Life Skill #11: “Being the Beloved”

.WFTM**, 2-23, 3-13, 3-26, 4-9

(1) The Experience of Being the Beloved

Take each passage below separately. If you can, mark phrases you want to talk about–words that touch you or amaze you. Do the first passage then the second.

“You are . . . God’s special possession . . . .” 1 Peter 2:9

“What we need is a knowing that is deeper than belief. It must be based on experience. Only knowing love is sufficiently strong to cast out fear. Only knowing love is sufficiently strong to resist doubt. The reason that [Gerald] May calls such knowing ‘contemplative’ is that it results from meeting God in a contemplative state. It comes from sitting at the feet of Jesus, gazing into his face and listening to his assurances of love for me. It comes from letting God’s love wash over me, not simply trying to believe it. It comes from soaking in the scriptural assurances of such love, not simply reading them and trying to remember them or believe them. It comes from spending time with God, observing how [God] looks at me. It comes from watching [God’s] watchfulness over me and listening to [God’s] protestations of love for me. . . . Contemplative or existential knowing may be supported by belief, but it is never reducible to it. It is based in experience, the direct personal encounter with divine love. The goal is, as stated by Paul, that we might know the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, and so be filled with the utter fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).” David Benner

“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). He comes to you from within, where you may encounter the mystery of Christ’s presence in and through your own thoughts, feelings, hopes, imagination, dreams, and love—as well as your shame, your secrets, your rage and jealousy, and all the many ways you resist love. Because God is love, Christ in you represents the coming of love into the totality of your being, but this is not a sentimental, ‘feel-good’ love. The love of Christ is a force for healing, an agent of transformation, and a challenge to metanoia . . . .” Carl McColman

*Talk about something from above that encouraged you when you think about being God’s beloved. Share from the heart.

(2) Hindrances to Being (Feeling like) the Beloved

What are some hindrances to you actually feeling that you are God’s beloved? See if any of them show up below. Note thought you want to talk about.

“Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one–for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one–for God himself has given us right standing with himself.” Romans 8:33f.

“God is asking me, the unworthy, to forget my unworthiness and that of my brothers, and dare to advance in the love which has redeemed and renewed us all in God’s likeness. And to laugh, after all at the preposterous idea of ‘worthi-ness’.” Thomas Merton

“Faith is the courage to accept acceptance, to accept that God loves me as I am and not as should be, because I’m never going to be as I should be.” Paul Tillich

“If I make anything out of the fact that I am Thomas Merton, I am dead. And if you make anything out of the fact that you are in charge of the pig barn, you are dead. Quit keeping score altogether and surrender yourself with all your sinfulness to God who sees neither the score nor the scorekeeper but only his child redeemed by Christ.” Thomas Merton

“To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible . . . but so it is.” C. S. Lewis

(3) More Possible Hindrances

Each writer below is trying to make a point. Do you need to hear any of these specific messages? Discuss these one at a time.

“I get so tired of beholding my brokenness. But the deeper I go into the depths of it, the deeper I experience my belovedness too.” Jonathan Martin

Oh, night that guided me,

Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,

Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,

Lover Transformed in the Beloved!

John of the Cross

“I focus on doing more for God

when I should focus more on being with God.

I open my hands to receive from God

when I ought to open my hands to release what blocks God.

I seek to find God, for God to bless me

when I ought to consider how God

has already found me

has already blessed me

how near God is

how real, how true

how fully, ever present.

What wonder is this then, that

in every moment,

in every circumstance,

in every gift or loss,

when God is at work

I am more likely thinking about

my next meal

my next deadline

that driver who cut me off?”

William Britton

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For Further Consideration (before or after our next meeting/maybe during)

*These are additional warnings of “hindrances.” Is there anything here you need to watch out for?

“As long as I keep running about asking: ‘Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with ‘ifs.’” Henri Nouwen

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life, because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” Henri Nouwen

“The sequence of events is quite predictable. The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.” Henri Nouwen

“All of these mental games reveal to me the fragility of my faith that I am the Beloved One on whom God’s favor rests. I am so afraid of being disliked, blamed, put aside, passed over, ignored, persecuted, and killed, that I am constantly developing strategies to defend myself and thereby assure myself of the love I think I need and deserve. And in so doing I move far away from my father’s home and choose to dwell in a ‘distant country.’” Henri Nouwen

Further Questions to Ask of Yourself

*Is it true that in this life you’re “never going to be as you should be?” Do you hate yourself for that? Should you? Does God hate you for that?

*Do you think that fear of judgment will keep you in line better than unconditional love? Can you trace that idea to its source and critique it?

*Can you quit keeping score? Do you laugh at the preposterous idea of ‘worthiness’?

Closing Prayers

“Thinking about Jesus is not the same as being with Jesus.

God help us all to be with Him.”

Geri Scazzero

“Beloved silence: Thank you for listening to my confessions and failures.

Under the shadow of your light, my darkness is no more.”

Peter Traben Hass

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**Wisdom From the Margins (the book we’re using)

Daily Riches: A Modern Lord’s Prayer – “extended dance mix” (Nadia Bolz-Weber)

Our Father, Our Mother, Our Holy Parent, The Source of All Being from whom we came and to whom we return, You who knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus called you Abba and so shall we, even as we may have an ambiguous relationship with parenthood – Be to us our Holy Parent, the one who loves without condition.

Who art in heaven, Our Father who art in everything. Our Father who art in orphanages and neonatal units, and jail cells and luxury high-rises, who art in law offices and adult book stores, and who art in rooms alone with suicidal people. Our Father who art in the halls of Congress and the halls of tenements.

Hallowed be thy name. Holy is your name.  Ever since the beginning we have attributed our own ego and wishful thinking and greed and malice and racism and ambition and manipulations of others to you and to your name – and yet your name remains holy. We print “In God we trust” on the US dollar and then worship that dollar and the power that dollar brings us, and yet still, your name remains holy.

Thy kingdom come, God, right now we beg you to bring more than just a small measure of heaven to earth because, if you haven’t noticed, we are in a global pandemic, and there are unjust wars waged on innocent people in Yemen, Ethiopia and Ukraine –  not to mention, the Earth is on fire. It’s a mess down here, Lord, So, we need your Kingdom to speed the hell up. We need wise leaders, and just systems and an extra dose of compassion for all of us.

Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Thy will and not ours be done. Forgive us when we use prayer as a self-help technique by which we can get all the cash and prizes we want out of your divine vending machine if we just kind of bug you to death through ceaseless prayer, because when it comes down to it, we know better. You are our Father whose name is holy and whose love is boundless and who – as our holy Parent – wants to hear our prayers.

Give us today our daily bread. Give us today our daily bread, our daily naan, our daily tortillas, our daily rice. Lord, give us real bread, even when we keep reaching for those literal and metaphorical Krispy Kremes. Give us the gift of enough-ness. May our response to perceived scarcity always be increased generosity for we are your children and from you we receive everything. Give us today our desire for the neighbor to be fed. Give us today a desire for a good that is held in common.

And forgive us our sins. As we forgive those who sin against us. Forgive us when we hate what you love. Forgive us when we would rather anesthetize ourselves than feel anything. Forgive us for how much we resent in others the same things we hate in ourselves. Forgive us for the terrible things we think about our own bodies, bodies you have made in your image. And this one is hard, but please forgive us for thinking we know the hearts of our enemies.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the inclination that we too do not have evil in our hearts. Deliver us from religious and national exceptionalism. Deliver us from addiction and depression. Deliver us from self-loathing. Deliver us from self-righteousness. Deliver us from high fructose corn syrup. Deliver us from a complete lack of imagination about where you are in our lives and how you might already be showing up. Deliver us from complacency. Deliver us from Complicity.

“As Jesus taught us, we are throwing this bag of prayers at your door. We are not asking nicely, Lord. We are your children and we are claiming your promises as our own today. Some of us are holding your feet to the fire, some of us don’t know if we believe in you, some of us are distracted and just going through the motions, some are desperately in love with you . . . but all of us are your children. Use these prayers to hammer us all into vessels that can accept the answer when it comes. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. And the children of God say, AMEN.” Nadia Bolz-Weber

Moving From Head to Heart

*Can you pray this prayer “as is?” What does it do to you?

*What does that response say about you?

Abba, grant us a world of people whose prayers these are.

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Thanks for reading my blog! Please extend my reach by reposting on your social media platforms. If you like these topics and this approach, you’ll like my book Wisdom From the Margins. (Special thanks this week to Nadia, just for being your awesome self.)

Life Skills: Contemplation

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.”
Isaiah 30:15 NIV

(1) The “Why” of Contemplation

“In all the historic formulations of the Perennial Philosophy it is axiomatic that the end of human life is contemplation . . . that a society is good to the extent that it renders contemplation possible for its members; and that the existence of at least a minority of contemplatives is necessary for the well-being of any society.” Aldous Huxley


“Contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom–freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.” Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury


“Action without contemplation leads to hyperactive, frantic and frayed lives disconnected from their inner source that promotes peace, creativity and healing. A life of contemplative activism embraces rhythms and practices that affirm and nurture love of God, self and neighbor in a way that leads to enduring peace and social change.” Red Letter Christians blog

“Contemplation carves the posture of surrender into the fabric of our being, making us most receptive to the transformation that we cannot obtain for ourselves.” Phileena Heuertz

*Is practicing contemplation something you heard encouraged in church?
*At this early point in our discussion, what would you say is the need for, or “the promise” of contemplation?

(2) The “Way” of Contemplation

“Therefore, banish from your heart the distractions of earth. Turn your eyes to spiritual joys so that you may learn at last to rest in the light of the contemplation of God. Indeed, the soul’s true life and repose are to abide in God, held fast by love and refreshed by divine consolations. . . . little by little as you abandon baser things to rest in the one true and unchangeable Good, you will dwell there, held fast by the bonds of love.” Albert the Great


“Contemplation is simply the mind’s loving, unmixed, permanent attention to the things of God.” Francis de Sales (“Attentiveness is the heart’s stillness, unbroken by any thought.” St. Hesychios)

[contemplative prayer as the experience of being] “quiet enough to feel held, to feel the embrace of the divine, to realize that I am a part of something vaster than vast; and to feel that, to recognize that, to feel thankful for it, and to hope that by opening myself to that awareness, that I am allowing some of that to come through me.” Marilyn Nelson

“Contemplation . . . not only brings us face to face with God. It brings us, as well, face to face with the world, face to face with the self. And then, of course, something must be done. Nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. We carry the world in our hearts: the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the Earth, the hunger of the starving, the joy of every laughing child.” Joan Chittister

“This combination of observation along with love—without resistance, judgment, analysis, or labeling—is probably the best description of contemplation I can give. You simply participate in ‘a long, loving look at the Real.'” Richard Rohr

“Bring yourself back to the point quite gently. And even if you do nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back a thousand times, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.” Francis de Sales

*What is your emotional response to these ideas?

*What is a behavioral response you would aspire to in response to these ideas?

(3) The “End” of Contemplation

“Contemplation, at its highest intensity, becomes a reservoir of spiritual vitality that pours itself out in the most telling social action.” Thomas Merton

“There are two doors in the next life, someone once suggested–one is labeled ‘heaven’ and the other ‘lecture on heaven.’ Everyone from the West is lined up outside the second door.” Belden Lane

*What is your emotional response to these ideas?

*What is a behavioral response you would aspire to in response to these ideas?

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For further consideration (before or after our discussion):

(4) The “How Am I Doing?” of Contemplation

“The opposite of contemplation is not action, it is reaction. We must wait for pure action, which always proceeds from a contemplative silence.” Richard Rohr

“Our practice of contemplation is not the avoiding of distractions,’ as was foolishly taught, but instead we use them ‘to look over their shoulder’ for God! This was the brilliant insight of the author of the fourteenth-century book, The Cloud of Unknowing. . . . The persistence of the distraction can actually have the effect of steadying your gaze, deepening your decision, increasing your freedom, your choice, and your desire for God and for grace—over this or that passing phenomenon. The same can be true with any persistent temptation. The ‘shoulders’ of the distraction almost become your necessary vantage point, and they create the crosshairs of your seeing. Who would have thought? It is an ideal example of how God uses everything to bring us to God. I wasted years on trying to deny, repress, or avoid distractions and ‘dirty’ thoughts—which never worked very well. Many gave up on prayer and the spiritual life because of it.” Thomas Merton

“It is unwise to judge a prayer period on the basis of your psychological experience. Sometimes you may be bombarded with thought all during the time of prayer; yet it could be a very useful period of prayer. Your attention might have been much deeper than it seemed. In any case, you cannot make a valid judgment about how things are going on the basis of a single period of prayer. Instead, you must look for the fruit in your ordinary daily life, after a month or two. If you are becoming more patient with others, more at ease with yourself, if you shout less often or less loudly at the children, feel less hurt if the family complains about your cooking–all these are signs that another set of values is beginning to operate in you.” Thomas Keating

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Each week’s quotes usually come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day). Alternatively, this week you could read January 9, March 1, and/or March 20.)


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.

Life Skills: The Practice of Sabbath

Introduction (Keeping the Focus)
“Has anyone already started working on a practice? If you have, can you share what that is, and specifically, how you practice it?” (one or two people)

Quotations to Prime the Pump

“The burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:30b NLT


“Truly my soul finds rest in God . . . .” Psalm 62:1a NIV


“Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” Mark 6:31 NLT


Sabbath “. . . invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help.” Wendell Berry

“Sabbath is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production.” Walter Brueggemann

“Resting in the presence of God, without work or speech . . . one becomes more aware of the companionship, grace, and love of God than one has been of the companionship, demands, and duties associated with other people. . . . Contemplative practices . . . are exercised more or less in solitude, making the first cluster [solitude, Sabbath, and silence] in many ways the key to the rest.” Brian McLaren

“And now we’re all tired. We dream of that day when our work will be done, when we can finally wash the dust of it from our skin, but that day never comes. We look in vain for the day of our work’s completion. But it is mythical, like unicorns and dragons. So we dream . . . . [But] God, out of the bounty of his own nature, held this day apart and stepped fully into it, then turned and said, ‘Come, all you who are weary and heavy-laden. Come, and I will give you rest. Come, join me here.’” Mark Buchanan

“As long as we are working hard, using our gifts to serve others, experiencing joy in our work along with the toil, we are always in danger of believing that our actions trigger God’s love for us. Only in stopping, really stopping, do we teach our hearts and souls that we are loved apart from what we do. During a day of rest, we have the chance to take a deep breath and look at our lives. God is at work every minute of our days, yet we seldom notice. Noticing requires intentional stopping, and the Sabbath provides that opportunity. On the Sabbath we can take a moment to see the beauty of a maple leaf, created with great care by our loving Creator. . . . Without time to stop, we cannot notice God’s hand in our lives, practice thankfulness, step outside our culture’s values or explore our deepest longings. Without time to rest, we will seriously undermine our ability to experience God’s unconditional love and acceptance. The Sabbath is a gift whose blessings cannot be found anywhere else.” Lynne Baab

Questions for Discussion

  1. Which quote really affected you (convicted, provoked, challenged, etc.)? Talk about that.
  1. How does the inclusion of the Egyptian exile image in quote #2 strike you regarding your Sabbath-keeping?
  2. “Solitude, Sabbath and silence” – which is most difficult for you to practice? Quote #3
  3. How do you “join God” on the Sabbath so that it is a valuable exercise? Quote #4

REMEMBERING APPLICATION:
Moving From Head to Heart,
Moving From Words to Deeds,
Moving from Self-love to Love of God and Others

  1. After this discussion, is there something specific, measurable, and realistic that you are going to practice in order to develop sabbath keeping as a new skill?
  2. How does the practice, as you understand it, make you more able to be a person who loves well (who practices compassion and justice)?

CLOSING PRAYER
“Heavenly Father, you do not lead us all by the same path. Here in your presence, take our yearning to speak with you and what words we have, and make of them a prayer worthy of your love for us. Lord you’ve heard the cry of our hearts and seen our deepest needs. Before we leave this gathering, we want to ask you . . . to commit each person here into your loving hands. If you have us . . . if we have you, God, we will want for nothing. You alone suffice.”

The quotes from this week come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day).


For further consideration (to do before or after the session)

Set aside at least 10 minutes, find a quiet place, settle yourself when with some deep breathing, and read through these words slowly, phrase by phrase, asking God to make clear to you what you need to hear most. (Maybe write that down on a 3.5 card.)

“Sabbath-keeping is the primary discipline that helps us to live within the limits of our humanity and to honor God as our Creator. it is the kingpin of a life lived in sync–with the rhythms that God himself built into our world–and yet it is the discipline that seems hardest for us to practice. Sabbath-keeping honors the body’s need for rest, the spirit’s need for replenishment, and the soul’s need to delight itself in God for God’s own sake. It begins with the willingness to acknowledge the limits of our humanness and then taking steps to live more graciously within the order of things. . . . I am not God. God is the only one who can be all things to all people. God is the only one who can be two places at once. God is the one who never sleeps. I am not. This is pretty basic stuff but many of us live as though we don’t know it. . . . There is something about being gracious and accepting and gentle with ourselves at least once a week that enables us to be gracious and accepting and gentle with others. There is a freedom that comes from being who we are in God and resting into God that eventually enables us to bring something truer to the world than all of our doing. Sabbath-keeping helps us to live within our limits because on the Sabbath, in so many different ways, we allow ourselves to be the creature in the presence of our Creator. We touch something more real in ourselves and others than what we are all able to produce. We touch our very being in God. Surely that is what the people around us need most.” Ruth Haley Barton


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.

Daily Riches: Something More Important Than “Getting Things Done” Thomas Merton

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered,
“you are worried and upset about many things,
but few things are needed—or indeed only one.
Mary has chosen what is better,
and it will not be taken away from her.”
(read the full story) Luke 10:41-42 NIV

“We experience in ourselves a new and special kind of truth when we imitate Mary. We [who are monks] who have this particular call recognize that when we are agitated by all kinds of external concerns which do not touch us deeply at all we are less authentic, less real, less ourselves, less what we are supposed to be. We feel less faithful to the will of God than when we remain simply in an attitude of freedom and attentiveness to His word, His love and His will. This gospel text illustrates our experience that we are summoned by the Holy Spirit to make an act of preference. We are called to prefer the apparent uselessness, the apparent unproductiveness, the apparent inactivity of simply sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him. We are called to prefer this over an apparently more productive, more active, more busy life. We quietly affirm that there is something more important than ‘getting things done.’ Together with this is another implied assumption: that this preference goes against the ideas of the majority of our fellow human beings at any given moment and especially today in the twentieth century. Our act of preference for ‘quiet’ is at the same time an implicit protest and defiance, a protest against and a defiance of the counter-opinion of those who are absolutely convinced that our [monastic] life is useless and who reproach us for it.” Thomas Merton

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Concern to get things done comes naturally to me–even when it makes me less authentic, less myself, less who I am supposed to be. Is it just me?
  • Are you, at least sometimes, able to prefer apparent usefulness, apparent unproductiveness, apparent inactivity–quietly affirming that something else (attentiveness to God) is more urgent than your “to do” list?
  • Many others will reject this invitation. Are you willing to join with Merton in defiance of a driven, busy life?

Abba, in each circumstance, may I wrestle to know and to choose what is best–shaped by your call rather than pressure from within or without.

For More: Contemplation In a World of Action by Thomas Merton.

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Thanks for reading my blog. Please extend my reach by reposting on your social media platforms. If you like these topics and this approach, you’ll like my book Wisdom From the Margins.

 

Daily Riches: Those Annoying Children (Michael Card and N. T. Wright)

“Some of the Passover pilgrims who are traveling along with Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem have brought their young children with them. They ask Jesus to do a very rabbinic thing: to lay his hands on the children and impart a blessing, a berakah . . . . His disciples, who already seem to have forgotten his last lesson about humility, try to prod the parents away. Their rabbi is too important for such trivial things. . . . [But] The children themselves are parables that need to be listened to. People will not be allowed to enter the kingdom of God unless they can enter innocently and unashamed to receive it freely.” Michael Card

“Luke emphasizes how young the babies were that people were bringing to Jesus. Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples rings out still today in a world where thousands of children are treated as sub-human, as disposable commodities. These are the ones, he says, who most truly show us what it means to accept and enter God’s kingdom. There is something about the helplessness of children, and their complete trust of those who love and care for them, which perfectly demonstrates the humble trust he has been speaking of all along. Jesus doesn’t offer a romantic or sentimental view of children; he must have known, in the daily life of a village, and through growing up as the oldest of several children, just how demanding and annoying they can be. But he sees to the heart of what is means to receive God’s kingdom; it is like drinking in one’s mother’s milk, like learning to see–and to smile!–by looking at one’s mother’s eyes and face.” N. T. Wright

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary,
and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?
Aren’t all his sisters with us?”
Matthew 13:55-56a

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Do you “see” children, or are they just like “background noise?”
  • What is it that you can learn from children?
  • Can you still yourself in God’s presence, and gaze into the face of Jesus, like a child gazes into its mother’s face? Why not try this each day for a month, and see what happens.

Abba, I admit my helplessness. It is only you who can bring me into your kingdom.

For More: The Spiritual Life of Children by Robert Coles

Daily Riches: What Saves Relationships Over and Over (Maria Popova, Rainer Maria Rilke, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Shel Silverstein)

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Our paradoxical longing for intimacy and independence is a diamagnetic force—it pulls us toward togetherness and simultaneously repels us from it with a mighty magnet that, if unskillfully handled, can rupture a relationship and break a heart. Under this unforgiving magnetism, it becomes an act of superhuman strength and self-transcendence to give space to the other when all one wants is closeness. And yet this difficult act may be the very thing—perhaps the only thing—that saves the relationship over and over.” Maria Popova

“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation. . . . It is a question in marriage, to my feeling, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow. A togetherness between two people is an impossibility, and where it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement which robs either one party or both of his fullest freedom and development. But, once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky! Therefore this too must be the standard for rejection or choice: whether one is willing to stand guard over the solitude of a person and whether one is inclined to set this same person at the gate of one’s own solitude . . . . Self-transformation is precisely what life is, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling from minute to minute, and lovers are those in whose relationship and contact no one moment resembles another. . . . For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” Rainer Maria Rilke

“Love one another.”
John 13:34

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Do you agree that by nature the crowd deprives its members of solitude?
  • Will you choose a beloved who will protect your solitude? Can you be trusted to protect their solitude?
  • Are you learning to be happy and whole in solitude, so that even when you want closeness, you can give your partner space?

Abba, may my love be unpossessing, uncontrolling, protecting space for the thriving of my beloved.

For More: The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein

Popova, Maria. “The Difficult Art of Giving Space in Love: Rilke on Freedom, Togetherness, and the Secret to a Good Marriage”

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. 

Daily Riches: . . . And Nothing Changes (David Benner)

“The conversion of the heart that lies at the core of Christian spiritual transformation begins at the cross. It involves meeting God’s love in the cross, not simply encountering some judicial solution for the problem of human sin. It must also involve surrender to that love, not simply being warmed by it as a comforting spiritual truth.” David Benner

“Love is the acid test of Christian spirituality. . . . If we are not becoming more loving, something is seriously wrong. But how do we become more loving and what has gone wrong if we are on the Christian spiritual journey but our heart is not more and more the heart of the Father? How do we move beyond self-interest as our number one priority? How do we get from envy, criticalness or competitiveness to compassion? . . . When I am confronted with my frequent failure in love, my first instinct has always been to try harder. I recognize the poverty of my love. . . . I feel regret and discouragement. I pray for help in being more loving. I try harder. And nothing changes. . . . My own struggles to become more loving have been the most discouraging aspect of my Christian spiritual journey. But as I have begun to learn to come back through the cross to the extravagant love of God for me, slowly my hard heart is beginning to thaw. Ever so slowly my heart is becoming God’s heart–larger and more tender than anything I could have ever expected or experienced as a result of my most persistent effort. . . . Allowing myself to deeply experience his love–taking time to soak in it and allow it to infuse me–has begun to effect changes that I had given up hope of ever experiencing. Coming back to God in my failure at love, throwing myself into his arms and asking him to remind me of how much he loves me as I am–here I begin to experience new levels of love to give to others.” Benner

“If you love your neighbor,
you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.”
Romans 13:8b NLT

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Do you ever feel like “nothing changes?”
  • In those moments, is your solution “try harder?”
  • Is God’s love for sinners something you actually experience?

Abba, let me soak in, and be infused with, your love for me–and be motivated and empowered to love others.

For More: Surrender to Love by David Benner

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Sources:

Benner, David G. Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.

Daily Riches: Approval From the Father (Belden Lane)

“The death of the father had left within me a yawning, empty place, something no amount of approval ever seemed able to fill. My temptation was to seek out substitute fathers everywhere, trying to be the perfect son, the ideal student, the one so anxious to please–as if to guarantee that no one would ever abandon this child again. Yet the compulsive need to be nice, to avoid every possibility of rejection becomes itself dangerous and seductive. ‘Being nice’ as a way of acquiring love is often not very nice at all. The desperate need to be loved can keep one from love itself. True intimacy is only possible where emptiness is accepted as gift, where people don’t use one another to try to fill (and to fix) each other’s hollowness. Yet neither do they leave. Intimacy is participation in each other’s unalterable emptiness, the sharing of a vulnerability that grows even deeper in being shared. If the desert has taught me anything, it’s that love can only blossom in abandonment. Only now, as the father–and the mother–are irretrievably gone, as the son retraces the path of his long search for the blessing of the firstborn son, does he find it possible (because now also necessary) to release these anxious dependencies of the past. Without parents, without anyone left to mend him, he’s cast into this desert night, thrown on its darkened God as if nothing else were left. Maybe this desolate, desert God is the one he’s sought all along in the endless quest for a lost father.” Belden Lane

“But while he was still a long way off,
his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him;
he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Luke 15:20 NIV

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Can you relate to the sense of a “yawning, empty place, something no amount of approval” seems ever to fill?
  • Have you tried to fill up that space with human approval? . . . even with a substitute father or mother? . . . by performing?
  • Sometimes only when we lose our last hope of being “mended” by others, do we cast ourselves upon God, the only father who never disappoints. Have you done that yet?

Abba, you’ve thrown your arms around me, and you’ll never let go. I’m so grateful.

For More: The Solace of Fierce Landscapes by Belden Lane

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Daily Riches: Through Many Tribulations . . . (Scott Peck, Peter Scazzero, and Phillips Brooks)

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.” Phillips Brooks
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“Life is difficult. This is a great truth . . . because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. Most do not fully see this truth, that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be . . . . I know about this moaning because I have done my share. . . . The process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration of grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain, sometimes equaling the very worst kind of physical pain. Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us all that we can call them problems. . . . It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. . . . It is through the pain of confronting and resolving that we learn. . . . Wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.” Scott Peck
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“God sometimes wounds us in our journey’s with him in order to move us out of an unhealthy, ‘tip of the iceberg’ spirituality to one that truly transforms us from the inside out. When these wounds come, we can deny them, cover them, get angry with God, blame others, or like Jacob we can cling desperately to God.” Peter Scazzero
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“God disciplines us for our good,
in order that we may share in his holiness.”
Hebrews 12:10b NIV

Moving From Head to Heart

  • Are you waiting for life (or the “spiritual life”) to be easy/painless?
  • What’s wrong with hoping for easy/painless?
  • Is desperately clinging to God the starting point of your coping strategy?
  • What else would be part of your strategy?

Abba, thank you for forcing me to go deeper–however painful.

For more: The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

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Thanks for reading, following and sharing these Daily Riches. Look for my upcoming book–Wisdom From the Margins: Daily Readings for more meditations like this.

Daily Riches: Jesus’ Shocking Welcome (Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl)

“Evangelism, and even the notion of mission itself, has sometimes been reduced to the words we share with another person, telling him or her about Jesus, salvation, or eternal life. Words are important, but they can also be cheap. If we use words and get words in response, sometimes we think we’ve done mission or evangelism. Ministry among poor and vulnerable people reminds us that words are rarely enough—what each of us needs is to know that we are loved by Jesus, beloved of God. Everything else flows from that. In situations of injustice or despair, words alone are particularly insufficient. People need to be loved and valued by others. They need to see what love looks like.When Jesus is called a friend of tax collectors and sinners, the description is not intended as a compliment (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). But it does acknowledge the shocking welcome he embodied in reaching out to those considered unclean and unworthy. He seems to have enjoyed being with them. Causing considerable offense to the religious authorities, Jesus gladly shared meals with these friends and brought them love, hope, and healing. . . . Learning to see the so-called other as a friend increases our sensitivity to the reductionism, commodification, and manipulation that plague some versions of mission and ministry. Human beings who are not Christians are far more than potential converts. In our concern for reaching out with the gospel, we can unwittingly reduce the person to less than the whole being that God formed. . . . We are better able to resist tendencies to reductionism when we are in relationships that affirm each person’s dignity and identity and when we come into those relationships confident that God is already at work in the other person.” Christopher Heuertz and Christine Pohl

“If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?” James 2:3,4 NLT

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Do you know that you are “beloved by God?” Is this your starting point for ministry to others?
  • Jesus “seemed to enjoy being with them” (the “unclean and unworthy”). Do you think of Jesus that way?
  • Are some people so “other” to you that there is no chance of you ever knowing or loving them? How can you become more like Jesus?

Abba, let me love in deeds–and without discrimination.

For More: Friendship At the Margins by Christopher Heuertz and Christine Pohl

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and God seeks you. Thanks for your interest! – Bill

Heuertz, Christopher L. and Pohl, Christine D., Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. Downers Grove: IVP, 2010.

 

 

Daily Riches: Becoming A New Person In Jesus Christ (Rowan Williams and Augustine)

“… contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom—freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that come from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative prayer is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter. …To be converted to the faith does not mean simply acquiring a new set of beliefs, but becoming a new person, a person in communion with God and others through Jesus Christ. Contemplation is an intrinsic element in this transforming process. To learn to look to God without regard to my own instant satisfaction, to learn to scrutinize and to relativise the cravings and fantasies that arise in me—this is to allow God to be God, and thus to allow the prayer of Christ, God’s own relation to God, to come alive in me. Invoking the Holy Spirit is a matter of asking the third person of the Trinity to enter my spirit and bring the clarity I need to see where I am in slavery to cravings and fantasies and to give me patience and stillness as God’s light and love penetrate my inner life. …And as this process unfolds, I become more free—to borrow a phrase of St. Augustine—to ‘love human beings in a human way,’ to love them not for what they may promise me, to love them not as if they were there to provide me with lasting safety and comfort, but as fragile fellow-creatures held in the love of God. I discover … how to see other persons and things for what they are in relation to God, not to me. And it is here that true justice as well as true love has its roots.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love …”
Ephesians 3:17

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • If you can, please read this again. Can you see why contemplation is so important and powerful?
  • Do you regularly practice contemplation?
  • If not, do you have another practice that promises the same results?

Abba, let me be rooted and held in your love for me.

For More: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address…” by Rowan Williams

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Thank you for following and sharing my blog. I really appreciate it! Please leave a question or comment. – Bill

Daily Riches: Caring For Others More Than They Care For Themselves (Teresa of Ávila and Kenneth Osbeck)

“The heart of the Christian gospel is the gentle word ‘come.’ From the moment of a person’s conversion [and for everyone from infancy!] until he or she is ushered into eternal glory, the Saviour beckons with the gracious invitation ‘come.’ This word appears more than 500 times throughout the Scriptures.” Kenneth Osbeck

“May you be blessed forever, Lord,
for not abandoning me when I abandoned you.
May you be blessed forever, Lord,
for offering your hand of love in my darkest, most lonely moment.
May you be blessed forever, Lord,
for putting up with such a stubborn soul as mine.
May you be blessed forever, Lord,
for loving me more than I love myself.
May you be blessed forever, Lord,
for continuing to pour out your blessings upon me, even though I respond so poorly.
May you be blessed forever, Lord,
for drawing out the goodness in people, including me.
May you be blessed forever, Lord,
for repaying our sins with your love.
May you blessed forever, Lord,
for being constant and unchanging, amidst all the changes in the world.
May you be blessed forever, Lord,
for your countless blessings on me
and on every creature in the world. Amen.”
Teresa of Ávila

“Whoever does not love does not know God,
because God is love.”
1 John 4:8

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Have you let God love you in your “darkest, most lonely moment?” …even after you had “abandoned God?” …been sinful and stubborn?
  • After trying to help others who wouldn’t be helped, someone said in frustration, “I can’t care more than they do.” Compare that to Teresa’s portrayal of God’s love which includes “loving me more than I love myself.”
  • God’s love is consistent when we’re inconsistent. …continues to bless when the response is poor and in spite of stubbornness. …repays sin with love. …flows indiscriminately to “every creature in the world.” Are you learning from God’s love for you to love others like God loves?
  • “I can’t care more than you do.” is a dressed-up excuse for withholding love. Can you think of any excuses you make?

Abba, may I learn to love others well as I dwell on your unprecedented, unparalleled love for me.

For More: Let Nothing Disturb You: A Journey to the Center of the Soul with Teresa of Avila, ed. by John Kirvan

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and God seeks you. My goal is to regularly give you something of unique value in 400 words or less. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. Thanks for your interest! Please leave a question or comment. – Bill

Daily Riches: Surrendering to Love (Elizabeth of the Trinity and Jacopone de Todi)

“I love to penetrate beyond the veil of the soul to this inner sanctuary where we live alone with God. He wants us entirely to himself, and is making there within us a cherished solitude. Listen to everything that is being sung …in his heart. It is Love, the infinite love that envelops us and desires to give us a share …in all his blessedness. The whole Blessed Trinity dwells in us, the whole of that mystery which will be our vision in heaven. …I am ‘Elizabeth of the Trinity’—Elizabeth disappearing, losing herself, allowing herself to be invaded by the Three. Let us live for love, always surrendered, immolating ourselves at every moment, by doing God’s will without searching for extraordinary things. Then let us make ourselves quite tiny, allowing ourselves to be carried, like a babe in its mother’s arms, by him who is our all. …In the morning, let us wake in Love. All day long let us surrender ourselves to Love, by doing the will of God, under his gaze, with him, in him, for him alone. …And then, when evening comes, after a dialogue of love that has never stopped in our hearts, let us go to sleep still in love. And if we are aware of any faults, let us simply abandon them to Love, which is a consuming fire…!” Elizabeth of the Trinity

“Love is nailed on the cross, that has seized him and will not let him go. I go running to it and am nailed there too so that I cannot go astray…. O cross, I am hanging on you and am nailed to you, so that I, dying, may taste the life with which you are adorned. O honeyed death, sad for one who has not undergone it! O my soul, so burning to receive its wound that I may die with my heart overcome with love. O love of the lamb, greater than the wide sea, who can tell of you? Whoever is drowned in it and has it on all sides does not know where he is, and madness, walking driven mad with love, seems the straight way to him.” Jacopone de Todi

“As the Father has loved me,
so have I loved you.”
Jesus in John 15:9

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Today few write like Elizabeth (b. 1880) and Jacopone (b. 1230) do here. How do their words affect you?
  • Have you noticed any similar “mystical” portions in the New Testament?
  • How close to a goal of yours is it to “all day long surrender [yourself] to love?”

Abba, free me from my cold-hearted, fact-dominated approach to life with you.

For More: Voices Of The Saints by Bert Ghezzi

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Thanks for reading/sharing my blog!

Daily Riches: Praying For One Good Humiliation A Day (Richard Rohr, Krista Tippett and Francis of Assisi)

“Blessed is that servant who does not think himself better when he is praised and exalted by men, than when he is despised and considered simple and good-for-nothing, for what a man is in the sight of God, this he is and no more.” Francis of Assisi

Krista Tippett recently interviewed Richard Rohr: “So recently, I took a break. I got some rest that I needed badly, and I was staying at a retreat center, and …it was a meditation session I went to. And the person who was leading it read a passage from your book, Falling Upward and read the line— … ‘I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then I must watch my reaction to it,’ which sounds so uncomfortable. There’s nothing in me that wants to pray for one good humiliation a day.”

No, and there isn’t in me either. I just said that to that group of millennials two weeks ago. Some years ago, I started recognizing that I was getting an awful lot of adulation and praise and some people treating me far more importantly than I deserved. And I realized I was growing used to it, that the ego just loves all of this admiration and projection. And a lot of it was projection. And I didn’t want fame and well-knownness and guru status to totally destroy me, and so for me, this became a necessity, that I had to watch how do I react to not getting my way, to people not agreeing with me, to people not admiring me—and there’s plenty of them—and that I actually needed that. And so I do, I still, I ask God for one good humiliation a day, and I usually get it, one hate letter or whatever it might be. [laughs] And then what I have to do, Krista, is I have to watch my reaction to it. And I’ve got to be honest with you, my inner reaction—I’m not proud to tell you—is defensive, is, ‘That’s not true. You don’t understand me.’ I can just see how well-defended my ego is. And of course, even your critics—and I have plenty of them—at least 10 to 20 percent of what they’re saying is usually true.” Richard Rohr

“What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds,
for their ancestors also praised false prophets.”
Jesus in Luke 6:26

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Have you ever seen humiliation as something positive?
  • The next time you’re humiliated, “watch your reaction” as if from outside yourself. What do you learn?
  • Are you as defended against praise as you are against criticism?

Abba, undefend me.

For More: Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

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Thank you for sharing/following my blog! – Bill

 

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