Monday, March 29, 2010


The Passover story is a familiar one. Each year those who observe Passover relive the story by stepping outside of time and entering into the experiences of the Hebrews as they prepared for their wilderness journey. They spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to signal the angel of death to pass over their homes. They eat their Passover meal ready to flee from the Egyptians. They prepare to move from the bondage of slavery to the promised land, from death into new life. They wait to be reborn.

In this great week, we wait to be reborn with the Hebrews. As Jesus says to us, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we observe the Passover in the same way. We step beyond time and join the Hebrews in preparation and expectation of the journey. The blood of the Lamb signals the angel of death to pass over us. We eat with our shoes on and our supplies ready for the journey. We are anxious to flee from sin and bondage. We look forward to the promised land.

As we recreate the Passover journey, we dwell in the assurance that we have become a new creation. As the angel passes over us, we are no longer under the curse of death. We have been forgiven and freed. We have been made whole. We have been graced with the Holy Spirit. Our forgiveness from God is complete and perfect. We stand before God with our sins wiped away and our souls washed clean. We are the ones whose robes are washed white in the blood of the lamb. We are forgiven.

Now it is our turn to create “passovers” for others. We have had our Passover from God, but our lives of full of situations where passover is needful. As we have been forgiven so we must forgive. We can join with others in the journey that brings promise and fulfillment to our relationships. We can wipe away sins by forgiving them and building trust once again. We can bring grace and fullness to relationships that have long been neglected or avoided. We can experience the freedom that comes with the forgiveness we receive from others and offer that forgiveness to others that can open the door to freedom. Through the gift of life-giving forgiveness, relationships that were once dead can be born again. Lives can be changed and healed. The Passover of God brings with it an invitation to the promised land. The passovers we offer to each other contain the same invitation to the freedom of a new land. It is time to enter into it.


Palm Sunday presents us with two very different stories in Jesus’ life: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the way of the cross. We see Jesus as the King and Messiah joining the people in triumph. For this journey, he has made careful, deliberate preparations. The crowds are welcoming the one who brings justice, cares for the poor, and heals the sick. He is the great teacher and man of authority they have waited for. This event foreshadows the triumph of the resurrection and points us toward the kingdom of heaven, and as we look beyond the event itself, we see the Kingdom of God, peace, perfection, and joy. This portrait of the King reflects the glory of God.

The second story gives us a different portrait of Jesus. He is a man who expresses doubt as he prays that God will “remove this cup.” At times he is alone, abandoned by friends, and betrayed. He is innocently condemned in a sham trial, stripped, mocked, crucified, and forsaken even by God. On Palm Sunday, this is where we are left. If we can look beyond this portrait also, we see the cross as the central saving act, a sacrifice of obedience, a giving of all for the salvation of all.

These two contrasting portraits capture an infinite moment in time, a great paradox. They point to each other and fulfill each other. There is an earthly kingdom and a heavenly kingdom. The cross leads and points to glory. We celebrate and we grieve. These two portraits tell us about who Jesus is and who we are. Perhaps we even see ourselves as a dim reflection of Christ, dying to self in order to be raised up.

If you have ever spent much time with people who are dying, you may have experienced them in a liminal place – a place of in-between, a threshold. We see Jesus in two liminal places, triumphal entry and the tomb. These are the liminal thresholds that move toward resurrection and new life.

We experience many thresholds in life, but I think the spiritual ones can be the most challenging. Thresholds can be difficult places to be, they are uncertain and unknown. In Jesus, we see the threshold of triumphal entry to death and then we are left in the tomb waiting for death to lead to resurrection. We can look at the tomb in two ways: as a place where we are bound up where it is cold and dark, or as a place of waiting, anticipation, and expectation. The tomb is a place that is still, and quiet. There is tension. It is a threshold. We are invited to that place this week.
Why be in this place? Perhaps we are to learn what keeps us there or holds us back. Perhaps we are to look for what is coming. The tomb can be a place that leads to healing, holiness, and wholeness, a going toward something and leaving behind of something. But one thing about thresholds is that we can’t stay in them. By definition it is a transitional place. If we simply stood in a threshold, it would become a place of frustration, lack of fulfillment, and eventually boredom. We could still see what we have left behind and it remains a part of us. We would see the potential for life but not yet experience that life. It would be an empty place. We might as well just do the work and move on.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Soul at Home

Homes and souls have a lot in common. Many of the things we do around and to our homes are similar to things we do around and to our souls as well. Our homes can be a place of refuge or turmoil; the same for our spiritual homes. Often we have the same attitudes about our souls as we do about our homes. I have sometimes noticed how when my home is a bit chaotic and out of order, my spirit feels restless and out of sorts. When my spirit is feeling tired and worn out, I tend to notice the tired and worn out aspects of my dwelling space. When I am surrounded by beauty and order, my spirit is uplifted. The interior castle and exterior castle are connected.

One of the things we do around our homes is to clean them from time to time. We all have our routines: daily picking up, weekly cleaning, occasional cleaning, spring cleaning. Once in a while we clean out those refrigerators and rearrange the closets. Every now and then, we gather up all the extraneous stuff we have collected and take it to a charity drop off. We put out the trash and send away the recycling. If we don’t do these things fairly regularly, we can get overwhelmed by garbage and can even get depressed. It is not so different with our souls. There’s the daily picking up in our prayer routine, the weekly cleaning at Sunday worship, the occasional spiritual quagmires that need attention from time to time, and then the major spring cleaning that happens during Lent especially. In confession and repentance, we put out the trash. We might offer the spiritual books that we no longer want or tidbits of wisdom to others who might find them useful. It is important to keep up with our soul cleaning or we may become overwhelmed or depressed.

It seems that there is always something that needs to be maintained or overhauled or redone around the house. When I look at that list, every one of the jobs is a great metaphor for interior maintenance. Right now, my list consists of putting tile at the entrances to my home to replace the worn wooden floors, redoing the main floor bathroom, refinishing a piece of furniture, painting a room, organizing my basement, putting in the spring garden and putting out the deck plants and furniture, replacing the gutters, repairing the furnace, and getting the chimney swept. There is always so much to do! Any one of these jobs is an opportunity to reflect on the maintenance of my soul. Take the piece of furniture I need to refinish: as I disassemble the piece, sand off the old finish, smooth out the dings in the wood, sand again, apply the layers of finish, and reassemble, I can reflect on similar actions in my soul. There’s that comfortable, well used, piece of furniture in my soul, perhaps it is my practice of listening, for example. It has been a useful and faithful habit for many years. I haven’t thought about it much, just went along using it; time to have a look at that habit again and give it a bit of a polishing. Might even be a good idea to disassemble it, strip it down, fill in the dings, give it a new coat of finish and put it back together again. It may look and function just the same, but it has had some good attention and is renewed. Gardening in the spring is a great time to reflect on where I need renewal in my life. Replacing the gutters is an opportunity to reflect on how well I let storms roll off my back. Painting a room makes me think about the places in my soul that need a little freshening up. Redoing a bathroom has many opportunities for reflection. Just think about what it means to replace a toilet! You see, maintaining our homes provides a great opportunity for soul work. And just like our homes, there is always more to do around the soul.

Many of these jobs I like to do myself. It is amazing what you can do if you teach yourself, especially if you have the help of a friend or partner. Nothing that needs doing around the house is really a great mystery of very difficult. Mostly, it just takes practice. In the first house we ever bought, my husband and I found that the bathrooms all had plastic tiles rather than ceramic. We decided to go ahead and retile, but we certainly could not afford to hire someone to do it. The tile itself is not all that expensive, but the labor is. So we decided to teach ourselves how to do it. Those early tile jobs turned out a bit rough, but they were great learning experiences. Over the years, we have gotten much better at it. Although our tile jobs don’t look like the pros, we are pretty satisfied with the work. It can be challenging and take time, but it makes it possible to afford to tile when we want to. Recently, I learned how to put up wallboard and smooth out the seams. It may look difficult, but it really isn’t. That first job looks a bit rough, but it is in a place that most people won’t see. I have confidence that the next wallboard installation job I do will be pretty good. When you do it yourself, start simple, learn from your mistakes, and don’t expect perfection. When the job is difficult or needs to be of professional quality, hire someone. I always hire someone if the job is risky, too, like it requires climbing around on the roof or something like that. The same rules can apply to our soul work. Much of it we do ourselves. That’s good, and over time, we get better at it. Sometimes, though, the work is risky or requires a professional. One of our spiritual challenges is to know the difference and get help when we need it.

Homes and souls require maintenance and remodeling from time to time. They require regular attention, rearranging, and renewal. There is always something that needs doing around the house and around the soul.

This reflection is from our Going Home online retreat, which will be offered in April.  For more information about our Going Home retreat, visit

Thursday, March 11, 2010

God is with us. Are we with God?

In his writings, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a seventeenth century French monk, describes the practice of the presence of God. By keeping our hearts and minds attentive to the presence of God, we find ourselves prayerfully engaging in life and aware of God’s presence with us in all things. Life is transformed as we enter into this spiritual discipline.

There are a few challenges that consistently turn up for those who work toward practicing the presence of God. Perhaps it is helpful to know that these are age old obstacles – old enough for Brother Lawrence to mention them and then some. Brother Lawrence is totally real when it comes to admitting that the practice of the presence of God is not for the faint hearted. As he writes about the obstacles that face every practitioner, you get the sense that he has experienced all the same challenges and understands how difficult it is to be disciplined and consistent. Brother Lawrence describes many obvious and some not-so-obvious challenges, and for the most part, his answer to the problem seems to be, “Get on with it.” He doesn’t give us a chance to bemoan our problems, but rather takes the stance that there is nothing new about our complaints and we need to simply get on with business. It seems that we have all been there before.

One of the common obstacles is pride. At some point in our spiritual journey, we all have to deal with the issue of pride. We are prideful when we think we don’t need God. This is perhaps one of the first manifestations of pride. Even a two-year-old doesn’t seem to need parents and wants to do it him/herself! In our pride we don’t think we need God for anything. We will depend on ourselves. We will stubbornly take care of our own problems. We don’t need anybody! We are all like that sometimes. Somewhere along the line, this falsehood is eventually proven wrong. When tragedy strikes our lives, we find that we would rather not do it ourselves and that we would rather have someone with us as we walk through our brokenness. Somewhere along the line, the question of God comes up, even if the only question seems to be grounded in anger and the “why” of how this tragedy could have happened. We discover that we need others and that we need God. We are also prideful when we think we are irredeemable. If we say that we are beyond God’s redeeming power, not good enough to be loved, not worthy of God’s attention, we have claimed that we are more powerful than God and know better than God. This can be a deceptive trap hiding our pride or arrogance.

Our thoughts can be another obstacle to our practice of the presence of God. We are easily distracted or our thoughts simply wander about. We lack persistence. First of all, we must reject any thought, word, or action that is contrary to our practice and our communion with God. Anything that distracts or breaks us away from communion with God must be turned away. Then we must remember our practice again. Resolve once again to persist. But then we forget our practice again. After a while, we even forget our resolve to be persistent! Before you know it, we have gone through a day and hardly remembered our practice. After all, we have been busy! Or perhaps we get lazy. We think, “I’ll try again later, after I have finished what I am doing.” Or we are bored with our practice or feel like a failure. There are so many reasons why we give up! Brother Lawrence would simply advise that we get on with it. Every time we remember that we have let go of our practice of the presence of God, we simply are to return to it. There need not be any recriminations or laments. No matter how often we need to bring ourselves back to our practice, we just come back and begin again. Even after we have practiced for years and years, we will still find that we must bring ourselves back to our discipline when we forget it or put it down. If we can manage to begin again for as long as necessary, we will eventually find ourselves needing to do that less and less.

Spiritual dryness is another obstacle to our practice of the presence of God. All of us go through times when we feel far from God or perhaps it seems that God is absent. It can be very painful to have known consolations and then to have them stop. Or sometimes we feel that our prayers are empty or meaningless. We may feel like we just can’t pray at all. We may feel very far from God and alone. I have not known any spiritually attentive person who hasn’t had this experience of the journey to some degree. Often, this is a time of transition. It may mean that we are transitioning from one prayer discipline to something new. This may simply be the new normal and we are challenged to see or sense God in a new way (or not sense God at all). There are many different things that happen in these dry times – certainly, one of those things is that our faith is tested. In the complete and utter darkness, we question our faith. But somehow, when we emerge from the darkness, or sense it differently, we find our faith stronger than ever. We have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and even though we may not have known it at the time, God was with us and we emerged stronger for the journey. In the midst of this experience, how is it that we practice the presence of God? It is in these times that our persistence is most important. The presence of God may be changing in nature, but we still practice it. The nature of our turning to God may be changing, but we still turn to God. We may feel like there is no response to our turning to God, but we take this opportunity to grow in faith and trust that God is responding whether or not we can sense it. The challenges we face at times like these are the greatest we may ever encounter, but they are also the greatest opportunities for growth.

There are many other various challenges and obstacles we face in our practice of the presence of God, but most of them seem to fall into the categories we have discussed today. In our various trials, Brother Lawrence recalls us again and again to one critical response: just keep on keeping on. Persistence in the face of many different trials is one important key to success. Our obstacles are the same obstacles that practitioners have always encountered, and the simple cure is unchanged. There is nothing complicated or mysterious about it. Simply start again. As we start again, and then start again and then start again, we can trust that our efforts will be transformative in our lives.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Forgiving Ourselves

C.S. Lewis said, “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”

One of the prerequisites for the ability to extend life-giving forgiveness to others is that we experience ourselves as forgivable. I have known plenty of people who claim that they are beyond forgiveness. As C.S. Lewis says, they have set themselves up as a higher tribunal than God. This claim of being beyond forgiveness is an example of false humility which is really pride. I think we need to learn how to accept forgiveness from God and when we have learned this lesson, we can begin to forgive ourselves. We confess, repent, and accept the forgiveness of God and others and find ourselves reconciled not only to God and others, but to ourselves as well. One thing we eventually learn is that we are just like everyone else, both unworthy of such great love in our sinfulness and worthy of such great love because we are created for it. It’s just who we are. When we begin to know this, we begin learn to forgive ourselves. As we forgive ourselves, so goes our forgiveness of others.

When we say that we may never be able to forgive ourselves for causing some great harm, what we really mean is that we may never get over the guilt we feel. We may be right – we may always hold on to that guilt. But we don’t need to and in fact, we need not to. It can be a long, slow process and may take years. But there is a process, and just as we must forgive others, we must forgive ourselves. We confess what we have done, we repent and change our behavior, and we accept forgiveness from ourselves.

Suppose someone else commits the same transgression that you have committed and find unforgiveable in yourself. It may seem easier to forgive the other person for that same transgression than it is to forgive yourself. But then, we proclaim that there is no unforgivable sin. (I have always interpreted Jesus teaching that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin as meaning that when we reject God, we reject forgiveness and remain unforgiven because we have disallowed it, not because it is not extended to us). But then it seems, that the same rule of no unforgivable sin does not apply to ourselves (our pride again!). We may acknowledge the forgiveness of another and still refuse the forgiveness offered to ourselves. The truth is then that we don’t really believe the other transgressor is forgiven either. As we forgive ourselves, so goes our forgiveness of others. It’s just the way it is.