notice those today who are disenchanted by love, Hallmark holidays, and relationships of yore. I have been there myself, wondering if I would grow old and alone, wondering if there was a special one out there for me, wondering if I would feel this way forever.
What I have to offer today is a proposition to lend my heart out to those around me who are unloved. These words inspire me and change my heart:
One day I visited a house where our sisters shelter the aged. This is one of the nicest houses in England, filled with beautiful and precious things, yet there was not one smile on the faces of these people. All of them were looking toward the door.
I asked the sister in charge, “Why are they like that? Why can’t you see a smile on their faces?” (I am accustomed to seeing smiles on people’s faces. I think a smile generates a smile, just as love generates love.)
The sister answered, “The same thing happens every day. They are always waiting for someone to come and visit. Loneliness eats them up, and day after day they do not stop looking. Nobody comes.”
Abandonment is an awful poverty. There are poor people everywhere, but the deepest poverty is not being loved.
The poor we seek may live near us or far away. They can be materially or spiritually poor. They may be hungry for bread or hungry for friendship. They may need clothing, or they may need the sense of wealth that God’s love for them represents. They may need the shelter of a house made of bricks and cement or the shelter of having a place in our hearts.” (pp.65-6, emphasis mine)
The second part of the last sentence really stood out to me. To whom can I open my heart to? To which friend can I truly have my heart reach out to, remaining a presence of compassion and companionship in their life? To whom can I stand by when no one may stand by them? These and other questions are for us all to ask. Mother Teresa volleys these thoughts beautifully back and forth between material and personal connections. I am going to use my free time tomorrow to make a vday goodie package for a good friend.