Friday, July 6, 2007
THE HAZARDOUS JOURNEY
In due time their foot will slip. Their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.. The Lord will judge his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do -- this I keep on doing.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death... But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
The Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me... Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I stay dose to you; your right hand upholds me.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.
Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth. My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the Lord.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Deuteronomy 32: 35-36a; Psalm 73: 2-3; Romans 7: 18-19; Ezekiel 36: 25-26; Psalm 25: 15; Psalm 13: 2, 3 and 5; Daniel 11: 35; Proverbs 3: 26; Psalm 51: 10-12; Ephesians 2: 10; 2 Corinthians 3: 17; Psalm 63: 1, 6-8; Psalm 139: 17-18; Psalm 26:2-3 and 12; Psalm 32: 8; Psalm 37:4 -- all NIV)
There is a view of Christian guidance that I learnt in youth group that God is in control -- commend the day to God, sit back and see God's hand at work. This optimistic view is expressed by Alexander Pope in a poem which concludes, 'Whatever is, is right.'
So I wove my way through life -- thankful for God's goodness, trying to be loving, avoiding the nasty things and knowing God is achieving his purposes. I look back now and feel God would not have been impressed by this 'loyalty' which avoided taking my responsibilities and sinfulness more seriously. But it was a case of 'Give as much of yourself that you know, to as much of God that you know.'
The innocence of this approach vanished when I could no longer weave around problems and 'crashed' into little pieces, and others were involved in my accident -wounded, hurt and wondering about 'my' God and 'my' faith. Was this a God achieving his 'good plan' or was he just a monster? I had betrayed him badly to myself and others and needed to reorientate my life, discovering again his forgiveness, his unconditional love and care in putting the pieces back together in his good time.
For me this involved taking responsibility, little by little, for myself -- my actions and decisions. That was tough when I wanted everyone to like me. This involved finding new paths to follow and learning to live with tensions -finding a balance between extremes of dependence and independence; acting and reflecting; death and life. The simplicity of the past had been replaced by a creative tension in the present which is reflected in the sign on my bathroom mirror:
You are looking at the face of the person who is responsible for your happiness today. Good morning, Jesus; thank you for loving me; what have you got going today?
Yes, on some mornings this has been tough to face as I have felt lonely, not knowing who I really was; concerned as to what others thought, as making choices was tough and living with the consequences somewhat frightening. So what way to go often involved scary paths as Robert Frost suggests in his poem, 'The Road Not Taken':
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Obviously there will be surprises, particularly in who you may find on this road. In expressing this journey I wrote the following:
As I look up and down this tortured path there are climbers labouring hard and long.
There is a joy and peace that lights up their faces both fresh and veined, their voices are music to me.
Can you hear?
Yes, of course, for you hum the tunes, those travellers' songs.
It all takes a lot of getting used to, reorientating attitudes while trying to be open. Choices just had to be made day by day in ways that often led to new paths while I was also facing old hurts, questions and consequences of decisions. Gordon MacDonald speaks of this pain:
It was not a one-time choice. We made it again and again as time passed. A score of ways could be found to bring back the pain. And each time the choice had to be made again. Would we fight the pain or permit it to be the environment in which God speaks? Usually, we chose the latter. And when for a moment we strayed toward the former, something seemed to happen to soon remind us that there was a better way.
That better way involved picking up the pieces with God's support and this is how I saw it while meditating on Psalm 34:
I need your helping hand again, 0 Lord,
for I feel thrown down, not able to rise... Lead on, my Lord!
A guilt complex is not another name for a sense of sin. Indeed, a guilt complex can sometimes obscure the reality of our sinfulness. It causes us to look within ourselves or at those around us, and it tempts us to seek excuses for our sinful behaviour ('I can't help it: I'm made that way'). A sense of sin, on the other hand, points us to God and leaves us with nothing to say about ourselves except that we are sinners.
John Gunstone, Free in Christ
Because I am human, I will fall; because I have been redeemed, I am able to rise again. To listen with my mind already made up is an empty gesture. Only when I allow the voice of God to release my inner freedom from the bonds of pride and wilfulness that enslave me can I discover the purpose for which I alone was made. My role in the world: to be his servant, inspiring others by my relaxed and joyful incarnation of Christ within the limits of my abilities.
Adrian Van Kaam & Susan Muto, Am I Living a Spiritual Life
And then he allows some of us to fall more severely and distressingly than before -- at least that is how we see it. And then it seems to us, who are not always wise, that all we set our hands to is lost. But it is not so. We need to fall, and we need to see that we have done so. For if we never fell we should not know how weak and pitiable we are in ourselves. Nor should we fully know the wonderful love of our Maker.
In heaven we shall see truly and everlastingly that we have grievously sinned in this life; notwithstanding, we shall see that this in no way diminished his love, nor made us less precious in his sight.
The testing experience of falling will lead us to a deep and wonderful knowledge of the constancy of God's love, which neither can nor will be broken because of sin. To understand this is of great profit.
Julian of Norwich
So we are called to wholeness and simultaneously to recognise our incompleteness; called to power and to acknowledge our weakness; called to both individuation and interdependence. Thus the problem -- indeed, the total failure -- of the 'ethic' of rugged individualism is that it runs with only one side of this paradox, incorporates only one half of our humanity. It recognises that we are called to individuation, power and wholeness. But it denies entirely the other part of the human story: that we can never fully get there and that we are, of necessity in our uniqueness, weak and imperfect creatures who need each other.
M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum
'There are only two ways out of chaos,' I will explain to a group after it has spent a sufficient period of time squabbling and getting nowhere. 'One is into organisation -- but organisation is never community. The only other way is into and through emptiness.'
M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum
We can never escape from obedience to God... When we have the feeling that on some occasion we have disobeyed God, it simply means that for a time we have ceased to desire obedience. Of course it must be understood that, where everything else is equal, we do not perform the same actions if we give our consent to obedience as if we do not; just as a plant, where everything else is equal, does not grow in the same way if it is in the light as if it is in the dark. The plant does not have any control or choice in the matter of its own growth. As for us, we are like plants which have the one choice of being in or out of the light.
Simone Weil, Waiting On God
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home -Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene -- one step enough for me.
John H. Newman, 'The Pillar of the Cloud'
The way we see, interpret and react to whatever happens to us is the important thing. Sometimes the very worst thing that may happen to us can bring about the best thing that could ever happen in us. And we must assume this responsibility for what happens in us. We must assume responsibility for our attitudes. Only if we accept this responsibility can we grow through the various circumstances of life.
John Powell, The Christian Vision
There are men and women who reach their twenties with a strong sense of dependence motivating their life. They are afraid to take charge of their own being and consciously or unconsciously find themselves in a relationship or situation of continuing dependence... The dependent person may remain so throughout life. A significant proportion, however, begin to emerge from their dependence in the mid-thirties to the fifties. Gradually they find the confidence to take increasing charge of their own life. They seek greater control over their destiny and they challenge authority..,. The challenge can be defiant or quietly assertive, but a new life is certainly born whose resolution is implacable.
Gerald O'Collins, The Second Journey
Self-knowledge, the beginning of wisdom, is ruled out for most people by the increasingly effective self-deception they practise as they grow older. By middle age, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves. Yet there's a surprising usefulness in learning not to lie to yourself.
John Gardner, Self Renewal
We grow in self-awareness not only by introspection but by tackling the jobs that lie to hand, by measuring our strength and skill against taxing work and difficult people. In middle and later Life after the heat of the struggle to succeed is over and such measure of success as we have attained has lost all its novelty and most of its charm, then especially we are ready to devote energy to the task of gaining deeper self-awareness. Until we know ourselves, we cannot really possess ourselves. And until we possess ourselves and have the inner peace that comes from self-possession, we shall find it impossible to relate to other people except either by trying to possess and dominate them or by letting them possess or dominate us.
Christopher Bryant, The River Within
C.S. Lewis wrote, 'To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.' He goes on to say that if you keep your heart intact, it will become 'unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable'. Because the more I commit myself to a person, the greater the pain I shall feel when he lets me down or hurts or rejects or avoids me.
Also, it is only when I am close to another that I see the 'speck' in her eye and then learn the painful truth that the speck in her eye is simply a reflection of the log that is in mine. I haven't yet met a Christian anywhere in the world with a deep mature love who hasn't gone through considerable suffering in the area of relationships. So, the pressures and pains in our relationships can, if we learn to forgive and be forgiven, produce this rare and fragrant love.
David Watson, Through the Year with David Watson
But in life, wherever else we are, we are always also on the Delectable Mountains from which we can catch a glimpse of the Celestial City... The necessary conflicts of our life are for the time being resolved. And we experience a foretaste of their final and permanent resolution.
God, we believe, accepts us, accepts all persons, unconditionally, warts and all. Laughter is the purest form of our response to God's acceptance of us. For when I laugh at myself I accept myself and when I laugh at other people in genuine mirth I accept them. Self-acceptance in laughter is the very opposite of self-satisfaction or pride ... In laughing at my own claims of importance or regard I receive myself in a sort of loving forgiveness which is an echo of God's forgiveness of me.
Altogether, I suggest that laughter is the best and clearest reflection we ever get in this world of God's love for his creation. In laughter we see the Celestial City in what is more than a passing glimpse.
Harry Williams, Tensions
O Lord, journeying is fun sometimes, but at other times I'm exhausted and discouraged. I come to you for strength: physical, emotional and spiritual. I need to sort out a few things first. The way you do things is often so mysterious; why do you allow me to stumble along and fall down ? At other times your protection is breathtaking. I find you have saved me yet again -- Thanks! I am slow to learn that your ways are different to my limited ways of thinking and acting. Thanks for being patient, merciful and forgiving! I am not sure I am honest with you and others. Lord, help me to deal with anything I'm resenting in others that I haven't honestly faced.
Lord, I don't want just a surface change, so please reach into the depths of my being -- to cleanse, reorientate and transform with your healing hand. I don't want to wander around in circles and get nowhere. Lord, unless you give me light, I will never know who I am. So please help to find more unity between my conscious and unconscious that will help me find wholeness and direction for the journey ahead.
Lord, take your knife and cut away at the tendency towards dishonesty and self deception. Thank you for the assurance of your forgiveness. Please take my hand and lead on through the 'valley of the shadow' as well as the treacherous hillside. Guide my feet across the rocky terrain and around the many traps. Thank you for journeying with me. I don't want to leave your side for the rest of my life, so Lord, please lead on. Amen.
For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so I will seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them... And I will bring them out... and gather them... and I will feed them... I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep... I will seek the lost and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, RSV
Rivers in the Desert ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 117-126