Posts Tagged ‘secret place’

Presence 2What do I really want? I have struggled with this question for years. I’m not quite sure how it became such a stumbling block. Sometimes I think I feared that if I spoke my wants, they might sound petty and mundane. Or, worse, I would put my wants out there and they would never be fulfilled. Clearly, by revealing my wants I feel vulnerable.

You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever. [Psalm 73:24-26, NIV]

The synonyms reveal the complexity of the word “want:” choose, need, crave, prefer, require, wish, ache, aspire, covet, fancy, hanker, hunger, long [for], lust, pine, thirst, yearn, and of course, desire. And here’s one answer to my query. Want is generic and covers a broad range of seeking. It’s ok to “want” the daily things of life, from a cup of coffee to a red dress. But want does not capture what God is asking of me within.

In Psalm 73, the word “desire” is more like “take pleasure in” or “delight in.” This is not about longing or wishing, it’s about a state of being, a contentment in being with God, in God. So often, I find myself leaving that place and “hankering” for something else. I am ambushed by the world’s noise and images; every commercial on television, every ad on Facebook, every magazine is telling me what I should be wanting. More, more, more.

But God wants me to enter into the Presence, abide there, and rest.

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Welcome carpet

Who is inviting whom inside? Traditionally, we think of our commitment to the Christ as inviting Presence into ourselves, much like Martha opened her home to Jesus. But what if we are missing something critical in the transaction?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. [Luke 10:38, NIV] Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. [John 15:4, NIV]

Yesterday, I re-discovered a wonderful podcast called “Pray As You Go,” and the question was presented about whose hospitality? For you see, in actuality, it is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit dwells in me and I, in turn, am invited to dwell within the Holy Spirit. I am invited into mutuality.

I am not saying we are equal, not at all. That kind of thinking can get a person into trouble, imagining herself as a God, capable of rendering miracles much like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty.

Instead, it’s another way of thinking about the “secret place,” but more literally, within the heart of God. Because of Jesus’s humanity and godhood, it is possible to indwell Spirit. I am invited. The door is open. And in the same way, I am asked to keep my own doors open to God on earth, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. And the more we spend time within, the more we become one.

I think I may have misunderstood along the way that this oneness was automatic at my transformation, my first “welcome, please come in” acceptance of Jesus. But more and more, I am convinced that it’s a process of living together, like an old married couple. Sure, we’re committed and it’s forever, but the nuances of relationship and “knowing” come over the years.

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secretplace1After life gives you lemons and even the lemonade is undrinkable, it’s clear that God has something else in mind. I am, by nature, a doer and problem-solver. I have made a lot of lemonade in my life. But I have come to the borders of my self-sufficiency. Whatever comes next is new territory. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” [Psalm 91:1-2, NKJ] So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. [Daniel 9:3] I am peeling away then at the layers that have shrouded that secret place where God and I have met in the past. It is a slow process, like pulling English Ivy, the tentacles of memories and circumstances, loss and sorrow, missteps and futility, have covered the way. But I must push on and push in, for whatever I do next must be directed by God; I need confidence in the hand of God guiding me. I don’t have that anymore. Whatever has sustained me in the last six months is no longer enough. Even though people offer to help, unless the direction is clear, we are all going in circles. What next? That’s my prayer. What next?

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tentWe don’t cry out much anymore. I mean, if I cried out from that deepest place, I’d probably be put in a straitjacket. So much. Just started pulling out of muck and felt a bit of hope again, then another disappointment, another unexpected challenge. I understand why people drown. Too much water.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
     Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy. . .
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning. [Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6]

I have my faith. Relax.

But I am crying out, down in that private place only God knows about; the place I reserve for tear collecting, the place I hide, the place I wait. No one can really tell. It’s small and protected. Like a fantasy tale, that place changes shape depending on my state of heart. Sometimes, like today, it’s covered in sound absorbing quilts. Not a black hole yet.


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Artwork by Jo Smith

My mother used to tell me that my name, Irmgarde, meant “guardian of the hearth,” which didn’t do much for me as I didn’t imagine myself a homemaker. In later years, I discovered, my name actually means “guardian of a small enclosure.” This is what God does for my heart too.

II Timothy 1:12b
. . . because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

Truthfully, I always think of that small enclosure around my set of close friends and family. I imagine a corral and I am standing at the gate, protecting them from harm, from predators. I am grateful that the Holy Spirit is standing just so at the entrance to my deepest places. This is my warrior King.

It’s part of our agreement. As I turn over my stuff and give God access to my closed places within, I am promised Presence.

We have a triune God (at minimum) to help us get a handle on the work that each entity might play: God, omnipotent and sovereign, manages the big picture (the life maps) while Jesus, the Redeemer, became human to empathize and experience life within the context of time and space and to create a Way to unite us with God by endowing us with the Holy Spirit who indwells any who will accept this arrangement, this gift, this promise, this mystery.

We are understood in all those arenas. . . . and probably more.

God embraces the surrendered soul. Jesus modeled surrender.

My challenge? To accept the paradox that surrender is security; surrender is strength; surrender is safety.

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“Fear and trembling” is closer to “awe & trembling.” But when does this happen? Supposedly, when God is present within. Just think: in former times, mere angels brought humans to their knees; while we have gotten more and more nonchalant about the Holy Spirit.

Philippians 2:12b-13
. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

For awe and trembling to happen, we got to keep the veil off, the walls down, and the blinders open. It’s the opposite of a hardened heart [Mark 8:17]: it’s about wisdom, knowledge and understanding. And love.

The only times I can discern authentic “fear and trembling” are the times I encounter true God within. I may be overcome but these are the opportunities I have to respond to the Spirit’s leading, to enter the will of God and to act according to the Spirit’s direction in order to experience the results.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often, in fact, infrequent. Theoretically, I want to seek the truth of it, this fear and trembling. And yet, my every day world does not lend itself to phantasms and inner miracles. I am so rooted in my three-dimensional world.

It all goes back to a misbelief: what I see with my eyes, hear with my ears, smell with my nose, touch with my hand, or taste with my mouth, is more substantial than the spirit realm, that spacious inner world like the interior of Perkins’s tent in the Harry Potter stories.

This is the secret place really, isn’t it?

It is so rare to find something or someone that instills an awe response. Instead, there are situations that make us afraid like natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, floods, etc.) and we fear evil actions of people-types like terrorists or gang members or sociopaths. But the age of kings is over. Perhaps, for some people, the Pope continues to inspire, but this awe is predictably denomination-based. In order to meet the Queen of England, one must abide by a series of formalities and social codes, but it’s not like we are doing them out of awe, it’s just protocol. In some ways, movie stars and sports figures seem to garner the highest honors. I remember well those Beatles concerts: the screaming, the mania, the insanity, and yes, the awe. What does that say about our culture?

And yet, it’s pretty darn hard to come up with a little awe for God. Some say that nature, like mountains and oceans and forests, can strike an awe point. But only for so long, and then we go back to our cubbies, our back yards, and our TV sets.

Everyone is pleased as punch that we can show up for church now in jeans and t-shirts. Casual is in. Jesus is our friend, our brother, our pal. Oh yes, we love to sing the worship songs, in between sips of coffee and layered gum.

There is a warning here then, not so dissimilar to “Be Alert!” in Ephesians. If we are not experiencing “awe and trembling” by the interior presence of God’s Spirit, then who is in there?

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Acts 7:59-60a
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Interesting that Stephen does not say, “I forgive them,” but asked, as Jesus did, that the Lord God forgive them. There is a fine line difference and it’s worth noting, I think.

I’m guessing Stephen never held anything against them in the first place. From the get-go, he was able to keep their “issues” separate from his own. But to pray to God and ask Him to forgive one’s adversaries is proof of a higher concern: that their actions would not block them from eternal things.

Hmm. I’m a long way from this place, this higher level of forgiveness. I’m still struggling with the one on one type. Maybe I should try this God forgiveness first. Would looking at the difficult relationships in my life through the eternal eyes of God give me new personal perspective? Perhaps the little irritations would be less irritating. Perhaps the memories would be less vivid. Perhaps the patterns would finally break.

Have I secretly hoped that God would take on my banner of revenge? Romans 12:19 does say that God will avenge. Have I been playing a game of extending personal forgiveness while hoping all the while that my magnanimity would heap burning coals on the heads of my “enemies?”

Oh, secret heart, look what peeling away some layers has revealed. Forgive me… and yes, forgive them… the list is long, but you know them all… my friends, my colleagues, my staff, my neighbors, my family, my customers, my classmates, my church, my students, my politicians, my leaders, my relatives, my strangers… who am I to say that my feelings, my pain, my fears, and my disappointments must be avenged? Who am I to say?

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