Monday, November 26, 2012

"In the spirit of full disclosure....I caught a mouse." Good question! #8

For as long as I can remember, I've had a phobia about mice. In fact, my earliest childhood memory is of a mouse trap and a drop of red blood on the linoleum in our kitchen. I think I was around three years old. I suppose this irrational fear might have also developed by osmosis. My mom was terrified of mice and on a number of occasions I remember her catapulting to the top of a freezer or table when she saw one.

So now you understand why my husband said to me the other day, "In the spirit of full disclosure....I caught a mouse." He knows how ridiculously obsessed I am about these fast moving, turd-dropping vermin.

While cleaning behind the refrigerator in our new-to-us old house, David saw evidence of mice and so kindly set a trap or two. Once one was caught, he knew it was important to tell me the truth, as much as I hated to hear it. He told me because he knew I would want to know.

His 'in the spirit of full disclosure" comment is a variation of another good question I ask as a spiritual director. "In the spirit of full disclosure, what is it that you want or need to tell God?"

It's interesting that some of the most important things we should be talking about with God are often avoided. Things that involve strong emotions. Disappointments we have with him. Dreams inside us that we're afraid to name. Conflicts that make us upset.

These are often the "stuff" of important conversation with God because they represent the reality of our lives and the wars of our internal world. And they are the kinds of things he wants to know. Not that he doesn't already know about them. These hard-to-talk-about topics often form the crux of conversations that open lines of communication and remove blocks in our intimacy with God. 

So, what is it that, in the spirit of full disclosure, you need to talk about with God? God wants to know what you have to say. Imagine him as he listens with rapt attention; unbiased and non-judgmental; full of grace and truth.

Now try it and see what happens.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good question! #7

I shopped for our Thanksgiving meal yesterday. We'll have about 15 family and friends join us for our first Thanksgiving in our new home! So, as I sauntered through the grocery store, filling my cart with all the necessary items to make my portion of the meal complete, I stopped off in the wine aisle and added a couple of bottles to my load, concerned that I might run out of wine half-way through the feast.

Either because of a lack of money or planning, there was a another feast, a wedding feast, described in John 2 where that very thing happened. It's a story I've found myself stewing in for several days now. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus with his disciples, attended this wedding feast in Cana, when half way through the celebration, the wine ran out! Mary, perhaps concerned for the embarrassment of the host, prodded Jesus to take care of the problem. And eventually he did--turning everyday water into fine wine.

One of the questions that has emerged for me through this story is this: "If I keep going as I am, will my wine run out?"

Undoubtedly, this is a question that has come to the surface for good reason. David and I feel as though our lifework and lifestyle have come together in the most joyous and wonderful way. As we celebrate the launching of Sustainable Faith Indy and enjoy the newness of our urban home and the pleasure of sharing in this ministry together, we are very thankful, indeed.

There are also times when I feel like I'm running out of sap to respond to the numerous invitations of my life. I'm aware that for me to continue to have the joy and energy necessary for this work, I need to fill up. I need to discover the ways and means through which Jesus fills me with his Spirit and transforms what I have to offer others. I don't want the wine of my life to run out.

As you consider the way you are living, if you keep going as you are, will your wine run out?

Recognizing a dwindling supply of energy and enthusiasm for life can help us take the steps necessary to stock up; to pursue the spiritual practices and experiences through which we are refilled and refueled. This Thanksgiving, as you celebrate the bounty of your life, why not take some time to inventory how much wine you have left in the cellar.   

Friday, November 16, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good Question! #6

I was on a conference call this week when someone mentioned casually that the first 45 minutes of his day are spent drinking coffee and staring out the window. Staring out the window.... just the idea of that sounded delicious to me!

I love to just stare; to linger in time, not pushing my thoughts around in any productive direction but simply paying attention, gentle attention, to the world around me.That image helped me identify another good question that can provide rich spiritual insight:

"Where do your thoughts go when you let them go?" 

That's what I do when I sip coffee and stare out the window. I allow my mind the freedom to be drawn to the yearnings of my soul--to the places of subconscious thought and desire. Take for instance this morning: I have been sitting in my den looking out the window that faces east, observing the morning light as it "pinkens" (I just made that word up) over the houses in my view.

As I sat leisurely, my mind was able to go where it felt like going, I began to think about my love of nature; about experiences I've had in nature when God's presence enveloped me in and through the beauty that surrounded me. My thoughts confirmed a need and hunger within me for time with God in the woods. 

Since we've moved into the city, I've become aware that I don't have as many experiences, even driving, where I get to "see" a landscape that fills up my senses and soul. I need that. It's one of my most meaningful and nourishing spiritual practices. In fact, I feel a little spiritually peaked because of my lack of connection with God in nature.

So by allowing my thoughts, as I sipped coffee and looked out the window, to enter the deeper contours of my soul, I became aware of a spiritual longing for God through the experience of nature. I let my soul speak. And now I am eager to act on it.

Where do your thoughts go when you let them go? 

This question is helpful when we are in a state of rest; when we are looking out a window relaxing and being. But it can also be an insightful question when we are anxious and hurried. If we pay attention to where our thoughts naturally go when left unattended, we can gain insight into our emotional and spiritual state. That realization allows us to pray more candidly and move toward experiences that nourish our relationship with God.

So, why don't you try it today or tomorrow: Let your thoughts go where they want to go and see where they lead. See what they tell you about the condition of your soul and your spiritual longings.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good Question! #5

One of the ways I've learned to notice the whispers of the Spirit is to pay attention to recurring themes. When I start hearing the same thing, over and over again, I know to give credence to it as a possible invitation from God to consider. One such theme has been reverberating lately: Keeping Sabbath.

A friend dropped a book off in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago on Sabbath. I sat in a planning meeting where someone suggested to include Sabbath-keeping as a required practice for a new certificate program on spiritual  direction. And finally, Friday night, I attended a writer's conference and heard the speaker, Dr. Matthew Sleeth, talk about his new book, 24/6--you guessed it, on honoring the Sabbath.

The question that Sleeth posed is "What is missing in your life?"--a profitable one for this series on questions that help raise us toward God.

Matthew Sleeth told the story of being in his third year of medical school, gathered around an x-ray with fellow med students and after studying it for an hour, concluding that it was a chest x-ray of a normal patient. His professor then gave them all a clue. "Don't just look for what is there, look for what is missing." They continued to be puzzled.

Finally, the radiologist said that he had just called the patient to inform her that he feared she had cancer. The evidence: her left clavicle (collar bone) was missing! Eaten away by this stealth disease.

Sleeth made the point that often we forget to look at "what's missing" in our lives. It's much harder to notice what's missing than what's present--and Sabbath is a case in point. But that question is a very formative one as we focus on our spiritual condition and interest in drawing closer to God.

What's missing--in our lives, in our relationships with God?

For me, Sabbath is often the sacrificial lamb I offer on the alter of my "busy" life. I work a lot. When I'm not working my official jobs, I'm busy doing, producing, and achieving. And when I take an x-ray of my internal being, I can tell what's missing: rest. Rest from accomplishing. Rest from being responsible. Rest from striving. Rest.

So--what's missing for you? What do you need more of? What do you need less of? If you take time to examine your inner being, what is absent? That's the first step in diagnosing our spiritual condition. The next is, "What will we do about it?"

Incidentally, it just occurred to me that today is the Sabbath--and here I am, writing a blog post. Busted:)