Formed

This week I spoke to a classroom full of Christian educators about prayer.   This, in itself, is funny.  It is funny because I, in no way, have ever thought I would speak in public.   I am the person who, if ever I talked in class, burned bright red and developed that weird wobbly voice that made me sound like I was going to cry but was really just nerves and adrenaline and….well, actually it did feel like I was going to cry.  Speaking to people – especially when I don’t know how it’s going to be received – makes me want to throw up. Two days before, a friend mentioned that the date was the 21st and I immediately felt my stomach drop out of my body and my eyes roll back in my head and my breathing just stopped working because the 21st was dreadfully close to the 23rd, the day I was speaking.   So, yes, this is just funny.

But I did it.  I have no idea how it was received.  There were a lot of blank stares.  Some poor gentleman could not stop coughing.  No one even smiled at my cute jokes and no one nodded their head with their eyes slightly misty when I said my most profound thoughts…… Seriously, being a preacher must just be awful.  When I opened it up at the end for response, there were more stares – at the wall behind me, at the desks, out the window.  There were a couple of thoughtful comments thrown out into the awkward silence so at least there was that. And a question about resources I could not answer.  And one person did ask me for my email address.  Yes!  I can do that!  I can give you my email! I promptly obliged by grabbing a juicy black dry erase marker and writing it on the Smartboard – to which the room finally came alive, erupting in gasps of horror and a collective “NO!!!!”

Seriously…..smartboards…..why???…..They are scary and look just like white boards.  Where are the chalkboards!!!!!!

Anyhoo…..Ah well….. At least I still always have the internet–where I can expostulate all I want while not having to get out of my pyjamas 😉

But all that aside, I was talking about prayer.  Again, this is funny.  Its probably funny only in my own heart because.. well, I guess because its only me who knows how much I value and need to pray but also how little I understand it and how most of my “prayer” time is spent looking blankly at the wall.

Specifically, I spoke about the prayer that forms us. This has less to do with what we say but how we are when we pray.   Inside of this could be included all kinds of prayer – the set aside times of prayer where we talk with God, the bookend, agenda-setting prayers we do in meetings and classrooms, as well as the organic outflowing of prayer we sometimes find ourselves in the middle of when we are working through something. No matter what and where we are praying, there is a quality of prayer that forms us – maybe transforms us.   A prayer that changes us is also something more than the words and the mental activity of speaking words. The desert fathers talked about moving from the head to the heart in prayer. Not the heart in an emotional sense. But heart in the sense of it being the source of all our impetus and movement and being in the world. Henri Nouwen describes it as the seat of our “physical, emotional, intellectual, volitional and moral energies.”  Formational prayer is one that happens there – where our actual whole self is.

During this workshop, I spoke of this quality of formational prayer – it would be present and attentive. Someone would have to be willingly right where they are without distraction or numbing.  Formational prayer would also be prayer where the story of an individual’s life is grounded and understood and read within God’s Big story. And there is room for all parts of all our stories – the good and the bad – in God’s big story. And formational prayer would have room for our honest response – the angry, the tired, the confused, the hopeful, the joyful – all of it. All of these elements having the absolute need for honesty, for openness and for bringing the whole self, even the hard and dark parts. I am not at all sure that God wants those right thoughts, right ideas, right responses, right words. We maybe need to affirm them in ourselves, but what he’s looking for is our actual ourselves. And when I am alone and confused and questioning….that is where God wants to meet me. As excruciating as that can be.

All of these elements would include our physical and emotional and intellectual lives. Anything formational in your life is something that affected your whole self—your body and physicality, your mind and intellect and your emotions, your affections, your deep heart responses to the world. That is why early childhood is such a formational time for humans….we start off living so close to our bodies, so close to our emotions, so close to the beautiful and fascinating world. ALL of ourself is called to be “in prayer” at all times because it is only with ALL of our parts that we are formed – and indeed transformed into that likeness we long for.

All of these elements are part of the practice of prayer that re-discovers and re-forms the heart over and over. The practice of opening ourselves to that formational place over and over until we just reflexively know in our bones that that is where God meets us – that might be what formational prayer is.

Being formed in our whole being by a God who created our whole being. Letting God and ourselves know our whole being.   Being aware of God’s whole self and big, beautiful story of the world in our very own self. And responding with our whole, big, messy, tangled-yarn heart to that voice we know from our earliest days.

I asked my 3 year old what she thought prayer was and she said, “God Magic……and rainbows…..and patience.”   I laughed…..I’m not sure whose been talking to her about patience but yes, those are probably the essence of prayer. Looking to God and his big magic, seeing his beautiful promise in the world all around us….and waiting….patiently….. for our sight to return to us, for our ears to open. Waiting patiently for our hearts to relax and soften enough to swing open and invite our whole being to a place with God.

From there we ask God for the things we need, the things we deeply desire. From there we bookend our meetings and gatherings and classes. From there we bless our food and our sleep and bring God our dreams and visions. From there we reach out in our anguish and frustration and boredom and deep loneliness. From there we are known and from there we deeply know.

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The Wounded Healer

This was meaningful to me this week.  I had coffee with a new friend while our kids flipped themselves out of the hammock in the backyard. We started talking about church and faith and like most people, I think, I have a few wounds.  Or if not open wounds, then pretty obvious scars.   When certain words or certain attitudes come across my path, I am triggered to responses I had decades ago.  I am used to these times and I’m not sure they are supposed to go away. But what I think has been happening is that I have been continuously looking to integrate them….somehow….  My new friend asked me how did I think the wounds played into how I could lead people and my family?  Good question.  (She should be a spiritual director!)  She put the right words to what has been happening over the last few years.

She left and I started thinking.  Then I went to my bookshelf and saw Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer.  I had never read it actually.  It seemed apt that I did this week.

From The Wounded Healer

“[We are looking] for a new kind of authority and we must consider what the nature of this authority will be.  To name it, I cannot find a better word than compassion.  Compassion must become the core and even the nature of authority.  When the Christian leader is a man of God for the future generation he can be so insofar as he is able to make the compassion of God with man – which is visible in Jesus Christ – credible in his own world.

The compassionate man stands in the midst of his people but does not get caught in the conformist forces of the peer group, because through his compassion he is able to avoid the distance of pity as well as the exclusiveness of sympathy.  Compassion is born when we discover in the centre of our own existence not only that God is God and man is man but also that our neighbour is really our fellow man.

Through compassion it is possible to recognize that the craving for love that men feel resides also in our own hearts, that the cruelty that the world knows all too well is also rooted in our own impulses.  Through compassion we also sense our hope for forgiveness in our friends’ eyes and our hatred in their bitter mouths.  When they kill, we know that we could have done it; when they give life, we know that we can do the same.  For a compassionate man, nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.

This compassion is authority because it does not tolerate the pressures of the in-group but breaks through the boundaries between languages and countries, rich and poor, educated and illiterate.  This compassion pulls people away from the fearful clique into the large world where they can see that every human face is the face of a neighbour.  Thus the authority of compassion is the possibility of man to forgive his brother, because forgiveness is only real for him who has discovered the weakness of his friends and the sins of his enemy in his own heart and is willing to call every human being his brother.”

A life done together.  That’s what strikes me as the key to this woundedness we carry….I carry.

Remember that movie, What Dreams May Come, with Robin williams and Cuba Goodings?  I remember getting a lecture at church about how evil it was because of how it portrayed heaven as a place that you went and it could be however you imagined it.  But when I finally did watch it, I was floored by the Christ in it.  Robin William’s character had died in an accident.  And his wife left behind started to descend into a depression, very dark and unrelenting.  He could see she was starting to lose her grip on life from where he was in heaven.  I remember he then left heaven and set out on a journey to find her soul – in some weird place between life and death.  And when he found her, he tried to convince her to snap out of it, to come back, to see sense.  But she couldn’t, it was too dark.  So he then chose to descend with her into it – to be with her in her darkness.  To not leave but to know what it was like for her, to experience the darkness, to be wounded right alongside his beloved.  And in that moment of With-ness, of compassionate life-with her, in the moment he chose to know what she knew, to live with her even in her darkness, she was saved.  In that moment, the scene plunged the two right into a beautiful scene kids running and screaming, the sun shining and the two lovers alive in the light.  She was back, she was healed, her life was not overcome.  Because of the choice to descend into compassion, into him knowing what she had to know, there was resurrection, there was life.

Our lives are Good Fridays into Sundays over and over and over. But they are not just Sundays.  Our wounds, when they are deep, will never heal into something you cannot see and don’t remember.  But they will be the source of resurrection, the locus of grace where we can recognize the other in our own darkness.  And where we can recognize the Presence of the one who created this life together and descended to the ultimate with-us place to bring us back to the light.  Its the “Emanuelle Economy” – the movement of presence and grace through the compassion and With-Us-ness that flows from the very first of creation to that hill outside the city and through each of us to each other.

For The Love……

Friends, this is both hard and easy to write.

I have been heartbroken over the state of this election. Just sick. With how angry people are. With how uninformed people’s gut reactions are. With how we are not setting the agenda with our own questions or looking beyond ourselves for a common good but just fearing. On all sides. There is real contempt for real people being fomented here. And I can’t sleep because of it.

I have friends and people I love dearly on all sides of the political spectrum.   And in the past I have thought – great! There are very good ideas on all sides as to how to take care of us best. Some ideas are more limited than others. Some include more people in the “best”scenario. Some bring out our best nature and some bring out our low nature. But there was an….understanding…. that we all wanted the same thing. Safe communities, equipped schools, economic stability and growth not for its own end but so that we could all have a thriving quality of life. We could trust that the people representing us and the people who live around us want us all to have that chance.

I think there is something different going on though. There are seeds of hatred and fear that are being sown. There is no room for any different thought in the public sphere. There is no room for discussion and growth and for our opinions to change. We are all so harshly trying to prove something. There is no actual community or actual value in what is happening to our Country. I see this everywhere.   I am free in Canada – free to vote and drive and work. I am free to stay home with my kids or work at a job I’m amazing at. I am free to fill my mind with garbage tv 6 hours a day and to feed my children crap if I want. I am free to go to church and to choose education for my kids that suits them best.   What I am not free to do is raise a dissenting opinion. Not without being sworn at or my humanity torn apart or my faith called suspect. I am not free to talk and ask questions and try to understand someone else’s point of view. I am not free to hold a multitude of opinions at once. I am not free to hold a human being in love even if we don’t agree with how to best stimulate economic growth and take care of the least.   And that lack of freedom does not come from anywhere good.

So,

I look to Jesus – Jesus, where are you in this? How do we navigate this. My values tell me one thing but other people’s values are seemingly telling them the opposite. Are you in our values? Where are you in this? Are you in our discussions? Our facebook posts? Our rallies? Are you helping us to navigate what we are so afraid of as well as a deep love for our neighbor? I’m not seeing it. Where are you? Do you care? Part of me asks if you do. Some of my faith-filled friends stay away from politics because it is too frought with derisive division. It hurts them so they just keep looking inwards and imply that Jesus would stay out of it. Which is what I want to do. But I can’t because people are being hurt and its making us brittle and harsh and a shell of who we could be. We are all being diminished in devastating ways by words and by deeds and by an inability to come together even when we are different.

My church is in the process of merging with another church. Two communities with similar-ish values but in some corners, very different ways of doing things and very different opinions on what is important. But we are in the process of coming together. Because we feel that there is a need to meet and grow and discuss and even change a little bit together. We all have to lay aside what we think is THE most important issue, (Worship styles! Preaching styles! Less programs! More programs! Bigger bagel tables! Smaller bagel tables! Christ everywhere! Christ in select Zondervan products only! (that was a joke, k?)) and see things from their point of view. We have to be willing for it to be messy and at times untenably awkward for this growth to happen. We have to listen so hard and so kind and to have hard conversations. We have to seriously wrestle with hard issues.  We, for some reason, believe that Christ is calling us to see each other and see where He is in each other and then to make decisions based on that.   Not based on who talks the loudest and definitely not based on fear. We are not called to forget who we are and what values we hold but we are called to open those up and see where the input of others can lead to a greater vision and a greater representation of where Jesus is working – at all times.

Is there a leader bringing you to love someone else, even greater than yourselves. And is your leader calling you to step out of your own worry and frantic scrambling for resources and lean into the trust and take care of those who need help. Are the leaders bringing greater peace and trust and love and kindness– oh so precious fruit? No? Probably not one of them are.

But He is.

And while we can look to Him and still believe in varying ways to stimulate economic growth or to take care of those who are most vulnerable and argue effectively and passionately about that, we cannot look to Him and treat each other like garbage. In no way. We cannot look to Him and then look at The Other and choose to give in to fear and to contempt.   We cannot look to Him and not SEE these other people in all their God- created beauty and goodness.

Words matter. What we say to each other and how we say it matters. If there is to be any fostering of love and trust and flourishing, it matters absolutely in our parenting. It matters absolutely in our marriages. It matters absolutely in our churches. It matters absolutely in our public discourse.

We are not separate groups fighting for only our right to live our way with our purposes and predilictions as the most important, damn the rest. That is not what we are as families, as a church, as a country. That way will not lead to anything good. Followed through to its logical conclusion it will lead to civil war, to a dehumanizing of The Other and then of ourselves. It will lead us to not even consider the damage we do to another’s body and soul. Read your history books, look in your own closets. We are one body. Poet Shane Koyczan put it well when he wrote to the effect of we are one body, one bird with two wings. If one wing rips off the other, the whole thing will go down.   We are not a body with different parts fighting for supremacy by cutting off all the other parts.   We need all our parts. We need artists, we need engineers, we need people to get our resources to market, we need people to think of the best way to do that while we steward our earth well. We need to spend money and we need to save money. We need teachers and the people who count the money and crunch the numbers. And we need the people who dream and the people who stand way out in left field prophesying, calling us back to our heart of hearts, to our God who creates us ALL anew, over and over, cause we ALL are so easily off the mark.

Vote, talk about why you are voting, be passionate.

DO NOT let fear lead you into contempt.

DO let your love for your family and for your community and for those who are the least in this world guide your decisions. There is no fear in love.

And in case you were wondering where I stand on all this I’ll just say this:

Last week I had a dream that I worked for Preston Manning and while I was working for him was asked to write an essay on environmental practices for Tom Mulcair and then all three of us were off to Justin Trudeau’s wedding. Seriously. I have fabulously weird dreams   🙂

Love you all.