It has been a while since I posted my regular devotions on my blog. Around the time my mother died last year, I ended up having to take some time away from writing for a public audience for inner spiritual healing .
Over Lent I have returned to the practice that launched me into a public blog — spiritual journaling. Those who’ve followed Progressive Redneck Preacher may remember that I began this blog as sharing elements of my own spiritual journal I felt could speak to others. I plan to resume this practice here.
To start this practice, I share some words from the beginning of my Lenten journey.
Blessings on your journeys as well!
Your progressive redneck preacher,
1 The truly happy person
doesn’t follow wicked advice,
doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
2 Instead of doing those things,
these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
3 They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
which bears fruit at just the right time
and whose leaves don’t fade.
Whatever they do succeeds.
4 That’s not true for the wicked!
They are like dust that the wind blows away.
5 And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice—
neither will sinners
in the assembly of the righteous.
6 The Lord is intimately acquainted
with the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is destroyed.
What I see in this passage is permanence and vitality versus impermanence and death.
The tree planted by the water — replanted by the water in fact — has roots that go deep, into waters that keep nourished and growing. The chaff, etc., are being blown around and already are dying, wasting away.
I am struck that the analogy is one about which we have a choice. We plant ourselves by the living waters by choosing to place ourselves into situations where we connect with God — through taking part in practices of prayer and meditation, through spiritual reading, through connecting with nature, through spiritual journey. Yet we also plant ourselves by choosing to take on commitments to live faithfully with others — through choosing to live with commitment as a part of spiritual communities such as churches, mosques, synagogues, spiritual centers, through living faithfully in commitments like marriage or partnership, famil friendship; through living fully present in our neighborhoods and communities.
Both these inner and outer commitments are important.
The commitment to take part in practices that connect us to the presence of God within ourselves, others, and nature through practices like meditation, mindfulness, prayer of all kinds, spiritual writing and reading, helps silence aside the voices of destruction and distraction that crowd our minds. These voices pull our attention away from what is most important to short-term pleasures or short-term worries that take us down a rabbit hole, pulling us far away from truly seeing what is in front of us. What is in front of us might by bigger concerns needing our undivided attention. It might also be the joy and opportunity of otherwise seemingly small things in this moment in front of me, the beauty and challenge of the person right in front of me, or the situation I am in, from which such voices distract me so I cannot be being fully present. Silencing these voices also keep us from fully recognizing the voice of Spirit, whispering to us in all moments both God’s direction and, most importantly, who we truly are. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his The Life of the Beloved,
““Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody—unless you can demonstrate the opposite.”
Such connection is important, too, in helping us find strength and purpose again when stretched to the margins. I think all of us have had times in which we poured our energy into a project, only to find ourselves unable to put one foot in front of another from pure emotional exhaustion. In good work in our families and communities supporting others and speaking up about issues of injustice, we fall so easily into this situation. This can happy when caring for a sick relative, when doing the work of pastoring, when speaking up as advocate, while working on anti-racism work or working to the criminal justice system. In fact, any place in which we pour ourselves out can have this affect if we do not also take time for spiritual connection. In his book Prayer and the Powers, the late Walter Wink says it well when he writes, “Unprotected by prayer, our social activism runs the danger of becoming self-justifying good works, as our inner resources atrophy, the wells of love run dry, and we are slowly changed into the likeness of” what we fight against.“prayer…is the field hospital in which the diseased spirituality that we have contracted from” the injustice all around us “can most directly be diagnosed and treated.”
A final aspect of this spiritual practice we are called to I want to hold up is the importance of choosing to be rooted. Though this can be about being rooted in spiritual practices, the Psalms also stress being rooted in communities — your neighborhood or town, your family, your marriage or partnership, your place of work, your nation, your temple of God, the nature in the environment around you. In our society, so often we focus on connecting digitally on the internet, or all over the globe, we fail to notice right at home. In our day and age, we are so transitory, moving for work and even vacation. It is easy to not take the time to build lasting connections. It is also easy to minimize the importance of commitment — choosing instead of committing to a church or tradition to church-hop or cobble together a little of this or that, choosing instead of staying connecting in one community to move from place to place in search of the “perfect” job or home, choosing instead of committing to lasting partnership or marriage to jump from relationship to relationship. Yet there is something to the choice of fidelity which opens you up. Such a choice is not easy. It pushes you to confront the worst in yourself and in others, for staying faithful to a person, a place, a job, a religious community, necessary will mean not being able to hide from your shortcomings that trip up healthy relationships. Yet engaging such relationships faithfully allow you to take such shortcomings to God, more and more learning to be honest, more forgiving, more generous, and more connected.