No more tepidity for now!

May 24, 2009

I’m re-reading a book my spiritual director has re-loaned me again: “Crossing the Desert; Learning to let go, see clearly, and live simply” by Robert J. Wicks. Excellent book! I’d like to share a couple of quotes from it that are especially touching and/or convicting to me at the present time:

“Humility is the ability to fully appreciate our innate gifts and our current “growing edges” in ways that enable us to learn, act, and flow with our lives as never before. Prior to this important passage [through the narrow gate of humility] we may be drained by defensiveness or wander in our own desert chasing a false image of self that has nothing to do with who we are really meant to be.”

and another…

“[Humility] will also allow us to have the perspective, peace, and joy that comes when we know and value our ordinary transparent selves without wasting the energy it takes to add or subtract anything from whom we really are.”

and one more…

“Humility opens up a space for sound self-respect in lieu of inordinate self-doubt or unbridled self-assurance. A space for the courage needed to be ordinary instead of wasting all of our time chasing after what we believe will make us someone special.”

Let’s just say my growing edges are chafing a little right now. But the good news is I can see a little crack of light. I think I’m progressing toward that light that finally (maybe!) starts letting go of some of the wanderlust in the ol’ desert.

Time will tell. (Be near, oh God.)


God’s in it all the time (part 3)

September 13, 2008

When we last met over our cups of coffee… (smile): In Parts one & two of “God’s in it All the Time,” I’ve been exploring various angles on free will. I’m moving to a place now where I want to connect that to personalizing it and wondering about my own call from God, vocation, and discernment. I ended part 2 with the wonder if God might adjust to all the various intersections (and collisions?) of our various, interdependent free wills. I hinted at a wonder at what I termed as a distinction between a “macro-will” and a “micro-will” of God.

I’m ready to dig back in!

(Important disclaimer: In the interest of minimizing linguistic clumsiness, I’m going to use the convention “I believe” where a more accurate term of my feelings might be something like, “I wonder if it could be that…” Please read on recognizing these grains of salt shaken generously on my humble pie, and realize that this wondering, as EVERYTHING categorized “spiritual wrestling” in my little ol’ blog, is definitely a work in progress!)

Macro-will” and “Micro-will”: I believe in what might be called a “macro-will” of God which is persistent throughout the ages and unchanging. (to reassure readers I’m not totally arbitrary and random when it comes to a big-picture Master Plan!!!) However, I believe it (and the Planner who planned it!) leaves a great deal of wiggle-room, and indeed, the capacity in him for (dare I say it?) delighted or disappointed surprise. Even surprise at the acts of evil in those he created for good and union with himself. I believe this macro-will will “win” in the end and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ or otherwise thwart God’s will. This is my belief, and indeed, my Christian hope. God will step in with bigger and smaller calls, nudges, and miracles to ensure that!!

We in our puny and temporal existences perceive/hear these calls and nudges. And so does everyone else around us, answering more or less faithfully, with more or less purity of heart, and readiness or willingness or awareness to act on these calls and nudges. All these intersections and collisions of constantly unfolding free will’s make God’s micro-will for our lives a constantly shifting target. It is very situational, but always grounded in the carrying out of God’s macro-will. We (I believe!) have the power to answer God’s call and put a smile on his face. Failing to answer the call, either knowingly resisting or out of innocent ignorance may or may not disappoint, as many factors come into play. But sure, as just one possible example, I believe God was disappointed when Judas betrayed Christ. How couldn’t he be???

These small exchanges of call and answer make up what I believe is God’s “micro-will(s)” for individuals. And I believe the micro-will can be life-alteringly, transformatively strong, but it is subject to change, as God is “surprised” and adjusts. It is a constantly moving target, in greater and lesser ways.

Ordained Ministry Discernment, a Micro-Will Category? Where am I going with all this? It is my belief that we in discernment circles strain and struggle so long and hard over something that falls firmly in the category of God’s micro-will. Do we put too much emphasis on discerning that will in the process? Definitely not! Faithfully discerning, to the best of our abilities, is very important. Does it lead individuals in the process to allow themselves to needlessly get bent out of shape? Perhaps. Maybe. But I do wish to stress here, firmly and strenuously, that any bending out of shape that has happened on my part has been hoisted on by my own inner demons, not by anyone else around me in what I consider to be a very healthy discernment process in my diocese! The thing I’m pondering, though, is that until or unless someone makes vows to the church it is merely a potentiality, however strong and single-minded it may feel to the individual, not an inseparable part of the individual’s macro-vocation. It is a detail (albeit in a permanent, radically lifechanging detail!) in the micro-call working out of just one possible expression of one’s bigger purpose picture. This bigger picture is the macro-vocation of one’s life, and it, too, has (I think) plenty of wiggle room. It is in the macro-vocation, not the micro-call, where the “thing you can’t not do” lies, in my opinion. And the fact that I hold that opinion may well speak volumes that I have misinterpreted my own call big-time. Who knows. But plodding along in my wondering aloud, it seems to me that the thing you can’t not do, the macro-vocation, is to respond faithfully as one can to the call God puts on one’s life, as best one grasps it. I realize I didn’t give examples of how such a strong initial call could be valid at time A, and then become a moving target and not “the thing” at time B. But I have a few examples in my mind. I’m sure you can imagine a few of your own??? At any rate, I’ve been prattling on quite long enough for this post.

God’s in it all the Time!!! Reading back over my words could suggest that such a person is making it “all about them,” and rather unattractively self-absorbed, in just the area where you would hope fervently for the opposite. I would simply say that the twists and turns of such a wondering process, and “the best we can do” process of striving to be a faithful disciple and discerner of God’s will can be more complicated than they appear on the surface. I return to my apology in part 1, “…regardless of how well I succeed in articulating that in tonight’s and the planned follow-up posts that’s what I REALLY mean to say. It is simply this, loud and at the top of my lungs: God’s in it all the time.”

Indeed he is. I thank God for that constant presence. Thank you, God.

Peace all! – Karla

***********************

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Lord, I ask that this prayer be the true prayer of my heart as I continue to pray and listen to you. And if you see what in my blindness I cannot see, and that my heart is resisting you in being my vision and lord, I ask you to work on my heart to make it so. Amen.


God’s in it all the time (part 2)

August 21, 2008

Part 1 is here

–Do you believe God can be surprised?–

Perhaps I should begin by fleshing out just a bit more of what I mean by surprised. There’s the kind of surprise that comes out of nowhere, and is fully and truly a surprise. Then there’s the more common kind of (milder) surprise, where you simply don’t know what will happen next, but it’s one of the expected possibilities. “Will all the lights be red as usual?…NO! By golly, I got a lucky string of green’s! Yay!” Not exactly earth-shattering surprise, and yet, different from your normal experience perhaps.

Or if you’ve been a Packer fan over the last several years, there’s the surprise of Brett Favre’s return to football. A surprise, in that he publicly wrestled with and announced his retirement, and now he’s back on a team. But a moderate surprise, at best, given his history of vacillating decisions and ponderings over retirement.

So I ask: Is God surprised by Brett Favre’s return to football? Would he have been surprised if Brett stayed in retirement, if you believe Brett is following God’s will for his life? If so, was God surprised when he retired? Is God surprised by a string of lucky green lights? If so, does he take advantage of them?

Another way of asking this: Does God have a plan that’s all predetermined? Do we have free will? Could God’s will be thwarted by that free will? Could God’s will be advanced, or even enhanced by some of our choices? Do we have that kind of power? Do we have any power?

Is any of this evidence of coping with surprise by God? I think so.

We can take a very mundane example like those stoplights. And we can take a more historically significant example like Judas’ betrayal of Christ.

Okay. Those lights. I don’t know about you, but I seriously doubt God has a predestined, predetermined schedule for the changing of our traffic lights. So many factors come in regarding how I might hit these lights, and how I react to the yellow’s…do I slow down and stop, do I punch it and run the red?

These choices, small as they may be, impact when I arrive at my destination, and who I might meet, what mood I’ll be in…etc., etc.

My time of arrival is not necessarily a trivial thing. It affects who I might touch, and who might touch me. These ripples have an unknown and, I would also argue, an unpredictable effect and magnitude.

Does God predetermine each and every event that impacts when I leave the house (early, punctual or late?) for my driving destination to ensure his will is properly carried out? I doubt it.

I guess for me, I believe in the possibility but decidedly infrequency of miracles. Meaning, if God needs something to slow me down to encounter something required for his will to be carried out, he’ll step in and make something happen. I’ve got my doubts that he’s got it all micromanaged that closely and on that tight of a timeframe that he would exercise that privilege very often. I believe God can be surprised, and yes, ADJUST!

(no, no! Stick with me a little while. Don’t jump to throwing “Hey, loser! God is unchanging!” protests at me just yet. Stick with me while I keep tumbling about in the playground of my amateur theological mind.)

Take the example of Judas now. I do not believe that our loving God creates evil and betrayal, even for good (i.e. willed) ends as simply the necessary but regrettable means, as some literalists might argue.

I believe Judas, like MANY of us thank you very much, felt snubbed and made a mistake he deeply regretted later. I have a feeling he was, like MANY of us thank you very much, an otherwise “good” person and faithful disciple, following Christ as best he could. His mistake had huge consequences, and sure, he probably should have recognized that and chosen his course more prudently. But was he predestined and “programmed” to betray Jesus to “fulfill the Scriptures?” I don’t think so. I think he, like MANY of us thank you very much, made his choice, and had to live with the consequences and guilt.

What would have happened if Judas hadn’t handed Jesus over? Would God’s plan for redemption fall through and have God wringing his hands in helpless impotence? No, of course not! He ADJUSTS. He is “surprised” and keeps his big picture on course even if a surprise shadow here or an unexpected highlight there slips in, due to the exercise of our free will.

God’s in it all the time.

(But at a respectful (loving), “gentlemanly” distance concerning the reins of control.)

That’s probably more than enough for tonight. I’ll be back with more on this crazy notion of mine of God adjusting to our choices. Macro-will and micro-will are what I call it. Stay tuned!

Peace! – Karla


God’s in it all the time (part 1 of -?-)

August 17, 2008

The following italicized quotation is taken from the Forward Day by Day Meditation for 8/17/08:

“When I entered alcoholism recovery 25 years ago, I realized that while my drinking had been due to my foolish decision, it was also what drove me to my knees and into the arms of God. Somehow God was in it all along, from the beginning. It just took me awhile to see it.” (emphasis added by me)

I guess I sort of opened a bit of a can of worms with talk of my issues with discernment the other day. Once the can is opened, all that can happen next is to slam the lid back on, or allow the squirmy worms to go free.

I’m gonna let some worms squirm tonight.

I have ambivalent feelings these days about continuing to move ahead with diaconal discernment. There are many times where I believe that I had the wrong idea about the nature of the ordained diaconal order in the Episcopal church, or at least how it’s expressed in my locality, and resultantly, how it matches my gifts and God’s call to me. And there’s no reason to beat myself up about having started this pathway and now stepping off it; just accept it and move on, but alas, that inability to stop beating myself up for being wrong, or misreading signs and circumstances leads to the dark underbelly of an otherwise admirable trait in me of fidelity and commitment: a prideful reluctance to quit, even when it seems like the right thing to do. Among the things God is showing me I need work on through all of this.

But indeed, my feelings are genuinely and innocently ambivalent, so faithfully answering God’s call, acting on that thing I “can’t not do” makes it impossible to quit just yet. Could it be that I simply need to muster the courage to face my fears of possible rejection and drum up the confidence to state what I believe my “diaconal ministry” is, feeling neither apologetic for its seemingly small scope nor claiming undue “specialness” over it? Hard telling. Truthfully, today, doesn’t seem like much is even there to tell, but that’s another post’s story. But importantly, maybe it doesn’t make one whit of difference.

That may sound discouraged and disheartened, and part of it might well be just that, but part of it is, I think, quite spiritually mature and “together” about things. Cuz God’s in it all the time. And regardless of how well I succeed in articulating that in tonight’s and the planned follow-up posts that’s what I REALLY mean to say. It is simply this, loud and at the top of my lungs: God’s in it all the time.

As I type this entry, complicated thoughts and feelings and theories fill my head that go together logically for me, but might seem all over the board to one who is not inside my chaotic head. The two biggest themes seem to be:

  1. detached (but also, quite personally specific and very much *attached*) wondering about the persistence and unchangeability of God’s will in an individual’s life.
  2. I also marvel aloud and silently to myself at how this whole process has had God in it from the very beginning of the first inklings of wonder, regardless, really, of whether I’m called to the diaconate or not. And I give great thanks for that presence when I detach myself from the struggling and the unanswered questioning. I give great thanks that it has been and continues to be the means of my own version of being driven to my knees in contact with God. That is not to be sneezed at, regardless of the direction in which all this goes if and when it ever achieves closure.

So maybe just having laid that out on the table is enough for this entry. God’s been in it from the beginning, regardless of the wisdom or folly of the decisions I’ve made and am continuing to make.

Which brings me to my other theme: my wonderings about the persistence of God’s will in the life of an individual. I’ll write more another night. For now, let me just throw out a bit of wondering questions.

Do you believe God can be surprised, and still have his will be carried out the way he desires? Or do you believe that the will is all figured out, and nothing surprises him, when it appears as though things are not going his way that he’s got “a plan” already and no matter. Or maybe you believe he knows when we’re going to mess up, and thus, also not surprised? (a la many people’s beliefs about Judas’s role in the crucifixion of Jesus)

I don’t suppose I have many readers out there, and fewer still who might feel like publicly taking a stance on such a question, but I’ll give you some time to mull it over anyway before I jump back into my opinion blathering.

May God’s peace be with you in abundance! – Karla


loose ends, poker chips, and prayer

August 12, 2008

Yeah.  Tonight I’m feeling un-peaceful.  You know, that bit I wrote about being unable to be a peaceful, non-praying person?  Tonight’s post will reflect back to a previous post at a few different turns…think poker chips later on, too.

It’s funny how it comes on at different (annoyingly unexpected!) times, the reminders that God’s got some loose ends for me to deal with.  One quite obvious loose end, spiritually speaking, could be some sort of closure or acceptance for this discernment process I’ve entered.  Move ahead?  Quit?  Continue to keep exploring quietly and simply be okay with that wait-n-see stance?

The most obvious loose ends are not always the the ones in most need of tying up, as I’m sure you’ve experienced!  Sometimes they hide, tucked unobtrusively inside a fold of clothing, only to come loose and tickle you as if out of nowhere, and you realize to your discomfort, both physical and psychological, you have nowhere to adjust and itch discreetly.  You have nowhere to hide.

It’s like that with God and me.  I neglect prayer, and attentiveness to the gentle movings of the Spirit in my life.  Or what’s worse in a certain way… I”ll actively stuff, jampack my life with wonderful, godly activities and whether consciously and knowingly, or unconsciously and innocently sabotage any attempts by a mere GOD to break in to my consciousness!  Harumph! (um, that was intentional tongue-in-cheek, if you don’t know me well!)

Well, until that is, a loose end simply refuses to be kept subtly and unassumingly tucked in to the folds of my other clothing.

Where was I when my loose end came out?  At my daughter’s swimming lesson.  My to-do list contains a line item to mail the bishop an update on my discernment.  But that’s the shorty loose end that ANY fool can see and clip if they simply get out the clipper.  It doesn’t tickle.  It doesn’t make you squirm. (well, not THAT much anyway!)

So, no.  It’s really not my loose end of the formal discernment process that God sees fit to tickle me with.  REALLY tickle me with anyway. Writing to my bishop is just one of the items on my to-do list, providing an opening of unarmored vulnerability for God to break in, and deal with the real loose ends in my soul.  And thus the (embarrassing!) tears started flowing at the pool bleachers as I’m hunched over my spiral notebook in impromptu, uninvited but in hindsight, welcome and needed prayer.

Trouble is, I don’t really know the true identity of these loose ends so I can effectively try to deal with them.  It isn’t as simple as identifying my calling, though that’s certainly part of it.  (“We’d like to hear a more articulate calling from you directly” echoes through my mind, over and over.)

It’s complicated with issues of, did I “hear” this right at all?  Was my calling simply to give myself in service right where I’m currently planted, and needs no fancy complications of hierarchical attagirl stamp of approval, discernment processes, and ordination?

It’s complicated with am I just being a great big chicken to say some things for fear of rejection, and by golly, this is God’s call and you’re a big chicken for sitting on your hinie… get with the program already?!?  Get over it!

Either of these options suggests, due to different plausible and possible interpretations of discernment, a common failure of pushing all my poker chips across the table.  It would appear I’m still clinging tenaciously to some of my chips.  The chips of looking competent and “reading the signs” “right” are among them.  The chips of a fear of hearing “you don’t want me” being uttered in my direction looms large among the chip hoard hidden in my pockets.

It would be good to point out here that these chips are with me always.  They simply have no convenient place to hide in the discernment process…but make no mistake, they are not unique to it whatsoever!  It’s so hard….so hard…

Heavenly Father, thank you for your patience with us as we battle the same demons over and over as we strive to serve you faithfully and cheerfully.  Let us walk humbly in your sight all the days you will give us, cooperating with the movements of your Spirit, seeking always to do your will.  Amen.