I’ve spent the weekend reading theology books of various kinds. Some were academically oriented books that went right over my head. Others were written for the rest of us (without formal theological training) that I could understand.
Some of what I read I found myself agreeing with. Some made me uncomfortable because it stretched me in areas where I’d rather stay within in my comfort zone. Some (not much) I just flat-out disagreed with. And some I couldn’t even pretend to understand.
Our culture tends to idolize the macho, the tough, the strong, those that never share or display their wounded hearts. We instinctively hide our vulnerable parts in order to keep those tender and wounded places safe.
This is sometimes a necessity because there are many times and places where it would not be safe to let our vulnerability show. But when we find those moments of safety where we can risk letting down our guards and letting others in, our vulnerability often becomes a magnet to others who discover in us the freedom to expose their own vulnerability. Giving each other glimpses behind the masks that we so often wear allows us to see a bit of the true beauty that each human being holds.
“Such love does the sky now pour that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home.” ~St. Francis of Assisi
I have gotten a glimpse over the last few months of the love that St. Francis was referring to. This has grown out of the unbelievable beauty of being showered with so much love, kindness, and generosity by those around me to allow myself to open up to the possibility that of accepting this kind of love not only from those around me, but also from the divine.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity of seeing the divine “with skin on” in the faces of the people in my life that has made this possible.
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” ― Brennan Manning (in Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging)
I wrote last week about the idea of being loved by God as our primary purpose. That has been a big enough shift for me to contemplate in and of itself, but accepting this kind of radical definition of my purpose and being changes everything else, too.
“We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.'” ~C.S. Lewis (in The Problem of Pain)
I encountered this quote on Facebook this morning, and it’s been on my mind all day. I’ve often heard it said that God loves us, but the emphasis has always been on the expectations that fact places on me for how I should respond. This turns the focus completely around.
My book club discussed Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness at our meeting this month. Although Salzberg is a leading Buddhist writer in the US and a name with which I am very familiar, this is actually the first book of hers that I have read. It’s considered a classic in the field, from what I understand, so it was a great place to start.
The primary focus of the book is on the Buddhist practice of metta, which is translated into English as lovingkindness. The book covers this practice, several related practices that intertwine and grow out of a metta practice, and applies this practice to real-life situations that all of us face. It is unmistakably clear how powerful this practice can be in the way we experience the world around us and the amount of happiness that we experience.
We’ve finished reading through the Pentateuch in my Introduction to the Hebrew Bible class this semester. It’s striking how much of instruction (torah) in these books is about how to actively live out one’s faith in the context of the world in which they found themselves at the time. While many of the instructions given for that time period in that setting no longer apply to our world today (like the animal sacrifices), it does make me think about how to best re-apply the fundamental concepts of loving God and loving neighbor in the world in which I find myself today.
As I look around me, I notice that there seem to be two primary ways that people go about this intentional practicing of their faith in the real world. Both have Biblical precedent, and both seem to be common approaches throughout human history.
“It is not judgment that breaks the heart, but mercy and love.” ~Hasidic lore
I came across this quote tonight on Facebook, and it seems to sum up my experience of the day in an unexpected way. It’s been a day filled with blessings—full of mercy of love—that took me completely by surprise. And I’ve been on the verge of tears much of the day.
This didn’t make sense to me until I saw this bit of Hasidic lore, and it clicked.
As I considered my thoughts for yesterday’s post on God as silence, I was drawn to revisit a book by Gary Thomas that I read years ago. It’s called Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God (the link is to a more recent edition than the one I read and own, but the content appears to be substantially the same from what I can tell).
In this book, Gary presents nine distinct spiritual temperaments that he claims have different ways of best relating to God. No one-size-fits-all approach to worship or discipleship will work for everyone. Given that God designed each of us differently, he suggests that discovering our temperament (or blend of temperaments) will enable us to best form a relationship with God in the ways that we were created to be.
This sounds like a relatively straightforward concept, but I still remember how revolutionary the idea was for me when I first encountered this book. I had struggled all of my life to fit into a model that did not suit me, and suddenly I was given permission to relate to God in the ways that best suit me!
I attended a gathering of a faith community yesterday during which we explored the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Having grown up in the church, this is a story that I know well. The emphasis is normally on the response of the father in the story to the return of the prodigal and the complete forgiveness, acceptance, and joy that is expressed at his homecoming.
There are ways that I can relate to the prodigal son, and I am humbled and grateful anew every time I hear the story at the welcoming response of the father. There is not a single “I told you so,” not a single lecture, no accusations or reminders of mistakes, just an open-hearted and open-armed welcome filled with love and joy.
But the character I have always most related to in the story is the older brother. I have an overly wide streak of the judgmental, self-righteous, play-by-the-rules older brother who believes that acceptance and reward should be based solely on what one earns. I work hard at obeying all of the rules trying to be deserving enough, and it riles me when I see someone who did as they pleased be treated with as much or more reward. I’m not a bit proud of this part of myself, but I know it’s there.