Surely You Were in This Place

In 2007, Joshua Bell, a world-renowned violinist, dressed in ordinary street clothes and played his $3.5 million dollar violin at the metro station in Washington D.C..

Watch the reaction…

That’s right. There was no reaction.

Then, he went back. This time announced.

Every time I watch these videos I wonder how often we think of God and how we miss him in our very midst; how often we expect Jesus to just drop down from heaven:

I'll be back

Just to be disappointed.

Jesus false alarm

Do we realize he has been here all along?

John Phillip Newell tells us that “at the heart of the physical is the spiritual. Hidden within the mundane is the Divine.”

It is in the ordinary, everyday, that God reveals himself most profoundly: Our ordinary-everyday-get-up-go-to-work-feed-the-kids-walk-the-dog-clean-the-toilets-go-to-bed life.

We can miss the magnificence of God in a beautiful sunrise – blocked by a computer screen. We miss the profound in the lonely widow sitting next to us in church, or the tears of a neighbor estranged from his family.

We miss it because we are either waiting for more, or hoping for less. Less would be easier because the thought of an “almighty, glorious, brilliant, magnificent” God – right here where “we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)” is just too much for us to believe.

But why?

It’s not like Jesus made some kind of grand entrance the first time. Right? I mean – come on – he showed up in a diaper and smelled a bit like a stable.

It's a Bird It's a plane

If we are even willing to consider an encounter with God we’re certain it must be in a beyond super-human, out-of-body event. I actually think we prefer to believe that is the only time he exists. We want God to be predictable and keep his distant.

We want to dress up in our finest attitudes and go somewhere else, far away from our messiness, to experience him: Church, Wednesday night prayer meetings from 7:00 – 8:15, annual retreats in the mountains, revivals, far away mission trips.

But, please God, don’t be snooping around my house when my husband comes home drunk at 1:00 am.

rolling pin

Don’t “show up” right in the middle of my nastiness; my jealous rants against my neighbor, or arguments with my teenaged son. Also, you really shouldn’t sneak up on me when I’m watching my R-rated T.V. show!

So, we move through our ordinary life – constantly on guard – expending all our time and energy to keep God at a comfortable distance. And what do we get in return? An ordinary, mundane, routine, humdrum, tedious life.

I’ll just hang out here, thanks, waiting to die and get to heaven after barely surviving my ordinary, mundane, routine, humdrum, tedious life.

Delightful.

STOP IT!

We can spend a great deal of energy doing “things” in an effort to “get to” heaven where we will finally find happiness; finally meet that ever elusive God. And in the meantime? What about the ‘meantime” that we are wasting; time we will never get back, time we could, as Martin Buber so beautifully said, “be stringing pearls for heaven”?

What do you think about when you read this scripture verse? Genesis 28:16-17, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”

Bidden or not

And how about Luke 17:20-21, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” (My emphasis)

Ewwww…that’s terrifying, huh?

But, when you refuse to open your heart to that reality, you have no idea what you are missing! For example, I volunteer for a charitable organization. We have a hotline and people call in with many needs: some are homeless, some are so desperate that when you talk to them it’s like looking at a 1,000 piece puzzle with 800 pieces missing. Which is what happened to me last week.

For obvious reasons I can’t give you any details, but I can tell you this, his situation was that 1,000 piece puzzle. When I gathered all the information I could from him and stepped back to review it, I was literally overwhelmed with what he was dealing with, and, of course, he was too. But, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide us and bring the people into his life who could help him.

Within three days, all – got that? – ALL the necessary resources he needed were in place! When I spoke to him and told him – we both cried. We were both overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty and tender care of a mighty God who is right in our midst; right in our messiness; right in our suffering; and, yes, in the ordinary.

Later that night I sat in prayer and felt God telling me, like Moses, “Remove your sandals, Sister, you are standing on Holy ground!” How often do you think you have stood on Holy ground and didn’t realize it because you were too busy looking up or looking away?

 

 

Leave me Alone – I LOVE Being Miserable!

Who aggravates every fiber of your being? Come on, you know there’s someone in your  life – past or present – you have, in one of your most aggravated moments, wanted to throw from a moving train!

Throw mama from the train

Perhaps it isn’t your mother (like Danny Devito in Throw Mama from the Train); you love your mother. How about Uncle Bill? Uncle Bill makes you dread holidays! Every. Single. Blessed. One. He hates holidays, and in short order, makes you hate them too. He also hates your new living room set, your cheesecake; thinks you’ve put on too much weight, and wants to borrow another $200.

How about that annoying and relentless neighbor who causes you to lock your doors and pull your shades when you see her coming? Sometimes she catches you off-guard and holds you hostage in your own yard as she rants incessantly about absolutely nothing! Oh yeah, and she thinks your new birdbath is tacky (she might be right though).

birdbath

Anyway, you walk away dazed and confused. Ewwww, she got you again! She makes you want to smoke more, or drink more, or kick the dog. (Don’t do that. It’s not the dog’s fault.)

It’s really not the dog’s fault, or Uncle Bill’s fault, or your neighbor’s fault. It’s your fault because you choose to allow others to control you. Don’t think they’re doing that? When you allow another person to upset you, for whatever reason, they are controlling you. How do you like being controlled? If you’re like me, you pride yourself on being the one in control and refuse to believe anyone could have that kind of power over you.

NEWS FLASH: When we cling tenuously to control or give it up to another that is the prescription for misery.

Mark 7:14-23, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within the man, from his heart, come evil….”

My dear mother-in-law recently passed away at the age of ninety-eight. Before her health took a decided turn for the worse, she was happy and content and loved being with her family, especially the grandkids. She was always very giving of herself and generous to a fault. But, the last few years of her life she was miserable. Daily she expressed that misery to us, “Why won’t God take me?!” She felt like a burden; that her life no longer had purpose. She was angry, frustrated and confused. Throw in hip pain, a bad back, possible strokes and dementia and of course she was miserable!

But, what’s my excuse? What’s your excuse? I believe we have forgotten. We have forgotten who we are. Life presents a series of blows to our fragile ego and the joy God intended for us is over-shadowed by misery; misery that we inflict on ourselves, all the while blaming others.

“Wounded by sin, clouded by temptation, we are our own worst enemy. Everything we say and do arises from within our own hearts. If our hearts change, it stands to reason that our actions will follow.” Terry Modica (http://gnm.org/good-news-reflections/ )

We see misery played out in a powerful way in the lives of the Pharisees during Jesus’ time. He not only came to show us by His own life how we are to live, He used the Pharasees as a prime example of how we are not to live. They were pious and arrogant! They were mean, vengeful, and always trying to trip up Jesus. Their hatred for Him was palatable because He was always exposing their sinfulness. No one wants to be exposed. If they could just get rid of him! Mark 8:11 tells us that Jesus “sighed from the depth of his spirit” because of their actions.

He could have retaliated, but he didn’t. We would have liked him to so we could justify our own reaction to the hurt we feel from others. But, he humbly walked away and in the end, he humbly received the torturous beatings and crucifixion.

Misery can be a stern mother. But, Psalm 119 tells us that being afflicted is a good thing, “It is good that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.” Also, sometimes, we can learn from other’s afflictions. Take my mother-in-law for instance. I believe I learned more from her at the end of her journey, when she laid dying and unresponsive. I learned more about compassion that cannot be measured; love that cannot be returned, and inexplicable joy in the midst of it all.

When I would sit vigil in the evening with her, I could sense God’s presence, as in Genesis 28:16, …surely the Lord is in this place.” The joy I felt during that time was unmistakable; the joy of knowing that Catherine would soon be in God’s presence. Truth be told, I was a bit jealous. I recall saying to her several times even though she could not respond, “Aren’t you excited?! You will soon see all of your family and friends that have gone before you. They’re waiting for you. God is waiting for you. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to put in a good word for me – I need it!” I thought I heard her say, “Yes, you do!” one time, but it was probably my imagination.

In all the training and experiences I have had as a Hospice volunteer you just know that God is present. You can’t explain it or quantify it. You just know. For me, the most intense times of joy are these experiences and the Lenten journey we are now on. Joy that comes in knowing God never forsakes us; never abandons us. These are times when He asks me to return to Him. Joel 2:12 says, “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart…”

Listen to this beautiful song by John Michael Talbot.

Every Lent I read Henri Nouwen’s, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. I am enthralled by this book and Nouwen’s honesty about his own life and struggles. It is a beautiful and powerfully written account of a story most of us know, yet few of us delve so deeply into. Nouwen uses Rembrandt’s portrait of the Prodigal Son to tell the story:

prodigal son

The son made a choice. He chose to leave his father and go his own way; to take his inheritance and “set off for a distant country and there he squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13). Soon he was broke and in the midst of a famine. He was hungry, but no one offered him anything to eat.

This is a very telling example of what happens when we turn to the world to meet our needs but all we meet there is misery. We want the world to fill us with all we ever thought we wanted, but what we want is never enough. The world can’t/won’t satisfy. The world only takes and leaves desolation in the empty places of our souls.

Notice though that the son finally, instinctively, knew where to turn when he was starving – his father. Though he felt he wasn’t worthy of his father’s love because of the shameful way he acted, he also hoped his father would at least feed him as the servants were fed (15:17-20). That was all the son hoped for. Imagine his surprise when he didn’t even get his well-rehearsed words out of his mouth…

HOLY FATTED CALF BATMAN!

Being willing to receive crumbs, the son got the surprise of his life when “the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (15:20) There’s no way my father would have done that and my mother would likely have changed the locks on the doors when I left.

The father had compassion for his son because he knew he was a miserable lost soul – but, now he was found. It was a time to celebrate; it was a time of joy and thanksgiving.

Well, okay, the oldest son was not so joyful and was not willing to offer his brother the least bit of sympathy or support. He was also angry with the father because it all seemed so UNFAIR! Here’s that “misery gremlin” again! Sucking the fullness of life and joy from anyone too self-absorbed to notice.

Nouwen says, “It seems to me now that these hands have always been stretched out – even when there were no shoulders upon which to rest them.” And of the son he says, “He realized he had lost his dignity as his father’s son, but at the same time he is aware that he is indeed the son who had dignity to lose.” He says, “I am loved so much I am free to leave home.”

Think about that.

What brings the joy we so long for? It’s a choice we make in how we respond to our circumstances. You can be the younger son who learns from the misery he inflicted on himself, or the older, bitter, son who doesn’t seem to “get it”. It is a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute choice.

Nouwen says:

And this concerning the attitude of the elder son: “Am I so ensnared in my own self-righteousness complaints that I am doomed, against my own desire, to remain outside of the house wallowing in my anger and resentment? God says to the elder son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.”

The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.

God always has more for us. We are always only at the beginning of love (you must understand) Jesus is pleased with you right now. He sees how much you’ve already done. He wants to see you overcome the next hurdle and get that much closer to the finish line. He is committed to taking you there.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Often, my prayer is that God will not give up on me and that I will daily surrender to this love that is beyond my understanding; that I will let go of all those hurts and sorrows that steal my peace and joy.