Tag Archives: spirit

Spiritual Warfare: Non-Linear Authority

jesusSpiritual warfare: Angels, demons, possession, oppression, cleansing, healing, casting out, darkness and light.

These sound like medieval issues, and yet we live surrounded by the reality that outcomes of such dramatic battles fill our lives and our media.

So, we look at the encounters Jesus had with unclean spirits, we look at history and texts and journals of our spiritual forefathers, we hear sermons, lectures, conferences and attend services dedicated to healing and wholeness, and we seek to grow. We see and hear words of “command” uttered by those who heal and restore, to banish and exile suffering and torment.

We are struck with a sense of awe and wonder, at the confidence with which words of healing, wholeness, or spiritual cleansing are uttered. “Faith!” we say, and recognize. “Power!” we see and recognize. “Authority!” we realize… and ponder the implications to ourselves, our lives, our prayer, our intercession.

Being so very human, so very normal in our social structures, culture and relationships, we tend to think of “Authority” in terms of “hierarchy”, like the military, or the law… in a line, descending from top to bottom from the Lord on High, downwards through Jesus, through Spirit, through “saints”, through “Christians”, and on downwards from there. Divine Authority seems, to us, a great “Trickle Down Theory” of godly economy, with each tier subject to the next.

Such a view seems affirmed in Jesus’ praise of the faith of the Roman Centurion in the Gospel of Matthew (the event is also reported in Luke 7):

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” Jesus *said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 10 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. 11 I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment. [Matthew 8]

I mean, that certainly SOUNDS like “military”, “straight-line”, authority, right? But look… Jesus didn’t have to speak TO the illness to heal the servant. The servant was healed in the moment of interaction between the faith of the Centurion, and the presence and willingness of Jesus. Would the servant have been healed without the interest, petition, and conversation of the Centurion? Who, then, “did” the healing? Who then, exercised “authority”?

Well, we know that all True Authority rightly vest in and from God. But… but… then what? What “path” does it follow in its “downward trickle”?

Slowly, looking at scripture, watching and listening to Jesus, I’ve realized a rather strange thing. It would seem that “God’s ways are not our ways”, and that He doesn’t wire things quite the way we do.

The Pharisees also struggled with the nature of Jesus’ authority, and one day they asked Him about it, point blank. The answer He gave, I had always thought of as “rhetorically clever”. But in recent years I’ve come to realize that He wasn’t being “mysterious, clever, and obfuscating”… He was, in fact, giving the only correct answer to the question that can be given.

23 When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” 27 And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” [Matthew 21]

Now, was Jesus simply being coy and clever there? Or perchance did He actually answer them with not only a truthful, but an accurate answer? Were they asking a question that did not HAVE an answer of the type they were looking for?

I want to leave you here with some passages to look at, and a “thought”. This is not so much an “answer” to all this, as simply a “response” from my own spirit, heart, mind… to/for your spirit, heart, mind. If it leads to your own “answer”, great. If not, the mysteries play on.

Have a Look at:

  • John 10:16-18
  • Matthew 28:16-20
  • John 14:8-10
  • Philippians 2:5-11

Go ahead and “run the word ‘Authority'” through your tools or concordances, and ponder all that as I did when I “paused” in my posts on Spiritual Warfare…

Ask yourself the question Jesus asked of me after all that study, saying…

“OK, now that you’ve seen all that…. Who currently holds the ‘Authority of Kingdom’? God the Father? Me? The Holy Spirit? The Bride? You individually? You collectively? The Father had all authority, gave it all to Me, I submitted utterly to Him, the Spirit judges… So… like ‘Button, button, who’s got the button?’… or the other child’s game of ‘Hot Potato’… Who NOW holds the Authority? Where did it come to rest?”

Now, that was the question… I STILL do not have what I would call “An Answer”, but I think I may have gotten the Point.

I have come to rest in the belief that this is a Trick Question. This is a question with no answer. The Point rests in “Oneness”. God, utterly and entirely, IS His own Authority. Christ is in the Father, Father in the Son, Spirit in Both, Spirit in Us, Christ in me, I in Him, together we in the Father, All of the Body, All of the Bride, All in Him, Him in All…

The Authority resides in Him, and in all the Oneness with Him in which we engage. This is “Non-Linear” Authority. It vests in the Oneness into which He draws each of us, and when we (individually or corporately) rest in His grace, His will, His words, His works…. His authority is present and effective. When we do not, it isn’t.

This there is no one at whom we can point and say, “HE has/speaks with God’s authority”…. or “SHE does”… by virtue simply of who they are, what they do, what office they hold, or what claims they make.

That authority vests in moments, in persons and events, where God’s will in love, grace, wholeness, healing, truth… is clearly expressed. No more, no less.

That is how I have come to “see things”. I may be right. You may see things differently and you may be right. And perhaps we both are. Far more important than whether I (or anyone else) is “right”, is my prayer that laying this out this way, looking at scripture and pondering the love and nature of God, opening to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, brings all of us greater love, light, and truth in our own walks and lives.

Joy, blessings, and grace to all!

The Little Monk


Posted by on August 12, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Spiritual Warfare


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Always Safe, Never Alone!

Life can feel scary, lonely, sad, and very very empty. “Beyond here, there be Monsters”! Grief from loss, fear from a bad medical appointment, pain from a broken heart and relationship ruptured, heartache from a loved one careening towards disaster, the stress and anxiety from professional or financial reversals…

Worst of all… the teeny tiny niggling nagging fear that sometimes assails… that we dare not even ADMIT because we are… in our own eyes and those of others… people of HOPE…

The worst one… the wee small voice that comes in our darkest nights and lowest moments saying… “It’s all empty you know. You’re really just alone and floating, drifting, randomly… on the surface of time. There’s nothing and no one else, it’s all just a great cosmic joke.”

If you’ve never heard this little temptation, this voice of internal despair, with its message of either “there is no God”… or “God really despises you, you know”… then I applaud you. There’s fancy names for this… “Existential Angst”, among others…

This is very powerful in our world. In fact, this, the “deadly despair” that can arise… the call to action prompted, and the depression and suicide associated with this channel of thought, are costing countless lives both young and old.

The most frightening words we can know?

“Abandoned!”   “Betrayed”   “Unclean”   “Cast Out!”   “Unworthy”   “Alone”

These are “Killing Words”… These are “Murdering Words”…

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” [Matthew 5]

Strong words, Our Lord uses here. But I think He knew (knows) and could see the sort of harm, the damage, that happens to people when they are isolated, separated, cut off, declared “good-for-nothing” and valueless… in relationships. To be cut off in a relationship is to be wounded, to be judged, to be condemned, and to wither and shrivel.

In our own world, our own time and space, we see people choose to end life, rather than continue in such a state of shadow being. For those who base their hope, their trust, their sense of being anchored and well, in the human relationships around them, there is a danger. People can fail. People are frail and faulty, and sometimes, for whatever reason, we can cut others off… leaving them alone with their fears and concerns. Wrong? Of course! But yet so much a part of being human! So much a part… of US.

I woke this morning with David Wesley’s song in my ears and spirit. It’s not that I am particularly depressed or anxious in these days (as far as I know). Stuff happens, of course, and I have my tense moments… but nothing profound.

Nonetheless, in these times, these days… where we ask meaningful questions like, “What is Church as God envisions it?” “What is a Christian, how do I live that?” “How do we walk in the intimate Oneness of Christ, here and now… moment by moment?”

This song just rang on and on in my mind, my soul, and I realized something incredibly simple, yet absorbingly profound…

When these lyrics wash through you… Here is God’s ministry TO YOU… Here is your hope, your faith, your life, your breath! Here is the embrace… the absolutely unrelenting love, embrace, support, presence, and affirmation of God FOR you! You are Safe! You are Never Alone!

And, at the very same moment, HERE is the Gospel!

Here is OUR grace towards OTHERS! That God’s love through us, never fails, never gives up, never runs out on others. That’s more of a challenge in practice, I know. But just like Sermon on the Mount, or I Corinthians 13, that is nonetheless the Truth of how God touches others through us when we allow.

When we allow…

The answer is love. What was the question?

Enjoy the song again. Now, go love somebody!

Joy, blessing, and grace to you!

The Little Monk


Posted by on August 11, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized


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The Mundane Miraculous

244px-messier-42-10-12-2004-filtered-e1401834586474This post follows from Paulfg’s post of today. Something that only happens to “important Christians”, and a brief exchange of comments that followed between us.

I was reminded of a sermon I heard a while back, where the Pastor stood to his pulpit, and authoritatively declared…

“There are only 156 miracles in the entire Bible!”

(If my memory does not betray me… it was 150-Something… I think 6… but I could be off by 4 in either direction, so forgive me.)

He knew this because he had counted them… or some author had and it was in his book… or some professor had and it was taught in his seminary… but anyway… God only intervened miraculously in the history of man 150-whatever times! He was certain of this, because such events would have been so significant (being so rare), that certainly Scripture would have noted additional episodes.

He then went on, in a series of sermons, to show that each of these miracles had the same “prerequisites”, a list of requirements and conditions, that man had to fulfill in order for God to act… and how and why we fail to fulfill them in our miracle-free lives. (Because there’s only 150-whatever!)

The preaching series was actually quite good. The exhortation, the scholarship and exegesis, the encouragement… all really excellent. But there was a flaw… a crucial flaw… that, while I know listeners were blessed and edified by their attention, equally I know this grieved the Father’s heart.

As so often, the problem is in the premise. That first course of bricks is uneven, it may not mean that the wall will be insecure, but the cosmetic flaw may persist throughout.

Here, the flawed premise is actually a “Scriptural Problem”. It is all well and good to say that someone went cover to cover through the Bible and located 150-something recorded incidents wherein God miraculously intervened in human affairs. But that leaves out (at least) one critical verse.

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” [John 21:25]

I offer you, Gentle Reader, a simple question: Have you, personally, ever witnessed or taken part in a “miracle”?

You don’t need to put your hand up, write in, or identify yourself… so there’s no danger here. But truth be told, most people who feel led to read anything like this blog have witnessed or taken part in a surprising number of miracles. Now, I’m not going to get bogged down in issues of “operational definition”, or “juridical specificity”. (I used to, once upon a time. For me, a “miracle” was “any event with a probability of 10,000:1 against, or less.” I kid thee not… it was a very young and exploratory time for me, God challenged me to “name my fleece”, I did… and He just smothered me in events so vastly beyond the probable or likely, that even my doubting self had to admit that it was He doing what He was doing.)

No, this morning I just want to make a simple point in follow up and affirmation of “a ripple” that arose in and from Paul’s post…

We are often accustomed to such “separation of church and state”, that it bleeds over into a pernicious “separation of God from daily life”. Whether morality, mood, love, relationships, or spiritual warfare… we tend to think of “God stuff” in big, overblown, “Ten Commandments — Charleton Heston — Moses/Exodus” terms, rather than the simple day-to-day living we walk through or that we see Jesus walking through among His Companion Disciples.

When I was a young novice, the very first challenge I was given (besides the trial of obedience in general)… but the first real “spiritual” challenge I was given… was to learn to “see God in all things”. Now, that SOUNDS easy, but try it sometime, even on a “day off” away from the office or workplace.

To SEE God, as a vibrant and active participant, in every moment. Setting a table, weeding a garden, sweeping a floor, doing homework, making your bed or doing laundry. Got that down? Great… now add a layer. Driving to work through rush hour traffic. Getting bad service from a fast-food drive-through. See what I mean? It’s challenging!

Now, please bear in mind… just because we CAN come to SEE Him, doesn’t mean we will always respond appropriately to His presence! It just means we are the more likely to address Him, our behavior, our selves… in moments even when we expose our frailties and faults.

And that’s pretty much it, the wrap up, to the ripples I found from Paul’s dropped pebble. That “spiritual warfare” certainly can be the stuff of heroic opera, but it is also the mundane and simple struggle between selfishness and servanthood reflected in gracious kindness, or sour curmudgeonry.

The cosmic and Wagnerian grand scale is all well and good. But the battle between Light and darkness isn’t so much a matter of “Strategies and Objectives of a Grand War”, as much as it is all about “Relationship”.

Do we receive the Love of Jesus?

Do we reflect the Love of Jesus back to God?

Do we refract the Love of Jesus through and around us to others?

THAT is the Spiritual Warfare of the Battle between Light and darkness, Good and evil, God and the enemy. Every moment yielded to love, to grace, to God (thus His will)… is a “blow struck for Light” in that War. Every selfish moment grumbling at our pitiful lacks, or the unworthiness of another… is not an affirmation of Light. That simple.

Sins are simple things… to treat another as less than sacred. Miracles are equally simple things… the expressions of God, His love, His grace, from His heart and hands into our lives.

As I listened to that Pastor that day, declare so authoritatively that God performed (precisely) 150-something miracles, I just had to smile and shake my head a bit sadly…

I wanted to pick up a phone, call him up, saying… “Oh, my dear son! Every BREATH we take, is a miracle. Every heartbeat! Don’t believe me? Too much “science” involved there? Well, ‘science’ can tell us when someone is ‘alive’ versus ‘dead’… but it cannot explain why that is so. No scientist can (thus far) begin with inorganic compounds in a laboratory, and create ‘living tissue’ from it. Even the great strides being made with tissue culturing, no one can yet ‘breathe life’ into a cultured organ, granting it ‘humanity’ or ‘consciousness’ as a person

“Hold a newborn in your arms, and tell me that is not miracle? See a person first see the grace and love of God pierce the misery and history of their life, see their tears of joy and newly discovered freedom as they first embrace Christ, and tell me that is not a miracle? Think of the love of a couple whose hearts have grown closer over 50 years, or the love of the widowed yet in love after separation of decades, and tell me that is not a miracle?”

I wanted to say such things, but I did not. “Grace”… the kind of “gentle touch of God’s hand” involved in such miracles as these… it is hard to see. It takes a bit of practice. Like finding a subtle flavor in a fine wine, a tea, or a delightful dish… it takes time and practice to train the palate. Not everyone can take a year to get apart, be silent, and learn to hear the singing of Creation.

But God is right here all the time, and He is ever about revealing Himself. So, let each of us enjoy that, and develop the sensitivity to touch, the discerning palate, the sensitivity to fragrance… that we learn to perceive Him, His love, His grace, and His miraculous Presence… everywhere and everywhen.


Grace to thee — The Little Monk


Posted by on April 13, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds


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Hearing the Stones!

triumphalentry As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it.” They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting:

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord;
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” [Luke 19:33-42]

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have wakened this day, and felt each moment filled since, to the echoes of a single phrase…

“I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

“I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

“I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
  “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

We are surrounded this day, yesterday, every day… by this world, this life, this creation that we — as humans, rational beings, scientists — marvel at and usually readily admit that we do not understand. This creation supports us, sustains us, permits us life, love, relationship, growth, breath, heartbeats.

Isn’t that amazing? We live in a “cocoon”, an incredible supporting matrix that allows life as we know it to go on through time! Does that ever make us stop? Think? Thank? We did not design this. We do not know what makes it run. We could not repair this universe, if somehow it broke down. We are utterly dependent.

And why? Why does this all “work”? That is the even more amazing part. God created… God loved… God quickened, enlivened… God spoke! Yes, all of that. But look! Behold! God not only did all of that… He not only “creat-ed”… but always, at all times, every second, moment, nanosecond… He does… He “creat-es”… He utterly revealed Himself, but IS utterly REVEALING Himself through all that is, that everyone have opportunity to know Him.

I… I almost feel like apologizing here… because in this moment I am experiencing “worship” on a personal level, and normally… those are not moments I share with others. Those are “prayer closet” moments… just me and Him. If they are shared with others, that’s one-on-one, or perhaps a small group prayer or worship. I’ve never been called, or given permission, to sit here typing to blog, in this state.

But perhaps it is this content… this Triumphal Entry thing… that is creating this moment. The people, witnessing the King Himself enter into Jerusalem, are overwhelmed with their amazement and adoration. Regardless of politics, of public reputation and possible problems with the Temple and pharisees, they cry out from their hearts their praises. Their passion overcomes their prudence, and they praise without candor!

A pressure wells up inside, a pressure of Truth itself, of Truth Himself… and they cannot contain it or constrain it. They praise, they adore, they worship, they cry out.

And, they are rebuked. They are criticized, having been threatened and bribed to betray this Truth. The Churchmen, the Church Leaders, the Religious… knowing the threat to their power base that the actual Truth Himself posed… they beseech the Lord to “shush” those proclaiming His glory and His Truth.

And… He… can… not… He says, outright, were He to do so, things would go even MORE badly for the Churchmen. It would not be merely PEOPLE shouting His praise and glory… but Creation Itself… the very stones! O my! *Psst! Pharisees! Be thankful it’s only people, that you can bully and bribe! What would you do if the very environment began to sing for Him?!*

[In seeking a graphic for this post, I came across a blog post from a couple years ago by another minister I had never seen before. The post just wrapped itself into my worship, and pulled me along into the train of Jesus’ following disciples that day. Please have a look at this, and see if it blesses you as strongly as it did me. It just enriched this experience, this moment of worship so much. It made my heart just “amen” with a consistent “Yes!” “Triumphal Entry — Story Behind the Story”. ]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But here is where this morning leaves me.

This Triumphal Entry… this parade of the victory of Jesus the Christ… came in its precisely correct moment in an incredibly dense weave of moments leading up to the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Pentecost. All these “Lenten Events”… the miracles, the marches, the anointings, the anguished discussions or arguments with Companion Disciples, the raising of Lazarus… all these events heralded what Jesus called His “baptism” as He drank from the cup the Father had prepared for Him from the beginnings of the world.

And we, both as His children, His disciples, His friends… and as part of Creation itself… have our own role to play in this dense weave.

The King has come. He has done all that He was sent to do. Now there is only the finish, the closure, yet to endure. And we can SEE that, ENGAGE that, or not. That is OUR choice.

But whether we do, or whether we don’t… still, it is going on. Still He is revealing Himself.

Where is the chorus? Where are the voices? Where is the wonder? The joy? The Love? The passion?

I am blessed. Many days, there are those around me who “hear the music, and sing along”. Yes. But also, many days I am surrounded by only pharisees… only those trying to “shush the children”. You know them! You hear them! They can be intimidating, can’t they? Some days, they even quench MY spirit.

But then there’s THESE days. There’s these incredible… “‘Hey, Ya’ll! I”m right HERE!’ — Signed, Jesus” Days. There are these days where the very Tide of Worship draws us forth so strongly that it can scarcely be resisted.

So, let us all let go! Let us all yield to that tide. Let us be drawn to Him as He begins to be lifted above the earth in this time.

Let us listen. Let us hear. Let us hum along… Do you hear it? Do you hear the rocks beginning to hum, the trees clearing their throats, the stars tuning their instruments?

No? Well, sometime this week, make some time to get apart with Creation… stars on a clear night away from city lights, back yard garden in early morning, sunrise or sunset, quiet lake or chuckling river, seaside, mountain, or moor… whatever it takes, whatever you have. Just get apart… and LISTEN! Listen to a tree, or the grass, or the stars, or the stones.

Hear them sing, hear them praise Him. Hear them, ever so quietly, call out…

“Hosanna to the King who comes! Hosanna to the Prince of Peace! Hosanna to Our Lord, Our Creator, Our Sustainer, Our Redeemer!”

You may not be able to defeat the Pharisees in your life, but you can get apart from them from time to time… to worship, and acknowledge the wonder who is the Ever Revealing Lover God…

Just a little while more… the Cosmos trembles on the brink of rebirth!

Joy and grace to you in these moments of worship! — The Little Monk


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Knowing My Role

burnoutBurnout — A Near Miss

Sorry I’ve not written here as much recently as usual. A number of projects are currently in work, and I’ve not had my accustomed time available. But that’s what I wanted to mention here, because grace teaches (me) all the time.

A week or so ago, I had a bad day. Let me rephrase… I had a BAD day! I had one of those (rare for me) days where by the time the sun was setting I looked up towards the Lord and said, “OK, Lord… this isn’t fun any longer. I don’t want to play anymore… let’s do something else with my life, eh?”

Seriously, stuff that had been in work for months, all arrowed in with crisis traumas at the same time, none of which I could fix or do a blessed thing about but pray. These were people in terrible and traumatic situations for which:

  • I couldn’t DO anything helpful
  • I couldn’t SAY anything helpful
  • I didn’t KNOW anything helpful

All I could do was pray, which I did with intensity… feeling utterly exhausted and drained by the end of the day.

Are you feeling sorry for me yet? Well, if so… thank you, but I was feeling more than sorry enough for myself by then to cover all that was needed. I seldom succumb to much self-pity, but I guess this was my scheduled day. Know what? Self-pity and petty self-indulgence is exhausting, too!

The Lord, with His customary patience, just sort of stood aside watching and let me “play myself out”, before I actually NOTICED Him! I mean, after all, He was supposed to be sitting somewhere writing down all my desperate prayer needs and requests, right? Oddly enough, He seemed to be doing no such thing.

I didn’t criticize… after all, that wouldn’t be polite. But I wasn’t happy. And He knew it. (It sorta works like that.) It wasn’t like He was upset with me or my attitude, or that He was making fun of me. None of that. But I could tell from the look on His face that it was like… “He knew something I didn’t”, and I don’t mean that in the obvious sense. I mean that He wanted to say something to me that would help, but He knew I wasn’t yet calm enough really to HEAR Him.

The day had drawn to a close, I was starting to cook the evening meal, and over time the adrenalin receded. I wasn’t happy. He knew I wasn’t happy. I waited to see who would speak first, while we chopped onions. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. But it was hard to figure out what to say without being impolite (which I really didn’t want to do).

“I’m not happy, You know.” (the best I could do).

“I know,” He nodded. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Well… what about this? What am I supposed to do? Why don’t You do something? Why don’t You fix it all?” (Not sure if I SAID all of that, but it’s certainly what I was THINKING, and with Him, it amounts to the same thing.)

“I AM doing something, and I CAN’T ‘fix it’, in the way you mean. Neither can you, which is what has you so upset. That’s what I’m sorry about. Oh, and by the way… I don’t have to tell you this isn’t always ‘fun’. But perhaps I do have to tell you, um… no, you’re not going to go do something else with the rest of your life.”

At this we both laughed. “I know, I didn’t mean that. But really… today? Really? This was NOT one of our better days, eh? I couldn’t do a THING! I didn’t accomplish a THING! And all of those are situations with people hurting. So, what am I supposed to feel?”

Time passed as we cooked, and I continued to cool…

I’ve always been drawn to the scriptural image of the disciples and Jesus just sitting together at their fire, eating, after a long and trying day. I can readily imagine the conversations that took place as they shared experiences, impressions, questions, and answers. I always think Jesus just sat, enjoyed his fish or lamb chunks, wrapped them in some flatbreads, maybe spread with some hummus, or enjoying some dipped in honey for dessert, as He just encouraged them all to share… before He began to speak and sort things out.

Well, that’s sort of how things were at dinner that evening. The day kept replaying with my frustrations and concerns, and after a bit more venting I was able to calm down. He is so very patient.

Finally, He said, “I know you’ve heard this before, and you know what I am about to say. But sometimes, you just need to hear it again.

“You’re looking at this all wrong, which is really easy to do. But you’re angry because you’re setting the wrong goals, the wrong expectations. You feel like a failure because you couldn’t ‘fix’ everything.

“Little Monk? That’s not your job! That’s not even MY job! Both of us DID our ‘jobs’ today. The difference is, I recognize that and you do not.

“You are to hold an unconditionally loving relationship with these people. You did that. You are to embrace them and their experience without judging, with empathy and compassion. You did that. You are to share what words I give you to bring My grace into the moment. You did that. Sometimes, there are no such words, or they are minimal. And you are to lift them up to Me, wrapped in love, that My grace flow. You did that.

“You did your job today, and it was a very demanding day. Yes. When I walked, I often had very demanding days. But today, I did My job, too. My job is not to ‘fix’ as you think of it, because each of these people have their own free will and are making choices, and their lives are woven with others doing the same.

“You want to ‘fix’ everything, in terms of ‘making everybody happy’, and ‘relieving all pain’. Sometimes, beloved Little Monk, that is not possible. What I DO, and what you are committed to, is to lift up My presence and My grace in ALL the moments… painful, joyful, or otherwise. I ‘weave time with all the freewill choices’ in such a way that every encounter is perfectly ‘redemptive’. Every person you encounter and interact with, brings a gift of grace and growth into your life in that moment. And you impart such a gift to and for them.

“My ‘job’ is to uphold all things with the word of My power, given Me by Our Father… such that all things work together for good in Our Father’s love. Sometimes… what is truly ‘good’, is not necessarily ‘fun’ or even ‘painless’. That’s just the Truth.

“You say you had a ‘bad day’. Well, if you see it so… that’s up to you. But, in Truth, you had a Good day, doing precisely what you are called and gifted to do. I regret that you’ve felt frustrated about it, but that’s only because you’ve mistaken what you’re here to do. And that is in YOUR control, not Mine.

“But here is your bottom line, and maybe this will help. You’re upset because you didn’t meet your own expectations… you didn’t reach the ‘destination’ you set for yourself. But that’s not My expectation of you. That’s not what I intend for you to do. I want you to be a traveling companion, enjoying the journey and embracing and supporting your fellow travelers. If you will just do that… just focus on that… you’ll take a lot of pressure and frustration off yourself.

“I give you more than enough grace to travel these journeys, I am He who navigates the route and terrain in the first place. I am the only One who can bring you safely to your destination. So, quit mistaking your goals and worrying about that. Just bring grace in and to the trip, and embrace your fellow travelers.

“Just know your role, Little Monk. And embrace with My grace.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Oh, yeah. I’d known that… but I forgot. Sometimes, I just need to hear it again.

Thank you for your prayers, Gentle Reader. I am ever a work in progress. Blessings and grace to thee — The Little Monk


Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Christmas Trees and Solar Flares

sunNow Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God…

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.” [Exodus 3:1-6, 13-15]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. [John 17:3-12]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What if… one day you awoke, got your coffee, sat down to share it in company with God, and He were to ask you…

“What is My Name?”

(Now, granted, that hardly seems a fair question when you’re still working on your first coffee… but nonetheless….)

So… here you have His question, and imagine that you haven’t just been prompted by the scripture passages that open this post. Your mind may go to the Isaiah texts… Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace, Wonderful, Marvelous, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father… or you may think of Jesus’ words and names for the Holy Spirit… Teacher, Comforter, Paraclete… and so on.

For myself, that’s where my mind/spirit went… all these NameS for God. Coffee or no, it seemed as if all of them flew through me in the same moments. Along with all these descriptions of Him… love, truth, goodness, beauty, life, light, righteousness, justice, peace… all that… along with the simpler way Jesus commanded us to address God in prayer… simply “Our Father”, or, more accurately “Daddy”, “Papi”, “Papa”, or “Da”  (some affectionate diminutive paternal form).

Over the next few minutes, as Jesus unfolded some petals of the Rose He had for me that day, along with lingering echoes and after effect ripples for several days after… I came to look upon this question and these answers in a new way, and I thought I’d share them here, and see what you all think, and what your hearts may respond…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

All those “Names” (plural) for God, as noted in scripture are indeed true, good, and right. Yes.

However, when Moses asked the point blank question, God answered with a response of ultimate simplicity and unity.

“I AM who (I) AM.”

Now, that’s just a simple answer. Isn’t it?

But, wait a moment. It is SUCH a simple answer that we sometimes fail to give it much consideration. What does that really say? That’s what the Lord challenged me with, along this ponder. Just to stop a moment and consider what this really means, as I understand the English language.

“I… AM.”

What can be said about these two words? Well, they are the first expression of a “conjugation” of the verb “to be”. Remember? “I am”, “you are”, “he/she/it is”, “we are”, “you (ya’ll) are”, “they are”?  (I know, sorry about that, I don’t mean to trigger any unpleasant 8th grade flashbacks, but this will be meaningful in a moment…) And if you hold a moment, hovering over the concept of “to be” as an Infinitive… it really gets rather impressive. To be, to exist, in any time, in any manner, for any duration, in any form… EVER. Whether physical or not, spiritual, conceptual, potential or actual… ALL that covered by the infinitive “to be”. What’s more, GOD is the “I” form… the First Person Singular.

That was rather where this whole ponder led at its apex… “God is the Ultimate First Person Singular, who gives meaning to the verb “to Be”.

That is God is One, Whole, Undifferentiated, Indivisible, condition of possibility for Existence as a Whole.

We humanly tend to image the Father as a central Power Figure (“God”) like a wondrous Christmas Tree, and then hang all these Names on Him as characteristics…. reminds me of the ornaments hung all around the trunk.

This alternative is more like the Sun, center of our solar system. Composed of hydrogen, helium, oxygen, heavy metals, all sorts of stuff… burning in constant fusion and fission emitting light, heat, gamma radiation, alpha and beta as well… all those characteristics… but from the perspective of the Sun itself… it simply IS. It’s the Sun. It does what the Sun does, all at once, by its very nature. You can’t “parse it” and make any sense of it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That… is a tough thought to ponder. But the Lord brought me to realize that there is a huge and fundamental difference between the true statements that “God is Good”, “God is Counselor”, “God is Righteous”, “God is Loving”, “God is Merciful”… ALL these totally TRUE statements… but all of them “incomplete”. As soon as you specify a quality that God has, in a sentence, you grammatically exclude many other equally true statements. As human beings, we tend to bridge this gap with the words “if” or “but”. “God is Love”..BUT “God is Righteous”. or “God is Merciful” BUT “God is Just”. And so on.

The Lord preferred that I not “add to scripture” in this way. Let these true scriptural insights on the nature of God just stand on their own, and absorb the paradox without trying to reconcile it. And second, that I try to step back and embrace God’s actual SELF Definition… the “I AM”.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, to draw this rather suddenly to a close… spend a bit of time just letting the universe and the word “God” expand to the very limits of the infinitive “to be”… and then let that set of petals lead to the second passage… that the Father gives this very name both to Jesus…


According to John 17…

to us.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

More on this later… grace to thee! — The Little Monk


Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized


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Martian Chronicles: Good News

Mars OneHail and well met, fellow missionaries! I’ve been off for a bit doing some investigating, exploration, archaeology. Results will be reported in due course.

Just to review the premise here…

OK, so we are on an adventure…

We’re posing the hypothetical possibility that we have been selected to be one of 10 Christians (or Christian couples) to journey to Mars somewhere between 2025 and 2040, to establish the First Christian Church there.

We’ve been endorsed and sent forth with the blessings of our denominations, and given extraordinary license and dispensation to establish a new church whose only constraints are scriptural, not traditional. That is not to say that tradition is to be despised or held in contempt. Merely that the traditions of one or some should not hold sway over the traditions or convictions of others.

What’s more, we have the incredible opportunity to establish “A” (not “THE”) First Century Church. All these colleagues have an active, living, breathing, personal speaking relationship with the living Christ, and the humility to balance personal revelation with scriptural validation and mutual accountability and examination. (That’s an amazing statement.) This is to say, these are all unabashedly functional mystics.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The last post on these Chronicles posed the question, “Are We Alone?” and considered a frequent impression of people far from all that is familiar and homey.

An interesting point is/was that, while it makes perfect sense of Martian colonists or explorers to feel very isolated and alone so far from home, (even isolated from God Himself), that this is a common, frequent, quiet fear and concern for everyday normal people right here, right now. This sense of isolation, sometimes called “existential angst”, or a sense of the “void”, is something of a primal fear we learn to keep penned up in our darkest closets, lest it escape and take up residence under our beds at night.

We may come back to considering this chimera later, but for today I’d like to consider one of its most common companions… the sense of insignificance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, our colonists have all been specially picked, specially screened, specially trained… for this extraordinary mission. They are very “secure” in every psychological sense.

But many people who seek out counseling, or pastoral counseling, experience great pain in their lives and seek help for what APPEAR to be a vast variety of reasons: parent problems, kid problems, spouse problems, work problems, social problems, school problems, health problems, legal problems… People seek me out because some arena of relationships is causing someone pain.

What I have found, time and time again, is that people do NOT seek me out to hear my “wonderful advice”, or even so that *I* can “solve” their “problems”. That’s really not what they want or need. (It has taken me a painfully great number of years to learn that!) When there is “success” in a counseling relationship, it is nearly always because I was able to meet one single fundamental need they had when they came, and once it was met they were able to resolve their own issues.

Their need? Significance.

It starts in the very first appointment, when they sit down to “tell me all about it”. Years ago, I used to interrupt a lot, seek to array the facts and details in “their proper sequence”, and work to frame my response and recommendations “just so”. Eventually I learned how very out of order that was. I need/needed simply to LISTEN… let them be HEARD.

This is the first step. This is something incredibly lacking in our day to day lives. I, like so many others, live(d) in a “mindset of response preparation”… rather than a “mindset of embracing their expression and experience.” Someone who seeks me out doesn’t nearly so much want to know “what I THINK” about their situation, as they want to know “that I UNDERSTAND them, what THEY are thinking, what THEY are feeling”… and that I can enter into that experience with them.

So I’ve learned… it starts with (usually) our very first meeting. They have a “story to tell”, and I need just to sit still and quiet, and “receive” that story. Free of reaction, free of judgment, free of comment, free of response. Just receive them, their story, their experience. I don’t have to “approve” of all the elements or decisions made throughout the story. That’s not my role. They haven’t yet asked a question for me to answer.

But it took me the longest time to realize, the underlying theme in ALL these stories… was how this person seeks to affirm their own meaningfulness, their own influence, their own significance, in their lives and relationships… and the pain they experience when their efforts fall short.

Now here’s a strange thing… this is as true for truly “powerful”, “influential”, and “significant” people (whatever that really means)… as it is for the weak and helpless. The issue of “security” and “insecurity” is not met with worldly potency.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Bottom Line on this Piece of Good News:

Truth: Human beings crave “attention” as “affirmation”.

Some more, some less. But the more powerless someone feels, the more attention they will demand, and the more their behaviors will absorb the time and attention of others.

So where’s the Good News here?

We, human beings, are MADE this way. We are FASHIONED this way. We have an endemic need for the nurturance and security of attention.

And we are “fashioned” this way because this is a socket in which we are permanently seated, in and for our relationship with God.

Scripture after scripture, from Genesis, through Psalms, through Proverbs, through the Gospels… affirm over and over again… God is HERE, God is ATTENTIVE, God is ALWAYS PRESENT, and He is NEVER too busy to be “paying attention” to you… to me… to each of His children.

This tremendous “Mystery of the Infinite”, this characteristic of Omnipresent God, assures that Jesus, Father, and Spirit, ALWAYS hold our hands and carry us in their arms.

We have no need to:

  • Beg for His attention
  • Ask His pardon for interrupting Him with our petty prayers
  • Hope He doesn’t see our mistakes and shortcomings
  • Cringe, cower, or plead that He will hear and respond to our petitions
  • Wonder if He knows what we need or the timing of that
  • Wonder if He really notices or cares…

None of that.

But I’ve noticed before, that a person CANNOT believe a kindness of God, that they have never ever first experienced from a human being. So, I’ve discovered, first and foremost, the greatest gift I can offer to someone who seeks me out… is simply to “pay attention to them”, “acknowledge them as significant and ‘worthy’ of ‘my time'”, and “HEAR them”.

You would not believe how often, simply THAT… simply LISTENING to them without comment, judgment, or interruption… for the entire first time we spend together… relieves 50% or more of the pain they felt when they arrived.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, suggestion… share the Good News of someone’s significance with them today. You don’t have to “Say” a thing. Just HEAR them. In this, you will affirm them in an incredible way. You don’t have to affirm the “rightness” of everything they think, do or feel. You are simply affirming the rightness of their BEING in the first place. God will grow them, as they allow that. But first, they can know that it is valuable (at least to YOU) that they exist and live at all!

This is a tremendous gift.

This, is Good News.


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Image: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation


God-in-Me Loving God

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Last year I had the honor of representing the Christian tradition at the Festival of Faiths in Louisville, Kentucky. Leaders of many faiths, including the Dalai Lama, came together to talk about the role of compassion in our spiritual practice. The following is what I shared from the Christian perspective:

The Christian who has gone to his or her own depths—not all of us, I am afraid—uncovers an Indwelling Presence, what might even be experienced as an I-Thou relationship (to use the language of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber). In Christian theology this would be described as the “Holy Spirit,” which is precisely God as immanent, within, and even our deepest self. Some saints and mystics have described this Presence as “closer to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself.” Many of us would also describe this as the True Self. It must be awakened; it is never “created” by our actions or behavior, but naturally “indwelling,” or our inner being with God.

Much of culture and religion encourages us to cultivate our False Self or reputation, self-image, roles, and possessions. It is only as this fails us, and it eventually does, that the True Self stands revealed and ready to guide us. The True Self does not teach us compassion as much as it IS compassion already, and from this more spacious and grounded Self we can naturally connect, empathize, forgive, and love all reality. In Christian language this is “God-in-me-loving-God.”

The False Self does not know how to love in a very deep or broad way. It is too small and self-referential to be compassionate. The True Self also does not choose to love as much as it IS love itself already. Loving from this spacious place is experienced as a river within you that flows of its own accord, as Jesus promises us so beautifully (John 7:38).

Adapted from Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation, pp. 46‑48

Gateway to Silence:
May I see with eyes of compassion.


Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized


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Journey — Unwelcome Guests

Desert CaravanGreetings, Gentle Reader. Please forgive my absence for these days. I have been ill. Nothing serious, just one of those annoying little “molecules that think they’re alive” things, that wreak havoc on otherwise peace-loving internal organs… creating digestive chaos of all sorts. Well, and a bit of fever, and difficulty with focusing my vision… or sitting upright… or staying awake. Anyway, certainly not conducive to typing in any form.

Things are much better now, and I can again appreciate some of the beauty of this trip. But even in the early part of my little “side odyssey of infection” there, the Lord was kind enough to provide a moment of “comic relief” I thought you might enjoy.

This is, in my part of the United States, the school holiday called “Spring Break”, and my daughter and grandkids have taken the opportunity to visit for the week (and managed to bring along with them the little molecule that laid me low, who they had hosted the prior week… we’re a “sharing” family).

My grandson is 5 years old.... *pause*…. That really about says it all, if you know any 5 year old persons, especially little boys. Just in case you do not, my grandson’s basic motto is… “CHARGE!!!!” (Often screamed at the top of his lungs, full tilt run, sword held aloft in one hand, shield buckled on to the other, seeking the nearest dragon who DARES rear his/her ugly head in the presence of the Little Prince’s family or pets (whom Little Prince is sworn to defend)!)

My granddaughter, on the other hand, is a vastly more ancient 7 years old, speaks of back-in-the-day as “when I was little”, and alternates between two general roles in their scenarios… playing “Damsel in Distress” to the Little Prince’s rescue efforts… or… his “Hall Monitor”. By this I mean that she often sees it as her own divinely appointed task to inform adults (particularly their mother) of any misdeeds or bending/breakage of rules, norms, mores, or regulations… of said Little Prince. Our Little Princess has long treated this task as her holy and sacred trust.  (Her parents work diligently to discourage and correct her for the annoyance of “tattling”, while at the same time dancing the fine line that… frankly… the straight-up intel is both valuable and (at times, perhaps even) life-saving. Little Prince can be VERY creative.)

OK, here’s the scene… daughter and I sitting in living room watching a movie… children playing quietly in “their room” in my house, where they can watch movies, scatter toys at random, and generally enjoy being as boisterous as they choose without adults nagging at them.

Suddenly… Little Prince breaks free of the dungeon and TEARS across living room into kitchen SCREAMING… “I DIDN’T DO IT!!!” Ducks out of view….

Daughter and I blink… look at one another… wait for sound of screaming or crashing or glass tinkling… we hear nothing. All is silence. No Little Prince. No Little Princess. No debris sounds. We shrug… I wonder if daughter can resist the temptation… she cannot… we hit “Pause” on our movie, as…

“Little Prince?” daughter ventures in a tentative voice… “What… precisely… is it, that you did not do?”

*crickets chirp in the silence…  until…. a moment later*

“I DIDN’T DO IT!!!” streaks the Little Prince, dashing back at top speed from the Kitchen back to the Play Room.

We continue to ponder these mysteries for a few seconds, as I wait to see how daring is “Mother-who-Must-be-Obeyed”, and whether she’ll decide to stand up and investigate or not. She decides discretion to be the better part of valor and as I reach to press “Play” there is just one final act to this minor melodrama…

Little Prince emerges one last time, stands in front of “Mother-who-Must…” and screams, “I DIDN’T DO IT!!!” and disappears back into the Play Room.

As Daughter and I ponder this, our Little Princess appears utterly casually bouncing a balloon in the air, into the foyer (where she can play balloon-volleyball).

“Um, Little Princess… is everything OK?” Daughter asks.

“Yup!” responds Little Princess, without hesitation.

Now, bear in mind… were there ANYTHING to REPORT, on the Little Prince… THIS would have been the moment seized without hesitation or remainder. But… NOTHING.

So… at this crossroads of horizon… this potential detective mystery… prudence won out. Nothing more emerged. The principle of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prevailed… we hit the “Play” button, and carried on with our quiet afternoon and movie.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


A few moments later, in the back of my spirit, the Lord began laughing uproariously. I was confused…

“Um… Lord?”

“Oh, Little Monk! You have NO idea…” as He continues to laugh in clear good humor.

“Huh?” I respond, with all the sophistication I could muster.

“I go through that ALL the TIME. You, your friends… all the time!”

I was confused.

“You’ll come running out to Me, screaming… ‘I didn’t DO it!’… about something-or-other you feel guilty about. Sometimes, you really DIDN’T, and of course I KNOW that… but you still think you have to convince Me of it. Sometimes, you DID… and of course I know that, too… but I took care of it, forgave and removed the stain of it… but you still think you have to lie to yourself, or to Me, or to others about it.

“In either case, you’ve been driven into a panic by a random prick of meaningless guilt! Scares you, disrupts our relationship, doesn’t accomplish a thing. Just meaningless noise.

“Beloved child, don’t let random ‘spirits of guilt’ prod you and panic you. My children do this to Me all the time. The Father and I just look at one another, blink, and laugh when you do this… much as you did there.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Little Monk, on your journey here… consider leaving behind these random barbs of meaningless guilt. They only distract and disturb you. When you experience conviction of spirit, yes… come sort that out with Me. But these little ‘stampede spirits’? Laugh, and dismiss them. They accomplish nothing.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hmmm… who’da thunk it? A 5 year old Little Prince… first sermon… not bad, eh?


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Martha… Mary… and Sleepwalking

In recent days after the tragic school shooting in Newtown, we’ve seen a marked change in people all around us. Often, those who were irritated or annoyed at the scamperings and antics of small children have become much more patient and tolerant. Many of us have treasured our own families and youngsters more. Countless thoughtful people have pondered how such a thing could happen, and how a repetition might be avoided.

In a Bible Study I attended that following weekend, the question was asked, “How is it that such events have such a profound impact on so many people?”

It seemed like people tend to draw together, to become more thoughtful, to treat one another better, after any earth-shattering tragedy, whether natural or man-made. I’ve seen this with hurricanes, with tornadoes, even severe winter storms. We saw this in the wake of the Towers coming down, the Oklahoma City Bombing, (for those old enough) the Challenger Shuttle Disaster, or (for the even older) the Assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King.

There is something utterly arresting about inconceivable tragedy. It draws our gaze hypnotically. We tend to watch the event over and over again on our television screens. We hover over our news outlets to glean every new detail as it surfaces. We start conversations with total strangers in public places, as if hungry for the simple human contact, like needing to assure ourselves that we are alive but the event really happened. And then we often close up into some nook or cranny for private reflection for a time. We have to process this… somehow we have to weave this anomaly into the fabric of our lives and sense of reality.

I won’t pretend to know the answer to “Why do we do this?” But I’ve observed one thing, whether a tragedy is individual and personal, or whether it ripples across an entire culture, country, or the world…

That is: Shocking tragedy focuses the attention on a single point and issue, like a laser beam.

It seems as if the event, whatever it is, sits in the middle of a table in front of us, like a gigantic centerpiece. We can hardly take our eyes off it. We can hardly discuss anything else. All the other events of our lives that go on around us, seem filtered and interpreted in light of this Centerpiece Event.

My personal theory is that we relate, personally, to such an event as Newtown. We see our own children or grandchildren as having been potential targets. We feel the pain of heartbroken parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. We hug our own loved ones just a bit closer, grateful that we are where we are, and Newtown is where it is. Suddenly, nearly instantly, these sometimes “annoying little people” are SIGNIFICANT! These relationships are the most important things in our lives, and everything else seems a bit trivial. Little handprints on windows and mirrors can be wiped off, broken lamps can be replaced. But these precious loved ones, these relationships… THESE are fragile. These are irreplaceable.

There is a profound truth beneath all of this, that we seldom see so clearly. The truth is: These relationships are real and important, and our “stuff” with which we usually keep ourselves so very busy… is not. Each of us are granted one single “lifetime”, and we have absolutely no idea how long or short that is. It is measured, moment by moment, in breaths and heartbeats granted by our infinitely loving and gracious God, from His breath to ours as free gift. And we, unutterably privileged as we are, get to decide how we spend them.

Centerpiece Events, like Newtown, tend to remind us of this… and prompt us to think and deliberate just a little bit, on how we spend them. It’s as if we spend much of our day sleepwalking, just doing what we do because it’s there in front of us to be done, with little reflection or question. Then a Centerpiece Event explodes on our horizon like a thunderclap, suddenly jolting us from our somnambulence and reverie into uncomfortable wakefulness.

There’s the fundamental battle of the Christian Life. The constant tension between the Significant and the trivial, the Important and the meaningless, the Truth and the facts. It doesn’t seem to matter how often we hear the lesson… sometimes we just need to hear it again, don’t we?

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But The Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-42

As with all scripture, there’s a vast array of Truth contained in this narrative, but The Lord focuses me here on just the issue at hand. Jesus quietly contrasts the Significant from the Trivial in His response to Martha. I hear this message echoed throughout these days both individually, and institutionally.

There’s a few things to notice here, between Mary and Martha. One, it is clearly Martha’s house, that is, she is the elder of the sisters. It is SHE who invites Jesus in, and scripture says she “welcomed him into her home”. Of Mary we see two things… both what she DID (listened to the Lord’s word), and where/how she did it (seated at His feet, a posture and location of a student or child). We see her fixed attention on who Jesus is, what Jesus is (teacher and Lord), and what Jesus says. She chooses to spend her time, her heartbeats, on her relationship with Him, on the attention she can give to Him as He speaks, and the blessing she can receive from Him as she hears and learns.

Martha, on the other hand, chooses to expend her heartbeats on different priorities. Please notice, these are not BAD priorities, not “wrongful acts” or what anyone could consider “sin”. They are just different than Mary’s. Martha is the hostess of The Lord, and goes about the activities appropriate to the role, preparing the place, the meal, possibly His lodgings if He is staying for the night. The Gospel tells us these preparations “distract” her, taking her attention away from focus on her Guest directly, placing her “preparation agenda” higher than her “relationship” directly with Him. When she DOES address Him, in fact, we see a remarkable thing. She tries to “use” Him, to “leverage His authority” to get Him to enter into her agenda, and rebuke her sister, forcing Mary to aid in her work.

Just short of rebuke, we see Jesus respond with a simple, “No.” No, He will not yield to Martha’s will here. Mary has got it right, Martha has missed the point, and Jesus will not “play her game”.

In short, Mary has chosen the “Significant”, Martha the “trivial”, and Jesus is not about to move the right person the wrong direction. Mary rests in her relationship with Jesus, listening and adoring. Martha seeks to “work for” Jesus, doing all these things she can do to be pleasing to Him and to look like a good hostess in His sight.

Jesus says Mary has chosen the “good part”.

Now, this passage is often preached and taught in terms of the contrast of time expenditure between “prayer” and “ministry of action” or “works”. And that is certainly true. For traditions that recognize the distinctions between the contemplative and the active in ministry, this passage is iconic as illustrating that contrast. All such teaching is true, good, and real.

But for just a moment let’s look at this another way. As individuals, especially in light of these momentary “wake up calls” we get when we focus on shocking tragedy, don’t we seem to experience these “Mary/Martha” moments? Don’t we tend to live our lives, day to day, in something of a “Martha Mode”? Aren’t we constantly keeping ourselves busy and distracted, even as Christians, “doing stuff FOR Jesus”, rather than focused on just “being WITH Jesus” and enjoying the fellowship, the close intimacy, of that?

In terms of the current discussion, by the way, I’m not talking so much about “prayer” or “religious” activity as being Jesus’ focus. To show my age, for a moment, I’m saying “The Medium is the Message”. That Jesus said the Significant was “relationship and intimacy, mutual enjoyment”, and what was trivial was “preparation, busy-ness, and activity”. THIS is the truth we are reminded of in a tragedy. When there IS something concrete and helpful to be done, as in the aftermath of a disaster, by all means we do that! But even there, even then, we tend to be more focused on people, on their hearts, on their needs for comfort and fellowship, than simply on their hunger or thirst.

Institutionally, as we gather as “Church”, do we not see this same dynamic at play week after week? Is it an uncomfortable question to ask, “Are we, as a Body of Christ and local church, more concerned with our busy-ness, our activities, our schedule, our ‘preparations’, than we are about our relationships… both to the lost and the community around us, and among ourselves?”

It is SUCH an easy slippery slope to slide into… at least for me! Like gravity pulls the chocolate to the bottom of a glass of chocolate milk over time. Tragedy seems to “stir the glass” from time to time, emulsifying and rebalancing the Significant with other activity. Reminding us of the sacredness of people, and the importance of relationships and touching hearts, beyond simply “maintaining the mechanics of our ministries”.

Need concrete examples? Am I sounding too “theoretical”? Well, I’ve caught myself becoming so enslaved to my daily calendar that I’ve sometimes hesitated to respond to someone’s urgent need for a counseling appointment because my calendar dictates that that afternoon I’m doing shut-in visits. Or I’ve seen a query made to a vibrant adolescent youth ministry in a church (touching teens who are often the “only Christian” in their unchurched homes) from church financial leaders asking, “How often do your youth go get seconds at the Wednesday night supper, and why?”

Gentle Reader, so often I am asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “How can a loving all-powerful God allow such tragedy and evil?” I make no pretense of having the answers to these questions. I bow my head to the nature of “mystery”, and to the Father’s thoughts above my own. But I can tell you this… I can see one “effect” of such things… they are huge wake-up calls to the “Significant” versus the “trivial”. Am I saying this is “Why?”, or that “God does or allows this for such and such reason?” Absolutely not! No such thing! Only He can answer for Himself in such matters…

But, Gentle Reader, I am so a work in progress… yet so frail and subject to the trivial… and, from what I observe, I am not alone in this. So, in my own life, such events provide FOCUS on what Jesus declared to be the “good part”… the relationship, the sacredness, the fellowship. And that I should never EVER see my relationship with Him (or, frankly with anyone else) as a simple “means to an end” of executing my own agenda and To-Do List.

Are “activities” good things? Are there real chores in Kingdom? Of course. Jesus had the disciples do many things, conduct many activities, perform many chores. But each of them were in response to relationships in two directions: One, obedience to Him. Two, meeting the needs of others. Relationship is the “good part”, and “activity” is in the service of the former.

My prayer, then is: “Dear Lord, please use me to extend Your love and grace to others through relationship as the most important item on my agenda. Help me attend to the Significant, rather than getting caught up in the trivial. When I pull all my activities and busy-ness about me like a cloak, I only puff myself up seeking Your recognition of my merit and my significance, and that is foolish illusion. Let me treasure Your sacred children, and relationships, with Your heart and Spirit… without having to rely on the reminder of tragedies to waken me from my sleepwalking. Amen.”

Please keep me, and my frailty, in your prayers, Gentle Readers! Grace to you all.

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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized


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