Posts Tagged ‘Naked Spirituality’

I am not poor. Of course, I’m working on it, what with spiraling debt and fruitless planning. But, in the greater scheme of things and the world at large, I am quite flush and comfortable. So, who am I speak about the promises of God for the poor?

Psalm 69:30, 32
I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. . . . The poor will see and be glad — you who seek God, may your hearts live!

And yet, promises and precedents do exist.

In the time of Christ, the poor saw Him first and recognized God in Him. The poor followed. The poor believed. The poor sustained the faith. And the rich worried.

But God’s empowerment is not a change of social status. In all the acts that Jesus did for the poor, he never made anyone richer. He healed, he fed, he taught. He gave hope where no hope had been. He gave strength to the weak. He spoke to the wealth within each and every human being. He loved.

One of the essentials to surviving and perhaps overcoming one’s circumstances is trusting God’s providence in the midst of difficulty. It’s living through this day because the next day is in God’s hands and anything can happen. This is the significance of praise: it’s trust.

Back in 1970, Merlin R. Carothers wrote a book, From Prison to Praise, that is still in print today and continues to change lives. A lot of us tried his formula but it always felt a little forced to me. I felt like I had to manipulate my circumstances to find something I could praise God for in the midst of them, like having a flat tire on the freeway, but “praise God,” a policeman stopped. And so forth. I’m not saying this way of looking for the silver lining in life events doesn’t have value, it does, but today, I’m thinking differently.

Instead, as in the case of the poor whose circumstances may not be dramatically changed from day to day, it’s trusting God in the midst of the worst. God is sovereign whether I can see it, feel it, or touch it.

Perhaps it’s too hard to say, I praise God in this nightmare, then say instead, “I trust God.” They are the same.

It’s not up to me to figure out which part of this crisis can be turned for good or how God will manifest nor do I need to be a Pollyanna . Instead, it is the simplicity of “I am here, God is here, I am here with God” [Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality: a life with God in 12 simple words].

If it is hard for me to maintain a place of trust in God, how much more for those in crisis every day?

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What is God’s face? Most people interpret this phrase to mean God’s presence. But, in general, God’s presence is not hidden. God is with us always. The question is whether we recognize God’s presence and even more, that part of God that could be called the face, the communicative part.

Psalm 27:8
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, I will seek.

The face has the key parts for communication: eyes to see, nose to sense and smell, mouth to speak and taste, and ears to hear. To seek God’s face is to seek connection.

How often, as a parent, do we demand our children look at us as we’re speaking? We want to be sure we have eye contact. We want to see them see us. We want to confirm that we are being heard.

The metaphor of God’s face is the same thing. God wants to be sure we are paying attention.

Some years ago, I was driving across 695, the beltway around Baltimore, late in the evening. The traffic was at a standstill, probably due to an accident further ahead. I hate traffic jams, the slow stop and start tweaks every nerve. As we slowly crept toward an exit, the car ahead of me put on his turn signal. In my desire to escape, I got it into my head that this car was getting off the road to take a shortcut and get back on the beltway on the other side of the accident. Stupid, right? So, I followed this complete stranger off the beltway and followed him. Of course, anyone can predict the outcome. Within ten minutes, he pulled into his driveway and I was stuck in a part of the city I did not know.

I left the road I knew. The beltway had not moved. I was the one who was not seeking the way back to 695, at night, with no map and no GPS. I was lost because I chose to take the exit. I didn’t like the circumstances I was in at the time.

Eventually, I found a rather unsavory gas station and was directed back to the beltway. Of course, I ended up returning to the highway at the exact same point I left it. My little excursion inside the beltway was a good lesson.

I know God’s presence. I have experienced the comfort and the power. But sometimes, I get caught up in my own way, my own timetable, my own interpretation of what should be happening. I want a shortcut.

To seek God’s face requires my full attention, my time, and my commitment. It’s not a mystery.

In Brian McLaren’s book, Naked Spirituality: a Life with God in Twelve Simple Words, the first word is Here and the prayer that accompanies that word is “I am here, God is here, I am here with God.” This is the beginning of acknowledging and breathing in God’s Presence.

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Chicken or the egg: I come near to God first or God comes near to me? It’s a circle for a reason, there is no beginning or end to God-nearness.

James 4:8
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Brian McLaren, in his latest book, Naked Spirituality: a life with God in 12 simple words, uses the word “here” to begin his journey with God: “I am here, God is here, I am here with God.” This is how I imagine mutual nearness, like a dance or a mirror exercise in which no one can tell who is leading, who is following. It’s a unity.

And when I have awareness of God-nearness, I am also quickened. I see myself more clearly, I see places within me that are not connecting, like sunspots, they are of a different heat but the wrong kind of intense activity. They are my inner Adam and Eve hiding in the garden [Genesis 3:8-10].

It is only when I am near that I can understand and see what needs to be purified, what needs to be cleansed. There is cleansing by water, this removes the surface problems, the obvious issues, this is relatively easy and although it may take time, it is not particularly painful.

But the second, the purification of the heart, this is the inner cleansing and there is no quick fix to sins of the heart. The deeper they are stored, the more intense the process.

As I prayed over this passage, the old song came immediately to mind, Refiner’s Fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy. Like purifying gold, there must be fire. This is not some fiery hell at all, it’s white fire, it’s holy, it’s laser specific, it’s the power of God released into the heart of the matter.

They say mothers no longer remember the pain of childbirth once the child is born: the wonder of the living outshines the suffering. So it is with the cleansing fire of God.

If I want to be close, then I have to be willing to be transparent and clear.

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