Gracious God

I believe in God we live, and move, and have our being.  I believe in God’s grace, in the abundant life of his presence, and the redemptive power of his love.  I believe I continually stand in the sunshine of his presence.  That his light shines on my soul from moment to moment.

What does this mean?

Oh Lord thou hast searched me and known me.  Thou knowest my downsitting and uprising, thou knowest my thought afar off.  Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.  For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.  Thou has beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.  Whither shall I go from thy spirit?  Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.  If I say surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.  Yea the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.  For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.  I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there were none of them.  How precious also are thy thoughts unto me O God!  How great is the sum of them.  If I should count them, they are more than the number of the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee. (Ps 139, KJV)

I believe that grace is made possible through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ.

That without the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the justice and holiness of God would make it impossible for us to come into his presence.  In fact the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood is no forgiveness (He 9.22 NIV).

Before his crucifixion, only God’s High Priest could come into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies, and then only on the Day of Atonement, and only after he had been cleansed with blood.

Korah, who led a rebellion against Moses in the desert and was then swallowed up by it, said this to Moses and Aaron: “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Nu 16.3)

Are we not like Korah when we presume we can come into God’s presence without the blood of the lamb, without putting on the righteous of Christ, thinking ourselves worthy because God ought to meet our own expectations of him?  But if God encompasses space and time, then he is unimaginably old, unimaginably big, and unimaginably deep.  How can we pretend to comprehend the mind of God?

But Christ, through his own blood entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (He 9.12).  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Is 53.5).

God had to satisfy his own justice in order to redeem us to himself.  He could only do that by laying down his own life for our sins.  Without this self sacrifice, I do not see how grace can obtain.

And that is why I believe in the virgin birth, Christ’s death and resurrection, and the trinity.

Paradox and mystery are at the heart of the godhead, of math, of science, and life itself.  Math and science are to me, not a contradiction of my faith, but an amplification of it.

I stand in awe, and give God praise.

What Matters Most

What matters most?

When I was in college, my answer to that question was God, my mind, my friends and family, and my health, in that order.  While in some ways I still like that answer, I’ve got to tell you that those priorities did not by themselves enable me to live well.  In fact I was a pretty miserable person.

I suppose every person has to answer that question subjectively.  Still science is beginning to be able to tell us objectively what it means to live well.

One of the founders of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, has come up with an acronym for five essentials to well being, PERMA: positive emotion, engagement (i.e., of our attention), positive relationships, meaning, and achievement.

Where is your practice taking you?  What do you practice, and why?

From the time we begin our formal education till the time we’ve finished with it, the focus of our practice tends to be on the last piece of well being, that is, on accomplishment.  We study hard to get good grades, to go to a good school, to get a good job.  We run and lift weights to be stronger and faster, to be the best at our position on the team, etc.

Competition can make us better.  It can make us beautiful, and it can make us ugly.  It can lead to a win at all costs mentality epitomized by Lance Armstrong.

Remember your humanity.  Your practice should in some way touch on all the five essentials.  Take care of your emotions, pursue those ideas and skills you are passionate about, cultivate positive relationships, and build meaning from your faith into your work and community.

By so doing your practice will make you a blessing to those around you, and you in turn will be blessed as well.  You will have transcended success, and discovered happiness and significance.

The Enneagram as Practice

The enneagram of personality is a powerful means to self-discovery and self-acceptance.  The practice takes time and discipline to bear fruit, but is worth the effort it takes to learn.

I first became acquainted with the enneagram about three years ago at a seminar on spiral dynamics.  I asked the presenter whether focusing on the various memes wouldn’t lead to making comparisons of oneself with others, and hence to psychological dissonance.  She replied that such might indeed be the case with me, and that I would do well to be aware of it.

Her reply really pissed me off.  And try as I might, I couldn’t seem to shake this feeling of anger.  I tried breathing through it.  I tried to focus all my attention on what she was saying.  But still I was positively glowing with anger.

At the lunch break she was sitting at a table with an open seat, so I sat down across from her and told her of my reaction.  She asked me a few questions about myself, and then told me she thought I was a “4” on the enneagram.  Turns out fours are driven by envy, or rather a sense of inadequacy.  They focus on what is missing from their lives.

In spite of being aware of my jealousy since college, and thinking I’d overcome it, I immediately sensed the truth of what she was saying.  The anger went out of me like water from a flushed toilet.

I began to learn about the enneagram, and something called shadow work, coming to terms with the least desirable aspects of myself.

There’s a saying in psychology that goes something like this, “Whatever gets repressed gets expressed,” or “if you don’t express it, you project it.”

Shadow work begins with being aware of what’s going on in your body.  What emotion are you feeling and where is it in your body?  As you become aware of this you can move into it and accept it, “Oh yeah, I’m feeling jealous,” or “I’m feeling inadequate.”  And somehow that recognition and acknowledgement allows me to exhale.

That’s my ego’s defense mechanism engaging.  But that’s not me.  I am in that ineffable witness beyond labels that experiences these thoughts and feelings, and yet transcends them.

Falling Down Dream Steps

A big dream is a great leap from wherever you are now.  If you try to clear that gap in one terrific long jump, chances are you’re going to take a big pratfall.

I want to write a book; a great leap from where I am now.  A few weeks ago I read Stephen King’s On Writing, and decided to give up something that was working for me, namely this blog, in order to work on something that is at least two quantum leaps from where I am now, i.e., writing a novel.

So instead of writing a good 300 words a day, I had one day where I wrote 1000 words, and lots of days of nothing.  My confidence went from about a six out of ten to zero.

I tend to bite off more than I can chew.  Instead of eating the elephant one bite at a time, I make like a python and try to eat the whole thing at once.  When it doesn’t work I don’t change my strategy, I look for another elephant.

That at least has been my modus operandi for the first half of my life.  It hasn’t worked.

So I’m back to what was working for me: write one coherent 250 word essay each working day.  And on top of that, I’m now going to add this “dream step:” write 250 words of dialogue each day.  Once I can consistently achieve both, I’ll take another dream step.

The python strategy is for comics books, where Peter Parker can get bitten by an atomic spider and turn into Spiderman.  Michael Phelps didn’t get bit by a spider, or struck by lightning.  He just followed a careful plan of small wins that eventually led to 22 Olympic medals.

Dream steps are the stairway to heaven.

Listening to Bagger Vance

Bagger Vance spoke to me last night.  I’m just not sure what he said.

I’ve been looking for my “authentic swing” all my life.  I’ve felt broken inside without any memory of being fixed; with scars from a battle never fought; playing on a field littered with skills unmastered.

What does Bagger have to say to the likes of me?  Does God visit the camps of losers, cowards, and incompetents?

I have to believe in a god of second chances.  I have to believe that even if I lay down and slept for a thousand years he’d give me the chance to walk that quadrillion kilometers to heaven.

So maybe Bagger would say to me that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.  And though I’ve slept for fifty years, God’s been waiting patiently for me to awake, to take up my bed and walk.

See the field…what is my field of action?  The things I care about: family, community, writing, and models.

A man’s grip on his club is like his grip on the world…what is my grip on the club?  My discipline, my practice is my grip on the world; where my spirit, mind, and body come to grips with life.

What’s my battle, my game waged against the titans of golf?  I take my place in the arena with the other gladiators; to dare to be measured against the likes Jones and Hagen, or be gutted on the floor of the coliseum to the delight of those who sit in the stands.

Identifying with Work

The strangest thing happens when I identify with my work: I can’t do it.  As soon as I start thinking, “I am a writer,” I lose the power to write.

If that’s who I am, then nothing’s ever good enough.  “That’s not me.  I can do better than that.”  I can’t stop revising.  I can’t even get past the title.

I’m not a writer.  I just write.  The power to write comes from writing; as long as I keep the words flowing onto the page, I know it’s going to be OK.

As soon as we identify with our work we lose sight of the work, and start thinking of how we’re perceived by our audience.  Not who our audience is, but who we are in the eyes of our audience.  We may need to know who our audience is if we want them to understand our work, but we can’t think about whom we are as perceived by them.

We’ll never get naked up there on the stage with all the eyes of the world watching us.  But if that’s where our work takes us, then that’s where we need to go.

For our work to be genuine we need to be vulnerable.

That’s what the sports world means when they talk about having amnesia.  The ones that have it are focused on the next pitch, the next pass, the next catch; they are focused on the work, and not on themselves in the eyes of the arena.

Practicing the Presence of God

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; (Acts 17:28, KJV)

Several years ago I was turned onto a beautiful book by a friend from church, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a monk of the 17th century.  Since then I have tried to make a practice of being aware of God’s presence.

God is inescapable, and his presence is always Here and Now, regardless of where we are or what state we’re in: If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou are there (Ps 139:8, KJV).

In the Bible the Hebrew word ruah means both breath and spirit, as when God, “… formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” (Ge 2:7, New Living Translation)

So it is natural for me to associate God with my breath, and whenever I want I can come into God’s presence merely by observing my breath and knowing that God is in it, and in me.

Another way to come into God’s presence and into his joy is through praise, “…but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” (Eph 5:18-20, KJV)

This “giving thanks always for all things unto God” is so powerful and so simple a way to come into God’s presence; and it is not just the big things but the little things especially we can take notice of and be grateful for.  Read the poem Pied Beauty by Gerald Manley Hopkins.  I think this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote those verses in Ephesians.

God’s presence is all around us; all we need to do is take notice to walk with him.