Remembering Our Baptism

I was not baptized as an infant. My parents did not attend a sacramental church. In fact, my family seldom ever attended a church. I entered the baptismal waters as a teenager. This teenage baptism was the result of attending a “revival” meeting and a religious experience that were the beginning steps of my spiritual journey.

Since this baptism was not in a sacramental church, I was not told that my baptism was by the Holy Spirit and would bring me into the covenant given by our Lord but by a minister who counseled me to view this act as a witness of my obedience in accepting Christ. Needless to say, my baptism did not have as much meaning for me then as it does now.

The sacramental church I belong to now accepts this baptism because they believe there is one baptism (even though most non-sacramental churches do not). Even though I pastored non-sacramental churches for over 30 years, I was never fully satisfied with the theology of baptism it was taught. I have to admit I allowed some sacramental people who had been baptized as adults join the churches I pastored. I never, ever told anyone that their baptism as a child was not valid. For this act of heresy, I am not ashamed.

Now, as I seek a deeper walk with my Lord and my spiritual journey is both past/future in its theological construct, I walk in the present with my baptism as one of my secure spiritual ties with my Lord and faith. I carry a card with me with the words, “I have been baptized. I belong to God. I am new in Christ.” (My thanks to David DeSilva and his book, Sacramental Life, for this practice).

I read this card nearly every day. I desire to remember my baptism, no, I need to remember. My baptism has made me part of the Church, not just a church. My baptism is founded upon reality and a promise; Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ has come again. What a wonderful gift is this sacramental act that God gives to us!

In our home, we have an altar. On this altar are a cross, a paten and challis,  a baptismal bowl, towel, and baptismal certificate. to also help me to remember my baptism, to honor my baptism, and to seek to live my baptism. This act of memory continually provides me with food for contemplation, celebration, and anticipation of the promises of my Lord and my God.

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Is it a Fascination, Fantasy, or Fear of the Future?

While searching for something to watch on Netflix, I came to the realization that there are a lot of movies being made about a dystopian future and/or end of the world scenarios.  Many of these movies are about how human mistakes or sinfulness (as hinted at in the popular, Bird Box, movie) causes the end of the world or the horrible conditions humanity in the future live under. Others are about how aliens, viruses or some malevolent evil causes the frightful, catastrophic situations.

Evidently, in our world today, it is profitable to create entertainment that focuses on some of the worst possible scenarios involving humanity. The film industry would not be making these movies and TV shows unless people were paying to watch them. I cannot help but wonder why this is so (all the while pointing the finger at myself asking why I watch them)?

For me, I watch them as an escape. I enjoy seeing the hero or heroine struggle against the odds, against evil and overcoming. I am disturbed when they do not succeed or survive (I will never watch the movie, Skyline, again!). Likely, I have a strong warrior and magician archetype within my psyche.

In my younger, more foolish days, I actually faced evil and though at times I had overcome it. I have also faced evil and been soundly trounced. I no longer depend on any ability of my own to stand against any manifest evil I encounter. Evil is much smarter and powerful than I ever imagined. I know where my strength comes from and only when I am weak can I be strong. The only victor over evil is the Prince of Peace.

I believe, and it is only my opinion, that some people watch these movies as a means of coping with the deep down understanding (even when we are in denial) that we are all mortal. We are all in our last days because none of us know when the end will come.

I believe others watch them with the mindset of surrender, or with the fantasy that they will be the ones to survive through means of technology or evolutionary transformation. Perhaps through the pretend reality of the these visualize stories they find a sense of hope.

The reality, factual reality, is this world will not last forever. Even the stars die. This creation we now call existence will disappear.

Now, I do believe we can survive. I believe we can not only survive but thrive. However, I believe we can accomplish this not through any act of human transformation, but only through divine transformation.

In contemplative prayer, we draw near to God. This type of praying brings one closer to God. The closer one gets to God, the more one is aware of the transformation that can and does take place. The closer one gets to God the less fascination there is with how things will end. The closer one gets to God the less fantasy one must speculate about concerning the fate of this world and humankind. And, most importantly, the less fear one has to face about the last days of this world or the last days of their own lives.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
(Rev. 21:5-6 NRS)

 

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Clarity

Thomas Merton, in the later part of his life, believed he discovered a path which would fulfill a missing component of his spiritual search.¹ That missing component Merton found was clarity.

Clarity allows us to see the connection of things. Clarity allows us to develop the ability to participate as fully as possible in the life of God. Clarity allows us in times of doubt, pain, suffering, injustice, betrayal, and uncertainty to see beyond the chaos to the order, the “effect” that illuminates God’s love in times when our world seems quite dark, tangled, difficult and confusing.

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Recently, I have returned to blogging as a means of sharing my journey as a spiritual pilgrim and seeker of the Way of Truth. Years ago I used blogging to challenge a significant injustice in the denomination I was serving.  After that time I used blogging to focus on spiritual issues in order to help the churches I was serving.

To be honest, I have not been an active blogger for the last two years. During the past few years, I found blogging to be very hard. It was hard because I found myself in a very difficult situation that neither prayer nor continuous reflection provided any understanding. I found myself in a situation of struggling with hidden evil, angry, hostile spirits that left me empty and distracted. I was always busy but felt very unproductive.

I also found myself in a  struggle with graceless attitudes while engaged with people who wanted to embarrass and hurt me no matter how I tried to love and serve them. This struggle took its toll mentally, emotionally, physically, financially and, sadly, spiritually.

Finally, I finally realized I was viewed as an expendable religious consumable that others had decided to cast aside. I must be honest, I had never felt lower, more worthless, and hopeless in my life. This is not a place I would wish on any human being. I reached the point of hoping the physical pain I was experiencing would increase in hope that it would eclipse the mental and spiritual pain I was enduring.

So, after a conference with a suspect supervisor who either unknowingly or very cleverly confirmed the hopelessness of my situation, I officially retired from the organization I was serving and threw myself at God’s mercy. It was a moment of clarity.

I know, this sounds like a poor me pity party and perhaps, up to this point it actually is. This is where clarity comes in. Once I made the decision to step away, the darkness and fog began to clear. I still had the pain and the uncertainty of how I would financially support myself, but what I received was more than enough compensation and consolation.

Suddenly I begin to see a pattern and purpose to all I had experienced. God was moving me to a place of healing. God was picking up the broken pieces and putting them back together in a new way. God was showing me a path of faith I likely would never have known this side of eternity without going the things of the past two years and sparring me the uncertainty that now faces what I left.

Some people seek certainty. Some people seek continuity while others seek conformity. As for me and my house, I am thankful for clarity that makes the complexity something to embrace rather than avoid.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. (Isa. 55:8 NRS)

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¹Mystical Theology and Contemporary Spiritual Practice, Ed. Christopher C.H. Cook, Julienne McLean & Peter Tyler, Rutledge, NY, 2018)

When Rollercoasters are Not Fun

I can remember many, many, many moons ago when going to an amusement park and riding a roller coaster was “fun”. By fun, I mean pretending, while standing in line with your friends, that you were not afraid while somewhat thrilled deep down inside with what was about to take place.

I can remember the eagerness to try and get either in the front or back seats of the long, multi-car creature. I can remember getting in the seat and waiting for the bar to come down, that bar that you would cling to for life, as the ride began.

Then came the slow, clicking and movement as the cars began their slow ascent up the first hill to the top. Once at the top, heart beating rapidly, time seemed to stand still for a second. Suddenly the car would build up speed, people would start to scream, and the sweeping adrenaline rush filled my body with the excitement and pleasure of the thrill of the ride.  Often the ride seemed to go on and on but then, suddenly,  it seemed to end too quickly as the cars pulled into the stations for you to disembark and the next group was given their turn.

The last time I rode on a rollercoaster was some 10 years ago. All I can remember is how badly my joints hurt when the ride was over. Roller coasters are no longer on my “to do list” anymore.

Yet, now, as I journey on my spiritual pilgrimage. I find myself on roller coasters of emotion, spiritual struggles, and the events of life that put me on this ride, but not of my own choosing.

The feelings of riding these roller coasters are not those of excitement and thrill, but of pain, sorrow, suffering, sadness, depression, doubt, rejection, and regret. I seldom know when these roller coaster rides will begin and know even less as to when they might end. In fact, some of them never seem to end.

I still yell and scream, cry and lament the ride. I still grab on to the thin bar of faith as tightly as I can. Sometimes I just close my eyes and hope this valley, the downward plunge will be the last, but so far, it has not.

You cannot change the path of the roller coaster. But you can change the way you deal with the ride. You can remember that no matter how long or terrifying this ride seems, it will end. All things in this life end.

You can let go of the bar, hold your hands high in the air and give in to the reality that either the bar will hold you in place or not. If not, your ride will end. The ending may be tragic, but it will end. If the bar does hold you in, then you experience the confidence and assurance that your bar, your faith will do what it is supposed to do.

So let the valleys and the hills come. Let the speed and uncertainty of life come. Remember, you are not alone on this ride, not now or ever.

Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. (Isa. 40:4 CEB)

Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be leveled. The crooked will be made straight and the rough places made smooth. (Lk. 3:5 CEB)

 

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Afraid to Grow Old

While at Starbucks this afternoon I noticed a man likely in his mid 70’s with a wife who was likely in her mid-20’s who the man guided around like a prized filly. The man, with obviously dyed blonde hair which was combed forward to try and cover a bald area, appeared as if he had recently had a facelift with tight pulled up cheeks. He was dressed in stylish clothes that you would likely see in an Abercrombie and Fitch advertisement, was wearing a lot of gold jewelry and paid for his coffee with a twenty dollar bill surrounded by numerous one hundred dollar bills taken from the center of a money clip with an apparent diamond in its center.

I make no judgment of this man. He is entitled to dress any way he wants, display his wealth any way he wants, and marry whoever he wants. Yet as I encountered this individual I could not help but feel this man had a fear. I felt, by his actions, his words, and the way he tried to project a bravado, this man was afraid of being old.

Luke Timothy Johnson in his book, The Revelatory Body, writes that there are two types of cognitive dissonance that faithful Christians must contend with in order to live out our days on this earth. First, states Dr. Johnson, “is the massive societal denial of aging, which is in effect a denial of death.” The second “is caused by the tension between the bodily experience of diminishment – the pull of mortality is ever more obvious – and the Christian hope for a “life-everlasting” in the form of a bodily resurrection.”

Our culture is centered on youth because youth is equated with a better life. To be young means that death seems far away. The body seems strong and vital, beautiful and optimistic. So many who find the years slipping by quickly seek to recapture youth through an artificial appearance and a lifestyle of denial.

I myself, at the mere age of 64 find this to be an exciting time. I have no desire to be young. I am aware that my time in this phase of the journey is limited and I am thankful for that. I am closer to being with my Lord unhampered by this fallen world. What a reason to rejoice. I also know that many of the characters of the Scripture did not even begin their finest work for the Lord until they reached this age.

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness. (Prov. 16:31 NIV)

For this path I am grateful. For this chance, I glory in my Lord.

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Strength in the Face of Temptation

I have found that one of the enemy’s key strategies in my life is to seek to tempt me when I am least on my guard. It may be while I am searching for a topic on the computer or when I am casually walking in a store. Temptations such as anger, acedia, pride, and arrogance can seemingly come out of nowhere.

St. Ignatius speaks much about discernment, however, the ability of discernment requires awareness and the skill of awareness must be developed. The tool Ignatius used to help develop an awareness leading to a more discerning way of life was to practice the prayer of examen.

Ignatius believed we should practice the prayer of examen at least twice a day, once at noon time and the other at night. By taking the time to engage in this prayer (10-15 minutes) a person can become more aware of the times of temptation as well as the times in which God was drawing close to us in our daily lives.

The prayer of examen involves five (5) steps:

1. Stop and take the time to do something to remind you God is always present.
2. Think of the things you should show God gratitude during your morning or day.
3. Pay attention to the times you felt you were acting in God’s will and times in which you were moving away.
4. Confess you times of failure and ask God to help you depend on him in the hours, minutes, time ahead.
5. Look toward honoring God as you continue your day (specifically plan to do something you can do to honor God).

You will be amazed at how this simple act of prayer can strengthen you against the enemy’s actions.

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Don’t Let the Enemy Win

St. Ignatius gave the church a powerful tool to use against our enemy in spiritual warfare and in spiritual direction. The tool is a set of rules to follow while living with the understanding we have an enemy bent on the destruction of our soul and the limitation of our spiritual growth.

Eighth Rule. The eighth: let the one who is in desolation work to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him, and let him think that he will soon be consoled, diligently using the means against such desolation, as is said in the sixth rule.

What this means is simply, don’t give in. In times of spiritual desolation, we will find it hard to pray. The answer to this is to pray even more. In times of spiritual desolation, we will find it harder to focus on spiritual matters. The answer is to focus even more on spiritual matters.

Spiritual desolation and non-spiritual desolation are very difficult to deal with. It can be a major struggle when things are not going well in one’s life. When you have been betrayed, slandered, discarded without regard, and then stepped on by a world that sees no value in you at all, desolation can be a crushing weight and continual searing emotional pain that seems hopeless.

When in such a state, it is time to reflect upon the last days of Jesus. It is time to rejoice that you have been given the opportunity to feel. It is time to put things in a perspective beyond the moment and let yourself be present with the one who is with you, the one who feels everything you feel. The one who has been there and rose from the grave to show us the day of consolation will come.

Amen!

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