Daily Devotional: Encountering a Still-Speaking God In this Present Moment

gethsemane prayerI continue to look at prayers of encouragement that my worship tradition in the United Church of Christ holds up as guides for those struggling, as I did in the death of my wife, in their Book of Worship.   One set of words held up by them which has always been an encouragement to me, even as a little boy, and which I regularly read with patients and families in my work as a chaplain, comes from the Gospel of John.

The Book of Worship includes the following excerpts of John 14 as words of meditation and encouragement:

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.

ucc book of worship“In a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Yesterday I talked about the most basic meaning of this prayer I learned as a child: a hope of heaven as pure gift, open to all, and how such hope has carried me and others in our times of deep vulernability and loss. Having done that, I want to explore another aspect of this prayer.

Particularly that this prayer is not about heaven, not really. It speaks to even more in our lives, both in times of struggle and of hope.

I say that because when Jesus talks about going to make a home with them, Jesus never really says it is in heaven. In fact his going to the Father’s house and coming back again in context is Jesus’ going to the cross to die and coming back risen on Easter morning.   Some folks, myself included, have no problem with the idea this going and coming described here includes Jesus going to the other world through death and need not require easter iconJesus return in any resuscitated or transformed body but might just be Jesus appearing in a way the disciples can discern from the other world. This can be just as true if Jesus simply demonstrated to them in some spiritual way as often happens through the grieving encountering their beloved dead who have passed making themselves felt after death, in a way they know Jesus is risen, his life and guidance continuing on. Though some, including me, have no problem with such a reading of John, this is not really what the text says in John.   In John Jesus is pictured physically dying and appearing risen and that is how He comes back. Such imagery has very little to do directly with the next world which Christians call “heaven” at all, although you can definitely see how it applies in the way we talked about last time to our fears about death and the life after.

This making a home with them Jesus talks about seems instead to have more to do in the Gospel of John with the giving of the Holy Spirit, by whose presence wherever we go, This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.whatever situation we face, we are not alone. But in the experience of Spirit in, with, under, through, and all around us we can sense the full presence of God with us in each present moment even before our journey through death to the next world. For me, meditation is a key way that I open myself up this awareness.

Because of this when I use this Scripture as a prayer with patients and families, I like to frame it so that it is clear that in every experience we have, Jesus goes before us. This includes the experience of death but oh so much more! Jesus goes preparing us for whatever lies around the corner for us, so that we can know that even if darkness, pain, and despair lay ahead they are never the whole story.   For also around that corner is love. Is companionship. Is one who can guide us through our dark days. Let alone when unexpected joys and opportunities lie around the corner. For then still Jesus is the One present showing us how to make the most of them. Every moment we face Jesus is already there through the Spirit, waiting to greet us.

This is a part of the promise of the Holy Spirit who will be with us, leading us into all truth.

The tradition of Christianity in which I am part, whose prayer book I use, has an oft-repeated statement: “God is still speaking. Do not put a period where God has placed a comma”. It is from this prayer of Scripture that this bold theological claim is made.   From verses with a very child-like reading comes a deep challenge to be open to putting aside childish things.

In our lives, God is always, ever present if we but open our eyes. God is always, ever speaking if we will but listen with our whole hearts open.   And there is not a situation we face individually or collectively in God’s good world in which we need feel alone, without guidance.

This change in seeing the world which the Holy Spirit makes possible if we are open, in each present moment, is beautifully pictured to me by the Peter Mayer song “Holy Now”:

“When I was a boy, each week

On Sunday, we would go to church

And pay attention to the priest

He would read the holy word

And consecrate the holy bread

And everyone would kneel and bow

Today the only difference is

Everything is holy now

Everything, everything

Everything is holy now

 

“When I was in Sunday school

We would learn about the time

Moses split the sea in two

Jesus made the water wine

And I remember feeling sad

That miracles don t happen still

But now I can’t keep track

Cause everything’s a miracle

Everything, Everything

Everything’s a miracle

 

“Wine from water is not so small

But an even better magic trick

Is that anything is here at all

So the challenging thing becomes

Not to look for miracles

But finding where there isn’t one

 

“When holy water was rare at best

It barely wet my fingertips

But now I have to hold my breath

Like I’m swimming in a sea of it

It used to be a world half there

Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down

But I walk it with a reverent air

Cause everything is holy now

Everything, everything

Everything is holy now

 

“Read a questioning child s face

And say it’s not a testament

That’d be very hard to say

See another new morning come

And say it’s not a sacrament

I tell you that it can’t be done

 

“This morning, outside I stood

And saw a little red-winged bird

Shining like a burning bush

Singing like a scripture verse

It made me want to bow my head

I remember when church let out

How things have changed since then

Everything is holy now

It used to be a world half-there

Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down

But I walk it with a reverent air

Cause everything is holy now.”

This sense of opening up to the awareness of God in the present moment, not just in some bye and bye, is something I’ve experienced too in my times of loss. I can think of two times where I faced the possibility of opening up my heart in new ways, to new experiences, and I was struck with such deep survivor guilt I didn’t feel I could. I could not see clearly the path ahead, nor what way was right. So I turned to meditation.

For me meditation has become what I do at the gym. As I run on the machines, I breathe deep. I listen to my breath. I feel it in my body. I feel every muscle pump, the blood flow. everyday-life-21And then I slowly with each breath and each move of my body join in breath prayers, slowly noticing each word and it meaning. As I did this both days, a deep awareness hit me. The experience resembled what I used to call “The Lord speaking to me” in my charismatic days in which I believed in a direct speaking of God through the Spirit. I’ve now seen so many times my thought of what God was saying was so flawed and that of others, I’m very critical of such language. As Karl Barth said of our experience of God in Scripture, we never heard God directly but only as mediated through something else.   In my experience of God breaking through with insight in my mediation, that awakening or enlightenment always comes out of my own unconscious, my own creativity, my own inner wisdom – all of which is touched by drives, folly, skepticism which can veil whatever insight God is giving. But both days I had a flash of an inner wisdom that I believe the still-speaking God I know as Holy Spirit but who is known by many names broke through.   And in following the first bit of wisdom, I saw my life open up to new possibilities, to new hope. The second piece I didn’t want to hear. I fought it. I resisted it. And my life got more difficult until I relented, I let go, I trusted. And then it opened up again.

The God who goes before us in Jesus and the Spirit is always there to give us wisdom, whether through inner wisdom breaking forth through meditation and prayer, or wisdom through the words of others and lessons of experience. If we will but quiet down in our own way and pay attention we will find God is still speaking to our situation.

This is true as well with the wider world of problems our communities face. We are too quick to raise our voices as if we know the answers to other’s problems. The first and last listen 2conversations I had with my late wife, which formed a frame on our relationship together, was about this same theme. In our first conversation she spoke about how as Christian studying to be a preacher at a Christian school she was so discouraged at how these good Christians wouldn’t listen to people that did not fit their mold, be they of other faiths, of other backgrounds, be they gay, but instead insisted to them who they were and what their lives ought to be. “Shouldn’t we let them tell their own story, and listen first without judgment?” she said. Our last conversation before she laid her head down on her pillow that final time was the same. She shared about an approach to ministry – narrative leadership – in which you let others stories define them. You let those stories speak in all their beauty and challenge, so that people find their own wisdom.   “That’s exactly what I’ve always been saying. Why do we try to determine for others who they are and how they must live. Why don’t we trust them to be able to hear and know their own story?”   Her words show the way to listen for the still-speaking God in our situations of community challenge and crisis. Let’s put aside our preconceived ideas about others, and let their lives speak to us. Let us listen together for the echoing voice of truth which resounds through all our days.   And we will find God speaking through each other.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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