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Where Do We Live… Really?

24 Nov

spiral-galaxy-ngc1300-nasa-1600Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:4-9]

Christians are (or should be) in the “Rejoicing Business”. Our task is to share the Gospel, the Good News of hope, loving one another unconditionally. Paul encourages us to joy. He addresses aloneness first, assuring us that the Lord is near. He addresses our fear and anxiety next, commending us to make our requests with prayer, supplication and thanks. Once we do so, he assures us, the incomprehensible peace of God will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

Isn’t that amazing? What a simple instruction… don’t be anxious but in everything, offer up prayer with thanks… and peace will guard our hearts and minds.

Then Paul follows up this incredible promise with a more specific instruction, that we dwell on excellent and praiseworthy things. That we are to practice what we’ve learned from Paul, focus on the good and excellent, and thus the God of peace will be with us.

This rings deep with me for two reasons, and has suggested a question to me. I thought I’d share the question, and see what you think.

Most of my ministry is counseling. People come to see me when they lack joy in unbearable ways. That is the first reason this rang in me. I realize a strange thing. The people I see, people who hurt, are not generally “hurting in the present”. That is, they are not hurting from things of the “here and now”. The pain they feel comes from ideas they dwell upon. Usually, these are either memories of the past, or fears of the future. Whether divorce, family troubles, business failures, all ghosts from the past. Then there are the anxieties of the future… job worries, children, financial strains, all fears of future misfortunes. OR, even if the concerns are of the present, they are often based on people and decisions that are not HERE. People and decisions made by others elsewhere, about which we can do nothing.

Here’s the question… How much of our time, do we actually spend dwelling on the here and now, where God and grace are accessible to us? And how much do we spend either in regrets of the past, fears of the future, or stressing on things well beyond our ability to affect?

Here’s an amazing thing I’ve realized. “Joyful people” live mostly in the here and now, and focus on excellent and good things. Miserable people, do not.

The second point that made this so ring for me was actually a bit funny. This blog is the “Postmodern Mystic”, and much of my focus is meditation, contemplation, mental prayer. I get lots of questions about what these mean, what IS this, when I speak on it… people are curious, sometimes hungry, to engage in prayer of this sort. It is easy enough to “describe” or “define”, but not so easy to help people understand.

But I realized that this little Philippians passage is a wonderful description. I’ve admitted from time to time my challenge with “cat-herding”. My mind sometimes bounds from one topic to another in a rather “out of the box” stream of consciousness that usually links up to a general theme, without necessarily making sense in a chain-link fashion.

Bottom Line: When one follows Paul’s instruction here, God fulfills His promise. When/if one chooses to “dwell” upon the excellent, lovely, and good… then the Excellent/Lovely/Good “dwells back” and the mind/heart is not only guarded, but experiences joy and peace. These tend to be addictive on their own, and reinforce the practice. “Meditation/Contemplation” may well BEGIN as an effort and a discipline… but with just a bit of perseverance, they become joyful, attractive, peaceful and… well, frankly… habit-forming.

What do you think, Gentle Reader?

 
13 Comments

Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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13 responses to “Where Do We Live… Really?

  1. fairyneedle

    November 24, 2014 at 12:37 PM

    Your post today reminds me of a poem by Helen Malicoat:

    I was regretting the past and fearing the future.
    Suddenly my Lord was speaking

    “My name is I AM”

    He paused, I waited. He continued,
    When you live in the past
    With its mistakes and regrets,
    It is hard. I am not there.
    My name is not I WAS.

    When you live in the future,
    With its problems and fears,
    It is hard. I am not there,
    My name is not I WILL BE.

    When you live in this moment
    It is not hard. I am here
    “My name is I AM.”

    I also loved your choice of the Philippians text as a Biblical explanation of contemplative prayer! I have so many friends and family members, that accuse me of delving into new age eastern mysticism that is outside the Bible! Now I have the perfect place in Scripture to show them it belonged to Christianity all along. Thanks Little Monk!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Little Monk

      November 24, 2014 at 12:54 PM

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I don’t see anything “new age” about contemplative prayer. “Be still, and know that I am God,” sounds pretty meditative to me… along with scores more. I really appreciate the poem… it is precisely on point!

      Grace is so in the Now! And THIS is infinite!

      I appreciate your comment! Have a blessed day and week!

      Grace to thee — LM

      Like

       
  2. Gentle Breeze

    November 24, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    I agree with you both so much! Especially the part about contemplative prayer being part of Christianity from the beginning and yet which seems to have been forgotten. It is a great post Little Monk.

    I also am part of a family and have thoughts that are like a group of cats and not a herd of sheep! We are more chaotic and independent minded than orderly and organised.

    And so one of my thoughts is that I have suffered illness and know others too which have anxiety as a symptom. And occasionally that can take place in the present also: e.g.. panic attacks when driving a car round a busy round-about; being unable to reply when being challenged in a meeting.

    If anxiety is part of our disability, it is good not to beat ourselves up about it, forgive ourselves and move on. I also can recognize the peace that comes from God alone. If interested please see my recent post.

    Love and best wishes, Julia

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Little Monk

      November 24, 2014 at 6:58 PM

      Thank you, Julia 🙂

      I like your comment that it is not good to beat ourselves up about… frankly… ANYTHING where we “catch ourselves out”. Recognize it? Yes. Acknowledge it? Yes. Decide it is not in our, or the Lord’s best interest and choose another path? Yes. But self-flagellate? No… no need, no profit to us or God. That kind of shame is the “sorrow that leads to death” and only serves to separate us from the experience of God and His love, not draw us deeper into it. Only the enemy makes profit from this.

      It’s not a matter of “forgive and forget”. It is more a matter of “forgive, thank, and embrace”.

      I’m sure I tick some people off with this attitude, but honestly… every time I recover from a stumble, “catch myself out”, and repent of my own foolishness, frailty, sin… it seems I become more compassionate, more loving, more aware of God’s grace and unbounded patience with ME, and seem to develop a bit more for others.

      Strange thought, just occurring to me as I write this… Perhaps I learn truly “not to judge”, to the extent that I recover from my own self-condemnation. As I learn not to judge and condemn myself (beat myself up), I gradually develop the fluidity and love not to judge others?

      Just a thought.

      Thank you, Julia 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. paulfg

    November 24, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    I read The Shack during a particularly stressful tempest. And that wondrous line “I can only be with you in the present” resonated. As so often with tempests, calm returned some time later. Yet I have recalled that line in moments of pressure ever since. A reflection of the moment: I am breathing, my heart is beating, blood is flowing, the air/body temperature is ambient, the seat I am in is comfortable, people around me are quietly/noisily living as usual, etc. In that moment there is only that. No more. I am – but am not. I can – but choose not.

    I wonder whether prayer of the moment allows. And in the allowing – I am.

    And in moments of peace the same present. The same awareness of the now. In moments of joy the same. More and more moments in the present. More and more now. More and more – I am.

    And in the allowing …

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Little Monk

      November 24, 2014 at 7:43 PM

      Hi Paul 🙂

      It is interesting, the different times and “flavors” the Lord can use to bring us to the present moment. Your mention of the breathing, heartbeat, temperature…

      Gentlebreeze above mentioned eastern mysticism, and together you’ve brought this recollection:

      I am not a practitioner of “eastern transcendental meditation”, but I have read a bit, and focused in that way from time to time. One thing that escaped me for many years was the significance of the fixation on “breathing” as a meditative exercise. It made no sense to me. Didn’t seem productive. I tend to focus on a moment of scripture, or the presence of God in imagination, not so much breathing.

      One day, the Lord seemed to challenge that, and said just to focus on breathing, and see what happened. Be aware, totally aware, to the extent of my ability… of each breath. Follow it in, follow it out, and try to follow the oxygen through my very being until exhaled as attached to a carbon atom.

      I cannot say I succeeded, but I can say I’ve never found anything that so focuses upon the “now” as this. What’s more, it led me to an amazing realization of the “interface” between the “me”… myself, my body, my brain, mind soul within myself… and the “not me”… the “outside”, the air, the world, the solar system, the cosmos.

      Very VERY hard to put into words, but… I realized that the “I”, this biological individual that I am (whatever that truly is), could be utterly self contained… and yet, moment by moment, breath by breath, I had to “take in”, absorb, embrace, air. I had to take “outside” into myself, in order to preserve my “inside” and live.

      Does that make any sense? Hard to express. But it seemed that breathing is a touchstone, a point of contact, between the “me” and the “All” that is sustained by God.

      Conclusion: Yes, there is distinct benefit to focus on breathing as nurturing meditation and/or contemplation. It’s not just a “cultural’ or “eastern” thing at all.

      Grace to thee — LM

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      • paulfg

        November 25, 2014 at 2:01 AM

        Perfect sense. And so very happy not have a “label” sought and attached to whichever brand of weirdness seems appropriate.

        I had the same thought about water. How we are made of so much water. How we are self contained yet take in water vapour even by breathing, how we breathe out water vapour every minute of every day. How being self contained is never isolated – and is always “connected” no matter how much we try and “make it fit” our own definition or need. How each particle is connected, and how that connects us even when we shut ourselves off. We cannot be unconnected. We just can’t.

        (and then the fireworks light up the night sky, and the tangents come in multitudes, and my brain cells groan under the weight of wonder – and ….)

        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • Little Monk

          November 25, 2014 at 5:11 AM

          “How being self contained is never isolated — and is always ‘connected’ … How each particle is connected, and how that connects us even when we shut ourselves off. We cannot be unconnected. We just can’t.”

          Gosh, Paul. (Oddly enough, a few hours after my last comment, but still before I saw your reply, I also thought of “water” in this context. Are we a “container”? Is water a component of us? or are we a variation of water, a “flavor” as it were? “When are we water?” or “When is water, us?” How do we distinguish?)

          And as I read your comment here, I was struck with the problem of day-to-day man, when we realize that “God=Love=Life=Consciousness=Existence” as the existential FACT, and yet our own experience of these as “separate things” and “separable things”. Like, we can think of “a loving God”, “a Living God”, “a Conscious God”…. yes. But we think of those as “characteristics” of an otherwise apart and independent God. And ourselves as an otherwise apart and independent person.

          We find it difficult or impossible to walk in the Reality that we ARE each of those things, we PARTICIPATE perforce in each of those “conditions”. We cannot be separate from them, they cannot be separate from us, and each of them are “Names of God” and inseparable from Him.
          Again… this is an incredibly hard concept for me to find words for…

          But it’s like the candleflame, matchflame, bonfire thing. Where does one begin, the other end?

          Your comments made me think about “ourselves and/in the Mind of God”. We do not so much “possess” life, love, consciousness, being, etc., as we “participate in” them. They are Names of God, statements of His essence and nature, and we are His creatures. We “participate in” Him thus… inseparable, as He participates in us.

          Hmmmm. Wondrous.

          Like

           
          • paulfg

            November 25, 2014 at 5:28 AM

            You have mentioned being nudged to something, being given something, asked to uncover something at this time of year, at Easter time.

            I get a sense of something similar (for the first time). And yet each time I think: words – I need words on a keyboard – He plops a verse in front of me and nods enthusiastically. The time I have is gone and the uncovering remains uncovered. And I wonder if this “thing” is for me rather than the keyboard.

            Yet …

            Life, creation, water, air, an egg, a cycle of life, a regeneration … that kind of stuff went ping when I read your words above. The “hard concept” phrase.

            Of a mother and child growing inside. That relationship, that one-ness, that I am-ness. And yet which is which? Who is the greater, who the lesser? Upon separation who is no longer one? Living within their own sphere yet still of one. Different cycles yet still of one. Connected even when they are not.

            Which is maybe why He keeps holding me back from the keyboard! 🙂

            Like

             
      • Gentle Breeze

        November 28, 2014 at 3:04 PM

        Hope you are OK with me jumping in with a reply here.

        On Wednesday 26 November 2014 at 04:15 (4:15am UK time) my Dad died. He was aged 86. He had multiple medical problems but we had managed to keep him at home so that he died as he wished at home in his own bed. He died in the arms of his two main carers, my Mum and my husband who we employed as his personal assistant. They were trying to turn him and so he died literally in their arms. And I had the privilege of coming into the room, almost too late but just in time, as he took his last breath.

        That is the connection to what you have written above-his last breath.

        I hope you don’t mind my giving you a favourite quote that came into my mind as it was happening.

        “The Soul of Gerontius”

        ” I went to sleep and now I am refreshed. A strange refreshment for I feel in me an inexpressible lightness and a sense of freedom as I were at length myself, and ne’er had been before.

        How still it is!

        I hear no more the busy beat of time. No, nor my fluttering breath nor struggling pulse. Nor does one moment differ from the rest…

        Another marvel… Someone has me fast within His ample palm.”

        By Cardinal Newman

        I like to think of my Dad going straight from one embrace into another.

        And I hope somehow the thoughts about breathing fit.

        Love and best wishes,
        Julia

        Like

         
        • Little Monk

          November 28, 2014 at 5:22 PM

          Wow, Julia.

          Three things:

          One: I’m incredibly grateful and humbled that on this day, in the midst of where you are, you’ve chosen to spend time here with me (us). Am I OK with your jumping in? Heavens! Thank you so much for doing so… ever.

          Two: The verses are incredibly apropos, and assuredly reflect what I was driving at. Thank you for them.

          Three: As to whether your comments or thoughts “fit”… Yes, yes they do. BUT, lol… this may be one of the few places in our lives where “fitting” is not nearly so important as whether your thought connects in even some really angular way, with the discussion. I find it incredible how God just sort of “gentle-touches” in these discussions, like a game of “hot potato” played with a feather that just bounds on a gentle breeze around a circle of players.

          (Have you ever seen a circle of children play “volleyball” with a big balloon? It’s great fun, and even an “indoor rainy day” game as long as no one lunges wildly for a shot that’s getting away!)

          I enjoy these “comment streams” so much because the Lord gets to light up so many vastly different petals on the same rose in the same vase… I always come away feeling very enriched.

          My family wraps you and yours in our love and our prayers. The Comforter is an awesome Companion, and I know He is holding you all tight to His breast as we speak.

          Love and grace to you and yours — The Little Monk

          Liked by 1 person

           
  4. Levi Thetford

    November 24, 2014 at 6:44 PM

    This statement says it all, “Joyful people” live mostly in the here and now, and focus on excellent and good things. Miserable people, do not”. I have a brother who dwells in the past and is usually miserable, or he is watching the news and worries about the future. He never thinks about now, it seems.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Little Monk

      November 24, 2014 at 8:58 PM

      Ah yes. In the midst of so many who rail against the influence of media and television on the emotional well-being of our culture and young people… do we ever consider the addiction to “All-news-all-the-time-along-with-politics” (of whichever flavor)? More than one of my family or friends are so enthralled by “being there” in the immediate misery of the world (foreign or domestic), that they never sense the wonder, the hope, or the kindness that often surrounds us.

      I hope all is going well with you and yours, Levi! 🙂

      Like

       

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