Monday, January 26, 2009

Something Eternal

The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship has a little publication called A Guide To Prayer For All God's People. It follows the daily Revised Common Lectionary through its three year cycle, and includes a section called "Readings for Reflection". Below are two of these readings from the Fourth Sunday in Advent. I encountered them three years ago, and they have stuck with me, their meaning deepening and growing stronger over time.
Prayer is a daring venture into speech that juxtaposes our words with the sharply alive words that pierce and divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow, pitilessly exposing every thought and intetntion of the heart (Heb. 4:12-13; Rev 1:16). If we had kept our mouths shut we would not have involved ourselves in such a relentlessly fearsome exposure. If we had been content to speak to the women and men and children in the neighborhood we could have gotten by with using words in ways that would have them thinking well of us while concealing what we preferred to keep to ourselves. But when we venture into prayer every word may, at any moment, come to mean just what is means and involve us with a holy God who wills our holiness. All we have counted on was some religious small talk, a little numinous gossip, and we are suddenly involved, without intending it and without having calculated the consequences, in something eternal. From Working the Angles by Eugene H. Peterson

Where there is love, there is pain. but whatever our walk in life, this kind of pain is God's way of teaching us how to pray. Everything that happens to us spiritually, everything that causes us to grow, will bring us closer to God if we say yes. This is what spiritual growth mean. It doesn't come from what we do, necessarily, from all our actions and good works. Sometimes it comes from simply sitting and seeing the shambles of what we tried to accomplish, from watching what was seemingly God's work go to pot. You can't do anything about it, but watch. This happened to me. I knew dimly then what I see more clearly today, that this was the moment when God really picked me up and said, "Now I am offering you the union you seek. The other side of my cross is empty. Come, be nailed upon it. This is our marriage bed."

All we can answer in response to that invitation is, "Help me, God! I don't have the courage to climb on this cross." From Soul of My Soul by Catherine de Heuck Doherty

"Spirituality", "prayer" - words we casually toss around without thinking that they link our lives in the most intimate way possible to the God who created the Universe, who calls us to serve and love. Rather than some refuge from the suffering of living and loving, they involve us most intimately with those things that lie at the heart of being truly human. If we enter with our eyes open, we might just realize that we are suddenly surrounded by an abyss, with the only possible means of escape being that call from the cross.

At that moment of realization, as we are faced with the reality that God means business, not some warm fuzzy or the shallow success of the world, we are entering the presence of the living God with the fear and trembling that comes from understanding that love and pain, community and solitude, life and death, are linked in this God. We cannot have one without the other. We cannot be alive in and for God without dying. We cannot love without knowing that love will be answered by rejection and sorrow. We cannot be with except for also being without. All the platitudes concerning Divine Presence, extraordinary grace, and salvation itself become hollow unless we are willing to face the extraordinary danger we encounter in prayer. Unless we are willing to risk loss, and failure, and death with the same equanimity and even acceptance that we do love and success and life, we are not worthy to be called His disciples.

Virtual Tin Cup

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