Discovering Christ’s Guiding Hand Through Letting Your Life Speak

the_puppet_master_by_mini_zilla-d325mdnA few days ago I looked a bit at what it means that Psalm 139 pictures God in Christ writing our lives in a book. I discussed how this does not mean God has fated us, nor that God has willed disease, disaster, and death in the ways we often think of when we picture God as some puppet-master in the sky. No, rather, God works through covenant, through partnering with people like you and me who then work together with each other to help mend and perfect God’s good creation.
That said, I do think there is a powerful and beautiful message in Psalm 139 for us, as we reflect on what it means to see ourselves as ones surrounded by, shaped by, filled with, and led by the all-embracing presence of the Cosmic Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Though these words do not mean our lives necessarily are dictated by God, they do mean they are shaped by God. To me the way they are shaped by God is perhaps most beautifully pictured by the words of the hymn, “I Was There To Hear Your Borning Cry”:
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“I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.

“I was there when you were but a child,
with a faith to suit you well;
In a blaze of light you wandered off
to find where demons dwell.

“When you heard the wonder of the Word
I was there to cheer you on;
You were raised to praise the living Lord,
to whom you now belong.

If you find someone to share your time
and you join your hearts as one,
I’ll be there to make your verses rhyme
from dusk ’till rising sun.

“In the middle ages of your life,
not too old, no longer young,
I’ll be there to guide you through the night,
complete what I’ve begun.

“When the evening gently closes in,
and you shut your weary eyes,
I’ll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.

“I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.”

As this song beautifully pictures, there is not a part of our lives in which the living Christ does not surround us on every side, holding and guiding us.
This means that if we stop, pay attention, and reflect on our own stories, these truly can be places we encounter Christ guiding and teaching us, showing us how we can best join in the story God has for us.
parker palmerTo me, Parker Palmer puts well the lesson of this aspect of coming to know more fully the cosmic Christ, when he writes:
“self-care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch. . . Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. . . Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” ― Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
In his book Let Your Life Speak, Palmer beautifully pictures how he uses his experience of struggling with depression to help him learn to listen to his life anew and how simply paying attention to the lessons his lived and experienced life could teach revealed to him more fully his vocation.
I feel my movement from pastor to chaplain came through just such a process myself. I will not say I won’t pastor again, but I remember reaching a point that the ways in which I had been pastoring for years simply didn’t fit. I was trying to be and do a certain kind of ministry, one I had modeled to me, which was very in the streets, very busy speaking up and out in public ways, and full of much personal sacrifice. I did a lot of good. But my heart hurt so deeply. When other personal crises occurred that forced me to search my heart and soul, I realized the model of ministry I had been living out simply didn’t fit me. I took a step back, a step focused on inner healing.
That healing work within led me toward chaplaincy, a ministry in its own right, but which focuses on doing work of healing in the world from a place of inner healing. Looking back now, I realize that often in my outreach, activism, and pastoral work I was so focused outside myself — on the needs of others, on structural issues of injustice, on building communities for the broken – I neglected my own inner wholeness and healing. Now the work I do flows from that. I see how everything I did before going through this time of listening to my life and letting it guide me could have flowed from this same place, but I had to step back and change what I did in order to be able to minister from my inner depth.
Now my commitment in life and ministry is to let my relationships with others, the work I do, even my place in my community, flow from this inner depth. If I ever pastor again, it will be from the same inner wells of life that now fuels my chaplain work and writing and all my relationships.
Ultimately we all need to stop the constant pace of life and deeply listen to our own lives speak for, in the voice of our own lives the Coscmic Christ is calling out to us, the same One who tells us,
““I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.”
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

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Songs of the Cosmic Christ: Prayer to Christ

Jesus Redeemer of All CreationYesterday I shared one of the prayers of Teilhard de Chardin to the cosmic Christ, and wanted to continue to share another today.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Glorious Christ,
the divine influence that is active in the depths of matter
and the dazzling centres where the fibres of the manifold meet:
power as implacable as the world and power as warm as life,
you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire,
and whose feet are brighter than molten gold, you whose hands imprison the stars;
you are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again;
it is to you to whom our being cries out a desire as vast as the universe:
“In truth you are our Lord and our God”

Songs of the Cosmic Christ

cosmic christIn my previous devotional, I spoke some of the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, Catholic theologian and paleontologist of the last century who revolutionized theology by imaging ways in which creation and evolution might be viewed as not contradictions but interconnected ideas.  Chardin imagined Christ’s cosmic presence in all things as expressed in the process of evolution itself.  This process found in all of life was, in his mind, guiding us and all creation into a Christlikeness through which all things can eventually become embodiments of love.

I thought it would be helpful to share a few poems and prayers of Teilhard’s, which beautifully portray his understanding of the cosmic Christ.

First, we have his poem,  Patient Trust.

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

A Week in the Word: Racism, Classism, and Politics

In my Week in the Word feature, I like to highlight leading voices that speak out from a faith perspective about issues of faith and justice in a progressive context.

Rev. Dr. William Barber continues to call out for us to live and act with justice, evaluating our political decisions in the light of the questions of liberation for all:

 

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Becoming Contributors, not Just Characters, in God’s Story

letter writingAnother lesson of seeing Christ as the One who surrounds and fills our lives comes from the Psalmist’s invitation to imagine this ever-present One as shaping our days, when they write,
“In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.”
At one time I really pushed back against these words. I had heard them again and again used to justify a kind of divine fatalism. Bad things happened because God planned. God planned our lives like we were puppets on a string or characters in a book. So when a relative of mine got diabetes, and another mental illness, God chose for them to have this. When my first (and so far only) wife of a dozen years died, God took her. Ultimately everything, from the Holocaust, to the AIDS crisis, to the famines in Africa, get chalked up to something God has done in order to forward Her or His plan.
I have hard time with this idea, still, but I actually think it is kind of stretching the meaning of the Psalms.
great cloud of saints behind preacherWhen one reads through the Hebrew Scriptures, one does get the sense of something bigger than ourselves at work. Genesis tells the story of humanity with God as an active agent in it, calling certain people, teaching certain people, guiding their lives.
There is a sense in which you could talk about God even having a plan at work. There is some bigger reason hinted at in those pages for why God made each of us, made our world, got life moving forward. In fact, as things continue, God not only calls individuals but their descendants, who become nations like Israel and faith communities like the Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Christians to do specific work in the world. All of this suggests an active God, who is at work bringing about a story and in a certain sense a plan.
But these same Scriptures show a God who isn’t simply pulling our puppet strings.
No, again and again, we contribute to the story.
In Genesis, God acts genuinely surprised or curious at what we will do. God watches intently to see what names the first people will give the animals God made. God intentionally leaves off that act of creation – naming the animals! — for humans to take care of. God also leaves tending for and shaping the garden in which humans are placed to human beings themselves. God is shocked by the actions of human beings who choose to take part in the violence of Cain in escalating levels before the flood. This shows again God does not write this part of the story, but leaves it up to us.
So the Psalmist’s words are poetic. God has not written out our lives in some book of fate that predetermines what we do.
God is at work with a plan of sorts, but that plan is more of a mission.
Rabbi and the RevMy late rabbi friend B. Z. Jernigan used to talk with me about the Jewish understanding of God’s purpose. People of faith and good will were called to engage in tikkun olam, mending or perfecting the world. God created the world good but not yet perfect. It had the goodness of a new born babe, beautiful and innocent yet, like a baby, immature. Like a baby has to grow up, learn, grow, and mature so our world must mature, growing to full-flower. Part of these growing pains can cause damage so that our world must not only become full-grown, but also mended in the places that are broken.
love uniting teilhardCatholic scholar, paleontologist, and priest Teilhard de Chardin, spoke of this not just as a bringing to full-flower but actually a process of evolution. The Cosmic Christ to Teilhard is present in all of creation, helping guide its evolution to an Omega Point in which the whole universe will, when fully mature, completely reflect the image of God found in Christ.

For Teilhard, this was no blind process nor simply inevitable. As humans, we have a part to play in partnering with the work of the Cosmic Christ in evolving humanity and all creation. He described our part at one point like this, “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.” (“The Evolution of Chastity,” in Toward the Future, 1936, XI, 86-87)

harness love teilhardThis is what 2 Corinthians, Colossians, and Ephesians keep talking about when they say that God is working to reconcile all of creation in Christ.
So God’s mission of mending the world, perfecting the world, evolving the world to a point in which it reflects the lovingkindness and compassion of God in all ways, is always the way in which God is engaging our world.
But God does not do it by forcing things to happen, by waving a wand and magically moving the world forward. No, love can only be freely chosen. Compassion must grow out of the choices of the heart. To lead the world of living creatures and each of us to the point we have evolved into reflections of God’s lovingkindness and compassion requires us each to be free in our own way.
nothing profane teilhardAnd so we are called to be partners with God in the work God is doing, taking our place within God’s story not just as ones being written but as actors, co-creators with God in our lives and world. This partnership with God is what the Bible is talking about when it introduces the idea of covenant, a relationship in which God invites us to join in a mission bigger and broader than ourselves.
Next time I want to talk a little about how all of these concepts connect to our own lives and the stories we have inherited, but right now I want to focus on what this calls us to.
God has called you, called me, to not simply be passive people who watch the world go by. We are called to look deep into ourselves, to discover the gifts, talents, and shape our unique personalities and life experiences give us. To ask, how can we place these, which is really placing all of who we are, before God? How can we join God’s hand in the work of guiding creation, of healing what is broken, of reaching out with compassion to the hurting, and of justice that levels those places where there is no level playing field?
This is what it means to join God’s story. The way we each will do it differs from person to person. And none are called to do it all. But working together with each other and with God as partners, which is what covenant is about, we can all help move forward our lives and world in beautiful and healing ways.
Let us do so together.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

Song of the South: Stained Glass

The call to see ourselves as ones who bear the image of Christ, having been shaped by Christ, surrounded and filled by Christ, is for me beautifully pictured by the song “Stained Glass” by Keith Green. May it invite you to see yourself in Christ and filled by Christ. As we learn to participate with the Christ presence within us and all around us, we truly can begin to shine as lights as Green imagines in this song.
Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Stained Glass, by Keith Green
We are like windows
Stained with colors of the rainbow
Set in a darkened room
Till the bridegroom comes to shining through

Then the colors fall around our feet
Over those we meet
Covering all the gray that we see
Rainbow colors of assorted hues
Come exchange your blues
For His love that you see shining through me

We are His daughters and sons
We are the colorful ones
We are the kids of the King
Rejoice in everything

My colors grow so dim
When I start to fall away from Him
But up comes the strongest wind
That he sends to blow me back into his arms again

And then the colors fall around my feet
Over those I meet
Changing all the gray that I see
Rainbow colors of the Risen Son
Reflect the One
The One who came to set us all free

We are His daughters and sons
We are the colorful ones
We are the kids of the King
Rejoice in everything

We are like windows
Stained with colors of the rainbow
No longer set in a darkened room
Cause the bridegroom wants to shine from you

No longer set in a darkened room
Cause the bridegroom wants to shine from you

Encountering Christ Within Your Unique Shape

Master PotterLast time, I spoke about the Cosmic Christ as the One alluded to in Psalm 139, as the all-embracing presence of God and of love that both surrounds our lives and fills them. Because of this we can look at wherever we go to, whatever we experience, as including Christ’s presence. In Psalm 139, this all-embracing presence also shapes who we are and who we become.
Our uniqueness – from our appearance, our gender, our skin color and ability, our sexuality – is thus also a manifestation of the Christ presence. For in and through God as present as the Cosmic Christ we can see God as knitting us together in our mother’s wombs as the Psalmist describes, working in and through the natural processes in her body to give us life and birth us into the world.
diversity and disabilityOur unique personalities, too, are shaped in part by this same creative presence which gives us life, so even within our unique personalities there lies a reflection of Christ, shaped by the Cosmic Christ.
For me at least this is a stunning and amazing idea. We each are so different. Those of us who work with our hands, who might find the book learning or studies of the scholar overwhelming, might sometimes feel less for not being as them. Those of us who feel alive opening up books and in the written page, writing and reflecting alone, might feel less than those working with their hands, competing in sports, or who are more outgoing.
I remember in my studies to be a chaplain studying the enneagram during clinical pastoral education. The enneagram is a way of looking at and categorizing different types of personality types, including looking at both their strengths and potential pitfalls. It has some parallels with the Meyers-Briggs test, but goes back to ancient sufi mystics. I remember learning mine and thinking “drat. How can that be? If only I was one of these others, I could do so much good in the world”.
Later I was shocked that many, many other people in learning both their enneagram type and their Meyers-Briggs personality types, concluded that “If only I could be” some other personality type “I could do so much good in the world”.
It is easy to see who we are as broken, damaged, or wrong.
YouAreNotBroken_bSadly often Christianity has sent this message in the West in reiterating Augustine’s idea of original sin, that somehow we inherit a brokenness and guilt from our original ancestors that damns us to a life falling short of God’s best. Yet even without that piece of bad theology we can fall into looking at ourselves as damaged.
How many of us can remember, even as a child, being compared whether to our siblings or the child next door.
“Why can’t you be more like Johnny? Why aren’t you more like Janie?”
Such questions, early on, teach us an inadequacy, that whomever we are is not enough.
But you are enough, according to the Psalmist. This message of our enough-ness has always been beautifully pictured to me by the words of Christian author Marianne Williamson, when she writes:
Youre-Not-Broken“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
I don’t know if I can truly say my deepest fear is that I am powerful. But the way Williamson calls us to acknowledge our beauty, power, and giftedness as a reality and source of spiritual strength and vitality truly does reflect the message that you and I are surrounded, shaped, and guided by the Cosmic Christ through whom each of us can in our uniqueness shine the light of Christ in different ways.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah