Category Archives: God

On belief.

I feel like everything I’m reading lately is asking me to seek out wonder or spend some time in the depths pondering the darker corners of life.  A former student has been begging me to read Life of Pi by Yann Martel for months and I finally did.  Pi is the boy narrator, who is from India and the son of a zookeeper, but most importantly very spiritual.  The beginning of the story chronicles his journey of belief in not only his native Hinduism (though his family wasn’t especially religious), Christianity, and Islam.  In response to political is family leaves for Canada on a Japanese ship, which sinks on its journey.  Pi alone ends up in a life boat with a Bengal tiger, zebra and orangutan floating on the ocean for 227 days and is left with his knowledge of zoology and his spirituality.

At the end of the story, Pi recounts his story to two men from Japan seeking answers as to why the ship sank, who don’t want anything to do with the story of survival Pi is sharing with them.  Pi then says that he  will tell them an alternate story, in which he substitutes people in for the other animals, like a cook and his mother.  The reader is left to ponder which story is the real story–and in turn if Pi’s survival story becomes less meaningful when and if metaphors and substituted for the truth.  This then leads the reader to ponder the nature of truth and faith and story, which is one of the most interesting things I’ve been asked to think about in a long time and left me wishing, as always, that I had a diverse literature class to discuss it all.

No matter what I think about the ending of the story, though, or Pi’s personal theology, I did find that there were a number of moments that spoke into spirituality in a significant way.  When he is speaking with the Japanese men who don’t believe him, he says: “If you struggle at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?  Love is hard to believe, ask any lover.  Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist.  God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?” (page 297).  My mind has been consumed lately with the concept of belief–and I have found myself missing the wonder that often accompanies belief in things beyond sight and frustrated at how difficult belief can be.  Pi, earlier in the book, spoke into this concept.

“Words of divine consciousness: moral exaltation; lasting feelings of elevation, elation, joy; a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes one as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably. 
I pause. What of God’s silence? I think it over.  I add: 
An intellect confounded yet trusting sense of presence and of ultimate purpose,” (page 63).

This is the condensed version of what I took away from it.  First, I had to look up the word ineluctable.  I’m not ashamed.  Ha. According to the Oxford English dictionary, it means “unable to be resisted or avoided; inescapable.”  This makes so much sense to me, because as much as I try to hide from the confusing, unexplainable parts of having faith in something I can’t see, it continues to haunt me.  The divine, to me, is indeed ineluctable.  In the book Pi is troubled by God’s silence, but he lives in the confounded, rather than hiding from it because of its nature.  This kind of trust is really beautiful to me and reminds me that I don’t have to have all of the answers I want right now.  I can live confounded alongside of my belief, too, that “the founding principle of existence is what we call love.” 

Advent. Compassion. Or, and they will call him Immanuel.

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The day the clocks spring forward and the days begin to grow longer, I rejoice.  My ankle length down coat can be packed away and I am free to revel in the spring, summer and fall.  Falling back, however, is not as easy.  I watch the sun sink behind Brooklyn at 4:30.  I have to wear coats and layers and put away my flip flops.  Curses.  I realized that when daylight savings ends, I begin to wait.  For five long, cold, bundled months.  I am not good at it.

Then I remembered today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season of waiting.   One of the best books I read this year that I did not post about was Compassion by Henri Nouwen.  Since I was thinking about it yesterday, I thought I would pick it back up and see what I underlined and it completely changed how I want to be spending the next four weeks of this season:

The virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel, which means God-is-with-us. Matthew 1:23  “By calling God Immanuel, we recognize God’s commitment to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer all of life with us.”  Nouwen goes on to describe what the definition of compassion means to him: “It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull.  On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.”

Now I’m trying to figure out how all of these threads fit together, other than the word and thought association led me from one to the next.  I think it is this: I struggle so much with all that is a mess in the world.  I am constantly waiting to see things change.  But, I do not have to despair.  For this liturgical season of waiting, I want to be filled with this kind of compassion.  I want to remember that it is often in the waiting that we are most changed; that in the waiting is when our cup just might overflow.

Most Thought-Provoking Book of Late.

The title, as I’ve mentioned, is ironic. Don’t be scared. Jesus for President is an incredibly interesting, brave look at not only American culture, but Christian culture today. Shane Claiborne (author of The Irresistible Revolution) and Chris Haw start at the beginning and take their readers through the Old Testament, then into the Roman Empire during the early days of the church and right up to the present moment in the United States: a journey of how life that is truly life has been distorted by the culture of consumerism and power that is good for few and oppressive for many.

It is impossible to respond to this book in one post. I started reading it this summer and just recently finished it, not because it was boring or I wasn’t able, but because it was so much to take in and reflect on in one sitting. I read the first part three times before I could move on. For as long as I’ve been reading this book, I’ve tried to imagine what I would say about it, but realized that there aren’t quite words.

Reading Shane Claiborne is an extremely thought provoking exercise for not only the political, but the spiritual imagination. His views are extreme in many different ways yet challenging. Some seem realistic and then there’s the part of me who looks at the history of people and wonders if the extreme change he is calling for is possible. The culture I am a part of and my selfishness butts up against so much of it. But. All I can say is that the Litany of Resistance at the end of the book is one of the most beautiful collection of words I’ve read in a long time. So all I can do is recommend this book and then ask that we can get coffee and talk about it. (I’m serious. Alison? Meaghan?) For now, here are a few things to think about:

“Most of the ugliness in the human narrative comes from a distorted quest to possess beauty.”

“God entrusted [his people] to bless the world, not ‘rid the world of evil.’ “

“The statistics had a face. Poverty became personal. And that messes with you.”

Greater than.

“The reason that we are not fully at ease in heart and soul is because we seek rest in these things that are so little and have no rest within them, and pay no attention to our God, who is Almighty, All-wise, All-good and the only real rest…No soul can be at rest until it has judged all created things as nothing.” Juliana of Norwich

These words have been in the back of my mind for weeks, begging me to sit down and actually reflect on what they mean. They come from a woman who lived in the 14th century who prayed that God would give her “the wound of true contrition, the wound of natural compassion and the wound of fullhearted longing for God.” The choice of the word “wound” sticks out to me so much because why would anyone wish ill feeling upon herself? Isn’t it easier to be comfortable? Spiritual, yet not overly involved in matters that hurt? Splashing around in the shallow rather than wading into the deep, swift and cold?

This is what I have been thinking about lately as I’ve tip toed through the shallow waters, wanting to be warm and comfortable and safe. But tonight on the steps of an altar in a church near Gramercy Park, I was blessed to talk and pray with some women who don’t want to choose the shallow; who don’t want to settle for beauty that doesn’t satisfy; who want to weep with the weeping and spend themselves on the behalf of others.

I just pray tonight for a heart that doesn’t covet what the world gives; for a heart that aches with joy and for beauty and for restoration. I want to taste what it means to be fully at ease in One who is so much greater than I and all the flippant little things I find myself chasing after.

Let Not Men Triumph.

The fact that beauty is so fleeting literally causes my heart to ache. It frustrates me that I cannot bottle it and wear it around my neck or hold it in a closed fist without it seeping through my fingers. I listen to music that is indescribably beautiful…but it is constantly moving. It isn’t possibe to place a moment on repeat, because it builds and falls. So I watch the sunset out my window, or if I’m lucky enough behind a cornfield somewhere and want to freeze it so that the evening light can hold and the tones of the color can just seep into my being, but it seeps into night all the while. So I look at a painting, these incredible partially impressionistic landscapes, and even though it is still and unfading it still doesn’t fully capture what I’m looking for.

But it’s the impressionism that caught me tonight…and the beauty in it’s imperfection. It is not the *real* thing; but somehow it almost is better than the real thing…it hints that perhaps there is even more depth and beauty than what I ever imagined. And I suppose that all of these things that capture my heart are the same way. It is imperfect beauty that speaks volumes to me.

Let me get to the point of how this changed me tonight. I am a micromanager of my own life. I feel as though I have a pile of post it notes stacked in my rib cage and I’m unable to cross off enough items to even make a dent of progress. This entire week I have felt in bondage to my inability to keep up, my inability to please everyone, my inability to love people the way I want to, my inability to…well, you get the picture. In the same way that there is an indescribable beauty in things that I cannot tangibly hold onto, there is an indescribable beauty in the way that Jesus’ power is made perfect in my weakness.

I constantly want to clench everything…to hold on so tightly that all my muscles begin to ache, literally, in my attempts to control. But there is a beauty that can free me from that…Jesus who calls me to cast my cares upon him–and in the ultimate miracle of existence actually takes them. He promises freedom from captivity to the world and he promises freedom eternally where grace abounds and shackles are nonexistent. Once I begin to see this as the most beautiful thing on earth, the desire to control so much of my life will wane. I think it is the challenge of my life to actually trust in grace and *actively* believe in His Truth. The prayer my heart must constantly remember is Be still and know that I am God. He is God. He is God.

The verses that popped out most to me today are typically my prayer when I get nervous about the state of the world. But they were transformed into something more personal tonight, after I had to take an hour to stretch and pray and breathe deeply because I felt so overwhelmed…

Arise, O Lord, let not men triumph…Let the nations know they are but men. Psalm 9:19,20

Besides the fact that it reminds me of something that some fantastical hero in literature might say, evenmore so, it is my literal Savior in everyway telling me that I am not God. I am a daughter. I need to let the beauty in front of me point me to the one who is the Lord of Life…and let that familiar ache send me straight into prayer and praise that one day it will last forever, and the fact that it aches to begin with is just a sign of the Life that is Truly Life that is to come.