Category Archives: Spiritual Pursuits
So, God rocked me pretty hard yesterday. In a good way, but rocked nonetheless… You can read the whole thing after the jump if you want, but here’s the short version – I had a really potent and acute experience of God’s love and forgiveness. I was sort of pushed out of my comfort zone a little bit, and God showed up in the uncomfortableness. I think it was probably something I really needed, and it was good.
Someone will tell you, “You have to be able to forgive yourself.” But that isn’t possible. What is possible is to open your hands without fear so the other can blow your sins away. For perhaps it isn’t clammy coins, but just a light dust which a soft breeze will whirl away, leaving only a grin or a chuckle behind. Then you feel a bit of new freedom, and praying becomes a joy, a spontaneous reaction to the world and the people around you. Praying becomes effortless, inspired, and lively or peaceful and quiet. Then you recognize the festive and the modest as moments of prayer. You begin to suspect that to pray is to live.
-Henri Nouwen, ‘With Open Hands’
I read this laying in the hammock this afternoon, and it made me think that laying in a hammock on a gorgeous afternoon is probably a great time to pray.
It also made me think of something Bob Goff wrote in his book Love Does. Bob is a lawyer by trade, and he writes that his first instruction to clients going into a deposition or the courtroom is to sit with their palms up, hands open. The reason is that he finds it next to impossible for people to get defensive when they’re in that posture.
Try it sometime. Sit with your palms up, hands open, and see if you can get yourself worked up about something. I’ve tried it. As soon as I got upset or angry, I noticed that my hands had flipped over and we’re gripping my knees pretty tightly.
Try this when you pray, too. When you’re confessing and asking forgiveness, assume this posture of surrender and release. It might make a huge difference.
Growing up in non-denominational Christian churches, we barely even talked about Lent, much less observed it. Lent was for Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and various ‘others,’ but not for us. We didn’t have anything against it; we were just more focused on telling people about Jesus in a way that was attractive to people who were turned off by ‘high church’ traditions.
But lately I’ve been reading some stuff by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch catholic priest who wrote absolutely beautiful things about love, grace, God, community, etc. One thing in particular jumped out at me a few weeks ago – a passage about Lent, guilt, and which way our focus turns.
Nouwen contrasts Judas and Peter – two disciples of Jesus who both betrayed him in his final hours. The difference lies in which way their focus turned afterwards. Judas’ guilt spiraled in on himself, leading him to despair and ultimately his death (presumably apart from God, regardless of which death narrative you hold to). On the other hand, Peter’s guilt led him to refocus outward, towards Jesus, and not on his own sinfulness. As a result, he was forgiven, restored, purified. These two clearly illustrate the truth of 2 Corinthians 7:10, which says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Then today I was reading in James 4, and ran across another passage that led my thoughts once again back to Lent and the frame of mind I believe Lenten observers should strive for.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
– James 4:7-10
It’s the last sentence that really sets it off for me, for two reasons. First off, the repentance, forgiveness-seeking, and purification that go on during Lent should always be about our relationship with God, and not about fulfilling an obligation, obeying a tradition, or seeking approval from people. Secondly, I believe the purpose of Lent is to voluntarily go through a little bit of discomfort, to deny and humble ourselves before God, so that we can fully experience the joy that comes through the resurrection of Jesus. Like Jesus, who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…,” we need to go through our own time of humility and obedience to death in order to fully identify with the victory over death.
It’s a beautiful, difficult truth, I think…