Tag Archives: the spiritual life

Safe? a six and half year journey or so.

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I had been laying on the carpet so long that it had left impressions on my face and arm that begin to ting with slight pricks of pain.  Furthermore, my mind and heart were stinging with heavy convictions.

It was fall 2007 amidst the energy and excitement of the global leadership summit.  John Ortberg had just spoken about the leadership of Esther.  As the story goes, Esther was “called to the kingdom for such a time” to advocate mercy for her people in a moment of dire need.  Ortberg went on to say that though she had received a mission from God she was also offered a shadow mission.  She could use her gifts, talents, abilities, position and influence to advance God’s purposes or she could use them to advance her own ambition and some worldly agenda.  Thus just on the other side of God’s mission for her was the possibility to live an entirely different life.  The former required great risk, even the risk of her own life, the other played into the cultural and societal expectations and was far safer.

I picked my face up from the carpet rug placed over the sacristy floor and looked up at the large cross against the wall.  “Whoever wants to follow me,” Jesus said, must first take up their cross.” The sacristy was the name for our community’s prayer room.  I was here in the middle of the summit wrestling with the implications of my mission and calling in light of the possibility that I could be or could become enamored with living only a shadow of the mission God had on my life.  I could look to what culture said with what I was endowed—an intellectual gifting, a fearless sense of adventure, a fierce passion, a same-gendered orientation of eros, and capable agency of my giftings in academia—and I could make a bold life for myself or I could lay it at the foot of this cross and say take me, take all of me and do what thou wilt but only thy will be done in me and around me and not my own save that it has so collided and conformed to thine that it has become wholly yours.

What did I want?  What do I still want?  The language of the will is the language of the heart and to say that I was going to lay down my life for King Jesus was nothing less than to give him my heart.  The great anxiety of our time, in my generation, and especially in that season of my life is how do I say the I in I do, if I don’t know who I am?  The use of bridal language is completely appropriate because the life of commitment to Jesus is always caught up in the larger call to come out of the world and to be conjoined to a people who are configured, mystically, into the bride of Christ.  He is, as some speak of him, our Bridegroom King.

The Lord revealed to me in that prayer that my heart was lost, consequently I didn’t know who I was, and I needed to go on a journey with the Lord in finding my heart.  He used the analogy of a cave in which I would encounter the past and present, engage in spiritual warfare and walk into the future with God.  The goal was to gain my heart back, he told me further that there was a war in my soul over my heart.  He was beckoning me to fight, to take up arms in the strength of the Lord and his mighty power.  He also mentioned, at times, that brothers would join me in this fight as I allowed them, under the Lord’s leading, into the cave.

Juxtaposed with this picture, the Father told me that he knew where every broken fragment and piece of my heart was and he loved every part and was going to bring it into wholeness.  He was going to heal my heart and that my heart already existed in its whole form within his heart and that to gain my heart I must pursue his.

It’s been six and a half years since then.  David spent a few years cave dwelling between his anointing and call and his walking into the fulfillment of that call.  In Christ, we are all called into a  prophetic, priestly and kingly life.  It’s part of our inheritance as baptized children of God, adopted by God’s Spirit in the kingdom-family of His Son.  So how has this journey gone?

A few lessons learned along the way:

1) We receive our identity in the place of encounter with Christ and never on our own or elsewhere.  Apart from the light of Christ, the nous; i.e. the eye of the soul, and the cosmos; i.e. the world, have become a haunt and abode for wicked and deceiving spirits who bring perverted knowledge.  Therefore, introspection and experience or the words of others in the world are unreliable sources of constructing our identity and we must encounter and receive from Christ our true identities like Peter did when he first confessed upon revelation from the Father that Jesus was indeed the Lord’s Messiah and the holy one of God.

2)  Don’t forget in the darkness what you learned in the light.  These were prophetic words my grandma shared with me a year and a half later, when I had fallen into a depression and deep sense of lonliness that drew me out of true safety, in the place of God’s light, and into a counterfeit safety of defending myself against the horror, angst and loneliness of the world through my own jaded, and consequentially sinful means.  I made a lot of progress before, when I lived in the discipleship community of Copenhagen International Masters Commission in coming to the reality of my estate and the journey that lay ahead.  I progressed in that journey by letting God father me and receiving the identity of sonship, the promise of God’s faithfulness towards me and with me to do life together, and that I belonged to God as a beloved treasure of His heart.  I began in the spirit but began to operate in the flesh (see Gal. 3:3).  I walked in the counsel of my mind instead of the Spirit; a mind informed by the Word of God no less, but the letter and not the breath that makes such words the living and enduring word of God.  It was law and not gospel and so under the law I began to despise myself as I found myself vexed under the whims of my carnal mind and passions.  Thus in the darkness of the mindset of my old man I forgot what I learned in the light.  I forgot the joy of simple trust in Jesus and obedience for the sake of nothing but God’s glory.  As I progressed I began to leave the posture of humility as I became puffed up, seeking knowledge above love.  It’s important to say that I am speaking of large general movements and paradigms of thinking in seasons of my life amidst which there were many moments of true belief and true repentance, humility before God and stretches of growth and obedience, without which I by and large would not likely still be a follower of Jesus.

3). Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save (Psalm 146:3, NIV). Though I have a tendency towards several defense mechanisms, intellectualism being a common one, none has threatened to be the predominant narrative by which I read and navigate life then the pursuit of princes and I’m not talking about the Prince of Peace. As I’ve mentioned above, part of what I’ve been endowed by experience —I don’t claim that I’ve been endowed by God or nature—is an emotional matrix that is same-gender oriented. (Some people call this homosexual but I avoid this label, or labels in general which have a tendency to be read as prescriptive instead of descriptive). Thus this pursuit of princes for me had been more than just security placed in man in general, but charged with the passions of romance and sexual power. In my flesh I really began to believe at a growing rate that if I just had a man life would be a garden of flowers and happiness. Of course, in my rational mind I knew this was naive and smelled of deception but we all have a tendency to believe things we know aren’t true because they feel so true somewhere in our intuition or flesh. If we forget we have a jaded perspective it can be easy to believe these fancies. I should clarify that for most of this stretch I’ve adhered to the traditional teaching on human sexuality and so I looked for princes not in the essence and form of boyfriend or lover but as friend and brother trusting that a deep emotional, chaste and celibate relationship was permissible and therefore must be beneficial because I ached for it so long. There in the arms of, or,, erm, I mean hand in hand with a man I could finally be safe! I’d be secure in a constant state of belovedness, right? Silly me to think a man could save and that the boundless love of the God-man was insufficient. Actually, how tragic but that’s what happens when you began to operate in the flesh and not in the spirit.
Some areas of the church have begun to reexamine their position on human sexuality as the cultural winds have shifted yet again and if I might say, as an aside, that the faithful Church must not leave two grounding points as it engages in in moral deliberation. First off, when experience challenges the previously held teaching of the Church, the Church must go first and primarily to the Scriptures in search of an answer and not the world. The Church is bound to the Scriptures as its source and norm of all matters related to faith and life. Secondly, there are not set schemas in Christianity. Christianity is not about a map so much as a relationship. The Church best holds up the Scriptures not as the rule book where we get our answers but as the place where we encounter the living Word. Jesus, as the Eternal Word of God, is the one to whom we owe our homage and to whom we submit as our Lord. Thus in a place of humility, renouncing claims to some kind of preferred or unique perspective of our own and thus claiming to have a kind of secret knowledge, we come to the Spirit who guides us into all truth. This second reality relates more to the Church’s pastoral theology in regards to sexual minorities who struggle with conflicting passions. Not here, take this guidebook or this map or follow this step by step method or join this program but here, take his hand! See how he loves you!  His wounded hands reach out to save you! You may hide yourself there for his wounds always run deeper and he is faithful to lead you in paths of righteousness for his name sake. This exhortation to walk hand and hand with Christ is not a cop out! Its not a bypass to solving the moral conundrum of our time but doing the most needful thing we must make known in our time which is to preach Christ and him crucified. What other than the proclamation of the Gospel will disarm the powers and principalities that seek to clay claim to the structures, systems, institutions and paralyze flesh-and-bone people caught up in the great confusion that spews force from the failure of modernity? God is not the author of confusion as St. Augustine stated, the heart of man ever restless, o God, until it rests in you.
And, sexual orientation aside, and the large cultural debate that has flooded certain parts of the Church’s theological deliberation aside —men and women cannot save us!  Whether lovers, or spouses or friends, or a community, people will fail us and they weren’t meant to save us!  This counterfeit is so compelling because it is so near the truth —we are saved as a People by a Person but not any old group of folks and not any old man.  We are saved with the People of God by the man of God’s own choosing, not ours.  We heed the words of the prophet

Jeremiah:

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.~Jeremiah 2:13

God alone can make us dwell in safety (Ps 4:8).  We must repent of any other source of protection and security from the harshness, angst, loneliness and cold brutality of our fallen world besides the Lord God.  All of my fountains are in him.

4). “What is God’s will for my life” is a question spiritual orphans ask; when God saves us he adopts us into spiritual family and we ask together “what is God’s will for us? ”  As the scriptures say, “God puts the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).  Actually, this is God’s answer to the problem or evil of being alone (Gen. 2:18).  God gives Adam (Heb.man) Eve but she is named such because she is the mother of all the living.  God resolves the first problem of man not merely by making a helper but by giving him family.  Jesus, the new Adam, gives us a new definition of family:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

And he is not denying that Mary is indeed his mother. Who is Mary but the one who said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word (Lk 1:38, KJV). If we look to her example it is: His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5, NIV). And so as the first to believe in Christ, Mary is in this sense the mother of all who believe and in desiring to obey the will of God still very much a mother in this new sense. Protestants have tended to downplay the role of Mary in response to extremes in the Roman Catholic Church but we should be less reactive to human practices and more proactive receiving and celebrating the role Scripture gives her. To do so here would, I think, miss the crucial links between Kingdom and family that reveal how inextricably bound up they are one in the other.
The summer of 2011 I came out of a long affair with a princely pursuit that left me in quite a lot of hurt and pain. I was disillusioned. I thought I was doing the Lord’s will because I was following a program a that was licit (this princely pursuit was one of friendship). I entered a “sun scorched land” ( Ps 68:6c) as out of pain I no longer could trust God as fully from my heart. The war in my soul had not ebbed around my heart; my confidence shaken, it was the perfect moment for the enemy to flow in with his forces and pomps of deception and vain imaginations. What else is our shield against his flaming darts save the shield of our faith and trust? The Lord spoke powerfully to me in the midst of this situation that I had dwelt long enough on this mountain, of identity confusion, and was to come with him into the desert. Here lies the principle that not all who wander are lost. Israel wandered in the desert to their ruin but God also called to his bride through the prophet Hosea saying (2:13-15):

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about the eremitic life, the life of a desert one

They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One. (CCC 921)

And this is where I was back in 2007 with the cross before my eyes and this is where I have returned and bided for the last couple years making little progress as the Lord captures my heart afresh. The beauty is in God’s grace. I have been unfaithful; he has remained faithful. I am not deserving of his patience but he has remain committed to me. Here in the desert the Lord has recommitted that he will make my heart his throne and will cleanse my inner life of idols. He has promised that as I spin a cocoon through the practice of prayer my new life will emerge from this. A dear sister I met at the beginning of 2012 while I was studying in Japan confirmed this when she prayed over me and shared a word of knowledge saying I see you going into the desert to die, there are some of us standing around your casket but its also a celebration because your new life is going to emerge.
To return to the desert language Scripture is so rich with it says in the 107th Psalm:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle. (4-7)

About this city it goes on to say (vv 35-37):

He turned the desert into pools of water
and the parched ground into flowing springs;
there he brought the hungry to live,
and they founded a city where they could settle.
They sowed fields and planted vineyards
that yielded a fruitful harvest

Just weeks prior to my sister’s word and prayer the Lord gave me a vision of children building a sand castle while I was out swimming in the sea. He said, I’m giving you playmates to build the kingdom and just week or two later I met the folks I believed the Lord was giving me. In a weekend prayer gathering we learned about the orphan spirit and I heard the words that make the heading of §4 for the first time and it brought healing to my soul. The Lord was putting me in family and my spirit rejoiced. The realization of this placement has never been more fully realized then perhaps in this last month of living at the Kansas City Boiler Room among some of those good folks.

5) God is committed to me more than I could ever possibly imagine. Perhaps I could try to run out from God’s will, like Johanah but God’s will is still accomplished and I have relented to say again Yes!!!!! Yes I want you, yes I want your will and I want to be a child of the day! I wont settle for a mere shadow of the life God has called me into existence for. I write these words with so much joy in my heart, a deep and abiding joy that I have not been able to recognize or feel for a long time; it is a joy sprung from hope. There is water in the desert and Jesus is the one who gives it. His Spirit is inside of us and rivers flow out of us. God reminded me of my middle name Jordan, meaning living water. He desires me to be full of this so I can dispense it to dry places. But before I go I must let him finish his work. The theme is still to be finished before the song is sung. There can be no independent living and I must live in utter dependence upon the Father and in a radical interdependence with the family of God amongst whom God has placed me. But before I could begin to hope again and to believe in this life flourishing condition of kingdom-family I had to believe that God loved me just as I was, even with my habits of rebellion and means of medicating my own pain. He has wooed me and it has been lovely. Now, when I experience pain or its memory I can pour my life like water before the Lord and remember that he has the oil of gladness with which to heal any brokenness of heart or spirit. The journey to my heart in his heart, the season of growing in wholeheartedness and wholeness does not end. We don’t get fixed and then sent. We continue to live in process even as we do mission and bring water to desert places. The key is do we know that we’re loved. Do I know that I am loved, lovable, worthy of love, that God calls me beloved. Do I know that I am His and that he is ever more making me His so that I may become the fullness of all that God dreamed. Do I know that I am his dream? His dreams are so much bigger than mine!  I can let my fancies die so that I can live his dreams in the way of Jesus. This is just a beginning to how much God is indeed committed to me.

6 and a half) Life is meant to be lived in the Spirit. So God called me to move to Kansas City, as I have mentioned I am there now with the Boiler Room family, and a group of us have been learning how to do life all over again in a course called Life Training School (LTS). We’ve become like children beginning all over again with the reality that God is good and he is love. Learning not with our mind but with our hearts and thus being awakened to our childhood and family belonging in God in a radical way. I have relearned that to move according to the life of God is to move to the rhythms of grace and to live on the bread of God’s word as he leads us through the junctions of our days and lives, and his will, implying that life in the Spirit is not enough to hear what God is saying but to do it. My experience in LTS has confronted a lot of rebellion and strongholds that have persisted from the old country and “former way of living” that has been uncomfortable, challenging and even painful to run up against but I am rejoicing that God is helping me to put off the old self which is being corrupted and to put on the new self in Christ which is being renewed day by day. God is making more room for himself in me that I might live dead so that he may live in and through me. If I might sum up what LTS has done for me the it has allowed all of the attitudes and deep seated heart beliefs that were not in line with the Gospel to be cleared away so that my interior life is recapitulated in such a way to receive the most from the flow of God’s grace and to actually make life in the Spirit the daily practice of real life. Supernaturally natural.

So how has the journey gone?  Its been a bumpy ride.  I don’t know the road ahead but I am reminded by the words of C.S. Lewis concerning this Lion: “Safe?..Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he is good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”  So whatever lay ahead, its best to know that its not safe in some sort of quaint way—its full of danger, adventure, risk, pain, suffering, loss, sorrow and most of all its full of Him.  I am the road, Jesus says.  And loving him takes all the pain away from the sorrows the road may bring.  He is all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy and with him is life, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit which he pours out daily as I hope in him.  To him be the glory forever and ever, Amen.

 
Here I am Lord; I’ve come to do your will.
Here I am Lord, in your presence I am still.
Amen.

Transition, Roots and Taping In

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I’ve felt like tumbleweed lately.  Blowing through life, blowing from here to there and losing pieces and catching treasure and garbage on the way.  The last six years of my life has seen a lot of movement. 

Now that I’ve finally finished my college degree I find myself hinged between two incessant demands— to buzz with more energy and dynamically step into long anticipated vocation and then to stop, rest, recuperate and reevaluate the particulars and stations of life my vocation might take me for the next pivotal steps of my adult life.  Somewhere lodged in between these two desires is the desire to run like hell away from vocation, away from pressure, away from growing[up]. 

After a series of many transitions I find myself yet in a time of great transition.  The future looms uncertain yet exciting.  I’m tired and feel as though I shouldn’t be.  

,,, So many shouldn’t bes; I shake them off like the false accusations they are.  ,,,

I think about my roots and where I’ve been and how every time I’ve had to uproot I’ve had to rip somewhere and leave some behind.  I feel their pain in memories and missed dear ones and fond places.  I remind myself that God prepared my roots for transplant and it’d hurt so much more if I hadn’t allowed him to work in me.  Will I let the Father prune me now?

This is where I tap in.  I get myself wet in the living water of His presence.  I drink in from the generosity that the Father has lavished on his kids.  This is where I resolve not to give into fear as I let him make His home within me; I live in perfect love—I must never forget it. 

Withdrawing from the world and taping into the Vine, this is what is so essential now and often.  Taping into life, taping into God, taping into what makes me radiate with life and vitality, withdrawing from the need to answer it all, to chart my course and spell out all the logistics, this is what I must do—I must wait and rest and therefore be patient and obedient that I may grow and not stagnate, that I may bear fruit and not shrivel up.  This where I repeat the oft said words at the conjunctions of life— Jesus I trust you.  I’m taking these roots, with whatever they’ve got, and I’m taping in. 

Shalom.

Meditations in the Desert: Tassels

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You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.  Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.“~ Numbers 15: 39, 40 NIV



     Imagine for a moment that you were taking a walk or a hike and from the ends of your garments were hanging a bunch of tassels with a blue cord.  How often do you think you would notice the tassels swaying as you took your steps or swung your arms?  God the Lord gave the people of Israel these tassels so that they would remember who they were.  As they made their way through the desert and to the promised land they would remember that they were a kingdom of priests and the Lord’s own possession.  

     Like most people I had read this passage several times and looked over it without much special attention.  A few years ago, however, I was living in a discipleship community in Copenhagen where I sat under a teacher who put great emphasis on this passage and in particular the word “remember.”  The theme of remembrance came up in his class and in the Scriptures he had us commit to memory, this passage among them.   He taught us to remember that when God calls us, when Jesus calls us as his disciples he does so because he believes in us and that we can make it.  We should remember that we are his disciples and that identity should shape who we are.  We should remember that we are of the family of Abraham and Sarah whom God took and made this holy people from.  

     In this passage, we are called to remember two things: 1) the commands of the Lord and 2) to obey all his commands.  The consequence of forgetting the commands of the Lord is that we will not be able to obey them and will therefore prostitute ourselves by going after the lusts of our hearts and eyes.  Our bodies are wired for pleasure.  We like things that feel good (ahem, sex)m taste good (foods high and sugar) and things that give us power and status (things like money, the latests this or that, often what the Joneses have).  Many of God’s commands deal with ordering these areas into healthy boundaries so human life can flourish instead of destroying ourselves through our own passions and lusts.  When we make our pleasures our utmost instead of pleasing God our utmost we actually prostitute ourselves.  We become enslaved to our desires and will give ourselves over to whatever power or situation can provide us with the pleasures we want often subjecting ourselves and those around us to dehumanizing consequences so we can get our way.  

 

James writes:

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.  Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”  (James 4:1-2, 4-6 MSG; 2-3 NLT).  

     There’s this basic impulse within us that thinks that if we do things God’s way we wont get what we want.  But the reality is God knows what we need.  What we we need more then anything is God himself.  We must repent!  We must turn away from this prostitution by living for our own pleasures and live to please him!  How do we do this?  We remember his words so we can do what they say.  God desires obedience.  If we obey his commands we will be “consecrated to our God.”  The reality that this all pivots on is if we will be friends with God or not?  Will we live in a right loving relationship with the Lord or not?  We can choose God or the world but we can’t choose both.  Jesus called us friend but he also said if you love me you will obey my commands.  His words are life after all right?  They deliver when everything else in the world has failed us?  God spent a great price to make us his own possession.  He saved us from slavery so we don’t have to prostitute ourselves to get what we need.  We can look to the Lord, trust him and relay on him.  If we delight in him he will give us the desires or our heart.  He loves to give good gifts to his children.  He loves us.  But we must trust him and that his commands are good or we will never change our behavior.  The Egypt mentality says if we play the part, do what the system says and put our hope in that—even if that means slavery!—then we’ll get what we want.  The Kingdom mentality says if we accept our place of belonging in God’s house, believe that his promises are true and obey his commands he will get the Lord himself as our prize and everything else we have ever dreamed of as well.  

 

     One more thing must be said about the tassels   They’re to remind us to obey the commands of God not to let others know we are so holy and dignified.  They are intimate reminders.  They tell us we belong to him so we must live different; we must live holy.  Jesus said: “Everything they [the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees] do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garment long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi’ (Matthew 23:5-7, NIV).   We must not be like this!  We must do everything in our power to remember God’s word that we may obey not that we may puff up our status before others through a spirit of religion which concerns itself more with status and power (and taking pleasure in that place) then living to please God.  A religion that pleases God is one that cares for widows and orphans and keeps oneself unpolluted from they systems that promise power and fulfilling pleasure but ask you to bow to idols and prostitute yourself to do it.  The Pharisees had compromised with Rome to sit in high places and live off the pleasures of empire.  Their symbols which were meant to remind them to live for God and his Kingdom instead of the empires of Egypt, Babylon and Rome became inverted.  We must be careful that in our way of life we don’t use the place government and empire gives religion to make ourselves fat off the world’s pleasures to the neglect of that to which we were called or we will come under the judgement of God.  

 

     The tassals remind us to remember in the desert away from the world that we would not give ourselves to our own pleasures.  When we return to the world they offer a reminder to not live of the world and the pleasures it offers either.  They also remind us we have been delivered from Satan so we don’t have to obey him.  We may not have the literal tassals anymore but I know I must remember the commands of God.  Now we have the Holy Spirit to do that.  But we must listen to his gentle voice in intimate place of our inner life.  People may never see something that says we are Christians but they will know it if we live by the Spirit.  He reminds us of everything God has said.  If we need symbols to remind us of the life of God in us there are many that can be found or made but its the grace beyond those symbols that makes all the difference.  

 

     I know I must make my own repentance.  To turn away from living for my pleasures, even in the desert, and to live for God and obey his commands.  

 

Lord, here I am.  I live for my pleasures too often.  I don’t live for you.  I forget your word and suppress the voice of the Spirit.  I am guilty.  Have mercy on me.  Keep mentioning your words to me over and over again.  Thank you that you never stop saying I love you even when I stop loving you in my disobedient actions.  Purify my heart.  May it desire you and your will always.  Through Jesus Christ and the obedience of his life do I pray, Amen.  

Meditations in the desert: Silence, the Hearing Place and Taberah

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  Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.  When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down.”~Numbers 11:1,2

I’ve been thinking a lot about Scripture lately, and not just particular passages but even more basic then that.  What does it mean to hear God’s Word, what does it mean that the Word is living and not a dead letter?  How do we hear this Word like Samuel did in the night?  Or perhaps more people ask why don’t we here?  
“Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.” (Celtic Daily Prayer, “Daily Office: Evening Prayer”)
I’ll be honest, though hesitantly so.  I have been very fortunate and blessed to have a ready, ongoing and daily conversation with God.  And this conversation is  a two way street.  I listen, he speaks and I talk and he listens.  I’ll admit I usually do more talking then listening but God speaks and I hear.  That’s amazing!  Of course, I may not always hear perfectly.  Sometimes I need to sift out my own thoughts and listen more deeply to realize a dialogue going on between my spirit and God’s and not assume everything going on is purely his thoughts.  Some people are so afraid or turned off by the idea of hearing from God that its completely out of their schema.  Therefore they relegate such phenomena to the realm of weird, extreme and maybe even fanatical or a psychological disorder.  Others would love to hear from God and perhaps have asked him for this very thing but it happens seldom or not at all or perhaps not in the way they expect.  But this has not been my experience, at least not recently.  Learning to listen to God speak was a growing process so I it had a beginning and measurable growth period.  But tonight when praying the daily office I didn’t feel, as I often have felt, able to resonate with this faith expression.  I understood that God’s present silence was something other people experienced and I tried to identify with that but it was not part of my experience as would be quickly confirmed by talking with God to make sure I’m still hearing okay.  But tonight something different happened.  
I asked God, “where is my silence?”  Where does the idea of this kind of silence fit in my life?  Is it good, because it seems troubling for so many but it also seems good in a necessary way at some junctions, something like discipline, the testing of faith, the feeling of silence in the midst of devastation.  But it often takes a prophet to realize that in the queer silence at the end of catastrophe God is still speaking.  This is where the lament passages that litter much of the Scriptures speak.  Thus prophets are turned with the task to present and demonstrate through proclamation the word of God in powerful and dynamic ways to the people of God, or whomever God has called them to share his Word with.  The unlimited creative energy stored up in these words crack open the present circumstances to offer new meaning, birth hope and inspire courage to act in alignment, with rhythms in resonance with these Words.  But before I take this thought further, what about that silence?  
I heard something like this from the Lord, “My silence is in-between the words that I speak.  Its the place where you respond.”  I think it would be fair to say, this is the place “where you do.”  We hear words like those from James “Do not merely hear the words of the message, and so deceive yourselves, but do what it says.”  Jesus himself says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?”  And the author of Hebrews enters a discussion about the same issue.  After explaining how the promise was not entered by the disobedience of the Israelite in the desert this same promise is for us in great measure through Christ if we conjoin it with faith and obedience.  They go on to say, “For the word of God is living and active” (4:12).  
But this is where comes the idea of the “hearing place.”  Going back to the text for this meditation (Numbers* 11:1-2ff) the “people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord.”  God was listening.  It suggests he was not speaking.  He had already done a lot of speaking through Moses (Mt. Sinai) and the people of Israel were called to respond through loving obedience.  But they are given freedom in what to do with the Word given them.  They do not trust it or combine it with faith nor are they obedient.  And this wasn’t faith seeking understanding.  I don’t think God didn’t have room for their questions, doubts, fears and concerns.  But their response was beyond doubt and questions it was the movement from doubt to the decision not to trust God, not to obey and to speak back or back talk God.  Their responsive dialogue is one of visceral accusation and complaint.  This murmuring choir was the antithesis of praise and eucharista, the just response due to Almighty God.  
Taberah,, it means burning or blaze and its God’s response to this unholy grumbling.  “…and when he heard them his anger burned against them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.  When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down.  So that place was called Teberah, because fire from the Lord had burned against them.”  The text never mentions whether anyone is consumed in this fire but it certainly seemed to cause terror or some kind of fear.  Notice that the people turn not to God but to Moses to deliver them.  This is consistent to what happened at Sinai when the people were so afraid that they did not want to hear the voice of God for fear of death so Moses was the mediator.  It seems like they wanted a one way conversation at Taberah, but then God’s fire brought an outcry until Moses’ prayer saves them from the fire.  I’m sure there was some kind of queer silence after that.  But silence is often a great opportunity for panah (to turn, to turn away from or towards; cf. Det. 1:7).  By “turn” I intend to employ a bunch of Biblical pictures of repentance.  We don’t see a clear turn away from complaint (Heb. ‘anan.) until we enter into the language of lament.  In fact, this word is only used one other time in the whole Bible and that is by Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:39.  But Jeremiah is coming out of a different queer silence.  The city of Jerusalem has just been destroyed and its people killed or sent into exile.  This is after generations of disobedience.  There is no repentance at at Taberah, at least not directly to the Lord.  But we hear words like this in Jeremiah’s lament.  (The passage is long but it’s all relevant to the conversation at hand).  

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, 
   the bitterness and the gall. 
20 I well remember them, 
   and my soul is downcast within me. 
21 Yet this I call to mind 
   and therefore I have hope:

 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, 
   for his compassions never fail. 
23 They are new every morning; 
   great is your faithfulness. 
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; 
   therefore I will wait for him.”

 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, 
   to the one who seeks him; 
26 it is good to wait quietly 
   for the salvation of the LORD. 
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke 
   while he is young.

 28 Let him sit alone in silence, 
   for the LORD has laid it on him. 
29 Let him bury his face in the dust— 
   there may yet be hope. 
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, 
   and let him be filled with disgrace.

 31 For men are not cast off 
   by the Lord forever. 
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, 
   so great is his unfailing love. 
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction 
   or grief to the children of men.

 34 To crush underfoot 
   all prisoners in the land, 
35 to deny a man his rights 
   before the Most High, 
36 to deprive a man of justice— 
   would not the Lord see such things?

 37 Who can speak and have it happen 
   if the Lord has not decreed it? 
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High 
   that both calamities and good things come? 
39 Why should any living man complain 
   when punished for his sins?  (Lamentations 3:19-39, NIV, emphases added).  

The Message paraphrase puts the emphasized versus in interesting words:
28-29 When life is heavy and hard to take, 
   go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: 
   Wait for hope to appear.

and

37-39Who do you think “spoke and it happened”? 
   It’s the Master who gives such orders.
Doesn’t the High God speak everything, 
   good things and hard things alike, into being?
And why would anyone gifted with life 
   complain when punished for sin?

God’s “silence,” real or perceived is the hearing place.  God is listening.  The reality is God has already spoken loudly in Jesus and in Holy Scripture.  God’s Words are alive and active and they continue to come to us and create “hearing spaces.”  Whether or not we hear personally from God, what will we do with these hearing places.  I think we have a good example of what not to do.  But if we have found or find ourselves grumbling and complaining we can cry out to Jesus to pray for us before the Father.  In Jesus we don’t just have another man but we have the very Words of God for us in human form and can sympathize with us in every way and we have the image of the invisible God, which to even behold is to be transformed.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to enter “that” silence, to wait on God for him to speak.  We can and should expect this.  Jesus promises this kind of living voice.  We hear his voice by the Holy Spirit.  Its the still small voice in the silence that Elijah heard, the voice calling in the night that Samuel heard.  Perhaps there is something profoundly beautiful, in entering in this silence, the reality that we might be listening to God’s listening.  We’re listening to each other.  And if we know how in love with us he is, and that love creates a new love in us for him,,, that’s one thing worth it for sure.  

*Numbers (Hebrew name, במדבר‎, Bəmidbar meaning “in the desert) is a the book of wilderness wanderings, largely in the desert and was also part of the current reading cycle when I started to enter the “desert” back in May.  Thus I’ve chosen it to give shape, or “be the topography” of my desert pilgrimage and these meditations in particular.