The wonder and curiosity which welcomes what is new and regards it not as threatening but enriching life – that wonder is God. The confidence which leads us to abandon the shelter of our disguises and to open up the doors of our personality so that others may enter there, and both we and they be richer for the contact – that confidence is God. The vision which enables us to see the majesty of men, of all men including ourselves, piercing through the ugliness of the obscuring pathology to the beauty of the real person – that power of wisdom is God. H. A. Williams
Everyone knows what it’s like to be halted by fear. Fear of death or serious injury can stop you from skydiving. Fear of financial loss can stop you from starting a business. Fear of ridicule can stop you from living life to your own drumbeat.
I’m sleeping peacefully when suddenly I awake for no reason. Before I know it, my head is awash with a stew of anxiety and worries, my peaceful sleep torn to shreds. Illogical, non-sensical worries that in the light of day might only garner a few seconds of thought, now loom like giant shadows of twisted monsters in an old black and white horror movie. My heart is racing and I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of claustrophobia. My warm bed is no longer comforting but now stifling, my dark room not soothing but terrifying. Even to my adult brain, in the dead of night, these tigers are as real as childhood monsters under the bed. Why am I worrying? What do I really have to fear? I know that there are no monsters under the bed or tigers in the closet, but I toss and turn for hours, relieved to finally see the first rays of dawn streaming in. These nights don’t happen often, but when they do, I remind myself that in the morning light the shadows will be swept away, the monsters will disappear and the tigers will be gone.
Everyone wants to be happy. For some, happiness is a state of euphoria or ecstasy, for me, happiness is more a state of contentment or satisfaction. So, what does the life guidebook (the bible) say about contentment?
1. Contentment is really, really valuable. Paul the apostle writes: “godliness with contentment is great gain”. Big promo for contentment here; Paul’s aim in life is to teach the importance of God and here he is adding contentment to the mix.
2. Contentment doesn’t come easily to us. Paul again writes: “I have learned the secret of being content”. So, contentment is a secret that must be learned. And, if contentment is really valuable then it must be worthwhile for us to try to learn this secret. So, where do we start?
3. Ditch our love of money. The writer of Hebrews says : “keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have”. This suggests that loving money is in conflict with being content. So, instead of loving money (and stuff), love God, love people and be content (happy).
With never more than what seemed like a few minutes without rain in the past week, and with the forecast for heavy rain this morning, I was really not looking forward to taking my tent down in the pouring rain. But I awoke to the sound of silence, no rain. I quickly took down the tent and packed it up. As I was putting it in the car, the heavens opened and down came the heavy rain. Perfect timing !! Thank you God.
Love your neighbour as yourself – commandment from Jesus
Love is such a powerful word. Yet what does it mean? The most universal meaning refers to a feeling – desire, gratitude, admiration, affection. Supposedly, we can’t control or chose our feelings and as such we can’t choose to love or not love someone. But yet we are commanded to love. Even though I agree that in loving someone, feelings can arise, I don’t think we would have been commanded to “have affectionate feelings for your neighbour”. In addition to a feeling, I think love is also a choice. I think our commandment is to make a choice about how we engage with others and what attitude we maintain. Whether it’s our neighbour or our romantic interest, love should also mean commitment, respect and kindness.
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
Paul an apostle of Jesus – 1 Timothy 6:9
Sometimes you find that you have a person in your life who causes you anguish. A person who seems to feed on your pain. Just seeing their name in an email, or their phone number come up on your phone, causes your stomach to knot up. You fleetingly think “maybe this conversation will be different”, but it isn’t, every encounter leaves you worse off.
So you’ve turned the other cheek and now you’ve been repeatedly slapped on both cheeks. You can’t tolerate them. You can’t change them. You can’t bargain with them. Jesus says don’t resist them. What to do? Get away from them! As fast as possible! Run, don’t walk!
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.
Like the Israelites, we can find ourselves in bondage – impoverished and abused. It can be a relationship, a job or some other situation that causes us pain, depression, anxiety or other illness. We cry out to God for rescue, to bring us comfort and peace. And like the Israelites we are rescued from bondage, set free from our situation. But the Israelites did not simply take two steps out of Egypt and into the promised land. The journey was long and arduous, taking decades. And likewise for us, our journey to healing and peace can be long and arduous.
They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’
When the Israelites were faced with obstacles – thirst, hunger, danger – they grumbled and cried out against God. They looked back at their life in bondage wistfully, wishing they were back in Egypt. So too when faced with obstacles – uncertainty, loneliness, sadness – we turn our minds back with doubt, gloss over our suffering of the past and even wish we could resurrect our life of bondage.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him
But as he did for the Israelites, God has a plan for us and is working for our good. After decades of wandering in the wilderness, learning to follow and trust God, the Israelites finally entered the promised land. So too must we persevere in our journey of healing (however short or long), following and trusting God and therein fully receive his promise of peace, abundance and life.
I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
I’ve just finished reading the biography of Steve Jobs; an amazing story. Each of us wants our life to count for something. We are told from an early age to ‘be somebody’. Some of us have great aspirations for the world stage – build a great company, win a gold medal, be elected President, set a world record. For others, the aspirations are smaller in scope – get a college degree, own a house, win a beauty contest. All of these ‘be somebody’ aspirations imply being admired and celebrated by others. We can’t really be ‘somebody’ if we impress nobody.
But I wonder if impressing other people really matters. Maybe we should turn our eyes to heaven. With the things that they’ve experienced, I can’t imagine the angels of God are too easily impressed. What if our life could reflect God’s goodness in a way that was so honest, so consistent, so gentle, so loving, that someone who encountered us said “I want some of that” and turned to God? What if our life led to the angels of heaven throwing a party? Now that would be a real accomplishment.
the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents – Luke 15:10
Experience the Beauty
Yesterday I went to a photo exhibition and was drawn to a set of beautiful images of simple things like a leaf floating in a puddle or a feather caught in a branch (much like the image I’ve reblogged above). It got me thinking about how we continually encounter yet don’t register beautiful things in our life. And about how we really take for granted the senses that enable us to experience this beauty. If I knew that tomorrow an accident would cause me to lose my sight, I would spend today absorbing every wondrous sight I could. Or if that accident would cause me to lose my hearing, I would be listening to every birdcall or dog’s bark. So tomorrow when your alarm clock wakes you, give thanks that you can hear and when you open your eyes, give thanks that you can see.
We see in the Gospels that it’s the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, and the foreigners who tend to follow Jesus. It is those on the inside and the top who crucify him (elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, and Roman occupiers). Shouldn’t that tell us something really important about perspective? Every viewpoint is a view from a point, and we need to critique our own perspective and privilege if we are to see truth.
A light for my path
On the camino, in order to avoid the mid-day heat, many mornings I set off well before sunrise. Now some of the paths are dangerous in daylight but in the dark they are deadly. To see when I’m going I use a little light I have. Unlike the 100 watt floodlights that it seems that some pilgrims have, I only brought my little two watt led light to find my way to the bathroom at night. But it’s all I have so I use it. And it’s amazing how in the pitch black how even a little light can be the difference between a safe step and injury or worse. As I walk In the dark with my little light I am reminded of the scripture – Psalm 119 – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Signs are really important on the camino. Some signs are really obvious, some much more subtle. Some places seem to have a sign or marker every few feet; other times you can go for a kilometre without a sign.
Once starting the camino, you very quickly become attuned to seeing the signs. You are constantly scanning for the yellow arrows or scallop shell signs and markers. But sometimes when the signs are the most important they are the hardest to see. Big cities often use a small (4 inch) imprint in the pavement. With the distraction of flashing signs, beautiful buildings, traffic and large intersections, it is very difficult to keep following a little pavement imprint.
Because the hostel I stayed in in Leon was not on the camino, I had to pick up the camino trail in the early morning. I spent thirty minutes getting lost and searching in vain until a kind gentleman guided me almost a kilometre and pointed to the scallop shell in the pavement.
I believe life and direction from God is similar to the signs of the camino. We need to attune our senses to God’s signs and guidance to be confident that we are on the right path. And when we feel lost and distant from God, we may need to only find a little imprint in the pavement, rather than some big and obvious sign we may be expecting. Not all signs are a big yellow arrow on a tree next to the path.