Sep 08

Habit, Discipline, and Looking For Relationship in the Right Place

by Leave a comment

We’re all creatures of habit. But, we all know how difficult it can be to be disciplined, whether it’s a diet, budgeting, or anything else that presents itself as a challenge. Some habits are more easily formed than others. I, like millions of others, log on to

...

We’re all creatures of habit.

But, we all know how difficult it can be to be disciplined, whether it’s a diet, budgeting, or anything else that presents itself as a challenge.

Some habits are more easily formed than others.

I, like millions of others, log on to Facebook every day.  Personally, I’m not very serious with it.  I post goofy stuff, mostly Star Wars affiliated pictures.  (So, don’t friend me unless you like pictures of little Lego Stormtroopers on their day off.)  But, many people use Facebook to connect, reconnect, share and reach out.

During this past Lent, however, I gave up Facebook and kept a prayer journal instead.  I learned a great deal from this simple change.

First and foremost, I realized that I had been going to others rather than going to God.

Facebook is such a great outlet for frustrations, fishing for support, and even passing on prayer concerns.  And, again, all of this can be great for parts of our relational selves.

But, I noticed that while I was doing this I was not going to God with any of my concerns and worries. Worse, in some cases, we may treat Facebook much like the internet prayer service Jim Carrey’s character, Bruce, created in Bruce Almighty.  We post our worries and joys there hoping others will read and validate them.  It is not much different from sending an email to a hopefully concerned diety.

But, where is the relationship?

I realized I was not going to God for that relationship, but posting on Facebook.  The prayer journal highlighted this. Prayer journals do not have to have professional looking prayers.  By keeping it like a journal, it is more like a conversation with God.

  • “Why did this happen?”
  • “Why did I lose my temper today?”
  • “Please help my neighbor.”
  • Or, “thank you for all I have.”

German philosopher, Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.”

In the medieval mystical tradition, the simpler  the better.  In The Cloud of Unknowing, the author states, “Short prayer penetrates heaven.”  So, say ‘God’ when we desire good and say ‘help’ when we need help. Much like diets and budgets, the best way to start is the simplest.

**Photo credit: mac_filko--sw11 / CC 2.0

**Photo credit: mac_filko–sw11 / CC 2.0

Please don’t misunderstand me, I went back to Facebook after Lent and there are plenty of pictures of little Lego Stormtroopers.  But, I cannot let that habit overshadow and over take the development of my relationship with God.

The prayer journal helps focus my intentions and attention.  It is a discipline.  And, it is one aspect of a relationship with God.

A more recent book, Never Pray Again, suggests that prayer is over prescribed.  That doesn’t mean we should stop praying. Prayer, in the ‘unceasing’ form Paul wrote of, should be an action of our life, not just a verbal, interior contemplative exercise.

Pray first for God to form His will in you so you can then put that prayer into action in the world around you.

Posted in Blog, Soul Training | Tags: / / / / / / / / / /

More Less
Mar 19

Do You Treasure Spiritual Death? Yeah, Me Neither

by Leave a comment

Yes no

Treasuring is what you value or cherish, where you put your time. You’re probably completely different than me, but I spend some a lot of time watching television. Whether it’s House of Cards, Parks and Recreation, or Suits, I latch on and veg out. Maybe

...
Yes no

Treasuring is what you value or cherish, where you put your time.

You’re probably completely different than me, but I spend some a lot of time watching television. Whether it’s House of Cards, Parks and Recreation, or Suits, I latch on and veg out. Maybe you’re an NBA fan or more of a competition show person (The Voice, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars).

Bluth's Original Frozen Banana Stand Lego

**Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana Stand–spablab–CC 2.0

Watching TV lets me turn my brain off at the end of the day and just relax. No thinking, I let myself get swept into the story-line and enjoy myself for a couple hours before turning in for the night. The truth is, I treasure TV.

I treasure inside jokes about frozen banana stands. I treasure recapping the latest plot twist on House of Cards at work. I treasure the shared experience those conversations bring.

And if I’m honest, I don’t think there’s much wrong with that.

Then I spent some time with our Lenten travel partner, Alexander Schmemann:

The problem of radio and TV [and internet, etc.] during Lent is not a marginal one but in many ways a matter of spiritual life or death. One must realize that it is impossible simply to split our life between the ‘bright sadness’ of Lent and ‘The Late Show.'”         –Great Lent

No big deal, just spiritual life or death. He might be overstating the case slightly, but not by much. The “bright sadness” of Lent is that in-between space of journeying in the desert, even though we know (and look forward to) the joy of Easter morning. Instead of compartmentalizing life into sacred and secular, Schmemann casts a vision for a holistic approach to Lent.

Yes and No

When I take a mental inventory of my time in front of the TV, I realize some of the days I didn’t have make time to pray or read or walk my dogs and spend time with my wife are the same days I caught a couple episodes of my favorite show.

As the generic saying goes, “Saying yes to something means saying no to something else.”

So what are you saying “yes” to in your life?

If you take a careful inventory, you might discover that those “yeses” add up to you treasuring something other than what you thought you treasured. And that’s not a bad, beat yourself down exercise. That’s an opportunity to be more intentional in what you say yes to, to decide what is forming you.

This week’s soul training exercise is to say “no” (fast) to tv/internet/media for at least an evening. Or, choose spiritual life instead of death.

Try cutting back some and see what that frees you up to say “yes” to. Maybe you can have a conversation with a neighbor for the first time, spend some time in silence, practice a new form of prayer, read that book you’ve been putting off, clean the house (didn’t say I was going to, just offering it up as an option).

When a few hours without tv doesn’t kill you (although it might if you take the cleaning route!), hopefully you’ll find you can treasure it rightly within your life, and make room for more spiritual life in the future.

Do you treasure tv? Which is more difficult: the food fast or a TV fast?

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Yes no by  jepoirrier / CC SA 2.0

Posted in Blog, Soul Training | Tags: / / / / / /

More Less
Mar 13

What Do You Treasure? Fasting and Love

by Leave a comment

Fasting

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One way to think about the with-God life is an ongoing school of learning how to treasure (or love) rightly.     Lent is an intensive lesson, allowing time to reflect: Do you treasure the

...
Fasting

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One way to think about the with-God life is an ongoing school of learning how to treasure (or love) rightly.

 

 

Lent is an intensive lesson, allowing time to reflect:

  • Do you treasure the life you know or life to the full? (John 3:1-17)
  • Do you treasure your chosen group (ethnic, social, class) above engaging and receiving from someone outside that group? (John 4:5-42)
  • Do you treasure blindness or are you open to the (sometimes difficult) eye-opening work of God? (John 9:1-41)
  • Do you treasure your grief or are you open to the seemingly impossible? (John 11:1-41)

Sin can be described as disordered love (treasuring gone awry); loving created things over their Creator. Where is your treasure? Is it possible that you don’t know where your treasure lies until you’ve abstained from it? Until you’re disavowed of the very thing you discover as your treasure?

Adam and Eve were given paradise and communion with God, but they treasured what they couldn’t have.  They looked for life in food, even though life is only in food because God makes it so.

Jesus was in the desert, but he treasured what he knew would give life. “One doesn’t live by bread alone.”

Fasting draws up images of discomfort and pain (at least hunger pangs). “Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else–when we urgently and essentially need food–showing thus that we have no life in ourselves” (Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent).

Hunger is the unwelcome reminder that we can’t live on our own, even especially the food we eat is the gift of God.

Fasting is hard. So much of the Western/American experience is built on ease. How can you do the most with the least amount of effort? So the practice of fasting isn’t just spiritual, it’s downright countercultural. In a culture that says you can have it your way 24 hours a day, fasting is a powerful witness.

But fasting isn’t about earning stars in your crown or offering a public witness, it’s an opportunity to re-order your love, to return in prayer to the One who gives more than you can ask or imagine.

This week, the soul training exercise is to fast, once.

There are many ways to fast: don’t eat until sundown/dinner, fast from after dinner until mid-morning the next day. Maybe you’ll start off fasting for a few hours, that’s alright. Give yourself grace.

Don’t over-think or over-plan it. Fasting is a simple practice. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have an overwhelming spiritual experience (remember: fasting isn’t about you). Pray for an openness to the practice and see if you don’t end your fast more focused on God and grateful for the gifts often taken for granted.

When you’re tempted to give up, hold these words in mind:

“The very discovery of Christian life as fight and effort is the essential aspect of fasting. A faith which has not overcome doubts and temptations is seldom a real faith” (Schmemann, Great Lent).

You may discover food is something you treasure (we all do a little, right?), or you may not. Don’t worry, we’ll look at another “treasure” next week.

 

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Fasting by Jean Fortunet / CC 1.0

Posted in Blog, Soul Training | Tags: / / / / / /

More Less
Mar 12

One Week Into Lent, How’s it Going?

by Leave a comment

So, we’re one week in to Lent, which means one week of fasting (or adding) is complete. How has your first week been? Easy? Difficult? Have your thoughts been constantly focused on your discipline, or have you thought of it little? Remember, you’re not earning

...

So, we’re one week in to Lent, which means one week of fasting (or adding) is complete.

How has your first week been? Easy? Difficult? Have your thoughts been constantly focused on your discipline, or have you thought of it little?

Remember, you’re not earning anything through your discipline. This journey of Lent is an opportunity to go to the desert, journey toward Good Friday and Easter, to ask the question:

When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different? What am I preparing for?

If you’ve spent time reflecting on your practice and its impact in your life, great. If you haven’t, spend whatever time you would reading a regular blog post (or more if you want) in silent reflection.

Don’t evaluate in terms of good/bad, you’re not grading yourself. Transformation is more like a journey than flipping a light switch.

Some questions for reflection

  • How have you practiced your discipline/addition?
  • What has been difficult?
  • If it’s been difficult, has it increased your reliance on prayer and turning to God? How can you embrace the rest of Lent in a hopeful light?
  • What has been life-giving?
  • Has your fast/addition made you more mindful of God, others?
  • How have you changed, even in a week? (If you can’t perceive anything, don’t worry. Remember Christ restores us to wholeness, it’s only been a week.)

These are just some questions to get your reflection going. Hopefully this space will give you an opportunity to give thanks for the things that are going well (even if they are painful). It’s easy to focus on the negative, but these moments of self reflection can put things back in perspective.

May you continue to keep a holy Lent.

Posted in Blog, Soul Training | Tags: /

More Less
Mar 06

If You’re Tempted to Fast like a Pharisee…

by Leave a comment

“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days

...

“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.'” –Matt. 9:14-15

I nervously shifted on the couch. The drive to the church from the high school hadn’t been long enough and now I sat, hoping my peers would wax eloquent in their response to the question.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

She asked the same question every year on Ash Wednesday. Why did youth bible study have to be on Wednesday, like it’s some kind of Minor League Sabbath? Still, it’s a simple enough question.

“Sweets,” a friend around the room chimed in. “Me, too” her friend echoed. Approving looks abounded, the ice was broken, no turning back.

My mind raced: What would be appropriately painful (and impressive) while not repeating last year’s fast. There must be some rule: Thou must not repeat thy Lenten fast. I’d given up pop (or soda, if you prefer) before, desserts weren’t my thing anyway, so giving them up was as easy as sleeping in on Saturday.

I half heard the other responses, ticking off the degrees of separation between me and the harrowing question.

“I’m adding on helping mom with the dishes every night.”

“Sweets.”

“Pop.”

“Fried food.” (as if us teenagers could bring in the kingdom of God by watching our waistlines and washing some dishes).

“Pop,” the word shot from my mouth. And just like that it was over. I was committed. As soon as I said it, I knew I had broken the unwritten “Thou shant repeat” rule, but it was the best I could do. Not enough time to prepare, live with the consequence.

That was my ritual most Ash Wednesdays growing up. Looking back, it wasn’t so bad. Dr. Pepper was my drink of choice, so every time I turned it down, I thought about Lent, about fasting.

Pious and non-pious, or The Pharisees and Jesus

I wonder what Jesus would have said, were he in that upper room with us, “I’m not fasting this year.” To which we might reply with the Pharisees, “Then why do we have to fast?

For the Pharisees and John’s disciples, fasting was an important necessary practice; any pious person would agree. Fasting was a box in their piety checklist, which Jesus didn’t fulfill.

Karl Barth, preached on this passage, “They [Pharisees] were always there [with Jesus], and they were the most difficult hindrance standing in the way of the Savior. So the most difficult hindrance lay not in the malice of worldly persons but in the righteousness of the children of God“.‡

Nobody doubted the righteousness of the Pharisees, or even John’s followers, but those groups doubted Jesus.

But notice Jesus’ response, or lack thereof. He doesn’t make excuses for himself or try to out-Pharisee the Pharisees (“How long have you guys been fasting? I fasted for 40 days and nights!). Jesus simply accepts their accusations.

How could his disciples mourn fast when they enjoyed the presence of the Son of God? The Pharisees (and John’s disciples, and maybe we) couldn’t accept that bit of good news. So, they gritted their teeth and fasted harder, begrudging Jesus’ lighter yoke all the while.

Here’s Barth’s imagined word from Jesus to the Pharisees:

In the fine points you are very meticulous because you do not yet know the great gift that can now be given human beings. You bring God sacrifice because you have not yet experienced God’s mercy. You prepare the way for the kingdom of God so avidly, with pick and shovel, because it has not yet come to you. Because you have not yet found the God you seek…Our of this great affliction, out of this painful privationcome your fasting and all the other things that are so important to you, and finally your damnation of me. Out of humanity’s great distress, but not about God’s Savior, comes your piety. Oh, you may keep your opinion about your fasting, so go on, keep doing what you are doing as long as you must, but do not forbid others to go a different way because the affliction and distress have been taken from them.‡

Fasting (from food, media, t.v., fermented beverages, caffeine, pop) can be a powerful and transforming exercise. But if you’re like me, you can’t be reminded enough that fasting isn’t earning.

We may be walking through the desert, but the good news of Lent is that “Jesus does what we cannot do. For us.”

Fast as much as you can (even if it is a repeat), but don’t take it too piously. All that fasting is a long preparation for a grand feast, just on the other side of Lent.

 

‡ The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary by William H. Willimon, Karl Barth and William H. Willimon, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Do not enter by Ellipsis-Imagery / CC 2.0

Posted in Blog, Narrative | Tags: / / / / / /

More Less
12
Back to top

Sign Up

Nam ut dolor at erat dignissim pellentesque. Aliquam erat volutpat.