Following the Relaxed Rabbi: simplifying the heart

Bill Gaultiere, founder of Soul Shepherding, Inc. and mentee of Dallas Willard, shared a story on his website of an interaction that he had with Dallas. In Dallas’ office at USC, Dallas asked him the question, “If you had one word to describe Jesus, what would it be?” There of course are so many words that come to mind to describe Jesus, and after a good length of silence in which Bill was able to contemplate, he asked Dallas what his one word would be. Dallas’ answer: “relaxed.”

Relaxed.

It has been a powerful paradigm shift for me as I’ve been grasping the picture of Jesus as the most relaxed person you’ll ever meet. Time and time again throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus interacting with the disciples, those who follow him, and even the Pharisees, in a way that reflects an un-anxious heart. There is a magnificent intimacy between Jesus and the Father in what He would say and what He would do (John 5:18-47), and there is such freedom that flows from that. Multiple times we see that in times of social norms being challenged (non-Jewish and ‘unclean’ people coming to be healed), he does not wince, but rather accepts those people, and in some instances even praises their faith. There is a sense that He just didn’t stress out about things that were causes of anxiety in the thinking of His day.

Two things have been highlighted for me as I’ve been mulling this over, and they have been hinged on the simplicity that we see in Jesus. Richard Foster wrote in his book Freedom of Simplicity,

Simplicity is an inward reality that can be seen in an outward lifestyle.

Why was Jesus so relaxed? I believe that it may be because of his inward simplicity:

Jesus modeled a simple spirituality.

One of the revolutionary ideas of Jesus is that He brought simplicity to the complex religious institution of the day. He summarized the law and the prophets into: “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself.” It was revolutionary and bondage-breaking in a time that the rules and structure of religion had become such a weight around people’s necks. Jesus turned the Law on its head by emphasizing that it’s not about what you do, but the condition of your heart. It’s not about rules, it’s about love. When you are operating out of love it looks different than when you operate out of adherence to rules. Practically, as we look at Jesus, we see that He lived life with rhythms of rest and work, solitude and ministering to crowds, prayer and teaching about the Kingdom. There is a noticeably healthy way that He lived His life.

Jesus modeled a simple, single-mindedness in His mission.

The thesis behind this blog is the simplicity of being about the “call” or the mission that God has you on, and letting that be the lens through which you view the rest of life. We can see this clearly in Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus didn’t do everything. He was specific and strategic, even if that was lost (at the time) on those who followed Him. I believe that knowing your purpose helps to eliminate hurry from your life. As Alan Fadling (author of “An Unhurried Life”) puts it,

Busy is a matter of calendar, but hurry is a matter of soul. Our culture’s fast pace can make it difficult to be present to God, yourself, and others.

Though Christ was busy, on mission, He exemplified for His followers, and us, a life connected to the Father. He was continually calling others into a non-anxious, non-striving life, focused on relationship with Himself and the Father.

As I’ve been cultivating simplicity in mission, the questions that I’ve been asking are:

  • What if we let go of the ‘extra’ stuff of our lives and focused on our mission?
  • What things have we filled our lives with that have nothing to do with our mission?
  • How much of what we do and commit to is imposed from our culture?

Praxis

Simplicity in Spirituality.

Create a simple rhythm that you can do every day to connect your heart to the Father. We often have a tendency to think that we have to make large, sweeping changes, but I believe that it is little changes that make a big difference. Here are a few examples:

  • Do your commute to work with the radio off, and talk to God as if He’s sitting in the seat next to you. (Since most people drive ‘hands free’ on their phones, you shouldn’t get too many stares. 😉 )
  • Set the alarm on your phone, and when it goes off, wherever you are, say a one sentence prayer to the Lord. I’ve found that prayers of thankfulness are great to pray in those situations. For instance, if it goes off while I’m working, I may pray, “Lord, thank you for this job and the way You provide for my family.”
  • Practice “The Sacrament of Now” prayer.
  • Meet with a spiritual director, who is someone who is trained to accompany you on your journey of faith and ask questions that help to give focus to how God might be speaking to you in your season of life.

Simplicity in Mission.

Just like we clean and ‘purge’ our homes of unnecessary items, I believe we need to do the same of our calendar. I agree with Fadling that “Busy is a matter of calendar…” and if that is the case, then busy is a choice. After the matter of paying the bills and feeding the family, what we do with our time is a decision that we need to make. Busy does not mean healthy or even productive. Busy can mean fractured schedules, overcommitment, and lack of focus on what the Lord has invited you to do. So, I believe that it is important to be intentional with our calendar.

Some things that I’ve been doing lately to bring simplicity to my mission are:

  • Take inventory of the calendar, and begin to think about what things are about what you’re called to and passionate about, and which things are merely things that add to the busyness. You could separate them into categories, if that helps:
    • Things done to live into calling and what we feel passionate about.
    • Anything on the calendar that is considered restful (i.e. day off, special outings, dates with spouse, recreational activities with kids, etc.). Yes, put rest on your calendar, and ruthlessly pursue it. Rest looks different for different people, but make sure that every week you are resting in some sort of extended way.
    • Things that just have to get done (i.e. work schedules, school schedules, etc.)
    • Things we feel more or less obligated to. Things we’ve agreed to that are extensions of work or school.
    • The idea is to mindfully make commitments based on the first two things, and consider motivations of why we may choose the last. Before committing to something asking, “does this fan into flame the things I’m passionate about and feel called to, or is it another thing that I am sacrificing rest and calling for?” It’s a tough thing to learn to say “no,” but a healthy, necessary thing.
  • Process ‘calling’ and ‘mission’ (in other words, how “Kingdom Come” reality is being lived out in your life) as a family, with your spouse and kids. If you’re not married and/or a parent, process with someone close to you and is a part of your journey of faith, like a trusted friend or a spiritual director or mentor.

May the Lord bless you with grace to simplify, and live from that place – inside, out.

 

 

 

Learning to Sing and Dance: a ragamuffin blessing

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

A blessing that I categorize as a ‘dangerous blessing,’ is one that Larry Hine, Brennan Manning’s spiritual director, gave to Manning at his ordination. I kiddingly call them ‘dangerous blessings,’ because, as I mentioned in my post “A Beautifully Uncomfortable Blessing,” it’s not that they do harm, but they courageously embrace what we would normally consider desolation for the purpose of the greatest consolation: experiencing the Love of Christ more deeply.

The thing that resonates with me regarding these ‘dangerous blessings,’ is that they embrace an important truth of the Christian’s spiritual life.  Inward transformation happens, not in the safety and security of everything trucking along smoothly, but in the bumps, potholes, and detours of life. As we cling to the Lord, that’s where the growth happens.

This blessing goes:

May all of your expectations be frustrated
May all of your plans be thwarted
May all of your desires be withered into nothingness
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child
And sing and dance in the love of God, who is Father, Son, & Holy Spirit

Bless you as you learn to sing and dance in the love of God – through the droughts, storms, and dark nights.

*CHECK OUT the movie “Brennan,” a movie about Brennan Manning that is now available to buy, in store, at Wal-Mart, as well as online in many places.

Cultivating Silence

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. Psalm 62:5

Something that has been impactful to me in my walk with the Lord has been integrating quiet/silence into my life. It hasn’t been easy. Life get’s busy, and it’s an odd thing: I’ve found that when you intentionally seek to create more quiet and silence in your life, you discover how much noise is continually crowding in, and sometimes (oftentimes), it is from within us that the noise comes. Silence is something that we need to cultivate. In Psalm 62:5 we see a word in Hebrew for the kind of silencing of oneself that I’m referring to, it is: dâmam. It means to silence oneself, wait, rest, and by implication, to stop. Once we make that space to stop and wait, it is so easy to experience our minds wander from one thing to the next. So, the thing is, to cultivate silence doesn’t just mean to be quiet. We can have that moment of quiet, but inwardly be very noisy. Whether it is worry, fear, insecurities, the running queue of schedules, or maybe even just interests, hobbies, and ambitions, it takes discipline to turn it all off. It is a learning process. I believe that cultivating physical silence is important to unlocking our experience of inward silence, unto experiencing peace – which, I believe is really what our hearts long for.

Here are some reasons that I’ve found quiet and silence to be an avenue to experiencing greater inner peace:

It postures us to better hear the Lord: As the part of an upside-down Kingdom (or, rather, a right-side-up Kingdom in an upside-down world), the call to silence, stillness, and the secret place is counter-cultural to the loud, attention-demanding society that we live in. Often, the Lord speaks in a still, small voice, which means that if our lives are filled with noise, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to hear.

Silence reminds us of our journey: The world has much to say. The noise of media and the ready opinion of crowds in social media are like an air horn into our minds. But silence presents the opportunity to remind us that we are created for so much more. Henri Nouwen said, “To be silent keeps us pilgrims.” When we seek quiet, and relinquish the need to fill the void, we have the opportunity to be reminded of the journey of where we’ve been, and themes that we’ve experienced through our lives. This remembering can be a catalyst for peace, because it reminds us of the Lord’s faithfulness, how He’s led us in the past, and helps to us to frame any difficulties that we’re experiencing in perspective of the “big picture” of our lives.

It teaches us the power of words: As King Solomon reminded us, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Learning to listen, instead of speaking whatever is on our minds or interjecting our opinions, teaches us the power of words. When we allow others to talk, and lay down our needs and listen, we have a chance to understand others better. I’ve found that fighting the need to speak helps me to speak more succinctly into difficult situations, and it helps me to ‘let go’ of little things that don’t matter so much.

Praxis

Stop on the outside

It can be hard to find quiet, but it’s worth fighting for.

Here are some ideas to start cultivating quiet:

  • Driving in silence with the radio off.
  • Taking lunch break to eat in silence: turning off your cell phone, and finding a secluded place to eat and pray.
  • Choosing to be quiet instead of spending time watching TV or being on social media.
  • Taking a hiatus from, or quitting social media.
  • Waking up early before the rest of the house, or staying up a little later than everyone else.
  • Plan an afternoon of solitude.
  • Go for a walk or hike, and be in nature.

Stop on the inside

When you take a break, put down your plans and agendas for this period of quiet. Surrender to the Lord. Practice, in that moment, being Mary at the feet of Jesus, recognizing that we can trust His leading on what we should do and where we should go…but for now, listen and wait.

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Invite the Lord’s presence and pray for the grace to experience His peace in the quiet.
  • Take notice of what thoughts are the filling your mind. Surrender those things to the Lord.
  • Rest and be silent. Don’t feel that you need to move on. *Setting a timer sometimes aids in not having to think about time if you’re on a schedule.

Blessings to you as you cultivate silence in your life.

 

Consolation, Desolation, and the Examen Prayer

He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor. -St. Ignatius of Loyola

Something that has been paradigm shifting for me has been the Examen prayer. As a husband, father and non-profit worker, the Examen has been impactful for me, for self-awareness as well as for my spiritual development in Christ-centered discernment. I’ve found that it’s a useful tool to see where God is at work, and is calling me to Himself throughout the day. Along with this prayer (that I’ll share below), there is language (terms) that Ignatius introduces us to, called: “consolations and desolations.” Generally put, a desolation is the experience of situations or circumstances that distract or pull us away from the Lord. Consolations are those experiences that draw us closer to the Lord.

Now, consolation doesn’t necessarily mean it is a manifestly pleasant circumstance, and desolation doesn’t mean that it is bad situation. Negative things can happen in our lives, which actually help us draw closer to the Lord and help us to experience more of His love (that would actually make it a consolation). Likewise, seemingly positive things can happen in our lives, and at first they may seem like good things, but latently we may recognize that they steal our affections from the Lord and distract us from what matters most (that would make it a desolation). It is really about the attention and focus of our hearts through those experiences. That is one of the reasons that it has been paradigm shifting for me: that every interaction and situation can be a part of experiencing more of the Lord. Every moment can lead to transformation. It takes His grace to see those moments when He is inviting us to draw near to Him, and this is a great exercise to cultivate that.

The steps for the Examen Prayer, as I explain them, are:

Invite the Lord’s Presence & Ask for Perspective
Quiet yourself, give thanks for the day, and invite Holy Spirit to speak. Ask the Lord for grace to see how He is working in your life.

Review the Day
Carefully look back on the day. Recall the events and details, conversations and feelings. What did you experience in your body? What did you give a lot of thought to? What did you experience emotionally?

Reflect on the Day: Consolations and Desolations
Ask the questions of consolation and desolation.
Consolation: “What has led me closer to the Lord?”
Desolation: “What has distracted me or pulled me away from the Lord?”

Look Forward to Tomorrow
Ask the question, “Where do I need God’s grace in the day to come?” Pray to receive that grace, and thank the Lord for His abiding presence in your life.

 

A Beautifully Uncomfortable Blessing

I love blessings: prayers asking for God’s favor and protection.

From the ones we find in Scripture, to the long tradition of blessings that have been passed on from generation to generation through rich heritage, I’ve been greatly impacted by having others pray them over me. I also enjoy praying blessings over others, and there are some blessings that I kiddingly call “safe blessings,” and some that I call, “dangerous blessings” – not that they do harm, but they embrace what we would normally consider desolation for the purpose of the greatest consolation of experiencing the Love of Christ more deeply.

This is one of my favorites, that I categorize as a “dangerous blessing.” While I’m not sure of its origination, it is credited to the Franciscan tradition. It goes:

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy

And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.
Amen

2 Minute Praxis: Prayer of Compassion

What about the difficult days? The tough situations. Maybe, some of these are your inner thoughts:

“Can you believe what they said?!?”

“They were so rude!”

“They don’t want to follow directions, and now their actions are causing more work for us!”

God is there in those moments too, and I believe it’s in those moments that He wants to work His love and grace. The tough part is letting go. Letting go of our need to be right, our need to be in control, or of frustration, anger, or fear.

The following exercise is one way that I link even the most difficult situations to God: difficult volunteer situations, hard days when you have little to give, etc. It is similar to the Sacrament of the Now, but a bit different (intentionally asking for the graces of empathy, compassion, and love). It has been helpful for me, maybe it will be helpful to you too:

  • Stop: Whether I am sweeping, mopping, or escaping from the crowds for just a moment, I withdraw for a few minutes. For you, it may be just resting your eyes, taking a moment to walk outside, etc.
  • Breathe: I take a few deliberate breaths. Breathe in for 10 seconds and then out of 10 seconds. I’ve found that doing that helps to ‘reset’ from frustration to composure in the more upsetting situations.
  • Prayer of Surrender: Simply surrendering to the Lord is key in the sacramentalizing of the moment. Recognizing that “He is here,” and respond to that realization by saying, “I give every iota to Him as best I can.” This prayer is a prayer of authenticity. It is: “I need You” and “I can’t do it without You,” as well as “I surrender everything I have to You.”
  • Prayer of Compassion: Say a quick prayer of compassion. Empathy is imagining yourself in someone else’s situation, and compassion is the intentionality of having that experience manifest in action, to somehow alleviate the suffering. Reconnecting with those that I’m serving, whether it is a volunteer or the person who is being served, praying: “Lord, help me to be Your healing to the broken, and Your hope to the hopeless. Fill me with your love…”

2 Minute Praxis: The Sacrament of Now

Every part of our day is just waiting to be transformed when we come to pray. – Dave Nixon

The 2 Minute Praxis is just that: a way to put soul care into practice when you don’t have a lot of time. It’s something you can do anywhere, at just about any time.

Something that has been beneficial for me, is what I call the Sacrament of Now. It is an exercise in which I have experienced what Jean-Pierre de Caussade called the Sacrament of the Present Moment: recognizing how God shows up and speaks to us through every moment of the day. The word sacrament, I suppose, can seem like a stuffy religious word, but, in essence, (as minister and spiritual director Dave Nixon has put it):

[To sacramentalize] is to take ordinary things and link them to God.

The following exercise is one way that we can experience this. It has been helpful for me, maybe it will be helpful to you too:

  • Breathe: Take a few deliberate breaths. Breathe in for 10 seconds and then out of 10 seconds.
  • Prayer of Surrender: Simply surrendering to the Lord is key in the sacramentalizing of the moment. Recognizing that “He is here,” and respond to that realization by saying, “Lord, I give every iota to You as best I can.” This prayer is a prayer of authenticity. It is: “I need You” and “I can’t do it without You,” as well as “I surrender everything I have to You.”
  • Make the ordinary things of life a part of your conversation with God: Something that we need to remember is that the Lord wants to reveal Himself to us (Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 7:7). Even the most mundane things can point us to God. Praying something like, “Lord, help me to experience Your presence in this moment,” can be powerful if we engage our imagination and senses in the process. What do the regular every day things remind you about God? For example, in drinking a cup of water, we can engage our hearts in this simple act by praying, “Lord, thank you for this cup of water! It is refreshing to my body, just like You refresh my soul.”

Being Simply on Mission: walking with God, durable love, and justice

Compassion and justice blended
call us to simplicity of life.
Richard Foster

In western society, it’s common to have a habit of making life so complex. We tend to fill our schedules, clutter our homes, and the amount of technology in our lives tends to crowd our minds as well. It’s easy to feel stressed out and unable to find quiet. Not only that, but I (with so many others) long to have meaningful lives, not the status quo of an anxious society. We long for something that will reflect our hope in Christ, and make us feel connected to God’s mission of redemption and hope. Lately, I’ve been meditating on Micah 6:8,

He has showed you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy/kindness,and to walk humbly with our God?

A word that shows up in the Old Testament quite a bit, and is often translated “mercy,” is the word “Chesed.” Chesed is defined as covenantal love, or love that doesn’t quit. That is why it is also as translated sometimes as steadfast love or lovingkindness. I like how Richard Foster puts it in his book Freedom of Simplicity, he calls it: durable love. Here in Micah 6:8, as in many occasions throughout the Old Testament, this chesed/durable love is the word that we see translated “mercy.” This call to Israel in Micah’s time, as well as (I believe) to us in our time, is to live a focused life of justice, durable love, and a humble walk with the Lord. What would it look like to live an integrated life – not just in immediate places of caring relationships, but also in our apartment complexes, coffee shops, and grocery stores? Developing transparency and vulnerability into our relationships, and living out of a central conviction that we are beloved by God means a vibrant sincerity in our relationships, whether that means: laughing or crying. It enjoys people, and it means we spend less time taking ourselves seriously, so that we can take compassion very seriously. This durable love is something that, if we let it define our motivations, will shape our decisions in our everyday lives.

It’s not glamorous. It is often understated, and steady: it shows up. It forgives. It is humble and meek. It’s a pursuit toward maturity, and often that means brokenness: falling down and picking yourself up again (or rather, letting the arms of Christ pick us back up again). But it is always on the journey to finding and living out of your true self and becoming more alive in love. Durable love.