Monday, May 18, 2009

Spiritual Schizophrenia

This passage from Brennan Manning's book The Importance of Being Foolish, might be the best commentary I have ever read about the individual anemic American church goer (sadly, to one extent or another, myself included). It is a long quote, but it is worth reading:

The crisis of American spirituality, put bluntly, is Spirit versus flesh. The failure or flat refusal to abide in the mind of Christ creates duality and separation within us. We do not choose decisively between God and Mammon, and our procrastination constitutes a decision itself. We carefully distribute ourselves between flesh and Spirit with a watchful eye on both. The unwillingness to sustain ourselves with the awareness that we are children of God causes a spiritual schizophrenia of the most frightening kind. It is not that I am afraid to tell you who I am; I truly cannot tell you because I don't know myself who I am. I have not given the deep inner assent to my Christian identity. I am afraid of losing my life if I were to find my real self. God calls me by my name, and I do not answer because I do not know my name.

The lifestyle of schizoid Christians is erratic because at different moments we deliberately separate ourselves from our real selves. We hug certain events, experiences, and relationships to ourselves and exclude the presence of the indwelling Spirit. It may be a movie, a conversation, an illicit love affair, or a business transaction. Later, we re-enter the self that calls itself Christian and take part in events where God is celebrated in speech and song. Afterward we confide to friends, "Worship was kind of flat tonight."

Heightened by what someone has called "the agnosticism of inattention" -- the lack of personal discipline to overcome media bombardment, sterile conversation, and utilitarian relationship --our self-awareness grows dim, the presence of a loving God fades into the distance and the possibility of trust and intimacy seems less plausible. Inattentiveness to the holy destroys openness to the Spirit. Just as the failure to be attentive dissolves personal love in a human relationship, so inattention to the real self dissolves loving awareness of the divine relationship. A verdant heart becomes a devastated vineyard. It is impossible to consider God with heart and head filled with earthly business.

When we periodically close ourselves off from God, our hearts are touched by the icy finger of agnosticism. Christian agnosticism does not consist so much in the denial of a personal God as in the unbelief of inattention to the sacred. The way we live bears unmistakable witness to our loving awareness or lack of it.

Life in the Spirit implies the existential knowledge of being loved by God and sharing Jesus's own experience of that love. But so many of the things we do in our solitary moments have nothing to do with the Spirit or with the living will of God. Bothered by this dichotomy, we plunge into spiritual activities and get involved in church-related organizations and events in an effort to fill the empty space we know needs filling. Disinclined to renounce managerial control of our lives and unwilling to run the risk of living in union with Yahweh, we seek personal security and reassurance in rituals, devotions, liturgies, and prayer meetings. These structures provide a modicum of peace and promise that comfortable piety and material possessions that constitute the sense of self will not be disturbed.

There is a need for careful discernment here. The evidence of earnestness, sincerity, and effort is considerable. But something is missing.

That something is transparency. The glory shining on the face of Christ Jesus does not shine in many of us. Unlike Jesus, we have not given our deep inner assent to who we are meant to be. We have not surrendered to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within. We stand close enough to the fire to stay warm, but we never plunge in; nor do we come out burned and incandescently transformed. We might be nicer than most other people or have better morals, but we do not live as brand-new creations. Instead, our opaque personalities reveal our divided hearts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beauty of the Lord

“Everybody needs beauty... places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

-John Muir (c. 1902)

I had the opportunity to spend the past few days on my own in Yosemite Valley. My campsite was feet away from the Merced River to the East I could see Half Dome and to the West Royal Arch Cascade. I rode my bike from Half Dome to Bridalveil Falls, soaking in the waterfalls, meadows and spring blossoms. Later that day I hiked to the base of Half Dome. I continually was asking God to reveal Himself to me, to show me what He wanted me to encounter, why He was giving me this time on my own. As I walked amongst the pines on my way to Mirror Lake I felt Him embrace me with these simple words: "I love you so much, I just want you to enjoy yourself, this is my gift to you." With the pressure gone of figuring out what God wanted me to understand, I simply rested in Him. It was a time of connection with God that I have never experienced before and it was exactly what I needed. Praise God!

(Yosemite Valley; El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Falls on the right with Half Dome in the center distant)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.

Psalm 23:1-3

(Half Dome with Washington Column to the left)

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Matthew 11:28-30

(Mirror Lake reflecting Mount Watkins)

O LORD, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all;
the earth is full of Your possessions.

Psalm 104: 24

(base of Yosemite Falls)

Beauty of the Lord

Jesus Your love has come one step closer
I will trust that You will never let me go
Jesus Your love has won me over
All my trust has found no other

I will declare the beauty of the Lord
Nothing compares to the beauty of the Lord
Jesus Your love takes my breath away
I’m living everyday for the beauty of the Lord
Jesus Your love takes my breath

Desperation Band

(Lyrics by Jared Anderson)

(Apple blossom in Yosemite Valley)

Let all that I am praise the Lord.
O Lord my God, how great you are!
You are robed with honor and majesty.
You are dressed in a robe of light.
You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens;
you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
flames of fire are your servants.

Psalm 104:1-4