Friday, February 27, 2009

Ash Wednesday and Adoration [disciplines of the inner life]

Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began,
Father love is reigning o'er us,
Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us onward,
In the triumph song of life.
(Henry Van Dyke)

I will not tell a lie. The study and meditation in this particular discipline almost did me in. I debated whether or not to even write about it. I am an adoration flunky.

See for yourself.

journal entry: Beautiful and amazing! Mixed with His declaration of Himself as the only true God, the Creator and the only Savior for that Creation He also declares His personal love for each person He has created. His power and supremacy is matched and even defined in the context of His love for me. Thank you, Master Rest.

Day 2: Genesis 1

journal entry: Understanding the priority of living in the present presence of Christ is rooted in an understanding -- or at least an awareness -- that time is a creation of God. So much of my stress and distraction in life comes from me bowing down to a falsely perceived tyranny of Time. God created it and designed it. He works within it, but is not limited to it. I rest in Master Rest. I set goals by Father Time.

I wish You told us what You did on the seventh day. What does it look like for God to rest? I am intrigued by this statement:
God blessed the seventh day. He made it a holy day because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating God had done. (Genesis 2:3)
Was God tired? Scripturally, I know that is not true in the sense of Him being weak from exhaustion. But in His perfect state, He is a proactive rester? That, in fact, is an attribute of His holy, unending strength? Is it possible this omnipotent being actually exerted exhausting effort in the act of creation? God, show me Yourself in this. I would love to imagine You in your studio creating the universe. I'd love to see it in a music montage [what song would fit here?]. You with silvery hair askew, sleeves rolled up, sandwich untouched next to a stack of unopened mail. You enthralled by Your creative work. I love you, God.

Day 3: 1 Peter 1:3-9

I know when the Word is getting into the crevices of me when my journal entry consists of word for word transcriptions of entire passages.
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you'll have it all—life healed and whole.
I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.
You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don't see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you'll get what you're looking forward to: total salvation.
journal entry: God, I love and hate this passage in Job. I love Your poetry; I love Your power and Your authority. But I can only describe my negative reaction as a sort of [jealousy?]. You are confident and sure and powerful and assertive and accomplished. I am exhausted. Obviously there is no competition between You and me. But I wish I could be a little more like You in this way. Where do I fit into the scheme of the universe You describe to Job?

Day 5: I can't move past Job...

journal entry: What does it say about me that this week's theme of adoration has just left me feeling inadequate, discouraged and resentful. I don't want to write prayers to You anymore, God. Something in me is obviously broken that I would respond to these accounts of Your Majesty and Power and Beauty with a cold shoulder. What is that?

Spirit, please don't turn Your back on me with this question. Please see me through to truth. Please.

God, You are great. And creative. And beautiful. And poetic. And strong. The fact that you plan to create a NEW JERUSALEM -- a new heaven and earth for Yourself and for us is so exciting! Talk about Your creative projects!

It would be so fun to brainstorm this one with You. Places where people can hang out together and create together and talk and drink wine and eat yummy fruits and nuts. Perhaps near a body of water with soft breezes that blow in and out through portico-type structures. People could sit with stringed instruments and rhythm instruments -- oh, and banjos and accordians!-- and write new melodies and lyrics together. Someone could be sitting at a potter's wheel, several others could sit around a quilting frame. Some could stand at stretched canvasses, their backs to the group, lost in the work of imagining through oils and acrylics and chalk. Others could be wandering in and out and around photographing and writing and discussing the essence of the day and the people gathered.

I could be happy to just sit and observe and journal this scene. (Could there be somewhere, something like this, please?)

Day 7: I'm back to that painful Job passage again.

journal entry: I'm conflicted by my ugly reaction to this week's Scripture passage in Job. When I think of that passage as a conversation between God and Job my response is You go, God! That's the way to tell him! All the while conveniently forgetting that Job is absolutely devastated by his own suffering. (Where's my merciful response?)

But, when I read the passage as a conversation between God and me, a sort of cranky distancing happens. I note with an objective arrogance, Well, You are cleverly poetic. That's pretty impressive. Mostly, though, I just can't believe You, God. Are You being sarcastic? Macho? Arrogant? Really? It can't be true, but I have no other frame to understand the way You get in Job's face. Then Job repents and You forgive and bless him hugely and call him Your friend. My brain doesn't know how to compute this.
...the highest adoration is not occupied with the recollection of favors received and mercies extended, though they do help one be aware of the true natrue of God. There is still, in all such recollection, a remnant of that self-centeredness which it should be the purpose of prayer to escape. In it, we are still thinking o fGod in terms of something done to "me" and for "me." We never really adore Him, until we arrive at the moment when we worship Him for what He is in Himself, apart from any consideration of the impact of His Divine Selfhood upon our desires and our welfare. Then we love Him for Himself alone. Then we adore Him, regardless of whether any personal benefit is in anticipation or not. (from An Autobiography of Prayer by Albert E. Day)
Father, I'm wondering what to do about this issue You've exposed in me? This issue with adoring You for You alone. The idea of adoration doesn't cause me stress; I know I've experienced moments of true adoration. Moments I am lost and all about me is faded into the glorious reality of You. I want this to be true as often as possible. I want it to be true for everyone I know.

And I understand You are worthy of adoration no matter the impact of Your Divine Selfhood on my own desires and welfare. The only thing I can guess is that some gross sense of insignificance in me is twisting my view of God's character in relationship to me as His child. When I get glimpses of its true nasty reality inside me I imagine it as a sort of parasitic-clinging to You, my husband, and, others for "crumbs off the table" of Your significance and theirs.
But acknowledging that foulness in me is not helping me. Not yet. I'm still feeling freaked out by statements like this:
Then it is not what He has done for us or what we expect Him to do for us, but what He has been from eternity before we existed, and what He is now even if we were not here to need Him, and what He will be forever whether that "forever" includes us or not. (Day)
Is it possible that I'm feeling rejected by this statement? And the obvious lack of need for Job (therefore, me) that He seems almost to flaunt in the passage? And, really, how can I seperate the love of God incarnated in His Son, Jesus, who pursued me with His life and death and life again. Or from the Creator Trinity who formed me in Their image. I'm feeling a little bit set up by this study of adoration. Like some of this discipline is a head game -- an exercise in seperating God into part-relational and part-cosmic-hermit. And it feels a little bit like a cruel evaluation separating the most spiritual gold-star worshippers from the worship flunkies like myself because I can't pass the test.

I will stand aside as a quiet observer until You, Spirit, show me Your Truth. I will not leave Your side while I wait for a deeper understanding of You.

This is something I believe God wants me to hunt down in community. I am talking with my husband and other saints. Blogging community, I welcome your insight.

Ash Wednesday
The LORD said: It isn't too late. You can still return to me with all your heart.Start crying and mourning! Go without eating. Don't rip your clothes to show your sorrow.Instead, turn back to me with broken hearts. I am merciful, kind, and caring. I don't easily lose my temper, and I don't like to punish. I am the LORD your God. Perhaps I will change my mind and treat you with mercy. Then you will be blessed with enough grain and wine for offering sacrifices to me. Sound the trumpet on Zion! Call the people together. Show your sorrow by going without food. Make sure that everyone is fit to worship me. (Job 2:12 - 16a, CEV)
This year marks the very first Ash Wednesday that I've remembered the beginning of Lent with more than just a passing thought. I gain no favor with my Father by attending mass, wearing chalk on my forehead or giving up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. But I pay closer attention the the days and hours and moments of my small crosses to share the suffering of Jesus.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-deinal; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer. (The Book of Common Prayer)
So Brian and I are walking together through Lent this year. I have given up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. Even more of a challenge, I've given up facebook and blog-reading. Connecting with old and new friends on facebook and learning and enjoying the life-stories across the U.S. through a daily menu of blog-reading is a good part of my life -- at least as much as chicken wings on Friday nights! But I look forward to filling those gaps with more quiet, more face-to-face connection and more leafy green vegetables. I am a weak woman and am thankful that I do not have to cower in my weakness, but can kneel humbly before a good God and receive pardon and forgiveness.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
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