How I’m Feeling Now…

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I’ve been feeling restless and living in the tension between my thoughts and feelings this week.

Recently I’ve been reading more scholarly books, mostly on theology, which have been feeding my intellectual side.  I’ve learned a lot and felt feed in my growing understanding of orthodox Christianity.  Good stuff.  However, I also feel a growing distance from my emotions.  The more I’m “in my head” trying to make connections between ideas, or composing something for my blog, the more I feel disconnected from the tender moments, that is, from my feelings.  Basically, the more importance I place on thoughts, the more they distract me from (in the words of The Happiness Trap) my observing self or practicing mindfulness.

emptyIt’s funny, actually.  Now that I’ve had more direct experience of my life through being in touch with my emotions, I don’t like the feeling of being disconnected.  For years, I lived in my thoughts and found great comfort in that place.  I suppose it’s a sign of growth that being disconnected doesn’t fit or feel right anymore.

I’ve been feeling this disconnection from my faith too.  Relying on Christ in daily life isn’t the same as learning about theological explanations of Christ’s work in the world.  There’s great value in both, but for me, surrendering and cultivating my understanding of Christianity are different practices.

Once again, I found great solace in the work of Fr. Rolheiser.  In Forgotten Among the Lilies he has a chapter called “Celebrating Our Alphabet” about the spectrum of feelings and thoughts we experience and how they’re honored through the liturgy.  He says:

Our psyches go up and down. We have seasons and days of enthusiasm, bounce, joyfulness. Sometimes we feel like singing and dancing. Sometimes there is a spring in our step.

But we have other seasons too, cold seasons, bland seasons, seasons of tiredness, pain, illness, boredom. We try to get one foot in front of the next. If prayer is lifting heart and mind to God then clearly during those times we should be lifting something other than song and dance…. (p. 179)

When we come to celebrate we bring the alphabet of our lives.  If our hearts and minds are full of warmth, love, enthusiasm, song and dance, then these are the letters we bring.

If they are full of tiredness, despair, blandness, pain and boredom, then those are our letters.  Bring them. Spend them. Celebrate them. Offer them. It is God’s task to make the words! (p. 180)

From that list, blandness is what I’m relating to most this week.  Not anxiety, not pain, certainly not despair.  Just a lack of enthusiasm.  The urge to fight this blandness, rather than accept it is what has typically brought on anxiety for me.  So, again, it feels like growth that I’m accepting the blandness, rather than actively fighting it.

How blessed we are to have faith in Christ who experienced the full range of human emotions and accepts us, just where we are.  How comforting to have a loving Father to embrace, no matter what my thoughts or feelings.

Returning to Rolheiser’s words, he describes the restlessness that burns as fire within us:

To be a human being is to be on fire for a consummation, a restfulness, a love, a symphony which, in this life, perpetually escapes us.  In every cell of our bodies and in every area of our minds and hearts there is a fire, a restless ache, a burning for someone or something we have not yet experienced…

Moreover, this fire, this relentless restlessness, does not necessarily suggest that somehow we are living wrongly.  Its source is our own depth, the infinite caverns of our minds and hearts…

Our choice is not between restlessness and restfulness, but between two kinds of restlessness, between two kinds of fire… We are destined to be consumed by one kind of fire or another, but the flames are very different – God’s flames or those of our own choosing.

… what is meant is that we must widen our longings, deepen our aches, raise further still our psychic temperatures so that we burn precisely for the final consummation, the final symphony, God’s kingdom. (p. 24-25)

This passage brought me such peace when I first read it.  Finally, words to describe my feelings! I so appreciate the way Rolheiser describes the restlessness impacting both our minds and hearts. Of course life on earth involves a burning ache.  We were made for full communion with God and we will rest when we rest in Him.

 

Holy Spirit Come

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Today is Pentecost, the day the Christian church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell amongst the people of God and to be our “Helper”.  In this post last year, I was just beginning to learn about the significance of this feast. This year I’m going deeper.

I’ve been reading Simply Christian by N.T. Wright the past few weeks.  It’s taking me awhile to get through because it’s so rich and I’m taking copious notes!  As luck (?) would have it, I just reached the chapters on the Holy Spirit this weekend.

Through liturgy, reading, and prayer, I’ve been deepening my understanding of the Holy Spirit, and wanted to share…

holy-spirit-window-stickerPentecost is sometimes referred to as the “birthday of the church”.  The church was born after Jesus ascended into heaven and sent his “helper” – the Holy Spirit – to empower the disciples.  Jesus said, “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8).

Jesus was leaving his disciples to return to the right hand of God the Father, and wanted them to rest assured that he was not deserting them.  The Holy Spirit would be with them to provide guidance and power in their mission to spread the gospel throughout the world.  Wright describes, “…the point of the Spirit is to enable those who follow Jesus to take into all the world the news that he is Lord, that he has won the victory over the forces of evil, that a new world has opened up, and that we are to help make that happen.” (Simply Christian, p. 122).

For churches that become focused on what their members can accomplish, who see their earthly ministries as being powered by themselves, a tragic misunderstanding has occurred, states Wright.  Instead, the church ceases to be the church without God’s Spirit.  The Spirit allows people, as the church, to BE the people of God.

So, what is the Spirit enabling the church to do?  Wright describes that the church is to carry forward the work of Jesus. In Acts, the author refers to his previous book – the Gospel of Luke – where he described all that Jesus began to do and teach. “The implication is clear: that the story of the church, led and energized by the power of the Spirit, is the story of Jesus continuing to do and to teach – through his Spirit-led people… that’s why we pray that God’s kingdom will come, and his will will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven,” (p. 135). The Spirit provides the power by which God’s kingdom is made manifest on Earth.

As people of God, we get to share in this kingdom, by the relationship within the Triune God.  Wright says, “… one way of understanding the Spirit is to see the Spirit as the personal love which the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father.  In that understanding, we are invited to share in this inner and loving life of God, by having the Spirit live within us,” (p. 139). That’s a humbling and awesome thought. The Holy Spirit that comes into us in Holy Baptism is the pure love that flows between the three persons of the Trinity.  The Spirit is always with us and, as Saint Paul tells the Romans, “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness… he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God,” (Romans 8:26-27).

There is a pure and simple truth in pondering the Holy Spirit – as Christians, we have everything we need through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  He sent us his Holy Spirit to support our life and the work of his church on earth.  As people of God, there’s remarkably very little that God expects us to do. Literally nothing without his help.

I find such peace and freedom in that.  I hope you do too.

Love and Be Loved

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I love listening to Mateo sing the songs he learns at preschool.  Witnessing how his Lutheran education is instilling the love of Christ and putting the Word of God on his lips at this young age is incredibly fulfilling. Teo loves to sing and his sweet pronunciation tickles me to no end.  Lately he’s been singing a song with these biblical lyrics: “This is my commandment that you love one another, that your joy may be full.”   The past two weeks the gospel readings at church have been from John, chapter 15.  It was very fun to tell Teo, “Listen, it’s the words from your song!”  He lit up with recognition and joy.

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While Teo is learning and reciting the fundamental message of these verses, there’s so much more depth of meaning than can be captured in the lyrics of a children’s song.  This chapter is rich with Good News.  Jesus tells his disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” (John 15:12). Before this declarative conclusion, Jesus describes his relationship to his disciples through the metaphor of the vine and its branches:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the world that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:1-5).

If we are the branches, what does this verse tell us?  What fruit are we to bear?

The good fruits we produce are the fruits of the spirit and the good works we do for our neighbor.  When we abide in Christ and bear fruit, God, the vinedresser, will prune away the distractions of the world and our sinful nature so that we produce more good fruit.  Notice that this is not a commandment. It’s not written as “Thou shalt love one another” as a demand of God’s Law.  Rather, it’s an outflowing of love from abiding in Christ – “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…”  As Christ explicitly tells us, we can do nothing apart from him.  If we view our good words toward our neighbor as a requirement for our salvation, something we do to earn God’s favor, we are doomed.  Instead, we love our neighbor out of the outflowing of Christ’s love, from the vine to the branches.

Loving our neighbor, then, is what we do as Christians.  From the abundance of Christ’s love for us, we in turn love his people.  But, we don’t have to make big, splashy demonstrations of love.  We’re not trying to earn our holiness or prove our worthiness.  Instead, we love by way of the little, day-to-day actions of serving our family, friends, and neighbors with a disposition of love and kindness.

6 012Luther has a wonderful teaching on the doctrine of vocation.  Everyone within the body of Christ has particular vocations – father, mother, son, daughter, pastor, parishioner, teacher, doctor, garbage collector.  Our Pastor likes to refer to these jobs as “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.”  All of the roles and duties are important and needed within the body of Christ.  We are called to fulfill our vocations in order to love and serve our neighbors.  In Luther’s Small Catechism he states that God uses everyone within the economic food chain to provide our “daily bread.”  God, therefore, works through people, in their ordinary stations of life, to care for his creation.

At last year’s Catechism Convocation, the pastor leading the children’s lesson described vocation through his daughter bringing him lunch.  He explained that God was acting to provide him his daily bread through the entire chain of ranchers, farmers, truck drivers, grocers, and even his daughter.  Therefore, while he thanked his daughter for preparing the sandwich, he also thanked God for ministering to him by using his daughter in her God-given vocation as a daughter.

I find so much peace and joy in abiding in God’s love and fulfilling my vocations as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, employee, parishioner, and citizen.  Knowing that God is working through me to raise my children, love my husband, serve my neighbor, perform my job duties, and enrich my family, is simple, beautiful, and inspiring.

Recently I had a realization that, given my penchant for analyzing and learning, I could fall into the trap of “always learning, never producing.”  That thought reminded me of a lesson from The Happiness Trap.  Dr. Harris explains that we have very little control over our thoughts and feelings, but a lot of control over our actions.  In other words, instead of being caught up in your thoughts, go DO something.  Figure out what you value and do something that aligns with your values.  As a Christian, what I value the most is fulfilling my calling as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom, which is simply “to love the Lord your God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves” (Mark 12:30-31).  I don’t have to strive to perform or struggle to succeed in these callings or vocations.  He’s working through me.  His love is sufficient.  I can rest in God’s perfect love, while also being active in loving my neighbor.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to love and be loved – “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9).

How blessed we are to rest in this truth: hrough abiding in Christ, we are called to love, and be loved.

Holy Absolution

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Some time ago, I was given an assignment by a good friend from church who has encouraged me in my blogging.  A couple months back, she turned to me after Holy Absolution and asked, “Would you please write a post on the biblical basis for a Pastor to forgive sins on behalf of Christ?”  Since she was raised in a non-liturgical Christian tradition and my childhood roots are in Catholicism, this seemed like a fair question and a good blogging assignment.  “Sure,” I said with a smile.

While I really appreciated the question and wanted to give the answer justice, I found myself paralyzed, both from a lack of time devoted to blogging and a deficiency of biblical reference knowledge.  I knew, vaguely, that Christ had sent the apostles, during the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations, which I assumed implied the forgiveness of sins.  However, the text from Matthew actually doesn’t mention absolution or forgiveness directly:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

Although forgiveness isn’t explicitly mentioned, the nature of discipleship is to spread the Good News that Christ paid the penalty for our transgressions and through baptism we are united to him and clothed in his righteousness.  The fact that our sins are forgiven is fundamental to the Christian understanding of salvation through Christ’s perfect sacrifice.  Still, I needed to find the verse where Christ authorized priests and pastors to forgive sins on his behalf.

Fortunately, the wisdom of Fr. Rolheiser provided me a great roadmap to discuss this topic.  In Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears (have I mentioned how wonderful this book is?!) Rolheiser cites John 20:23 as the text that has traditionally been interpreted to authorize “the institution of the sacrament of reconciliation,” (pg. 166).  This passage of John recounts when Jesus appears to the disciples:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:19-23)

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The word Jesus uses here echoes the Great Commission, in that he’s sending the disciples out to teach the world the Good News.  He’s is extending his mission to the disciples, calling them to be his representatives in the world.  As Christ came to the world to represent God the Father, so the disciples are to stand in his stead.  The main purpose of their mission is to forgive the sins of others by making them disciples through Holy Baptism.

In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther also cites John 20:23 as the biblical authority for pastors pronouncing the forgive sins on behalf of God.  In response to the question, “What is Confession?” Luther states: “Confession has two parts.  First, that we confess our sins, and second that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God, Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sings are forgiven before God in heaven,” (Small Catechism, pg. 26).

In catechism classes, our Pastor has often explained that he stands in the stead of Christ, only in the specific sacramental parts of the liturgy when he proclaims God’s word of absolution, performs baptisms, and presides over Holy Communion.  I looked up the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod’s explanation on Confession and Absolution, which, after also citing John 20:23, states:

Sometimes visitors in a Lutheran service of worship are surprised to hear in the general confession and absolution our pastors saying: “Upon this your confession, I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Our Lutheran Confessions help us to understand why our pastors speak this way: “It is not the voice or word of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command,”(AC XXV.3).

Furthermore, it’s important to note that the rite of Holy Absolution does not actually forgive our sins.  Salvation comes through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Holy Absolution is a rite to provide comfort to the citizens of Christ’s kingdom by reminding them that their sins were previously absolved in Baptism and through the Lord’s Supper.

Hopefully I’ve illuminated the biblical basis from which the liturgical churches have justified absolution being proclaimed by pastors.  It’s not absolution from a man, but rather the Word of God which pronounces the forgiveness of sins through Christ.

Helping Hands

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As we were rushing to get out the door this morning, I had the opportunity to slow down and focus on what really matters in my life.  And, as is so often the case, it was one of my children teaching me the lesson.

004I was making my final trip to the car, ushering Sienna out the door while turning off lights and setting the alarm.  My hands were full of keys, my full water bottle, and her booster seat (which was making it’s Monday morning transition back to my car).

Sienna had some breakfast in her hand and her backpack on.  She suddenly asked me, “Mom, can I carry something for you?  I have a free hand that I can take something since your hands are full.”

In my haste, I said, “Thanks honey, that’s okay, let’s just get into the car, we need to go” as I left her in the garage to slip back inside and turn off one last light.

Stop, I thought.  She wants to help me.

I came back to the garage where Sienna was just turning to walk toward the car.

“Actually, yes I’d love some help.  Would you please carry my water bottle for me?”  I asked Sienna as I shuffled the items in my full hands.

“Yes, I can!” She enthusiastically replied as I tucked the bottle into her open arm.

“That’s so helpful, Love Girl.  Thank you.”  I said.

Her smile beamed back at me as we walked to the car together.

So much good happened in that little moment.  Sienna saw her mom needing help and offered to serve me.  She felt confidence at being able to do something to help.  We shared the days work and bonded over our common goal of getting out the door to school and work.

Most of all, I loved to see her smile and experience the joy of helping someone else.

These little moments get lost when life is too busy, too chaotic, too full.  It was such a good reminder not to let myself become so rushed that I miss these wonderful teachable moments.

For both of us.

The Kids Who Made Me a Mom

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MateoToday Teo had to stay home. He caught the stomach bug that’s been going around and threw up in the car on the drive to school.  When they returned home and I was getting him cleaned up, he sadly asked me, “Does this mean we can’t have Mother’s Day?”  He meant the Mother’s Day Tea that we’d been eagerly anticipating that day.  It was the sweetest, saddest moment.  “Yes, we won’t go to the Tea, but we’ll have our own special day together, okay?” I replied.

While we were sad to miss this annual event, mostly I was looking forward to spending special time with my son.  We still got to do that; only, we were cuddled up on the couch, watching the Veggietale’s Jonah movie instead.

Seems to me that caring for a sick child is the epitome of maternal duties.  When my sweet little boy is feeling awful, days like today, the only thing that makes him feel better is cuddling up on my lap.  There’s nothing more important for me to be doing at those times than holding and nurturing my boy.

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Lately I’ve been telling both Sienna and Mateo how much I love being their mom.  The other night, as we cuddled in his bed, I told Teo, “I love being your mom.”  He replied in a very serious tone, “I love being your son.”

It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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SiennaMy big girl is growing up so fast!  One of Sienna’s things lately is asking to have a talk with me.  She sometimes calls it a “girl talk” and often they occur in the bathroom.  The other day, she asked, “Mom, I’m wondering… what if I don’t fit in at college?  What if nobody wants to play with me?”  (To give some context, we’ve talked about the fact that people go away to college and Sienna feels pretty strongly – at 7 years old – that she doesn’t ever want to leave her mommy.  So, that’s what she’s getting at with these questions.)

I had to suppress giggles as I explained that you don’t actually “play with your friends” in college, but that of course she’d have friends because she’s very likeable, kind, and a good friend.

Boy, that analytical apple didn’t fall far from this tree!

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As we look forward to Mother’s Day this weekend, I am cherishing the little people who made me a mom.  They make me smile and keep things interesting everyday.

The Tender Moment

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When I finally, finally learned to be in the moment and rest with my feelings, it was painfully obvious how much of life I’d missed out on.  The highly emotional girl that once cried at the drop of the hat and was often overwhelmed with empathy, had been smothered by a young woman who’d decided that strong emotions were no longer safe or tolerable.

images4KNPE0OLFor years, I suppressed any emotion that I couldn’t describe as “happy” which meant a lack of connection to the people and circumstances with which God had surrounded me.  I couldn’t let the sweetness, vulnerability, and raw beauty of life in.  Couldn’t appreciate the many, many blessings that were completely a gift from God.

As the months have unfolded these past couple years, I have come to savor that feeling of awe, wonder, and gratefulness for life.  The fact that my little life has been blessed and orchestrated by God to interact with the particular places and people that surround me, it’s so humbling.  I love taking the time to really listen to my kids stories, visit with a neighbor, share my day with Dennis, gaze at the sunset, pet our little dog Claira, while thanking God for it all.

There’s a poignancy in these moments that I couldn’t quite describe with words, until I read Forgotten Among the Lilies. Rolheiser says:

“What constitutes a tender moment? Anything in life that helps make us aware of our deep connectedness with each other, our common struggle, our common wound, our common sin, and our common need for help: the suffering face of another which mirrors our own pain, the sense of our physical mortality, the acceptance of our own sin, the beauty of nature, the eagerness and innocence of children, the fragility of the aged, and, of course, not least, moments of intimacy, of friendship, of celebration, of every kind of shared joy, pain, or vulnerability.”

Yes, that’s the type of moment I’d come to appreciate and crave when I regained peace with my innermost feelings.

These tender moments, according to Rolheiser, are the essence of prayer – “To have a tender moment is to pray,” he states.  He further explains that we’re told to “pray always” which “implies that we need to be praying even when we are not formally saying prayers.”  This brings to mind the idea of resting in prayer.  Being in a state of prayerful thanksgiving, even when our minds are resting in God and refraining from forming words or trying to figure everything out.

I love the way Rolheiser describes this condition: “To pray always, as Jesus says, implies that we read the signs of the times, that we look at the conspiracy of accidents which shape our lives and read in these the finger and providence of God. The language of God is the experience that God writes into our lives. To pray means to read our lives religiously.”

The conspiracy of accidents!  Such a perfect phrase for the wildness of life.  What peace and hope lie in the fact that God is providentially guiding our lives through all the accidents of circumstance.

Resting in prayer and the stillness of God creates so many beautiful moments of tenderness.  To stay present with the Lord, Rolheiser declares, “We need, daily, to pick up the tender moment.”