Redeeming the Time

     I come from a liturgical tradition (Anglicanism). In this tradition there are many ways we mark the passage of time. We have holidays, liturgical season, feast days, etc. One of the most important, if underutilized, ones is the Daily Office.

The idea of ritualization of time goes back at least as far as Exodus 29:38-42, where God instructs Moses on how to make daily offerings. The Didache (written in the late First Century) gives instruction on which days to fast on and on how to recite the Lord’s Prayer at least 3 times per day. By the time the New Testament Canon was established in the Fourth Century, there was a set pattern of prayers throughout the day. When St. Benedict established his monastic system in the seventh century, it revolved around the regular schedule of prayers throughout the day. The examples continue to the present day where we now have millions of Christians (primarily in Roman, Anlgican, and Orthodox traditions) who pray in regular patterns throughout the day, with many of them using the Daily Office.

The core concept of the Office is that intentional and structured prayer should take place throughout the day. We live in a society where many of us feel that our prayer time interrupts our work. The Office teaches that this is thinking backwards. Periods of work actually interrupt our time of prayer. The rhythm of our day is not to be dictated by what day of the week it is, or what our work schedule calls for. It is built around prayer, which then anchors everything else we do.

Use of the Daily Office means that your prayer is driven by Scripture, which takes you deeper in to God’s Word as well as God’s Will. It reorients our perspective and helps us avoid the trap of making prayer time a shopping list of our wants, desires, and needs.

The most common criticism of the Office is that it is too regimented or ritualized. This is merely an excuse, because humans are habitual and ritualistic by nature. Whether it is morning routines that cannot be altered, playoff beards for NHL teams, or choosing the same seat every time we go to church (or school), it should be noted that rituals are very important to us. It is just that some rituals are hard because our short attention spans make it hard to focus on them. Sacred rituals are ones that invite us in and teach us new things over the course of time, often years.

What are the key components of the Daily Office? It varies somewhat with each tradition, but it revolves around a thorough reading of the Psalms, readings from other Books of the Bible, and prayer. Though an Anglican, I pray the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, which uses a much more extensive set of readings from Scripture, as well as writings from great Christians from the past.

In The Liturgy of the Hours, the entire Book of Psalms is read every 28 days. The Psalms are neglected by many people because they are not cited heavily in defining doctrine. We each have a few favorites, but most of the 150 Psalms are relatively unknown. By working through the whole book each month, you slowly learn the unique message of each Psalm and make their prayer your own prayer. More than half of all Psalms can be categorized as laments and this is very helpful in times of struggle or fear because they can give voice to things that you may not be able to find the words for.

In addition to the Psalms, there are readings from the rest of Scripture. In the Office of Readings, which is read first thing in the morning, entire books of the Bible are read over the course of days or weeks. Additionally, there are readings from great Christians from the past, sometimes as commentary on the reading just completed, other times on key aspects to living a holy life. In addition to this, there are three readings that are recited every day (which automatically become memorized within the first year of praying the Office!); Psalm 95, read in the Office of Readings, the Nunc Dimittis (the Song of Simeon from Luke 2:29-32) in the morning and the Magnificat (the Song of Mary found in Luke 1:46-55) in the evening.

A consistent discipline of praying the Daily Office cannot help but impact the one who prays it. Days come to be seen in terms of what prayer comes next. Life is lived to the rhythm of the texts and the poetry of the Psalms can occupy your mind throughout the trials of each day. It can serve as a reminder that your Christian live can still be lived in the context of “praying without ceasing” even when your life is lived in the midst of a secular and unbelieving culture.

I would encourage you to try it … but I would ask you not to pray for a day and then decide if it is efficacious. Pray it every day for 30 days before deciding! The Daily Office is a cultivated discipline, not an instantaneous one.

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Categories: Bible Study, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Why Do Christians Serve Others? I’ll Give You 4 Reasons Why

Let’s talk a little about service to others.

Religion can be a tricky thing in our day because it runs the risk of being a head game. We can get so wrapped up in Greek etymologies, theological gymnastics, and the finer points of doctrine that we run the risk of concluding that these exercises are an end in themselves.

If that doesn’t get you, there is also the common trap of concluding that emotions themselves are a theological good. For many, doing things that make them feel good with themselves carries the automatic assumption that feeling good is a spiritual ideal. Of course, this is pure narcissism; so, why and how should Christians engage in service to others? Here are a few points worth considering:

1. Service to others is a key aspect of personal spiritual development. During the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, one of the big debates was between the Roman Catholic doctrine of ‘Works Righteousness’ versus the Reformers’ doctrine of  ‘Salvation by Faith Alone.’ Ever since then, whenever someone brings up the need to “do” anything as part of their spiritual life, they are immediately shouted down by would-be Martin Luther’s crying “Works Righteousness,” which, all assume, immediately nullifies the argument. But, this whole argument misses the point. I agree completely that Faith comes from the Grace of God and the Faith of the believer. But, while I agree that Service to others is not key to Salvation, it IS key to Sanctification. If we seek to grow into mature Christian faith, it cannot be a passive process. We must engage in learning, in transformation, in service, in evangelism, and in spiritual warfare (but perhaps not in that order).

2.  Service gets us out of our head and focused on others. The best cure for narcissism (focus on the self) is service to others, because the focus must be on them. When you serve others without the hope of fee or reward, you learn to take the focus off you and put it where God wants it to be! In Matthew 25, the sheep and goats are separated based on whether or not they have served others, because in serving others, we serve Jesus.

3. Service changes our attitude about others. Jesus said to pray for our enemies. When you honestly pray for the well being and happiness of someone you cannot stand, it is only a matter of time before God warms your heart and you no longer hate the person. This is how our hearts are transformed into what God intends for us to be as human beings (Matthew 5:44).

4. Service to others helps with the human need for connection. Our society is drifting towards greater isolation. 15% of the adult population is now taking medication for depression or anxiety. Many people think social media is a substitute for relationships, but studies show that prolonged Facebook use actually increases depression! Humans are not meant to be alone. The American image of the rugged individualist is anathema to Christianity; that is why we have church. We are called to share with one another, to lean on one another for support, to help one another, and to encourage one another. These things cannot be done alone.

In James 2, we read his explanation about the role of serving others in our spiritual lives. In verse 17, we read; “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” We cannot experience the growth, serve Christ directly, be the Good Samaritan, or contribute to the building of Christ’s Kingdom unless we engage in meaningful service to others.  I know that in my life, I would be perfectly content hiding from the world with a cold can of Mt. Dew and a good book. I have to intentionally work at serving others. It is easy to be a friend to others, but to sacrificially serve is another matter. There are times I have approached it with fear and trembling … but I have never regretted it in the end. God always teaches me something in the experience!

What DIRECT role does service to others play in your daily walk with God?

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Do Denominations Matter?

The reasons why people are drawn to a specific church vary. It may be a convenient location, the music, the preaching style, they may have friends go there, etc. In the “old days,” if you belonged to a denomination and moved to a new town, you would immediately search for a church in the same denomination. Today, the norm is to go “church shopping” and you shop until you find a church that fits just right.

I would suggest that many of us do this because we have become consumers of religion. We treat our faith lives like everything else in our lives. We want it in the color, shape, and size we like and we demand excellent customer service. If we don’t get all of these, then we immediately take our business elsewhere.

But, churches belong to denominations for a reason. For Americans, the sense of individualism often leads us to believe that our local church is all that matters. Regional and national leaders are unknown and work being done at the national level is a total mystery. The problem is that American individualism is a BAD thing when it comes to Christian life. By definition, Church is meant to be community. It is meant to be the chorus of saints, past, present, and future, joining together to worship God and it is the continuation of what Jesus began in order to spread the Gospel to the world.

Denominations vary quite a bit. Their doctrines vary, their organizational structures vary, their goals and priorities vary, and how they view the work of the Church varies.  Often, we will view this in terms of some denominations being “right” and others “wrong” in their approach. In some cases this is true, but in most, it is not (A topic for another day). For most, the differences are ones of emphasis and benign neglect (all of us emphasize some Scriptural principles and neglect others), they are of aesthetics (worship style and music), and they are of personal taste (community life and personalities).

If we are making a True Pilgrimage through this life, how we understand our own church and denomination is more important than we think. It steeps us in a specific heritage that shapes us (perhaps unknowingly), it helps us remember that we are part of something bigger than ourselves (and, given that the Fall is all about us thinking that there is nothing bigger than ourselves, we need all the reminders we can get), and situates us in a specific form of spirituality. Whether we know it or not, our identity is profoundly shaped by the denominational heritage.

I belong to a denomination called the Anglican Church in North America. Why is this important to me? There are many reasons, but here are five which illustrate the importance of knowing your denominational heritage.

1.  Worship. I grew up in a tradition that didn’t place much emphasis on anything in worship other than the sermon. As I encountered Anglican liturgy I called me to experience the full richness of historic Christian worship. For a long time, I didn’t understand why we said or did some of the things we do, but learning them became part of the journey of growth.

2.  Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. This Latin phrase means, “The law of prayer is the law of belief.” Many denominations are based on the theological work of an individual (like followers of Martin Luther or John Calvin) or of a group. For Anglicans, doctrine and worship are not separated. They are woven together so strongly that if you were to ask me what the best book of Anglican theology is, I would give you the Book of Common Prayer. Our words, actions, and even the rubrics instructing certain actions all proclaim our faith through worship.

3.  Anglican Heritage. Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945-1961, wrote, ““We have no doctrine of our own, we only possess the Catholic doctrines of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic creeds and these creeds we hold without addition or diminution.” This means that the English Reformation of the 16th Century was not focused on building a “new” Church or theology. Instead, it sought to reclaim the faith and belief of the early Church (when the Church was truly catholic, or universal). This is known as the Patristic Age (the first several centuries of Christianity) and in it the Canon of Scripture was set and the early Creeds were formulated.

4. Incarnational theology. It has been said that Evangelical Protestants are a Good Friday people and focus on the crucifixion. The Orthodox are known as an Easter people and focus on the mystery of the Resurrection. Pentecostals, as their name implies, are a Pentecost people and focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Anglicans are a Christmas people and focus on the incarnation of God in human flesh. Wrestling with why God would choose to come here as one of us, and the love that undergirds such a decision impacts much of Anglican belief and practice.

5. The Sanctification of time. Humans live in rhythm of time, whether it be the school year, the weather seasons, or even by baseball season. In Anglicanism, daily life revolves around the Daily Office and the year revolves around the Liturgical Seasons. The Daily Office is a set of prayers prayed at different times of the day. These prayers include extensive readings of Scripture and the reading of the entire Book of Psalms every 30 days. The Liturgical Seasons build church life around the key events of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. By Sanctifying time, we bring prayer, remembrance, and anticipation to daily life in a very concrete manner.

I believe strongly that our denominational heritage plays an important role in our formation. I do not believe my way is for everyone (just more people), but I would encourage you to wrestle with your own and how it impacts your pilgrimage.

Can you say what draws you to your heritage? I would love to hear about it!

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What Is Worship? (In 5 Easy Steps and less than 900 words!)

One of the keys to making a True Pilgrimage is to have worship play a central role in our faith lives. For people from different denominational heritages, this will be expressed in different ways. My particular heritage is Anglicanism, so I wish to speak in Anglican terms today.

Anglicanism sees itself as the via media … the middle path between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. At the time of the Reformation, this meant a middle way between the corruption of the Roman Church and the excesses of the Reformers. The English Reformation sought to reform theology and structure, but to also maintain a direct link with the early church. Lutherans look to Martin Luther and the Reformed movement looks to John Calvin, but Anglicans do not look to a particular founder. We look to the Patristic (Church Fathers) writers of the early centuries of Christianity and this is reflected very strongly in Anglican worship.

I was not always an Anglican. I spent much of my life and ministry as a Congregationalist. Over time, I found myself drawn to liturgical expressions of Christian life. I began to pray the Daily Office, to attend an Anglican Easter Vigil Service, and to engage in other liturgical spiritual disciplines. For years, worship planning was something that had to have a “wow factor,” a “takeaway,” or even a “visual metaphor” so that people could leave the service feeling impressed. I did this for years!  Then, one day, during a worship planning session with my staff, I suddenly realized that we were no better than children playing in a sandbox and thinking that the structures we were building there were important and would last. It was then that I knew I had to make a change. I have never regretted the move to the Anglican Church because the center of worship planning is no longer the experience people will have, it is focused on doing well before God.

For many people today, worship is about what they get (fed, inspired, etc.). For Anglicans, worship is something we do. At the center of our worship is the liturgy, which traces its roots back to the very early Church. Good liturgy has a number of characteristics, 5 of them are briefly described below:

1. Adoration. First and foremost, worship is about giving adoration to God. To adore God is to recognize how big God is, how insignificant we are, and to understand how amazing it is that God desires to be in relationship with us. Adoration is expressed in our music, in prayer, in the seriousness with which worship is planned, and in the reverence with which it is done. Worship is when finite and limited human beings give praise and love to the infinite and unlimited God of the universe.

2. Catechism. Anglican worship is rooted in the early years of Christianity when literacy was rare. Without books to refer to, repetition and memorization became very important. The Lord’s Prayer, the 10 Commandments, the Nicene Creed, and the Prayer of Confession were said out-loud and in unison at every service as a way to help teach (catechize) new believers the core principles of the faith.

3.  Community. Western culture in general and American culture in particular are built on the notion of individualism. Each of us is seen as the master of our own destiny and each is left to find their own “truth.” For Christians, however, this is antithetical to God’s plan. Jesus did not send us out to be on our own. He instead organized us as Church so that we could make the pilgrimage of faith through this life together. He also established His Church to be a place where love is given to the loveless, hope is given to the hopeless, and help is given to the helpless. The Church, by definition, is community in everything it does. And when worship is done well, we not only join as congregation, but our voices join the chorus of voices that have both gone before us and will follow after us.

4.  Growth. Not only is catechism reinforced each time we worship, but we learn in other ways as well. The readings from Scripture teach us directly from God, words of the hymns sung are (usually) full of depth, we experience healing with Confession & absolution, we grow closer in praying for each other, life lessons are (hopefully) learned from the sermon, and we become more filled with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God never intends to leave us as we are. To believe is to grow further from what we were once like and closer to what God has intended us to be since before we were born.

5.  Inspiration. Finally, Worship is inspirational. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we can leave the struggles of the past behind and move closer toward the Kingdom of God. We find hope, peace, and the encouragement needed to do the work that God has set for us to do. Some people make the mistake of thinking that inspiration is all that is accomplished in worship. Actually, it is only a single piece of something far bigger and more meaningful.

This is just a cursory overview. Future blog entries on worship will develop and expand what is here. What is your reaction to it? What is still missing?

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4 Things Christians Know About Suffering

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“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how” – Friedrich Nietzche

     Suffering is really the acid test of faith. If we cannot hold to our faith when the world seems to be falling apart around us, then our faith is shallow and useless.

By definition, Faith is trust in God and that trust includes the belief that God is good, God cares for us, and that “God works all things together for good for those who love Him” (Rom 8:28). If this is the extent of our faith, then what happens when the random and capricious suffering of life strikes? We take our eye off the road for a moment and the ensuing accident kills one of our children. We get distracted at work for a moment, and a machine amputates a limb. We go to a public event and there is a shooting or bombing and we just happen to be in the wrong spot at the wrong moment. We go through the experience of pregnancy for the first time and weeks before the baby’s due date, she stops kicking and we find that she has died in the womb. We spend years struggling to find professional success and just when we reach the top of the mountain, we receive news that we have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Sadly, the examples are endless.

What happens at these times? What happens when the suffering is so profoundly unjust that it challenges our very belief in the idea of a loving God? This is where a clear understanding of life and suffering are essential for Christians. There are four things that all Christians should know in the very depth of their beings about suffering:

1.  Suffering can be random. When something goes wrong, people often ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” To be honest, the answer can be “nothing.” The universe does include random events that are not focused on us or caused by us.  This means that it is possible to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time!

2. Suffering is not an end unto itself. Though we may be in a terrible season of life, we can and do get through it and life is different on the other side. Part of the journey of suffering is knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that there is dawn after the darkness, and that there is a better tomorrow.

3.  Suffering does not have the last word. A key belief of Christians is that love is stronger than hatred and that life is stronger than death. The death and Resurrection of Jesus are proof of this! If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then we must believe his promise that we will also, which means that death no longer has any control over us and that suffering CANNOT have the last word.

4. Suffering can be transformative. Suffering often appears to be pointless, but it doesn’t have to be. We can learn from and even grow from the experience. In the time of suffering, we can hear God’s voice in ways we have never heard it before. We can also learn about life, about love for others, and about our own purpose in life. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:

“… we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering

produces endurance, and endurance produces character,

and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint

us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through

the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:3b-5)

So, at its essence, the question of suffering is not so much one of meaning, it is one of trusting that God can give meaning. If we trust God, and only if we trust God, then we can find that meaning.

May God bless you and keep you in your times of darkness and suffering!

Categories: Suffering | Tags: | 1 Comment

Discernment As A Means for Measurement

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Discernment is about perspective and about measuring the progress of our pilgrimage.

People have been awed this past week by the image from the Cassini Space Probe circling Saturn. Because of an interesting alignment of celestial bodies, the probe was able to capture a picture of Earth as seen from Saturn. Seeing its size and insignificance has left an impact on people. It has been a great lesson in perspective.

What Cassini has offered our planet, discernment offers to our faith.

I once knew a minister who liked to give riveting sermons and follow them with prayer where he would ask people to raise their hands (while everyone’s heads were bowed and eyes closed) if they had made a “decision for Christ.” The first time I saw it in person, I was very moved, but I later discovered that this was the end of the process. Once they had been won for Christ, the work was over and the new challenge was to win more for Christ. I later realized that the goal of this process was not lives that had been transformed by a significant and continuous encounter with the Risen Christ, it was instead an effort to get people to agree to a set of theological doctrines. If they gave intellectual assent to Christianity, as interpreted by this particular minister, then nothing else was needed. For the most part, people could continue to go about their lives unaffected, but also rest assured that their decision guaranteed them a place in heaven.

Now, I agree that this is all that is needed for salvation; but, is that the extent of the Christian Pilgrimage?

Real discernment involves a process of learning how to hear the voice of God in our lives and to reflect on not only how we are doing in our pilgrimage, but also on what God is calling us to work on at each of the many stages of that pilgrimage.

Where is God at work today in your life? What mistakes are you making that God is bringing to your attention? What issues in your life is God working on with you? My own  experience is that God is very patient!  When I don’t get a lesson, God seems perfectly happy to teach it again and again (with escalating consequences each time I don’t learn it) until I actually learn it and put it in to practice.

For many Christians, questions like these never get asked. When the goals for a church focus on decisions for Christ, Baptisms, church attendance, and giving, quantity can supersede quality. There is a business quote that says, “What gets measured gets done.” If Christian growth isn’t something we are measuring, then it may not be getting done. Discernment is the measuring of how we are doing in growth.

To know God’s will for our lives, we must first hear God’s voice. Given the nearly unlimited human capacity for self-deception, if we cannot hear God’s voice calling us to growth, then we may stay trapped in old, unhealthy, or destructive patterns of behavior. This is why the discipline of discernment is so important.

In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul contrasts the Fruits of the Flesh and the Fruits of the Spirit. The Fruits of the flesh all bring discord, broken relationships, struggle, pain, and suffering. The Fruits of the Spirit all bring serenity, healing, and the peace that passes all understanding. Achieving the Fruit of the Spirit is not an instantaneous event, but the results of a fruitful discernment and the True Pilgrimage of Christian Faith.

How do we work on discernment? There are a number of possible ways, the best combination of them varies person to person. Among them are, prayer, quiet time for reflection (I am especially good at this when I take my dog for long walks), having an accountability partner, journaling, and having a spiritual director. There are others, but these should give some of the flavor.

The goal of this post was to argue for the need for discernment. Future posts on this topic will explore specific methods.

In closing, I share the words of Paul, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:90-11, NIV).

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The Journey to Wholeness

Many writers today talk about spiritual “maturity,” which usually assumes that all who fall short are immature. Immaturity implies a lack of understanding what is key or essential. In the Christian life, we look to children as being immature because we assume they cannot possibly fully understand what the faith is all about … so we relegate them to Children’s Church or Sunday School, where we blithely assume they will be properly educated and trained in everything Christian and then join us once they are fully prepared.

Really?!?

Perhaps our understanding of maturity is wrong. Our general understanding of it is that to be immature is bad and needs to be left behind once we become mature. For example, children may want to eat cotton candy for dinner, but they only do so because they are immature. Only after they gain a proper understanding of the need for a healthy diet can leave the old notion behind and then be considered mature. This same approach is applied to our faith. Children believe in angels, miracles, and in the notion that God cares about even the smallest details of their lives. Many adults look upon this as immature and believe that it needs to be replaced by a proper theological and biblical approach to theodicy and to life (this approach lies at the heart of most arguments about Infant Baptism, minimum ages to receive Communion, proper ages for Confirmation, etc.).

What would happen if our journey was not one of leaving our earlier lives behind as we moved to a life of “maturity,” but instead moved from a life that was partial to a life that is more whole? This would mean that we do not need to leave things behind, but rather add to them and refine them. Instead of striving to be mature, imagine if we journeyed to wholeness?

This is actually a key concept in being a True Pilgrim.

The pressure of our culture is to compartmentalize our lives so that home life should not interfere with work, faith should not interfere with politics, and personal problems should not become a burden to our friends. Much energy can be expended trying to ensure that something from one compartment doesn’t leak into another one! We can even reach the point where we believe that God can act in our compartment called “faith,” but cannot really act in other compartments, so we leave God out of the other parts of our lives. How immature!

Imagine if instead of this, our life was a journey to wholeness: a journey of integration, a journey where all aspects of our lives come together into a seamless whole. Imagine a journey where we incorporate old understandings, experiences, and hopes into new ones as we deepen our understanding of our lives!

As we reflect on where we have been and on how our faith life is developing, we do not need to push the past away. Instead, we can acknowledge it as having been a part of our journey and as something that can offer lessons for us as we move forward to greater wholeness. It is important to not let past experiences keep us form moving forward in our journey of faith and life, but we do not need to let those experiences go in order to move forward.

To be a True Pilgrim is to understand where we have been, to honestly know where we are, and to have an understanding of where we are going. This particular spot on the journey may not offer the best views, but it gets us closer to the destination than we were yesterday.  Pilgrims are all about the destination!

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To Listen …

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Every Monastic Order has a Regula … or “Rule” that it follows. This Rule serves as a set of written instructions as to how the monastery functions, what its priorities are, and how the monks are to go through their daily routines. Adherence is strict, not for the sake of following r

The most famous Regula in Western Christianity is the one written by St. Benedict of Nursia who lived in the 6th Century. He sought a way to follow Jesus that avoided the extreme of accommodating the values of the culture on one hand and the extreme of severe asceticism and self-denial on the other. The motto of his order is “ora et labora,” which means “pray and work” and he sought to have his monks live a life where prayer led and informed the work.

The first word of the Rule of Benedict is “listen.” Many today think of prayer as us talking to God and telling God everything we want and need. For Benedict, prayer was mostly about listening. We need to listen for the voice of God in the everyday occurrences of life. We need to hear God speak in the ordinary moments because for God, nothing and no one is ordinary. Life is full of holiness and God speaks of all that is holy.

Listening is also important because it is God who shares wisdom, not us. It is God who guides life, not us. It is God who touches our souls and the souls of others, not us.

Do you listen? Try to listen in the days to come and hear what God is saying.

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Pilgrimage versus Journey

Being On Pilgrimage Versus Taking A Journey

What is the difference between a pilgrimage and a journey? The distinction may seem a bit trite, but the intention is significant.

To take a journey implies movement and distance, but does not necessarily specify a destination. It comes from a Latin word meaning a day’s work. You can take a journey for sight seeing, to accomplish a task, or even for running an errand. The journey may have a purpose, or it may not. It may have a specific destination, or it may not. You could even find yourself on a journey of discovery or a journey of growth.

To be on pilgrimage implies something altogether different. It is intentional, it has a specific destination, and is only undertaken with great care and planning.

It is intentional because the journey is a time of training and preparation. There is more to the pilgrimage than the destination. The pilgrimage transforms the pilgrim into someone who is finally able to reach the goal … and the goal is something that is unattainable for non-pilgrims.

It has a specific destination and the destination is always a holy one. It can be to a specific place, like the Holy Land (Israel), or it can be a specific state, like being transformed into the image of Christ so that the pilgrim can make a meaningful contribution to the building of God’s Kingdom.

Finally, it takes preparation. We cannot just decide to be pilgrims, we must do the hard work of being pilgrims. This comes through prayer, Bible study, a consistent practice of spiritual disciplines, and learning to love and serve everyone we meet. Each day brings new challenges and new tests.

For Christians, the call of God is to be True Pilgrims. We are called to walk this world each day with the destination in view; transformed by each experience to better prepare us for the destination, God’s Kingdom. Though it can be tough at times, the destination is the only meaningful one in this life!

Happy Pilgrimage!

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Some Notes on Worldviews

The complexity of the human brain is staggering. Though it only weighs about three pounds and makes up only 2% of the total weight of the human body, it can consume up to 25% of the energy the body uses! There are as many as 100,000,000,000 neurons and as many as 1,000,000,000,000,000 synaptic connections. New Knowledge or the development of new skills leads to a physical restructuring of the neural pathways. Given this degree of complexity, it is important for the brain to organize, sort, and prioritize the many processes that it must engage in so that it can function effectively. It must also filter our extraneous stimuli so that they do not take up valuable processing power form the brain.

How does this work in practice? Basic bodily functions are all automated, skills acquired become more automated (think about the difference between first learning how to drive a car versus driving a car once you have gained 20 years of experience), and reactions become automatic. As you drive, you probably pay little attention to the size, shape, or color of vehicles going in the other direction. You also ignore routine sounds like airplanes, noises made by the wind, or chatter by strangers.

As part of its functioning, your mind also develops a “worldview.” which is a fundamental set of assumptions and beliefs about how the world works and about how life is supposed to be lived. Your worldview defines how you perceive reality. Its construction is based on experiences, education, lessons learned, and socialization into a particular culture. When you interpret a sensory stimuli, an experience, or a memory, it is understood in the context of your worldview. In other words, we do not see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.

The development of a worldview is usually an automatic and mostly unconscious process that can only be restructured with great intentional effort. This is why the journey of a True Pilgrim is so counterintuitive. It requires us to first go against, and later change, our worldview. We have to learn to not see the world as we are, but to see it as God does.

Jesus made great use of worldview challenging experiences and stories: the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, the parable of the Prodigal Son, and the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet, are just a few examples where Jesus challenged the worldview of his listeners and tried to get them to see the world differently. Some people understood, but most just became angry at Jesus because they didn’t want to change how they looked at the world and at life.

Developing a Christian Worldview is an enormous part of becoming a True Pilgrim. It requires us to learn to love people we have never wanted to love, to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others we have not wanted to do anything for, and to live generously even though there are often times when we do not want to.

How do you do the work of forming a Christian worldview? Think about someone you dislike, something you do that you know is wrong, or some area in your life where you are selfish, self-absorbed, or short sighted. This can be VERY hard to do because we tend to look ourselves in a rather optimistic way. So, fight past that, think of a way to change that situation so that God will be pleased, and work on it.

This is just a single example, but it starts you down the True Pilgrim’s path of reforming your worldview.

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