Aloneness that Feels Like Community

We are three weeks into Lent and I keep returning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, specifically his offer to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” The rhythm I’ve noticed lately is his rhythm of aloneness that feels like community.

Jesus spent time with people and created community wherever he travelled. He also often made time to be alone. His friend Luke tells us,

“The news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)

The “wilderness” in Greek is a place that is solitary and uninhabited by other people at the time. Put simply, it is a place to be alone. This rhythm of Jesus does not appear to be aloneness for the sake of being by himself, as in an escape from crowds. It is instead a place to be alone with the Father. As I see it, Jesus had a rhythm of aloneness that actually felt more like community than being with others.

I have experienced glimpses of aloneness that feels like community. Through developing a rhythm of quiet over the years, of being with God and God alone, something mysterious has happened. I feel a sense of communion with God as Father, Son, Spirit as I sit in the quiet in the presence of God. A number of years ago I wrote a prayer in the front of my journal that I read each morning. The prayer ends with this:

As I sit here this morning with you as Father, Son, Spirit I am simply continuing the dance, this ongoing conversation, this ongoing relationship that You have invited me into. I am engaged, all of me is here with you. Speak Holy Trinity for I am listening.

 

Begin the Day by Sleeping

I have struggled with sleeplessness off an on in my adult life. The common theme when sleeplessness sets in is worry. My mind races and I tend to try to do two main things: solve problems in my head on my own or play out possible scenarios for whatever is consuming my thoughts. As I continue during Lent to consider  the “unforced rhythms of grace” that Jesus offers, I wonder what His life has to say in regards to sleep.

The fact that Jesus slept at all is a great reminder of his humanity. He had the biggest mission statement in history and yet he slept. Maybe if part of it had to do with his Jewish outlook on when the day begins. A new day begins at sundown in Jewish culture and the first gift of God for the new day is rest. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the unforced rhythm that Jesus offers regarding sleep is to see it as a gift from God. Even Jesus received this gift from his Father.

We have the opportunity to join Jesus in beginning our day by sleeping. I believe the first gift God wants to give us each day is sleep. It’s practical surrender, and I know Jesus is very interested in us learning to live a surrendered life. When my mind begins to spin or wander as I lay my head on the pillow, I remind myself that I’m not God, I’m off duty, He’s got it. I’m off the hook, it’s not up to me. May we receive this unforced rhythm of Jesus as we learn to see sleep as a gift.

Living with Rhythms

As I mentioned on Ash Wednesday, I am exploring rest during Lent this year. Specifically, during these opening days of Lent I am looking at Jesus statement in Matt 11:29: Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. It seems Jesus is offering rhythms, rhythms that we can lean into or reject.

As I type the word rhythm it makes me think of Father Rock. He is a retired Catholic priest who lived from age 70-85 in the hills of Oregon in a private lake community. He spent his “retirement” walking with men by having them join him at “Rockhaven” (his home) for a two-day retreat. I was able to return to Rock Haven once or twice a year for ten years and it was wonderful!

One of Rock’s staple teachings is ROD (Rhythm, Order, Discipline). Father Rock’s teaches how Jesus lived his life with Rhythm, Order and Discipline. According to Rock, RHYTHM is: that which occurs regularly, what is repeated and expected. The human body has natural rhythms, thus rhythm is helpful to the accomplishment of all things human.

How do we develop Rhythm in our life? (Father Rock)

  1. Plan your day with broad expectation
  2. Set priorities from urgency, importance, helpfulness
  3. Do what needs to be done today
  4. Take care of peoples’ needs first, then work things
  5. Make prayer part of your daily rhythm
  6. Do major work when you have major energy

These insights from Father Rock are practically helpful for me to look at as I begin a new day/week.

Two Fundamental Directions of Life

How is it already Week 4 of Lent? I recently began reading St. Ignatius Rules for Spiritual Discernment. These Rules are incredibly insightful! I spent last week looking at the First Rule:

First Rule. In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.

In his book, The Discernment of Spirits, Timothy Gallagher simplifies Ignatius’ First Rule by noting that two basic directions emerge in a person’s life. The first is a movement away from God and toward a self-indulgent life in which moral boundaries are ignored. The second is movement toward God and away from a self-indulgent life. (pg 31)

During this season of Lent, a time to consciously move away from sinful tendencies in our lives and move toward a growing relationship with God, the Rules of St Ignatius can provide needed path. It is helpful to realize or remember that we have an Enemy that is seeking to “kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10) our lives. It is equally important to consider St. Ignatius’ comment about the “good spirit” in the last sentence of the First Rule. The “good spirit” is understood by Ignatius as comprehensive. The “good spirit” includes God as Father, Son and Spirit, as well as the angels. You are I are drawn toward God by the “good spirit”. May the fundamental direction in our lives be movement toward God and away from a self-indulgent life.

Have You Lost What is Most Dear?

In continuing the look at Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5, the second “blessed” in the Message translation is,

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:4)

What is most dear to you? I thought I lost what was most dear to me many years ago. As we know, love is a basic human need. I believe there is validity to the 5 Love Languages book that came out years ago. I took the test back then and realized that my primary love language is physical touch. I took me years after reading that book to realize that I did not receive physical touch on a daily and sometime even weekly basis. My mom left town when I was 7 and my dad remarried quickly to a lady who had a son my age. Any affection she had to give was toward her birth son, not my siblings or me. My dad had four young kids and a high-pressure job, so physical touch wasn’t on his radar.

As a young man I began to crave physical touch. I entered into a number of short-term relationships with girls trying to get my need met. Each relationship would last about three months, then I would break it off because emotional closeness was being offered along with the physical touch. That was too much for me.

When Anna and I married I thought physical touch was most dear to me. After all that was my love language. It turns out that seeking physical touch without relational vulnerability, intimacy and connection doesn’t work. Confused and hurt on why I wasn’t getting my love “need” met, I turned to God to meet the void I was feeling.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”

Did you see it. “Only then” Ofte we have to loose something in order to gain something. In my case I lost the counterfeit promise that physical touch alone could meet my longing. This allowed me to be “embraced by the One most dear.” The embrace of the One has become the primary embrace in my life. Practically, spending time each day sitting in silence with God as Father, Son and Spirit provides a mysterious embrace and meets a deeper longing than I knew I had.

What is most dear to you and have you lost it?

From Control to Kingdom

We are a few weeks into Lent, almost. Have you been able to put your finger on what you would like to move away from and what you would like to move toward? Lately I have been reading the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5 over and over. I like reading Matthew 5:1-12 in the Message translation. I’ve found that these teaching of Jesus can help us identify what we want to move away from and what we want to move toward.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matt 5:3)

Really? Jesus begins there. Who wants to be at the end of their rope? I know I don’t. I like having things figured out. I like knowing what is going to happen and when. The end of the rope does not feel good. So why does Jesus say we are blessed when we are at the end of our rope?

My friend Doug Barrem is 79 years old going on 59. He has a sharp mind and has taken good care of his body over the years. He is wise beyond his years, and that is saying something.  Recently he was reading Matthew 5 and saw something new in Jesus’ teaching. He showed me that each one of the “Your blessed…” is an invitation to lose something or order to gain something. Matthew 5:3, according to Doug, is an invitation to loose power in order to gain the Kingdom.

I think I hear what Jesus was saying, along with my friend Doug. The more we release control and power, there more room there is for God to be who he is in our lives. Maybe that is something to move away from, control and power. Jesus teaches as we move away from control and power we naturally moved toward the Kingdom.

Finding the Father

Our 5 year-old daughter Hadassah, our youngest, finds me in the morning. Most mornings of the week I leave the house early before our kids awake, but on the weekend Hadassah wakes up first and she finds me. I have a few places I like to sit in the house. She looks for me, finds me, crawls into my lap and sits there in my arms. (I know, she’s 5 it surprises me too that she just sits there for a while)

Each morning Hadassah finds me she enters into my morning ritual of sitting with the Father. It has become my favorite thing to do. To sit, to listen, to be still. So I sit there with the Father and in comes my daughter to sit with her father. I promise I am not making this up to make a point or be poetic, or give a visual of what is offered to us each morning through a growing intimate relationship with God the Father. I am just letting you in on what is happening, real time, in my own life and in the life of our youngest daughter.

If you have young kids chances are you are experiencing or have experienced the joy and exhaustion of young kids wanting as much face time with you as possible. They will take as much as they can get. Especially that one-on-one, on the floor down on their level, playing the games they choose. Or the time right before bed when they ask for one more story, one more song, one more kiss.

It’s hard to imagine sometimes but it is true, in fact the truest reality there is, that you and I have a Father who can’t get enough of us. He is with us, giving us as much time and attention as we want. And his favorite time is that one-on-one, on the floor down on our level, playing the games we choose. And somehow, in a mysterious way you are his favorite one.