Thursday, December 15, 2011

"I'm Not Playing, so I Already Won"



Catchy title, huh?  This is what my daughter used to say when the game wasn't going her way.  (we tease her all the time about it now)  In a strange way, this kind of sums up where my spiritual walk has taken me.  Grace seems like an easy thing to understand--"getting something you don't deserve".  But I think it's a tremendously deeper concept than that. 


The physical realm makes some pretty hard demands on us---it's a dog eat dog world, as they say.  It's frightening, really.  And on top of that, there is this tremendous desire to make something of ourselves, to prove ourselves...to win.  We want people to praise us, to notice us, to make us feel we are important.  This is utterly normal.  What child doesn't constantly say, "look at me, Mom!".  This is what the teachers of contemplative prayer call the 'false self'.  Psychologists would probably call it the 'ego'.  It seems to me it's what the Apostle Paul is referring to as the 'first Adam', or maybe even 'the flesh'.   Literalists really don't this kind of talk...your not allowed to question that an actual Adam and an actual Eve were the start of the human race.  For a fundamentalist, your not a Christian if you don't believe that-- because then, "you might as well throw out the whole Bible". 


I'm not trying to be mean; I understand because I used to think the same way...I'm just glad I not longer need the Bible to line up with science in order to believe it has a lot to teach us.  (side note: There very well may have been an actual Adam and Eve; to me, it's not important.  It makes much more sense to me that the creation story is speaking of spiritual truths.  Therefore, I don't believe in a literal 'tree of life'...like one that grows fruit you would actually eat with your mouth.  That doesn't make the story any less important to me...in fact, it makes it much more important)  So, back to the first Adam.  Here's the scripture I'm talking about :


"If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man" 1Corn. 15:45-49 


It seems Paul is meaning for us all to identify with the 'two Adams', doesn't it?  We understand on some level that this 'natural' self needs to die, and not just physically.  The 'new' self, the one in the image of the 'last Adam' (a life-giving spirit/the Holy Spirit) takes his place.  How?  Well, that's a tough one, isn't it.  How do we "work out our salvation", without trying to earn it?  How do we trust in faith to save us, and then be told faith without works is dead?  How does being "determined to run the race" have anything to do with receiving grace?    I'm not saying I have it all figured out...but one thing has become pretty clear to me;  if I'm playing the game as the 'old Adam', I'm bound to lose.  If I'm playing with the new Adam, I've already won.  So, in a way, I need to stop trying to win in order to make any progress.  I told you grace was more confusing that you thought!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Mind of Christ



Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.  The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Roman 8:5-8)


This is where I would raise my hand to ask Paul, "Umm...excuse me, but aren't we all living in the realm of the flesh?  I still have a body... and hello, it's made of flesh".  I've spent quite a bit of my life in church, and during that time we all knew what 'living in the flesh' meant.  It meant doing anything fun. To be 'spiritual' meant denying all that, and 'living for the Lord'--aka, being a missionary or something.  Forgive me--I don't mean to completely dis that.  I think there is some truth in it.  It's missing something though...because to deny the 'flesh' so you can 'make to heaven' is going against the concept of grace.  So, I'm going to address this thought of 'making it to heaven'; because I think it's a problem.  As you can see from the above scripture, Paul is speaking about life right now.  Having a mind that is governed (controlled) by 'the spirit' is life. The life controlled by 'the flesh' cannot even try to please God...Paul is clearly saying this is not possible.  But how are we to be 'governed by the spirit'?  What in the world does this even mean?  Going back to this 'inner' place...the 'spiritual' realm if you will; what is it?  I'm going to throw out a very crazy idea; but stick with me, please.  Here is Hannah Hurnard's explanation:


"We have already seen that 'the heart of a man' is his individual thought life and that his spirit is the real being who thinks those thoughts and thus creates and produces this thought life.  It is clear therefore that thinking spirits live in a realm of thought and that the spirit realm or spirit world must thus be a world made up of thought substance instead of material matter.  It is in fact a realm of the mind".


Bizarre, I know...but it explains a lot of things.  We are told in 1 Corinthians that we are given the 'mind of Christ'...is this not the Holy Spirit?  We are told in 2 Corinthians that what we are making 'war' against 'strongholds' and 'casting down imaginations' and 'bringing into captivity every thought'.  If the heart or mind of mankind is a fallen world, then maybe this outer world in which our bodies live reflects that fallen spirit world.  When we change the 'inner', the 'outer' will be changed as well...because it is only a reflection.


"for we see now through a mirror obscurely, and then face to face; now I know in part, and then I shall fully know, as also I was known. 1 corn. 13:12"


Why are we here?  That's the big question, isn't it?  A spirit in a body of flesh...there has to be a reason for it.  But again, I need to continue on another post.  So much to consider.

The Inner Man

The inner man...a very strange concept.  But at the same time, really not that strange.  We all know we are more than just a physical body.  The things that make us who we really are have nothing to do with the 'outside'--you don't have to be religious to recognize this.  What's hard to recognize or believe is that this 'inner' self exists apart from the 'outer'--that what is the true reality of things cannot be seen with the eyes.  Certainly we cannot 'see' what is true about a person with our eyes--but hang around them enough, (especially in a stressful situation) and it usually becomes quite obvious. But to believe this 'inner' person has substance...something real, just like our physical bodies are real...that's a little weird. 


We only know substance as physical; how can something you can't touch have substance?  So if we are to believe in heaven as a real place we go when we die, it has to be somewhere else...someplace far away.  To even suggest that the kingdom of heaven is within you...well, most Christians get really uncomfortable and think this must be some new age theology.  What can possibly be 'within' us but blood and guts?  Our heart is within us, and our heart is the crux of the matter.  What is our heart? Not the beating organ, of course.  Here are some passages that speak of the heart:


"Search me O God, and know my heart, and try my thoughts", "The inward thoughts of every one of them and the heart, is deep", "God saw that every imagination of the thoughts of the heart was only evil continually", "Why do thoughts arise in your hearts?" , "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he".


Scientifically, we know we think with the mind.  If we look at the Bible as a book about science, we will be quite frustrated.  It's my opinion the Bible is not trying to teach us about the physical realm at all, but the spiritual...even though I do think the two are connected.  Hannah Hurnard gives an interesting analogy of this in her book The Inner Man.  She tells a story about a time she was staying at a hotel, and looked out her window.  There, in the water, she could see just as plain as day people playing croquet in a lake.  She knew this was impossible, but it looked so real.  Finally, she realized the optical illusion of a double reflection involving the window (being open, and not closed as she thought) and the water.  The people were real, only they were playing over on the other side of the building, not in the water.  Then the scripture came to her "we look not the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen..."  Here is a quote from the book:


I began to wonder if the Apostle really meant us to understand that the things which we perceive through our five physical senses, are really only a kind of reflection of far more real spiritual things.  And, if so, are the 'outer' men and women visible to our natural sight merely temporary reflections or 'shadows' in the mirror of materiality and time of far more real people--the 'inner man or woman'--the individual spirit dwelling in each human being?..."For though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." 2 Corn. 4:16


This is kind of a freaky thought...that my 'inner' self has a form.  What does it look like?  Imagine that people could actually see and know your thoughts and feelings--that your true nature, intentions, motives and desires were visible?  Yikes, right?  How do we 'renew' this person?  How do we change our nature into something we wouldn't be ashamed of if people could really see it?  I tried for most my life to do it the way I was taught by my religion...read your Bible, go to church, pray, tithe, do good deeds.  And when none of this worked in changing who I really was, then I was told, "Well, of course not. We are all sinners, that's why Jesus died.  You can't earn salvation."  How frustrating.  But maybe there is a way to change, AND maybe it doesn't have to do with earning.  Let's hope so...more about that later.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Religion

This is ironic, but I have really been drawn to certain aspects of the Catholic faith.  It's very strange to me, because I've always viewed Catholicism with quite a bit of suspicion and disdain. (like all good Protestants do)  And now after I've sort of 'dumped' religion altogether, to then want to study something as strict and unyielding and unmerciful as I have conceived the Catholic tradition to be...well, it's pretty baffling.  The thing is, within Catholicism there are some people who are quite simply inspiring.  Who can deny that Mother Teresa is a picture of what it means to love God?  And deep within this tradition is something I would have until recently been too terrified to even think about, much less want to understand..."Catholic Mysticism". (oogala-boogala)  I know for many the word 'mysticism' implies sorcery or seances and the like, but the definition is:
1. belief in or experience of a reality surpassing normal human understanding or experience, esp a reality perceived as essential to the nature of life.
 
What is wrong about believing in a reality that surpasses normal human understanding?  The problem with religion is, it thinks it can take this reality and shove it in a box.  Anyone that challenges this box and questions, "maybe your ideas about God are not completely correct" is perceived as a terrible threat. (how many wars have been waged because of religion?) 


But that's the problem with religion...and not everything about religion is bad.  The truth is, I haven't exactly 'dumped' it.  At the heart of any religion is a passing down of an experience of the spiritual realm--either by a person or a community.  Many people (in fact, the majority) believe in a spiritual realm...but they have not had any experience of it.  They need to rely on the experiences of others, and believe those experiences are true in order to have faith.  But this is not the case for those who have had their own spiritual encounter...like the Apostle Paul. (author of most of the new testament)  He did not experience Jesus in the flesh, nor did he believe in the religion of Christianity...he had an experience of Jesus that was outside of a normal human encounter.  Isn't that 'mysticism'? 


The religion of Christianity is the passing down of Paul's (and others) spiritual experience, except now it has a stamp of approval on it-- making it safe.  (If your with the group of people who believe in that stamp of approval.  Obviously it's not safe for those who believe in some other group's stamp of approval)  Now that I disagree with the 'stamp of approval' of what the religion of Christianity has taught about the teachings of Jesus and the letters of Paul, I've had to 'dump' the religion.  Although, I still believe in the original mystical experiences...only now I'm free to consider that other people's mystical experiences can be true as well, even if they do not belong to my religion.  Except, I'm not really all that interested in studying other religions.  I'm interested in learning from others who love and follow Jesus, but who are not afraid of the spiritual realm.   And those crazy Catholic Mystics who boldly teach of having touched the spiritual realm all have something in common...they say it's found 'inside'. (nor shall they say, Lo, here; or lo, there; for lo, the reign of God is within you.' Luke 17:20 ) The method many of them teach in regards to having access to this inner place is something called "Centering Prayer" or "Prayer of the Heart" or "Contemplative Prayer".  I'll talk more about it another time.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Survivor

I auditioned for 'Survivor' the other day.  I can't imagine anyone not knowing what that is, but just in case...it's a 'reality' show where a group of people are purposely abandoned in the middle of nowhere (usually on a remote island in the tropics) to 'survive' and battle it out as tribes in challenges--voting the 'weak' out until at last one is left who wins a million dollars.  (whew, that was a sentence!) 


I love this show...I think I've seen every episode.  I've fantasized about being on the show, but can honestly say I've never wanted to actually be on the show.  So I was shocked when the thought came into my head-- "you should try out for Survivor"--and it sounded like a good idea!  I looked online, thinking maybe a casting call would be coming by sometime, and wouldn't you know it was that day--and just over and hour away from my house. 


I often think of these coincidences as nudges from God, even though past experiences have proven me wrong.  But were they 'wrong'--just because they didn't turn out the way I expected?  And this is where I can make myself nuts, trying to figure out what is and what isn't from God.  There is something to be said about believing all things come from God, and trusting in God being in control.  But...we know all our thoughts and the actions that result from those thoughts are not always from God; and what's more, we get ourselves in some awful messes when we follow some of these rabbit trails that lead us away from God.  But...can we ever really be away from God?  I mean, isn't He always with us? (Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?... If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! Psalm 139)  Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into the desert for the purpose of being tested, and of course there's also the story of Job.  Yes, the devil (or adversary) was the one doing the tempting and the tormenting...but none of it was out of God's control...in fact, it was God who set it up.  It's pretty tough to wrap your mind around.  Ultimately, this is how I'm dealing with it: 


1) I believe I'm here to learn...about myself and about God. 
2) God can use anything and everything to help me learn, and to transform me and teach me to love. 
3) Mistakes are ok...I don't need to fear them. God doesn't stop loving me when I mess up.  


So, I auditioned for Survivor.  Did God tell me to do it, or am I just on an ego trip?  Or maybe God told me to do it so He could show me I'm on an ego trip?  Ugh, I hate being humbled...but I'll keep going forward, believing either way I'm going to learn something and grow closer to God.