Growing Deeper

Growing Deeper Week of 9/27

Growing Deeper Scripture: Daniel 1:1-8,12-17; 2:12-19; 6:3-11

Have you ever considered arranging your life for transformation? This Sunday we look at Daniel, who, in the face of a Babylonian culture that was counter to his own, found a way to arrange his life so he could be who he wanted to be—one who made space for God’s transforming grace.

For centuries, Christians have been doing just what Daniel did by arranging their lives in ways that made room for transformation. They used what is called a Rule of Life.

One of the earliest Rules of Life was written by St. Benedict, a 6th century monk, who wanted a way for monks to live faithfully in their work life and their prayer life. Though his Rule was aimed at monastic living, it offers guidance for our own living.

St. Benedict begins with the word “Listen.” In essence, he is challenging us to sit up, pay attention, and attend to the important things of life. It’s the invitation to live our lives in a focused way rather than an aimless way.

Even the word “Rule” points to focused living. Rule comes from the Latin word “regula,” which means straight edge. We find here several words we use today: ruler, regular, and regulate.

Do you remember the quote from Paula D’Arcy from last week? “God comes to you disguised as your life.” God is meeting us in every part of our lives and inviting us to be transformed into the image of Christ. A Rule of Life helps us look at key areas of our lives so that we can arrange them in intentional, balanced, realistic, personal, and life-giving ways.

A Rule of Life is not about living perfectly; it’s about living faithfully. Sometimes we even hear it referred to as a Rhythm and Rule of Life. I like the sound of that. It makes me think of dancing, listening for the beat of the music, and moving our bodies to that beat.

A Rule of Life enables us to move to the beat of our lives as they are right now, not as we hope they will be ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road. It helps us to arrange our lives for transformation according to this present moment of life.
I invite you to read the passages from Daniel listed above and discover how Daniel arranged his life in his season of life.

Our practice this week is to begin to develop a Rhythm and Rule of Life of our own. The key areas at which we will look are: Spirit, Body, Mind, Relationships, Home, Work, and Resources. We will begin by simply “checking in” with ourselves using these key areas. Over time, notice the rhythms of your life and ask how you might creatively arrange your life around these areas in this season of life.

I don’t have to tell any of you that we are in the midst of a pandemic. The rhythms of our lives will always be changing with major life events or with subtle shiftings; therefore, our Rules of Life will most likely change or adjust in order to help us regulate life to that particular rhythm.

This week start with the question Ruth Haley Barton asks in her book Sacred Rhythms: “How do I want to live so that I can be who I want to be?” Then begin to make this Rule of Life your own by checking in with yourself using the key areas.

Spirit: the five marks of a Christian Life can be used here-love, devotion, compassion, justice, and witness.

Body: exercise, sleep habits, eating habits, ways to de-stress

Mind: ways to quiet the mind and de-stress, daily technology breaks, creative outlets, reading that exercises the mind

Relationships: soul friends who help you grow in love, measuring the health of your relationships, mending where necessary.

Home: make your home a haven for love, peace, and grace to grow and be shared

Work: have a healthy line between work and the other key areas

Resources: budgets, healthy spending habits, sharing of resources, tithes and offerings

It will be helpful to check in with yourself in these areas a few times this week, and, as you check in, simply spend some time listening for your own needs and desires and for the ways God is leading you in these areas. As you continue the process, your Rule of Life will begin to reveal itself to you, and it will then offer you the freedom to make adjustments as needed.

As we begin to arrange our lives for transformation we will discover the truth and encouragement found in Sister Joan Chittister’s words: “We come to realize that we did not find God; God finally got our attention.”

O God, we want to live transformed lives. Give us grace to listen for and find the rhythms of our own lives so that we can become who we want to be— people who belong to you, to ourselves, and to others. Amen.

Chittister, Joan, The Rule of Benedict: Spirituality for the 21st Century, Crossroad Publishing, New York, 2010 Barton, Ruth Haley, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2006
Kemper, JennGiles, Sacred Ordinary Days, A Liturgical Planner, Sacred Ordinary Days, 2015-2019

Growing Deeper Week of 9/20

Growing Deeper Scripture:  Psalm 139

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.  Psalm 139.1-3

Self-knowledge.  Self-awareness.  What comes to mind when you hear these words?  For many of us the response is one of discomfort because with self-examination can come questions…

What if I don’t really like who I meet?
And, further, what if God doesn’t like me?

The Psalmist David is credited with writing the stunningly honest words of Psalm 139.  David wrote these words to the God who knew him better than he knew himself, the God who loved him enough to transform him into “a man after God’s own heart.”  Through some of his greatest failures, David came to truly know himself and was able to proclaim, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works.” (Psalm 139.14)  Let’s read that again!

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works.”

David learned to celebrate himself – in all of his goodness and brokenness – as God’s beautiful creation.

Last week we said that the deepest desire implanted by God in each of us is the longing to belong — to God, to ourselves, and to others.  It’s the longing to know that we are loved by the God who has already searched us, who already knows us, and who is acquainted with ALL our ways.  God loves us enough to reveal ALL our ways to us as we open our hearts and lives to him.  Through a growing self-awareness, David came to live that desire and to experience that love.

The spiritual journey is one of transformation.  God sees those places in us that have yet to be shaped into the image of Christ.  God longs to awaken us to those places so that we might begin to surrender them to his transforming grace.

Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to you disguised as your life.”  David experienced this powerful truth even in the midst of murder, adultery, and the death of his child.  God met him  with love and grace in the midst of his sin and brokenness.  We, too, can begin to create space in our lives to look for God’s presence and to listen for God’s voice in the goodness and the brokenness of our everyday lives.

This week’s spiritual practice is called The Examen.  It has a long history in the Church and was developed by the 15th century Jesuit priest St. Ignatius of Loyola.  St. Ignatius desired for people to live in an ever growing self-awareness and God-awareness.

Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable place.
Come to stillness by paying attention to your breathing, a reminder that God is always closer than your next breath.  With each breath let distractions, stresses, to-do lists, and the like, fall away.  Open your soul to God’s presence, which is always with you.

Ask Jesus to walk with you through your day.  Simply notice what comes up as you sit quietly.  I’ve heard this step described as rummaging just like you’d rummage through a sock drawer.  You’ll know which pair to grab when you see it.  Let Jesus show you what parts of the day to pick up.

As you walk through your day, name what brought you joy.  Pause to notice how God was revealing God’s presence to you in that moment.

Next, notice what frustrated you or drained you of energy.  Ask God to help you name the reasons for the frustration or the energy drain.  Listen for anything God would say to you through them.

How did you fall short today?  Where did you not extend love and grace?  (It could be related to the previous step.)  Name those places; confess the sins to God, and, then, ask AND receive God’s forgiveness.

Close the time with thanksgiving for God’s presence in the day, for the the ways God revealed God’s self in the joys and frustrations, and for the healing of God’s forgiveness.  Ask God to prepare you for the next day.

The Examen may be used daily.  Use it at the end of a day.  Or, use it in the mornings to look at the previous day.  Some people prefer to use The Examen weekly or after a difficult season in life.  The choice is yours.  Know that its continued practice will provide a way for you to recognize God’s presence and wisdom more and more in your life.

O God, you know me better than I know myself.  Help me to grow in self-awareness and to trust that your deep knowledge of me is for my healing and transformation.  I want to be able to celebrate myself as your fearfully and wonderfully made creation in both my goodness and my brokenness.  Amen.

I invite you to read Psalm 139 throughout the week.  Sit with what stands out to you, and listen for what God may be saying to you.

Growing Deeper Week of 9/13

Growing Deeper Scriptures:

Psalm 23; Romans 8:16; Mark 10:35-45; Mark 10:46-52

In Psalm 23, the psalmist declares,

“God rests me in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul….”

Somehow the psalmist knows that God longs to restore our souls, and God restores souls through rest.  Rest awakens us to our deepest desires by moving us away from our noisy, crowded, and busy lives and from the world.  Rest also enables us to remain in touch with our deepest desires by making space to listen for the work of God’s grace within us.

What are our souls?

They consist of mind, intellect, will, emotions, and senses.  Our souls are that part of us made to connect to God.

What is our deepest desire?

It is a longing to belong, which is discovered in connecting more deeply with God, and, by extension, connecting more deeply with ourselves and with others.

Romans 8:16 tells us that the Spirit is bearing witness with our spirits, that we are God’s children, and that we belong to God.  The Spirit of God is always letting us know who we are and what our deepest desires are, but we don’t always have the space to hear.  Rest helps create the space to listen.

Jesus is the master of questions.  He asks things like:

What are you looking for?
What are you afraid of?
What do you want me to do for you?

These are all questions about desire, and they are invitations to listen for our desires and name them in the presence of Jesus. 

Jesus’ questions are always geared toward listening for our “soul cry,” and they are questions that help us get to the essence of whom we are and of whom God has created us to be.  Jesus’ presence offers a safe place to name both the desires that draw us to God and the desires that are moving us away from God.  

Compare James’ and John’s encounter with Jesus in Mark 10:35-45 with Bartimaeus’ encounter with Jesus in Mark 10:46-52.

The spiritual journey is the journey of transformation.  God wants to transform us so that we can live fully into the desire God has given us— to fully belong to God, to ourselves, and to others.

It is always the work of grace.  We seek God because God is already seeking us.  We love God because God is already loving us.  We respond to God’s grace because God’s grace is always going before us.

With each Growing Deeper in this sermon series, a spiritual practice will be offered.  Practices make restful space within us to meet God.  This week we will use the story of blind Bartimaeus found in Mark 10:46-52.

Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable place.
Come to stillness by paying attention to your breathing, a reminder that God is always closer than your next breath.  With each breath, let distractions, stresses, to-do lists, and the like, fall away.  (Some days this will take longer than others.)

Read Mark 10:46-52, and, for a moment, simply hold the words in the silent space within you trusting that God’s Spirit is already moving.  Read the passage a second time and begin to imagine that you are Bartimaeus.

Listen for the noise of the crowds……
Feel the dirt of the roadside where you are sitting……
Hear yourself cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

How does it sound to you?  Notice the emotions stirring within you now as you cry out to Jesus.  What need are you holding on to today? 

Now imagine that Jesus is making his way to you.  How does it feel to have Jesus’ complete attention focused solely on you?  Hear his question to you: “________, what do you want me to do for you?  Listen for your own answer and for the continuing emotions that are stirring in you.

Our emotions are important.  They help us locate ourselves in relation to God, ourselves, and others.  What is it that you sense your emotions are telling you right now?  How may God be speaking to you through them?

If you would like to journal your responses, then do so.  If you prefer to just sit and listen, then do so.  Follow the leading of God’s Spirit and trust that leading.  Linger in God’s presence for a bit.  During the week, your are invited to come back to this practice to make restful space to meet God and your own desires.

O God of grace and love, thank you for meeting me today.  Thank you for creating me to belong to you.  Strengthen me to continue making restful space for listening and for meeting your presence.  Give me courage to live into what you have shown me today.  Amen.

Portions adapted from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2006, pp. 19-28