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.

Dear Jesus: I Don’t Understand History

Dear Jesus,

Sometimes I look at my life and see that everything good in it comes from you.

From the moment of my first consciousness, I have been aware of you. You made yourself present to me, and I’ve never known my life without you in it.

You gave me a family environment that further supported a life with you. I went to church, learned the scriptures, and grew in my faith over time.

Even when my propensity toward sin and error and environmental factors led me astray from your truth and who you really are, you corrected my steps. At a certain point in time, you arrested my attention and caused my spiritual journey to take a new turn: a turn toward you and your true self.

That was a long journey, and I’m still journeying in it, but even as I look at the growth of my life since that journey began, I see your fingerprints everywhere.

My love for you was given to me by you. My spiritual awareness was implanted in me by you. My love for others is your own heart in me. My care for peace and justice and mercy and compassion and dignity and truth — these are all your cares, further evidence of your own heart in me, given to me by you.

I did not choose you, but you chose me.

I don’t know how to express with enough forcefulness that I know this to be true: that the good in me is there because of you, and I did not choose you, but you chose me.

It is because I know this to be true that I get stumped up on history.

If you choose what will be — you implant goodness, you ordain events, you grow us up into your own heart’s desire and reflection — then why does life contain so much pain? Why is history pockmarked with such depravity? Why, even still today, does evil reign supreme?

People live and die with evil intent in their hearts and venomous actions littered in their wake.

Do you deem this to be so, too? How could you?

It is a perplexing question too great for this heart to hold sometimes. I do not understand. Will you help me understand?

Love,
Christianne

Dr. King: “It Is Well That It’s Within Thine Heart”

Reflections of the sun.

A couple days ago, I wrote a letter to Dr. King asking him how he kept despair at bay when looking out over the vista of all he had worked to bring into existence through the sacrifice of his entire life, only to see humanity had still so very far to go.

I look out over the present reality of this world, and despair can loom so close for me sometimes. I’ve lost an incredible amount of faith in the American political process. I distrust big business and its gimmicks. I don’t believe anything the media tells me, nor do I believe real journalism exists anymore — or, if it does, that it has any meaningful way of finding its way to our eyes and ears.

The darkness at work in this world — through HIV/AIDS, war, greed, oppression, power, slavery, poverty, self-absorption, and the slow deaths we bring upon ourselves through our addiction to amusements — feels so large and overwhelming and impenetrable. What good can the small agents at work around the world really do, when the darkness has more money, influence, and power?

But a much-needed ray of hope broke through the darkness last night as I read the final chapter in MLK’s autobiography. In a chapter fittingly titled “Unfulfilled Dreams,” Martin Luther King speaks the following words of encouragement and hope:

I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we, like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled.

Life is a continual story of shattered dreams. Mahatma Gandhi labored for years and years for the independence of his people. But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a broken heart, because that nation that he wanted to unite ended up being divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the Hindus and the Moslems. . . .

And each of you in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.

Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: “It may not come to today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying.” You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine heart. 

It is well that it’s within thine heart.

It is well that it’s in my heart. To care for others. To grow in love. To know God. To shed the dignity of all humanity abroad in the world. To learn how peace is found. To believe in hope.

What we do here — in our lives, in this space — matters. It matters what kind of life we live and the people we choose to be. No matter the outcome . . . whether or not the broadest darknesses turn to light in our lifetimes or not . . . whether any other life is touched or changed because of our one life or not . . . how our one life is lived matters.

Who I choose to be matters enough, even in the face of all that darkness, because one singular life choosing life and light and hope and love is at least one victory won.

I want to remember this.

Dear Dr. King: How Did You Not Despair?

Dear Dr. King,

Last night I read the chapter in your autobiography about the Vietnam War. I watched you wrestle through your personal responsibility to speak about it, and I watched how you were scorned for all you did because of it. I watched your friends and colleagues asked you to back down. So many people said you were in over your head and that you should keep your focus on civil rights alone.

What’s more, I saw the slow recognition in your heart that all was not as you thought it was in this country.

After so many years of toil spent turning the tide of this country and swaying the president’s hand toward greater justice and humanity, in the Vietnam War you came to see just how far from justice and humanity’s heart the powers of this country really were. You came to see that might and money mattered more.

How did you not despair, Dr. King? How did you not despair? After working within systems for so long and mapping out strategies that, inch by inch, drew justice nearer the light of day, how did you sustain hope when you saw the brilliant daylight was still so far from drawing near?

As I’m nearing the end of your book, I know your assassination looms close, just a few turns of the pages away, and despair creeps into my heart as I anticipate that fateful moment.

I have spent two and a half years with your autobiography, and such an immersion into the fullness of your life has taught me that you were not a man who gave a few speeches and, through the strength those speeches alone, rallied masses of people to walk and assemble and demonstrate and protest. You were not a figurehead. You did not simply have a dream.

Rather, the fullness of your life has taught me what it truly takes to turn the tide of history. It takes stamina. It takes fearlessness. It takes conviction, yes.

But it also takes strategy. It takes knowing the limits and allowances of the law. It takes long-range planning. It takes creativity. It takes tiny but well-planned, incremental steps. It takes getting down and dirty in the trenches with everyone else. It takes the strength and education of communities.

And it takes an enormity of character and integrity. It takes counting your life as not your own.

Having learned the fullness of your life and how you embodied all these things makes me feel deeply the loss of your life — that all that strength and courage and leadership and truth and wisdom and action built into the fullness of one man’s life could be snuffed out in an instant.

How do you not despair this, Dr. King? How do you not despair?

I know you would say to me that the light of Christ shines brighter still, even as the darkness gets darker. I know you would say that the depth of one’s conviction can erase the care for one’s own life. I know you would say that the spiritual infection at work in the world does not relent, but neither does Christ relent and nor should we.

But when I awoke this morning, it was with a heaviness of heart I could not shake. I thought about your life snuffed out in an instant. I thought about your disappointment in the powers of your country through the Vietnam War. I thought about Gandhi’s assassination. I thought about the crucifixion of Jesus. I thought about all the ways the depravity of this world encroaches and leaves me feeling helpless and so small.

Thankfully, the weight of my grief and discouragement propelled me to the noonday eucharist service at my church. I sat in the pew before the service and tried to pray, but all I could do was feel my sadness. My heart felt weak, and soon the tears began rolling down my cheeks. I gave thanks for a shared liturgy that allowed the prayers of the people to sustain my weakened hope, for I was too weak to pray.

And then, through the liturgy and eucharist, I was reminded of what likely gave you hope and sustained you through the darknesses you faced — and I found a measure of my own hope again.

In the reading of Psalm 67 — “Let your ways be known upon the earth, your saving health among all nations. . . . May all the ends of the earth stand in awe of God” — I was reminded that one day, all the nations of the earth will stream toward God in praise. Eventually all will see and acknowledge his glory and beauty. One day all truth will be known and honestly received.

In the epistle reading, which concerned St. Paul’s conversion, I was reminded that even a most-hated man who persecuted and killed the early believers of the church can be set apart and called through grace and receive Christ in an instant. I was reminded that even in the most hopeless circumstances, God can make all things — even the unthinkable and seemingly impossible — possible.

And finally, in the gospel reading for the day, we were told by Jesus that we would be sent out as sheep among wolves. We were told to be wise yet innocent. We were foretold the fate of some to be handed over to the authorities, flogged, and persecuted because of Jesus and his teachings.

It was such a fitting word for what I’ve been thinking and feeling today. For you know these words of Christ to be true more than most, don’t you, Mr. King? You were a sheep among wolves most of your life. You brought wisdom and innocence to bear on your life at one and the same time. You were dragged before the authorities on many occasions and pressed against in so many ways — eventually, of course, you were killed — and all of this because of the conviction of Christ you carried that would not be silenced or put down.

I needed to be reminded of these things today, Dr. King. I needed to be reminded that a power and hope greater than us lives in us and works through us and is drawing all things to a conclusion that results in celebration and joy. I needed to be reminded of the companionship of Christ through all these things.

Thank you for the life you lived that drove me, even as I despaired over it, back into the presence and arms of our Christ. Thank you for all you have taught me so far.

Sincerely,
Christianne

Repentance Thursday: November 2011

Light of Christ.Light of Christ

Hello, friends.

It’s been a long while since I opened this space for our monthly Repentance Thursday feature. This is a monthly practice offered the first Thursday of each month that provides an opportunity for us to examine our hearts for the places of violence, unlove, apathy, or anything else that has kept us from God and others in the previous 30 days. (You can find the original post about Repentance Thursday here.)

Although this Repentance Thursday is technically a day behind schedule (I’m writing this in the wee hours of the morning on a Friday), I found my heart craving the opportunity for confession and repentance that this ritual provides. In particular, this prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer has been running through my mind tonight, and I thought it would be edifying to share it with you and then provide the opportunity for our Repentance Thursday practice:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

So, on this Repentance Thursday, we are invited to consider the following questions as we prayerfully review this last month:

  • Into what dark mires did our hearts traverse?
  • In what ways did we bring harm to our fellow man, either in thought, word, or deed?
  • How did we sin against God?
You are welcome to leave your confession in the comments section below. 

Why Must There Be Suffering?

Rocky ground.

I listen to a contemplative podcast most evenings before bed called Pray as You Go. I absolutely love the quiet, reflective time it provides to listen to scripture and sacred music and then converse with Jesus.

Tonight’s podcast opened with a scripture reading from the gospel of Matthew. A lawyer asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” After reading the scripture passage, the podcast narrator noted that of all the questions someone could have asked Jesus upon approaching him, this one was foremost in this particular person’s mind.

What question, the podcast narrator asked me to consider, would I choose to ask Jesus if I could ask him anything at all?

I don’t normally give questions like this much thought. When I have a question to ask Jesus, I just go to him and ask him. And when I think about those momentous times, like what I might want to ask God when I get to heaven, I don’t expect that any list of questions I bring will be nearly as interesting as the reality of beholding God’s presence for real.

But tonight, I spent time considering the question, and my response surprised me. I found myself asking Jesus, Why must there be suffering?

Now, to some degree, it makes sense that I would ask this question. I write a blog about nonviolence and am concerned about the cares of mercy and justice in this world and in the human heart. Suffering is clearly a concern of my life.

But the way I asked Jesus tonight came from a deeper place inside. A place that gave me pause. A place that felt new. It came from a place inside that’s developed an acute perception of my own experience of suffering right now. It is a suffering that drives me to my knees in repentance and desperate pleas for God’s mercy almost every day. It is also a suffering that seems intent on forging a holy connection in me to Christ’s own passion — a sense of learning to bear injustice while responding in love.

This suffering hurts like hell. It’s hard. It causes a whole mess of pain, and I bring heaviness in my heart to Jesus almost daily. But this suffering is nowhere near the suffering and pain people the world over face every single day. Millions go without food or water right this moment. War and violence rage all day outside the doors of huts and houses in village and cities all over the world. Children and parents die of diseases as though it’s a normal course of life. The hope of tomorrow isn’t a given in so many places around this world.

My suffering is nothing compared to the suffering of these. But still, my suffering is acute and hurts like hell.

And so I found myself feeling so profoundly this question tonight: If that’s how mine feels, what must theirs feel like? 

And that’s why I asked Jesus, Why must this be so? For all the mercy in your heart, for all the power in your being, why must this go on? Why must you let the world keep spinning this way? Why must this be real in this world you made?

I know the intellectual responses to these questions. I know about sin and the fallen world. I know God is sovereign. I know God didn’t create a world to spin on auto-pilot but to be responsive and full of volitional, relational beings. I know God uses our suffering to form us and that such suffering also causes him pain.

But those intellectual responses are simply not my concern right now.

Right now, my concern is the vastness of such suffering. How does God possibly bear it? How does the world not disappear over and over again from the flood of his tears drowning it out? How can he let it go on?

It is in moments like these that I deeply yearn for the new heaven and new earth that will someday come. We are meant for a reality so much greater and grander than this. We are meant for so much more life.

When, oh God, will you allow it to be so? I am so, so ready for that new world.