It is quiet here this morning. Joe has taken the grandboys fishing and I am getting ready to rev up the preparations for our big celebration—26 plus friends and family—for Easter brunch after church tomorrow. But for now, I sit in the quiet, pondering those hours inbetween, that drawn-out day when no one quite knew what was to come, when Jesus was no longer in the tomb, but had not yet shown up to shock the world with His presence and shower humanity with resurrection hope.
I feel like I know these inbetween seasons so well… these times when one thing has ended, but something else hasn’t yet begun, when the old has been sucked away, but the new has not yet dawned with its expectant promise.
The inbetween is, for me, the hardest of all—when a hole in my heart waits to be filled, when an empty tomb reminds me that my future hangs in the balance. I’m living in the vortex of one right now, and not a day goes by that I don’t wait in silence before the Lord, wondering what will unfold…and when…and how. Anxiety threatens my peace, fear assaults my steadfast resolve.
I read a story once of a trapeze artist who said that the most agonizing moment in every show is when they have let go of one bar, but haven’t yet taken hold of the next. There, suspended in midair, they know nothing but the beating of their own hearts.
This, I think, is what this Sabbatum Sanctum, this suspension between crucifixion and resurrection represents for us. The inbetween...hanging midair with only the sound of our own heartbeat. Through the centuries, the church has labeled this day many things—Holy Saturday, Black Saturday, and the Great Sabbath. My personal favorite is just Easter Eve, the reminder that the inbetween I am living, though it can feel as if it will never end, will one day face the dawning of resurrection light. It always has. This is my hope.
In case you missed it: kandi pfieffer and i talk about what we love about jesus in our final lent live conversation.
Last year an old friend dropped me a line via email, connecting me with another friend of hers, because in her words, we "had some common threads." Her friend was Alicia Britt Chole. Since then the two of us have had some email and book exchanges and let me tell you, this woman inspires and challenges me. I love her deep humility and love for Jesus and the beautiful way she puts words together. As I started going through her book, Forty Days of Decrease for Lent, I wanted to get a little more from her--even an inside scoop on her own Lenten journey, so I asked her a couple of questions, and she readily acquiesced. I know you will be blessed by this guest blog. A little heads up--this woman will make you think! Oh, and she was once an atheist and now runs a spiritual retreat center with her husband!
You say in your book that God is more interested in what we are becoming than what we are giving up for Lent. Often it seems we can't tell what God is doing when we are engaged in various Lenten practices. How can we know we are "becoming" as a result of our fasts and not just giving things up?
What a great question! Becoming is, on one level, a function of sheer existence. The direction and depth of becoming, however, is a function of our focus. If the focus of our fasting is relational, I think our "becoming" -- i.e., coming into greater be-ing -- is assured. The good news is that our understanding is not the author nor the great assessor of that becoming. In other words, our becoming isn't on pause, awaiting the emergence of accurate vocabulary in our minds.
My comment: I think she's telling us that if we are focused on our relationships with God and others during Lent, we can be confident we are "becoming" or "coming into greater be-ing." That is such encouraging news. No matter how you think your Lenten journey has gone, cling to this lovely morsel!
How would you recommend we take the gains of Lent and invest them into the future? (People say they'd like to continue Lent practices, but we often don't).
I talk a lot more about this in my next book (The Sacred Slow: A Holy Departure from Fast Faith). As a spiritual mentor, I encourage leaders to live heaven-down. Earth-up living starts with what we can see and measure; with what we like and dislike. Many self-improvement lists and New Year's resolutions are created earth-up. Earth-up living gifts us with realism, but rarely with grace.
My comment: I can't wait to get her new book--coming out in September--preorder or read about it here!
To take the gains of Lent into the future, consider adding heaven-down living to such realism. Heaven-down living begins with listening prayer and responds with intentionality. A simple prayer, "God, what would please You in this season?" can guide us to focus upon components of Lent not for the sake of the components but because that's where Jesus' companionship is leading us.
My comment: The simplicity of that--listening prayer and intentionality--is captivating. My takeaway is that Lent is not a side road in our spiritual journey, but a continuation of what God has been doing in and through us--or where Jesus has been and is now leading us.
Love is what turns disciplines into offerings. With love, fasting is relational just as feasting is relational. After Lent, I will ask Jesus what would please Him as I head into our Spring/Summer. Though I probably will not hear anything audible or see anything tangible, I will have a longing, a leaning, a hunger, or an interest in a practice or purpose. Whether that looks more like the fasting of Lent or more like the feasting of Pentecost, if I do it with Jesus and in Jesus, I'm pretty sure that He smiles.
My comment: ...a longing, a leaning, a hunger, or an interest in a practice or purpose. Consider what this might be for you and press into it as Lent comes to an end. Then sit back and feast on the smile of Jesus! Thanks Alicia for some words that we can feed on for a long while.
IF THIS SHORT INTERVIEW LEFT YOU WANTING MORE:
Watch a video of Alicia talking about how to process pain in light of the cross here.
Visit her website and take a look around--great resources here!
As we enter Holy Week, I pray you will experience the wonder of redeeming love like never before!
Join me for my final Lent Live on facebook this Wednesday at 6pm. Click here.
THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET CHRISTIANS DON'T TALK MUCH ABOUT: If you missed last week, Kandi Pfeiffer joined me and I know you'll be blessed as you listen. It includes some great and practical teaching and I promise it will make you laugh!
The ancient Celts used to say that there are only a few feet between heaven and earth and at times, that distance can be even smaller. When this happened, they called it a "thin place." A thin place is that Kairos moment, that holy instance where God breaks in and we experience him in ways that are precious and transformative and impossible to describe.
Thin places can be our experience during majestic moments of communal worship, or in the sleepy solitude of morning prayer. Thin places often emerge through our encounters with nature; The roar of the ocean arrests our heart or the sound of birdsong captivates our soul or the wind in the trees immerses us in a holy hush.
While we cannot control how or when the space between heaven and earth becomes thin—that is the work of God’s Spirit—we can learn to be available and aware so that we do not miss these rare treasures. This has become harder and harder to do as we try to navigate lives entrenched in digital noise, immersed in the incessant chatter of our devices.
STEP ONE: list the ways you invite noise into daily life
You might be surprised at how immersed you are in noise-creating technologies. Walk through your day—what are your digital practices? How do you handle pings, beeps, and other notifications? How often is the radio droning on the background when you are driving? When is the TV playing? Make a simple list--don't judge yourself, just make the list.
step two: ask, 'what do i gain, what do i lose?'
Take a couple of minutes to assess how beneficial or how detrimental each noise-inducing practice is. Use a scale with -10 being extremely detrimental and +10 being extremely beneficial. Again—you aren’t judging yourself, but simply trying to make an honest evaluation.
STEP THREE: CHOOSE ONE THING FOR A NOISE FAST
Look at your list and choose one thing you will fast from for one day or more. Will you turn off smartphone notifications? Eliminate the radio in the car? Leave the TV off?
step four: listen to the silence
Don’t fill those quiet places with other kinds of noise or busyness, but seek to be still and simply listen. Hear your own heartbeat and the sounds of the world going on around you. Listen to the Spirit of God—does he have something to say?
step five: ask again, 'what did i gain or lose?'
At the end of the day, take a few minutes to evaluate how the fasting from that noise inducer helped or hindered you in your overall well-being and spiritual journey.
step six: CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE AND DO IT AGAIN
If you have seen the real benefit of a noise fast, determine to make this a habit of life. Choosing to eliminate one source of noise every day will open up space for Kairos, for that place between you and heaven to grow very thin. These are the moments that make life the awesome adventure and holy wonder that God intends for it to be.
JUST JESUS: Click below to listen to my personal story of falling in love with Jesus (audio only)
LENT BEGINS MARCH 1, ASH WEDNESDAY.
Join me on Wednesdays at 6pm Pacific Time, for facebook live
to share your journey and be encouraged!
In my last blog I noted that Lent begins March 1, and shared one reason why practicing Lent is good for your brain and your soul. Find out another reason in the short video below!
It's not too late to order a book to help you on the journey. Here are a couple of options:
Would you rather inflict pain on yourself than be alone with your own thoughts? That was the question some researchers posed a couple of years ago. In an unusual study, they put people in a room alone with no devices for 15 minutes. But first, they had them them try pressing a button that inflicted a painful electric shock. This would be the only thing in the room with them. The researchers were not greatly surprised when people expressed how difficult being alone was, but they were stunned that over one fourth of the women and two thirds of the men ended up giving themselves a shock. Really? What would you do?
The reality is that our relationship with technology is making it harder and harder to be alone with our own thoughts. Indeed, for many of us, our smartphones have become another limb that we just can’t imagine doing without. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can have our devices and live a balanced life in which solitude and silence are like dear friends we run to for solace and support.
What does this have to do with Lent? Lent is a blessed season not only to focus on the life and death of Jesus and all it means for us, but also to let go of some things that have interfered with our mental, emotional and spiritual health. There are three reasons a Lenten experience can be good for your brain and soothing to your soul: The power of story, the power of experience and the power of repeated practice. I will share more about the first one today, and the other two in my next blog.
The power of story: Our brains are wired to connect with stories in a way that information or even good theology cannot provide. This is why we can hear a great talk or sermon and even take copious notes, yet a week later, all we remember is the story the speaker told at the beginning. Stories animate the part of our brains that retains memories, and thus are a powerful way to strengthen our spiritual understanding.
The first time I decided to really press into the story of Jesus’ final journey, I thought it would take me a month, but instead it took almost a year. I walked through every moment of the story, visualizing what really happened—what the atmosphere was like, the sounds, the sights, the smells, the emotions of the characters etc. That process truly transformed my life, and has continued to do so every year during Lent, as I walk with Jesus once again. I know this is true for many of you as well.
The profound reality is that Jesus’ journey to the cross is contains every element of our own lives, particularly our struggles-confusion, anger, fear, despair, betrayal, abandonment—the list goes on. As Scripture reminds us, Jesus is not a high priest who “cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are…” (Hebrews 4:15).
When we spend forty days focusing on the story of Jesus’ final hours, taking the time to meditate, contemplate and connect our own story to his, deeper neural pathways are laid in our brains, and our souls absorb the truths of the gospel far more powerfully than through any other kind of learning process. This makes Lent well worth observing.
My book, Contemplating the Cross, is a 40-day journey with Jesus in his final hours. Using narratives, Scriptures, and personal contemplative practices, it takes you into the heart of Jesus and connects your story with his. You can find it here.
I am also personally going through the book: 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger, a Different Kind of Fast by Alicia Britt Chole. I have gotten to know the author a bit via email, and love her heart and passion to help us experience the ways of Jesus. You can also find that book here.
(As I noted in my last blog, in lieu of New Year’s resolutions each year, I focus on a theme the Spirit leads me into. For 2017, my theme is “Abiding.” This is the first of a series of posts on my journey).
Ducking out of the rain into Marshall’s, I closed my rarely used umbrella and set out to find some warm jogging pants that I could work from home in. As I perused the vast array of choices, a typical conversation went on in my mind that sounded something like this:
You know you have one pair of jogging pants at home—why can’t you just wear those? Just because they aren’t the latest “jogger” style, why should you spend that money? You could give it to the poor. Think of all the people who can’t even come out of the rain because they don’t have a home like you—what are they wearing?
Slightly irritated, I argued back that I had every reason to buy a new pair of joggers and besides, other people would buy several pairs without even thinking about it and I would never buy those expensive ones—twenty bucks would be my limit. Conscience cleared, I found what I was looking for and went on my way.
The next morning, I asked the two questions I usually begin my prayer time with: Lord, where did I see you working yesterday? and Where did I miss you Lord? Immediately that shopping experience came to mind, but before I could tell God all the good reasons I bought those joggers, I sensed his gentle voice asking: “Why is it that you would rather talk to yourself instead of me about things like that?”
Taken aback, I began to think of how often I do that, interacting with what I will call my inner Pharisee, a term I think I first read in a book by Brennan Manning. You probably have one too—that voice in your mind that tells you what you should or shouldn’t do, shutting down arguments like a row of falling dominos. Through the years I've learned well how to argue right back, and often win, getting my way in the end.
As someone who longs to live like Jesus and become more like him, there are two huge problems with this:
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
The reality is that whether I bought those joggers or walked out empty-handed, the evil desires of my heart—things like greed or independence or selfishness or pride—would have stayed buried. I might have felt wise in my devotion and discipline, but remained in bondage to a god that cannot make me who I really want to be.
What does this have to do with abiding? Abiding means to live with my heart toward heaven, ever sensitive to the gentle whispers of the Spirit as I go about my day. That’s how I experience rest and peace and joy in God’s presence, things my inner Pharisee can never provide.
Does this mean I am supposed to check in with God every time I want to buy something? That’s probably a question only an inner Pharisee would ask. What really matters is; how connected with Jesus do I want to be, day in and out? I really do long to live as he lived, in close communion with my heavenly Father. This desire alone has the power to silence that inner Pharisee because it creates space for God to speak, should he choose to.
He doesn't always speak, but when he does, God often surprises me. That morning after my shopping experience, as I repented of listening to my own voice and serving my inner Pharisee, I pondered what would have happened had I asked God for guidance when I stepped into Marshall’s. In the silence, I sensed him saying: “I would have said, ‘yes, let’s find some joggers.’ I’m pretty sure if I’d listened, I would have enjoyed myself a lot more, and probably found a better deal.
How do I go about doing this? George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, once wrote an epistle in which he charged his followers to “Let your life preach.” While Fox was addressing the need for our lives to match our beliefs, Parker Palmer, a popular educator wrote a book suggesting that we first need to let our lives speak to us, to tell us what we might need to know about who we are, and what we are called to do in this world. He writes:
Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.
If you’d like a simple focus for 2017—why not let the life you lived in 2016 speak to you? For the full exercise, click here, but here’s the quick version: First, you look back over the year and jot down things like your most significant experiences, your most painful struggles, any life-changing events etc. Then, as you read the list, you prayerfully consider a couple of questions like: What do you want me to know, Father? Where do you want me to grow? As answers come, journal what you are sensing, and then distill your notes into one word or phrase that might be your focus as you begin the new year.
I was totally surprised by what God led me to for 2017. There were so many big events for me—a book launch, teaching my first seminary classes, Joe’s major accident etc. but the event the Lord kept bringing me back to was our unplanned kitchen remodel. Gently, God called me to relive that experience, reminding me of how I had no control, that the entire thing was a gift I couldn’t manage, and could only wait and be grateful as it unfolded. As I sat with the Spirit in this place, I heard the word abide, and knew that was to be my focus for 2017. I am not sure what this is going to entail, but I will share with you as we go.
Meanwhile, have a blessed New Year, and if you’d like to trade in your resolutions for a spiritual exercise that might just make a real difference, click here.
READ: Luke 2: 1-7, Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 53:3-11, Revelation 4:1-11 (Click on verses to read)
Have you ever taken the time to think deeply about what happened when the Almighty entered into the womb of a woman? When the Son of God became the Son of man -- flesh and blood, bones and joints, muscle and sinew? I love the picture Daniel Fuller paints in his book, Unity of the Bible, in which he describes the incarnation as a winding staircase, stretching from the glory of heaven down into a battered and broken planet. While God's redemptive plan was in His heart before the foundation of the world, humankind's first glimpse of it is in the stable that reeked of animal dung and moldy straw, where a newborn babe lay shivering in the chill of night, vulnerable in every possible way.
To me, the most stunning thing about Christ’s descent from glory was His choice to let go of His role in sharing equality with God. Though in essence He retained His Deity, in experience He chose to give up His rights as God, meaning He had to depend upon His heavenly Father for power or wisdom or guidance or even sustenance. What must it have been like for the all-sufficient Son of God to know that in coming to earth He would be at the mercy of weak and sinful human beings? Can you see Him there, standing on that staircase just before the Spirit placed Him in Mary’s womb? What kinds of thoughts went through His mind?
From that manger in Bethlehem, Christ’s descent from glory soon continued. His parents became vagabonds, settling as strangers in a foreign land where their livelihood depended upon Egyptians who probably detested them. Later Mary and Joseph would establish their family in Nazareth, a place of derision for its lack of any distinguishing mark, even among the Jews. As Jesus prepared for public ministry in the wilderness fast, the god of the world He’d come to save taunted Him for His fall from power, daring Him to reclaim His rights as the Almighty. He refused, and the descent went on.
For the next three years the Son of Man sought to do His Father’s will while sleeping in fields and hills, looking to benevolent women for financial support, seeking solace through prayer in the wee hours of His dark and lonely nights. Scorned by heathens, rejected by the religious elite, living under constant threat of death, the drumbeat of descent pounded out its rhythm day after difficult day.
Down and down and down the winding staircase Jesus went, as His closest followers denied and abandoned Him upon His arrest. Then mocked, spat upon, slapped, and scourged to a bloody pulp, He was paraded through the streets like a criminal and hung to die, while His earthly mother looked on in despair. And for six hours on Calvary, the Son of Man descended to the very depths of depravity as He took on the sins of the world, leading to the most painful predicament of all – a severing of relationship with His Father.
This is just a smattering of the descent from glory that awaitd the baby Jesus when He entered our world . We will perhaps only grasp the scope of it when we see Him one day on His throne, radiant in splendor, attended by angels and worshipped by saints from every tribe and tongue. But there could be no better time to ponder such a thing than on Christmas Day, as we celebrate our Lord’s birth.
So as we read the Christmas story and exchange our gifts and share our meals, let us take time to remember what it really cost to redeem fallen humankind. May we muse on that manger scene through the prism of glory, where our King reigns over all; His beauty filling the temple of the heavens and splashing out across our world in wonders we are privileged to behold. And as we do, let us bow and worship the One who planned that descent to make us His own long before this world was formed. Worthy are you Oh Lord.
Today is one of celebration, family, sharing, and fellowship. Take a few minutes to give thanks for all of these things as you ponder that staircase. See Jesus going down it step by step. Read the following passage slowly and prayerfully, asking the Spirit to give you fresh revelation of what it meant for Jesus to humble Himself and become a man.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)
Now read the rest of the passage, turning into a prayer of praise and worship for the King of kings and Lord of lords whose birth we celebrate today.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Enjoy the day!
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Passionate about spiritual formation, slightly obsessed with technology and the soul, author of 8 books, affiliate professor at Fuller Seminary, wife of one, mom of two, grandma of four.