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Book of the Month: Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love

  Starting a new feature for the next several months called Book of the Month.  I will present one of my books and tell you a little of the ...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

do you see anything?

     They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
     He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
     Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22-26)

Do you see anything?  What a great question.  Notice, at this point at least, that Jesus didn't ask, "Do you see everything clearly?"  I wonder why?  Maybe it's because that wasn't the purpose of the first touch.

Life is absolutely full of decisions that have to be made.  And I don't know about you, but most of the time these decisions are anything but clear--at least to me anyway.  As a matter of fact, I'm in the midst of seeking God's direction in one particular aspect of this wonderful life and ministry he has called me to these days and, at this point at least, clarity is coming rather slowly, if at all.  In fact, I would love for it to become clear all at once, but maybe that's not exactly what he wants for me, or not exactly what's going to accomplish the purposes he wants to accomplish in me.  While I want the question to be, "Do you see everything clearly?"...because absolute clarity is what I'm most looking for and hoping for.  Maybe he wants the question to be, "Do you see anything?"...because maybe he wants to leave enough uncertainty that it makes me completely rely on him.  Richard Rohr once said that faith is a kind of knowing that is patient with not knowing.  Maybe he wants to leave enough not knowing that I actually have to trust in his infinite love and care for me, rather than my own ability to chart my path and determine my course. 

So, in the absence of complete clarity, he leaves me with the question, "Do you see anything?"  And it's a pretty great question when you really hear it and try to answer it.  I know I can't see everything, but what, exactly, can I see?  Even if my answer is something like I see people; they look like trees walking around.  Because answering that question has begun a process, which is exactly what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples in the first place: seeing clearly is a process.  It doesn't all happen on the first touch, if it did we would have no further need for subsequent touches.  I mean they had just seen him feed two different enormous groups of people with just a few loaves and a couple of fish, and immediately they get into the boat and worry about having no bread.  Are you kidding me?  They were seeing dimly to say the least, but at least they were seeing; especially when he called it to their attention.  And now, to illustrate his point, he heals a blind man in stages.  Incredible.  So there must be value in the process, or we would all be able to see everything on the first touch, right?  When we focus on the question, "Do you see anything?" it allows us to still be in process.  It causes us to still be dependent on Him, to continue to seek Him.  Trying to answer that question allows us to lean into an answer in a much slower, much more formative type of way.  It is almost as if God is saying if I give you the answer you will then stop seeking me, and the seeking me is really what I'm after.

So maybe the best thing we can do, until complete clarity comes (if it ever does), is to ask ourselves, "What do I see?"  And as I have asked myself this question in my current situation, I begin to recognize a few things that are extraordinarily helpful.  I see that you are at work.  I see that people are hungry for you.  I see that you have given me something very specific to give away and want me to be giving it away regularly.  I see that the life you have me living is a wonderful fit for the things you have given me to give away.  I see that you are actively working to lead and guide me if I will just pay attention.  I see that I still need clarity on a few things in particular, but that clarity is indeed coming over time, rather than all at once.  I see the fruitfulness of the activities and conversations you have placed me in the midst of...and it is beautiful...and I am incredibly grateful.  I see that the fruitfulness of certain things I'm doing at least appears to be more in line with your work and your Spirit than some others...and that is meant to tell me something.  I see that, although I cannot see everything clearly, I do see something...and that is a good thing.

O Jesus, touch my eyes again and again until I am able to see everything clearly.  And in the meantime, help me to trust your tender love and care, and to be attentive to what I can see.

               The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

                         ~ William Stafford

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

you give them something to eat

You give them something to eat. (Luke 9:13)

It seems to me there are two basic mistakes we tend to make here.  The first is thinking that we actually have enough to give to those starving, hungry masses that we have been called to play a part in the feeding of.  They are starving for life.  They are starving for meaning.  And we hear these words of Jesus and think, oh yeah, I got this.  Let me at 'em.  And, before long, we return, tail firmly between our legs...frustrated, tired, broken, thinking to ourselves: "How could I ever have believed that I actually had what these hungry ones were looking for?"  We get devoured.  They feed on us, we feed on them, it's one big dysfunctional feeding frenzy.  It is not us that they need to feed on, not them that will (or can) satisfy the deepest longings of our soul.  Or maybe a much more dangerous and seductive thing happens.  Maybe it actually seems to work.  Maybe they seem to like this food.  Maybe, for a while, things seem to be going well.  They are loving what I'm feeding them, and I am loving that they are loving it.  But what they are feeding on is not what they were made to feed on, it's merely cotton candy; sweet to the taste, but toxic to the soul.  It will never last, it will never sustain, it will never allow them to grow into God.  Simply put, it is not eternal.  And eventually we, and they, will fully realize it.

The second mistake we seem to make here is to think that we don't have anything to offer.  This too, is a lethal line of thinking.  Why else would Jesus turn to the disciples and say these words?  Maybe because he wanted them to recognize that they do have something to give, however small and insignificant it might appear to us to be.  And maybe because he wanted them to know exactly what it was that they did have.  You see, anything we do have, we have only because it has been given to us to begin with.  When God made us, when he dreamt us into being, he breathed certain things into us, into you, that were breathed into no one else.  And He breathed those specific things into us, into you, in order that we might give them to others in a way that uniquely expresses Him.  The magic happens when we recognize what we have been uniquely given, and then give it back to Him.  Once placed firmly in His hands it becomes way more than it ever could have been on its own.  He then, in turn, is able to give it back to us, in abundance, to pass along to our particular 50, whoever they may be.

So, it seems to me that a good portion of ministry involves simply knowing what you've got (what you have been given), giving it back to Jesus, and then knowing who (as well as how and where) to give it to.  Only then will the crowds of starving, hungry people that sit on the hillsides of our lives, yearning for meaning and substance and life, be able to eat until they are truly satisfied...in Him.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


     Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
     He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.)
     But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”  The disciples did so, and everyone sat down.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (Luke 9:12-17)

You give them something to eat.  It seems that a significant amount of doing ministry involves figuring out what you've got, even if it's feels like just five loaves of bread and two fish, and then figuring out how to give it and who to give it to.  You see, God gave you something wonderfully unique and specific, something that only you can give.  It may feel like five loves and two fish trying to feed a multitude, but in His hands it is more than enough to satisfy all, and still have some left over.  "You give them something to eat, because I gave you something very specific that only you can give.  First give it to me, and then I will give it back to you in abundance.  Then you will be able to give it to them, whoever your them may be.  And in the giving of it to them you will find that there is enough to feed you as well."  Incredible! 

There is one other small thing to notice however.  And it really is not small at all.  Once we are willing enough and courageous enough to give Jesus our little loaves and fish, he does something really amazing with it.  Amazing and frightening all at the same time.  He takes it, then he blesses it, then he breaks it, and then he gives it.  Now all of that sounds pretty great...except the breaking part.  Because, it seems, in Jesus' economy we can't be multiplied enough to be given, we can only be broken enough to be given.  It is in the breaking that the abundance seems to come.  It is in the breaking that the multiplying seems to occur.  As it will be for each of us. 

If we really want to have something of depth and substance to give, it will involve some sort of breaking.  The funny thing is that when we feel the most broken in our lives it is usually the time we feel least able to give, or the time when we feel like we have the least to offer.  But just the opposite is actually true.  It is when we are the most broken that we are actually most able to give something of substance and value to those we are trying to give ourselves to.  Because somehow, in the brokenness, it has stopped being about us and our ability to multiply ourselves, and has begun being about God and His ability to multiply our little loaves and little fish with His strong and tender hands.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

the hidden life of Jesus

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:39-40)

How interesting that, other than one instance when he is twelve years old, this is all we hear about Jesus until he comes into his public ministry at age thirty.  That's thirty years of virtual anonymity.  Thirty years of hidden, quiet, ordinary, everyday life.  Thirty years of learning and growing and working.  Thirty years of life in the same small community.  Thirty years of life in the carpenter's shop.  It is hard to look at that and not ask, "Why?"  Why on earth would God enter into his own creation and take thirty years before he really let anyone know about it (other than at his birth)?  Why would God With Us spend thirty years hidden from sight and only 2-3 years in the public eye?  What was God really up to here?  What is it that He was trying to communicate?  What do we need to learn from this?  Maybe that there is more going on in the unfolding of everyday, ordinary life than meets the eye.  God is mysteriously, and imperceptibly, at work.

And now we turn from the central mystery to the clustered events, through which its character is disclosed.  We see the new life growing in secret.  Nothing very startling happens.  We see the child in the carpenter's workshop.  He does not go outside the frame of the homely life in which He appeared.  It did quite well for Him, and will do quite well for us....  It is like the hidden life at Nazareth.  We must be content with the wholesome routine of the nursery, doing ordinary things, learning ordinary lessons and eating ordinary food, if we are to grow truly and organically in wisdom and stature and favour with God and man.  Growth in God is a far more gradual, less conscious process than we realize at first.  We are so raw and superficial in our notions, that we cannot conceive the nature of those tremendous changes by which the child of grace becomes the man of God.  We all want to be up and doing long before we are ready to do.
     To contemplate the proportions of Christ's life is a terrible rebuke to spiritual impatience and uppish hurry.  There we see how slow, according to our time-span, is the maturing of the thought of God.  Ephemeral insects become adult in a few minutes, the new-born lamb gets up and starts grazing straight away, but the child depends for months on its mother's love.  Sanctity, which is childhood in God, partakes of the long divine duration.  We often feel that we ought to get on quickly, reach a new stage of knowledge or prayer, like spiritual may-flies.  But Christ's short earthly life is divided into thirty years for growth and two and a half for action.  The pause, the hush, the hiddenness, which intervenes between the Birth and the Ministry, is part of the divine method, and an earnest of greatness of that which is to come.  Only when that quiet growth has reached the right stage is there a revelation of God's purpose, and the stress and discipline of a crucial choice.  Baptism, Fasting and Temptation come together as signs of maturity.  It is much the same with us in the life of prayer.  The Spirit fills us as we grow and make room.  It keeps pace with us; does not suddenly stretch us like a pneumatic tyre, with dangerous results.  To contemplate the life of Christ, said St. Augustine, "curses inflation, and nourishes humility."  We see in Him the gradual action of God, subdued to the material on which it works, and fostering and sanctifying growth--that holy secret process--especially growth in the hidden, interior life, which is the unique source of His power in us. (Advent with Evelyn Underhill)