Monthly Archives: February 2012

Dear Jesus: Maybe It’s the Result of Human Beings Saying No

Dear Jesus,

I’ve been wrestling still with the comparison between what I’ve learned of you from my own journey and what I see littered in the debris of history.

Like I wrote in my last letter to you, I see you everywhere in my story. I feel like my whole life has been nestled inside yours and that all I’ve done is receive — say yes — to all that you’ve implanted in me and designed my life to be.

Even the ability to say yes was given to me by you.

And it has confused me about history. I haven’t known what to do with the painful, wicked realities of this world. If the truth is that you are all good things and that you choose us, we don’t choose you, then why do evil things happen? Did you not choose some?

While I’ve been wrestling with these questions, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the true self and the false self, and I’m starting to think that conversation can be instructive to this conversation here.

It’s my belief that each of us has a true self — a self that conforms to that which you created when you conceived us. Because of original sin, environmental factors, and our own ongoing choices, we also have a false self. It’s not the deepest truth of us, but it exists all the same and we live inside of it and from it much of our lives.

Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed into the original image you conceived for each one of us. It is the process of being conformed into the unique image of yourself that we bear.

I wrote recently that our role in that formation process is simply to say yes. You do all the work of creating conditions and issuing invitations and actually changing us, and we simply say yes to it.

Perhaps the insane chaos of this world that seeks to shatter the divine imprint in humanity’s particularities is the result of human beings saying no. Turning their backs on the truth of who they are — beautiful, glorious creations by the hand of God who are meant to mirror your own love and truth and beauty in this world — and choosing the false self instead.

We are meant to live in harmony with you and with each other. You create the conditions for this. You set the divine imprint and invitation in each one of us. But it is our job to say yes.

And when we say no, hell erupts on earth. 

Our Father, 
who art in heaven,
hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.



Yes. This.

Wall of prayers.

The modern age is in an age of revolution — revolution motivated by insight into appalling vastness of human suffering and need. . . .

Against this background a few voices have continued to emphasize that the cause of the distressed human condition, individual and social — and its only possible cure — is a spiritual one. But what these voices are saying is not clear. They point out that social and political revolutions have shown no tendency to transform the heart of darkness that lies deep in the breast of every human being. That is evidently true. . . .

So obviously the problem is a spiritual one. And so must be the cure.

— Dallas Willard,
The Spirit of the Disciplines

When I first noticed this journey toward nonviolence calling to me, I had no idea where it would lead. I only knew that the notion of love as the only transforming force in the universe rang true. I knew it by experience, and I was beginning to contemplate it on a theological and philosophical level.

It was an idea that would not let me go.

So I dedicated a year to studying it, which led to a summer set apart to study it some more. And that, eventually, led me here: the creation of this space.

When this space originally got started, it was inspired by Seth Godin’s notion of the tribe — one person compelled by an idea to step out in front and say, “Let’s go, shall we?”

So this space began as a community for likeminded sojourners to journey together. And I absolutely loved it. I found myself learning more from the comments each tribe member shared than from the posts I wrote to spark the discussion in the first place.

But then life got pretty hectic and my attention was pulled in many directions. I couldn’t sustain every endeavor. And so this space languished on the side.

It never languished in my heart.

These days, the greatest focus of my life is given to the deepening of a calling I noticed for the first time about four years ago and that has grown louder and louder still, forming into a firm conviction and an obedient yes. It is the obedience to a priestly call, a pastoral posture toward others in the life of the heart.

Primarily, that takes the form of writing on Still Forming, a space for contemplative spiritual reflection where I write five days a week. It also takes the form of online classes I’m offering or plan to offer this coming year. It takes the form of one-on-one spiritual direction I’m privileged to offer others.

And also, I continue to sense, it touches upon this space.

Although I continue not to know where this journey toward nonviolence will ultimately lead, one thing that’s become abundantly clear to me the last couple years is that my part — my contribution — has to do with the heart. It has to do with questions like:

How do we become persons of nonviolence? How does love really grow in us? What brings about true forgiveness? How do we actually become people who love our enemies? 

I assumed at one point, I guess, that this journey would lead me into activism. And perhaps someday that will be true.

But for now, it seems pretty clear that my work in this area has more to do with formation — specifically, the way our human hearts become formed and fashioned into a more firm foundation of love.

This is spiritual work. And I think, ultimately, it’s where the truly nonviolent pathway begins.

A Thought Regarding History

Trinity figures II.

I’ve been taking a 9-month course at my church that provides a survey of the scriptures and church history. We started with the Old Testament, then moved to the Gospels and the writings of Paul, and lately have begun making our way through the beginnings of the church.

It was such a messy process, that.

Our teacher, Father Stephen, often reminds us that the apostles — the ones who walked and talked with Jesus, saw his resurrected self, and were then commissioned to share the message and begin to teach the way — had no context for the context of church we have today. They met in homes and catacombs, wherever they were safe and could share life and the teaching of the way with those who had come to believe.

The world had not yet heard of Jesus Christ. The message was new. And the organization of the church was even further behind the proliferation of that message. It took about 150 years for the followers of Jesus and his way to realize it needed a system to preserve itself. And it was another 150 or so years after that before church buildings ever entered the picture.

In short, the apostles — even Paul, who wrote a major portion of the New Testament we read today — had no idea throughout the whole of their lifetimes that the church would come to be what it became. They had no idea the followers of Jesus would learn to organize themselves on the broader scale that they did. They had no inkling of what lay ahead of their lifetimes for the church worldwide.

But Jesus did.

Jesus knew before he ever came to earth what would happen after he left it. The shaky, confusing, stumbling journey the early believers took toward an understanding of what it means to be the church universal and the early, formative steps it took in the first several hundred years of its existence — not to mention the many centuries that have unfolded since — were known to Jesus from the beginning.

And it’s not just that.

It’s that God knew, before he ever created the world, what would happen upon its creation.

He knew the fall of man would happen. He knew man’s separation from full communion and intimacy with God lay ahead. He surveyed the landscape of mankind’s timeline in advance and also saw his choosing of Israel. He saw the exodus and exiles.

He saw the dark years and then the coming of the light of Jesus Christ. He foreknew the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Christ and the formation of the church. He saw the unfolding centuries of history — man against man, nation against nation, confusion upon confusion — and, in the midst of it all, the church celebrating the eucharist, the proclamation of Jesus whose body and blood invite us to share in that same life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And he saw the end of time before it ever began, that holy vision of Jesus presiding over all and the making of all things new.

God saw it all — every single and continuous piece of it — and chose to create this world anyway. Somehow, he deemed it good.

Just something I’m continuing to think about in response to Tuesday’s post.