Category Archives: Spiritual Disciplines

One Word for 2015: Wonder

Into the water

Wonder

Few things are more beautiful than to see a person filled with wonder. More often than not it is children that experience this sense of wonder when faced with a world that they are still trying to understand.

The capacity to experience wonder is the capacity to be surprised, to be amazed, to understand that there is something worth noticing in the world. In my own experience, my capacity for wonder has decreased with age, perhaps I am not alone in this. As a child, the moon followed me, but as an adult, it is simply large and ever-present. As a child, a second grade classroom blackboard could be the screen of the starship Enterprise and I was the helmsman, but as an adult it is simply the blackboard of a second grade classroom. As a child, snow was a magical gift, but as an adult it is simply ice crystals which form when the weather is sufficiently cold.

I am glad that I understand more than I did as a child, however, my struggle is that my capacity for wonder has drastically decreased, and more often than not, I function as a workhorse with blinders so as not to be distracted from the corner of my eye.

But it is distraction and wonder which saved God’s people from slavery in Egypt, as Moses noticed a curious sight: a bush that was burning but was not consumed, and decided to take a closer look at this strange and surprising sight. What would have happened had Moses simply kept his head down and focused on his work? What would have happened had he not had the capacity for wonder and allowed that wonder to take the driver’s seat, if only for a few moments? Surely God would have still effected the liberation of God’s people, but the story would certainly read differently.

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My entries here have been relatively sparse over the past year, partly because of things going on in my life, but also partly because I have been struggling with my own capacity for wonder. It is so easy to operate in life without experiencing life. When I don’t notice, when I don’t wonder, I find it hard to write. But even more, I find it hard to see something which causes me to step aside and experience wonder, to see the presence of God in the periphery.

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This year, I have chosen a word for this new year, something which has been relatively popular as of late. This will give me a single word, a single concept on which to reflect during the year in my spiritual and personal growth and development. This year I will be growing my capacity for wonder — to be amazed, surprised, to notice and truly see beauty in the myriad of forms which it comes.

I look forward to exploring wonder during this year, and I hope that you will journey with me in this.

After all, it is only when we have a capacity for wonder that we can experience the omnipresence of the divine in the daily (and often mundane) activities of life.

The Fourth Magus

20140108-104139.jpgI think that next Epiphany, I am going to add a fourth magus to my nativity.

Why do we sing “We Three Kings…” and place three figures when we are never told that there were actually three? Why not two, or twenty?

Far from trying to be difficult, though, my desire to add a fourth magus has everything to do with my own experience of the story and the way that I can enter into the story.

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Different people focus at different points of the story. Me? I am drawn to the very end, the post-script, you could say. There is, at the very end, a transition sentence. This sentence serves as a bridge between the visit of the magi and the flight to Egypt. But this sentence is far more than simply a transition sentence, it could be, I think, the actual high point of the story.

“…they left for their own country by another road” (Mt. 2:12, NRSV).

The Greek word used here for “road” (NIV uses “route”) can refer to a literal road or highway. It can also refer more figuratively to a journey, and it can also be used to refer to a way of life ( for example, “I’ve been down that road before…).

I wonder what it was like for the magi, as they were packing up to leave.

Read the rest at That Reformed Blog

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

The title of this post comes from Luke 11:1.  This is the point in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus gives his disciple the words, which will become known as The Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father.  It is always interesting, because Matthew and Luke give slightly different versions of this prayer.  The version that many of us know comes from Matthew’s Gospel, although in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “‘Pray then in this way:'”, and in Luke Jesus says, “‘When you pray, say:'”.  Thus, Matthew gives us a model and Luke gives us a prayer, but the prayer that we all know comes from Matthew’s Gospel.

These are all heavy and important subjects and topics, things which are essential to survival and essential to a healthy physical and spiritual life. These petitions almost sound as though our life depends on praying.

Some how, prayer has become something which is good for us to do, but it really doesn’t change anything.  Others think that prayer is good because it changes us, still others think that the idea that we can communicate with a deity is crazy.  I think that these are all hopelessly deficient understandings of prayer.

The idea that prayer is good because it changes us rather than influencing God is something that makes sense when we are in a good situation, when we can rely on ourselves, and when our needs are more or less taken care of.  When we feel as though we don’t need to depend on God for much of our existence, we can easily think about prayer as something that really doesn’t matter, something that changes us, something that doesn’t influence God.  However, this is tragic, because this is a hopelessly fatalistic understanding of God and our relationship to God.  The idea that prayer doesn’t really affect God makes for a hopeless existence.

One of the many things that I have been learning from my congregation is the importance of praying like my life depends on it.  For many people, their life does depend on it, or they have had times in which their life has depended on it.  When we feel as though our lives are not in our control, God becomes all the more important, and communicating with God becomes crucial to our very existence.

There is one person in particular that prays with so much passion.  I refuse to use the term “prayer warrior”, it’s a terrible term.  But even without listening to the words, you can hear the passion and desperation in this person’s voice.  You can see that this person prays as if their life depends on it, as if the whole world depends on it.  It is not so much a burden that everything depends on their prayer, but this person prays in such a way that it matters.  This is often something that we have lost.  My prayers have typically been asking requests, but in my heart of hearts, I often don’t expect that it matters.  I haven’t felt as though I have really had to depend on God for my daily bread, I’ve been able to purchase that, I don’t feel like I really depended on God to keep me from the time of trial, I’ve always been quite safe.

This is an area in which I need to grow, I need to learn to pray as though my life depends on it, and I need to pray in such a way that I actually expect that it matters.  More and more, I find myself asking, “Lord, teach me to pray.”  As a pastor, this is a humbling experience, but on the other hand, I’m a human being just like everyone else.  So I continue to ask that God would teach me to pray, and I continue learning from people that God has placed in my life.

Lord…teach us to pray.

Pastoral Imagination

One thing, I will call it a spiritual discipline, that I am working on practicing is that of imagination.  In order for me to minister effectively and to be an effective pastor, I need to have a vivid imagination when I view my world.

It is very easy to look around my church and see only the surface.  I see the water damage, and places where the water continues to seep in through the walls.  I see the cracked plaster, imperfections in the walls, paint that has suffered decades of life and is dirty and smudged.  Places where the carpet is torn, and places where there is more tape than carpet.  I can look out at the neighborhood and see pieces of trash littering the edging of the curbs, I see condemned houses with the windows and doors boarded up.  I see houses with broken windows which are covered in plastic in an attempt to keep the rain, snow, and wind at bay.  I see graffiti tags on the sidewalks, buildings, and signs, broken picket fences.

The problem arises if I am not able to look past the surface.  If all that I every see is only the above, no fruit will ever arise out of my time here.  I need the imagination to be able to see past the surface, to see what lies below the surface, to see not only what is, but what could be.

The question I must continually ask myself is this: can I imagine the new heaven and new earth in the midst of our neighborhood?  If I can’t imagine this, then I have no vision for the future, and if I have no vision for the future, I cannot carry on ministering to my congregation and my community.  A vivid imagination is not just wishful thinking, it is the practice of hope.

“Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).  Imagination does not always lead to hope, but hope always requires imagination.  In order to have a concrete hope, we need to be able to imagine something more than what is.  It is this imagination that leads to hope that allows us to remain steadfast.  The word translated as “patience” above can also be translated as steadfastness, perseverence, fortitude, endurance.  So this is not simply being patient as in passively waiting for something to happen, but hope allows us to remain steadfast, to have endurance, to continue to persevere.

If there was nothing more to our church or our neighborhood than meets the eye, than it would be pointless to try to live into our calling, because all that will be, already is.  However, if we can have the imagination to see below the surface, which drives us to hope that God can transform our neighborhood and our church, that drives us on into the future, that drives us to discern our calling and to try to live it out, this drives us to continue ministering in our neighborhood, and to continue our small ministry, in our small neighborhood, in the midst of a big city.

The development of pastoral imagination is something that I need to work on, and it is something that I need to continue to grow in, and something for which to ask for grace, because it is central to pastoral ministry, not only here, but everywhere.