increasing and decreasing

I have an increasing sense that the most important crisis of our time is
spiritual and that we need places where people can grow stronger in
the spirit and be able to integrate the emotional struggles
in their spiritual journeys.

Fr Henri Nouwen

“Christian spirituality, the contemplative life, is not about us.
It is about God.
The great weakness of American spirituality is that it is all about us:
fulfilling our potential, getting the blessings of God, expanding our influence,
finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can
get an edge over the competition.
The more there is of us, the less there is of God.

Eugene Peterson

(snow encrusted camel / Julie Cook / 2017)

Have you ever found yourself holding a cup or glass of liquid that comes all the
way to to very top…
Someone has either over poured or just wasn’t thinking…
and so now obviously, you can’t add nary an ice cube to the glass without
sending the contents cascading outward and downward…

To add the ice, you’d need to first sip out a good bit or pour out a little
of the liquid, making room for the ice.

And on top of that, you have to be oh so very careful while just trying to get
the glass up to your mouth without sloshing everything everywhere.

If then our lives are just as full, filled to the very brim…
full of external entities, as well as full from within from our very
egotistical selves, how can there any space or room…for anything?

And yet we somehow think we can continue squeezing in just one more thing
or taking on one more little extra…shoving and pushing much like an
overstuffed suitcase.
Obviously we can’t sit on our lives trying to get things sufficiently and
tightly closed…
so clearly something is going to have to go.

Much like the time I was once returning from a trip abroad and my suitcase
weighed over the allotted allowance by 7 pounds….
I had a choice…either I was going to have to pay a hefty fee for being overtly full,
or as we did, I had to scramble right then and there at the check-in counter,
yanking things out while my aunt was stuffing my residual into her lighter bag.

These are the moments when we begrudgingly realize that there is simply no more
room to take on anything or anyone else for that matter—
as there is neither room nor space to truly do justice to whatever or whomever
we are trying to squeeze in…

Squeezing for the sake of squeezing just doesn’t make much sense…
as it’s truly just a waste of energy and time.

So its time to let go and lighten the load.

And what better time is there than a new year—
the perfect time to sort and purge.

Yet it’s one thing to purge ones world of excessive stuff, emptying closets,
drawers, shelves…hauling this and that to the Goodwill or even the dump….

But the real question, the looming question, the question that is really about life and death, is how does one purge one’s self of the excessive stuff of self?
How does one make room internally, opening up space for a God who wants to be
invited in?

Since this is the time of year when we are reminded of the need to be about change…
as well as the importance, or lack thereof, of both our internal space and of our
place in this world of ours,
perhaps we are now more open to the notion of a truly crucial need.

We must decrease, as He must increase…..

This is to be an action, not a reaction, that is to become a conscious action
in that it shall be a lasting process….
A process which requires both thought and time—as it will not be accomplished
in the blink of an eye or within a day, a week, a month or even over the course
of a year…but rather over the remainder of one’s lifetime.

This isn’t about losing weight, exercising, getting organized, being thrifty…
it’s about change…a change for the sake of a relationship…
and for a life… not fleeting and overwhelmed, but focused and everlasting…

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and
has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances,
that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two,
thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body
through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace
to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit
to the Father.

Ephesians 2:14-18

Can we drink from the cup?


This morning I was reading the entry for May 9 in my Henri J. M. Nouwen book Bread for the Journey A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith.
The cup of Life
When the mother of James ad John asks Jesus to give her sons a special place in his Kingdom, Jesus responds, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).
“Can we drink the cup?” is the most challenging and radical question we an ask ourselves. The cup is the cup of life, full of sorrows and joys. Can we hold our cups and claim them as our own? Can we lift our cups to offer blessings to others, and can we drink our cups to the bottom as cups that bring us salvation?

Keeping this question alive in us is one of the most demanding spiritual exercises we can practice.

Naturally this got me thinking, asking myself the questions Fr. Nouwen posed in today’s passage.
I would like to think that yes, yes I can. That I do so on a daily basis. But given the actual choice of heartache and sorrow, pain and suffering… how many of us raise our hands and say “yes, please, I’d like some of that.” I don’t think very many of us. Jesus said it was not going to be easy–picking up one’s cross. The gate is narrow and those who pass through are few and far between.

I find it odd how so many non-believers think Christians to be weak, sappy, goodie too shoes, perpetually cheery in a phony sort of way, when the truth of the matter is that the Christian actually must be tough and hard, as we, the Christians, are tried in the fire–the fire of our faith.

When I was in college I had to take a metals class as part of my Art Ed. degree. We learned the basics of metlasmithing as well as jewelry design. We learned how to solder, weld and form various metals, as well as the various melting points of each metal. One process, when working with metal, is called annealing. This is a process to actually make metal stronger.

One would think that metal was already strong enough, but actually the more the metal is worked, bammed and hammered, it has less strength and durability—it’s very make-up or integrity is now at risk or compromised. In order to strengthen the metal, making it less brittle, it must be annealed—or heated to a certain temperature then slowly cooled. Hence the expression being tried by fire.

Our fire is this life. At best it is hard, at worst, we see the horror stories on the news. We find ourselves asking how can a loving God allow so much horrendous suffering, pain, evil to exist….those are hard questions. But God didn’t say “here’s the cup I’m offering you, it has death, murder, war, pain, rape, brutality, addictions, stealing, etc… filled to the brim. Would you like a sip?”

What He did say was/is “You will join me in paradise/ in heaven, because I love you. I love you so much that my Father, our Father, sent me to drink the cup you didn’t want to drink from. Be not afraid and follow me because I have already raised the cup and finished what it contained–you no longer have to drink it. But what you do have to do, if you agree to follow, is to continue to show love where there is none, peace where there is none, hope where there is none, grace where there is none, forgiveness where there is none, belief where there is none—this is your cup—you must do this because I am physically not here to do all of that, so I’m asking that you do that for me.”

The bad things will come, the evil is still here but so is the Victory, so is the Grace, so is the Hope, so is the Love. Life is not easy and sometimes it is just very hard and just very bad. But we have been given a promise, we already know the ending…and it’s a good ending. It’s just that the road to the ending is rocky and packed with thorns but it is also sprinkled with joy, happiness, and goodness as well. This is the cup we are to share along this road. The question is are we willing to share it. I hope I am.