No story to tell but THE story of Holy Week. Here you go:
Monday: Mark 14: 1-9
Tuesday: Mark 14: 10-21
Wednesday: Mark 14:22-42
Maundy Thursday: John 13
Good Friday: Mark 15
No story to tell but THE story of Holy Week. Here you go:
Monday: Mark 14: 1-9
Tuesday: Mark 14: 10-21
Wednesday: Mark 14:22-42
Maundy Thursday: John 13
Good Friday: Mark 15
This was a piece I wrote for the Renovare’ Book Club responding to Julian of Norwich’s writings in Showings. I think it is appropriate as we prepare to enter Holy Week this upcoming Sunday.
It has been a long winter in Ohio and many other places throughout the country. The frozen attitudes and icy stares that greet me most everywhere I go need a good spring thaw. So, too, our spirits.
This winter, more than others in recent memory, has made me cling to a phrase a former colleague often repeated, “Grace grows best in the winter.”
Intellectually, I understood that winter was metaphor for those times in life when hope and energy lie dormant, but deep under the surface of life something is happening, something that will begin to grow later. Experientially, however, this saying seemed like a mere platitude until my winter came (a few years ago) and my spirit deadened, the days turned bleak and life-less, and my future appeared as dismal as a cold winter day.
The thing about suffering and dormancy in humans is that, in the middle of it, we wonder if it will ever end, we fear we will never bloom again. But, when I thought I could endure no more, spring aroused from its slumber and provided the nourishment for new growth. In retrospect, I discovered the wisdom of this phrase, “Grace grows best in the winter.”
Though I can say I learned much from my spiritual winter, I would not have chosen it and hope it doesn’t happen again with that same fierce intensity. That’s why I was so intrigued or maybe even confused by Julian’s desire for a bodily sickness as one of her three graces. Suffering will happen anyway. We will face barren seasons, bitter storms, long-enduring harsh spiritual weather systems. Why choose it?
In her own words, “ I wished that his pains might be my pains, with compassion which would lead to longing for God” (p. 129). For Julian, entering into the suffering of God seems to be the vehicle which carries her deeper into the heart of God. There, the scaffolding of life which she (and by extension, all of us) uses to prop up her life falls away and she is immersed into a presence and a love that will not let her go.
Her suffering connects with Jesus’ suffering. His pain becomes her pain. His compassion for the world bleeds over into her renewed compassion for the world. And not just in this life, but as a prelude to life to come. Therefore, “I wanted to go on living to love God better and longer, and living so, obtain grace to know and love God more as he is in the bliss of heaven” (p. 127).
In recent times, theologian Richard Rohr picks up a similar theme as it relates to the ongoing process of growth and maturity in Christ. He writes about “necessary suffering,” the suffering that shakes us loose from the pre-occupation with self and drives us deeper into the heart of God and, thus, into deeper solidarity with all that God loves—the whole creation and all of humanity.
Whether chosen or encountered in the normal rhythms of life, suffering, for both Julian of Norwich and Richard Rohr, pierces the final barrier between God and us and opens the way for unity with God, in God’s all-embracing love, and solidarity with all who walk similar paths. Suffering is not to be avoided or ultimately seen as outside of our relationship with God. It can become a pathway to new insight and new hope.
From Julian, “And these words: You will not be overcome, were said very insistently and strongly, for certainty and strength against every tribulation which may come. He did not say; you will not be assailed, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted, but he said: You will not be overcome” (p. 165).
Grace grows best in the winter.
It’s Monday. What have you learned about yourself during long, harsh winters? Remember, spring does eventually arrive, for the natural world and for you. Peace. Kai
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (Romans 12: 1 The Message)
This weekend’s Making Ordinary Saints conference at Peace reminded me both how ordinary the life with God can be and how extraordinarily hard it is to live it well in our culture. On the one hand, our life with God is simply our ordinary life—“our sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life.” Easy. Right?
Yet, we often try to make our spiritual life into an “other” life, a life different or separate from our everyday life. Subsequently, we both diminish the value of our ordinary life and overly spiritualize our isolated God activities. Sunday becomes our with God life (maybe we include a few spiritual activities sprinkled in during the week). But Monday and beyond is our real life—the life of work and family and leisure and stress and proving and earning and achievement and failure and success and loss and… and… and…
Because we run so hard in that part of life we become depleted. Then we stop in on the weekend and fuel up because we anticipate the psychic and spiritual and relational drain of the week ahead.
On one hand, I get it. I need to create space in my life to be re-energized. I need people to re-vitalize my sense of well-being. I need words of encouragement to fuel my upcoming ventures. But, something I’ve learned about myself is that a week is simply too long to wait. If I go that long without tapping in to the renewing power of God, I run dry, sometimes dangerously so.
Going back to the first text, I don’t think Paul said, “Take your Sunday—your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life on Sunday—and place it before God.” He challenged us to take our everyday, ordinary life—our Monday through Friday life, and place it before God.
So, what might that look like?
Author Trevor Hudson created a simple exercise he calls “Welcoming God into Every Task.” As you begin your day, anticipate, as best you can, the simple tasks of the day, including the interactions you will have, and ask God to be present with you throughout. What Trevor knows is that God’s presence and renewing power is already there whether we recognize it or not. Yet, sometimes we need to be reminded.
Let me give it a try for my Monday:
God, thank you for my night’s sleep and waking me this morning.
Help me to be present to my daughter as I drive her to school.
Give me good creative energy for the worship preparations I will be working on this morning.
Remind me to show appreciation to the staff at Peace for all their hard work this past weekend.
Inspire our worship team as we meet to finalize Holy Week.
Give me a moment to bask in the warmth and sunshine of a 70 degree day.
Keep me open and non-anxious about whatever surprises come my way.
Let me enjoy the presence of my family when I get home.
It’s Monday. Welcome God into your every task today. See how it goes. Peace. Kai
So, I want to follow Jesus. What next? I suppose there is an indefinite number of ways to respond but some passages of scripture describe, with piercing clarity, the nature of a Jesus-shaped life.
One of those texts for me is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Justice because there are too many, in biblical times and in our time, who have been cast to the margins of society where their voices are never heard, their presence is overlooked, their spirits are corroding from the toxicity of disengagement.
Kindness because a self-promoting, self-absorbed culture has little time for the ordinary, everyday betterment of humanity. For instance, why are people surprised when you hold open a door for them, return a lost purse, or take time out of your day to encourage or console? We seem to be suffering from a kindness deficit disorder, a malady that continues to alienate us from one another and ourselves.
Humility because we really aren’t “all that!” We are a crazy concoction of saint and sinner, lover of self and self-hater, change agent and change averse, altruist and narcissist. All of us. I thank God daily for the grace that embraces all of that and yet says, “Today is a new day. There is still much to be done. I want you to be part of all that!”
Our Lenten guide for this week, asks, “Who, in your community, is pushed to the side, disregarded, friendless?” And then encourages us to, “Identify one way that you can walk alongside them, be an advocate for them, or just be their friend.”
It’s our 21st century way of repeating Micah’s ancient imperative to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
It’s Monday. What strikes you about this simple text? What will it move you to do? Peace. Kai
“And every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation.” (Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller)
Keller points us to a lofty ideal for our life of work, whether in an office or in a home. My fear is that, for too many of us, it is just that, a lofty ideal in no way connected to what is real for us. We have created a gap between the experience of Sunday and the work of Monday, the sacred and the secular, the graceful work of God and the grinding work we do each day.
With that tension in mind, I pulled together a small group of people from our community, all connected to a Monday through Friday work life rhythm, and asked the question, “How can the church better support the lives you lead day to day?”
The conversation was rich and invigorating and hopeful. For those in the process of launching their career we uncovered questions like, “How do my values connect with the values of the company I work for?” “What criterion do I use to evaluate career moves?” “Where can I find someone who can mentor me in the process?” “Am I doing something meaningful for me and the world?”
For those in the middle of their careers, the questions shifted: “How do I balance my life at work and home?” “How do I function in a workplace environment that conflicts with my values as a follower of Jesus?” “How do I balance the needs of the company I work for and the needs of the people I work with?” “What do I do when I feel trapped in a position based on the economy, my chosen life-style, my family situation?”
Toward the end of the career, the questions shifted again, “How do I end well?” “What meaningful work can I prepare myself to do?” “How will I get a sense of my identity outside of work?” “Is there something I can give back to others at an earlier stage in the journey?”
Now, we are taking that small group conversation to a wider audience. We’d love for you to join us in the conversation. We are convinced that our work matters to the world and to God and that we can help one another bridge the gap between Sunday and Monday, God’s work and our work.
Our first gathering will be a one-time event from 7:00-8:30pm on Monday, March 2. The theme for the gathering is: It’s Monday—Your Work Matters. We will use that night to establish the baseline for our conversation both biblically and practically, and then open up the other issues we want to address in subsequent gatherings.
If you have not signed up, email firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can have an approximate number. If you forget to send the email and want to come, come!
It’s Monday–Your work matters. Join our conversation. Look forward to seeing you March 2. Peace. Kai
As an add-on to the sermon this weekend, I offer a piece that I wrote for the Renovare’ Book Club in response to Nathan Foster’s book, The Making of an Ordinary Saint. Let this serve as food for thought as you enter this week and a piece of encouragement to sign up for the Making Ordinary Saints Conference with Nathan and Richard Foster. We are hosting it at Peace on March 13-14. Check out the link for more information and to register: www.renovare.org
Let Life Be Your Teacher
By Kai Nilsen
“For some reason I was under the illusion that spiritual activities and lessons had to come from books and speakers and that there were special ways we practiced the disciplines, but they could not come from meeting a strange man riding his bike in rural Ohio, watching birds, and giving in to the wind.” (p. 29)
There are significant portions of the spiritual formation community that could be described as “bookies.” We love books. We devour books like “foodies” devour an original fare. We then go to conferences with people who wrote our favorite books in our attempt to consume more of the ancient wisdom being articulated for modern times.
Now, there is nothing wrong with that “bookie” passion. But Nathan’s narrative encourages us to open ourselves up to a more intimate source of knowledge and wisdom—Our Life!
Can you let your life be your teacher?
My guess is that many of us have learned to be distrusting of our lives and accumulated wisdom. That is why we so ravenously seek the guidance of others. Sometimes our religious training has taught us to be suspect of our inner wisdom. One particularly harmful religious narrative pounds home this thought, “Remember, we are sinners, nothing but pathetic worms. How can we be trusted to know, to articulate, to discern well the movements of the Holy One?”
For some of us, the ingrained messages of our youth remain a haunting, debilitating voice filling our minds with negativity, “You are unworthy or unacceptable or unlovable.” Emotionally and psychologically we learn to distrust our desires, our motivations, our inner compass.
Nathan’s narrative journey provides us with a wonderful and gracious counterpoint. Think about where he gleans so much of his guiding insight—riding a bike, conversations with friends, living with his wife and kids, the beauty and wonder of the natural world. What he begs us to realize is that life can be a teacher. Your life. Not someone else’s life. Your life can be your teacher.
Think about how Jesus often taught his followers. Consider the birds of the air. Do you see that fig tree? Let me tell you about mustard seeds. Have you ever had your family fall apart, one brother brashly leaving home while the other dutifully remains? Pay attention to these things, you may learn something. Your life can be your teacher.
Nathan also does a masterful job of reminding us that spiritual practices don’t need to be an “add on” to life. They can be a way of thinking differently about what we are already doing. Honestly, I used to think about spiritual practices as one more thing to add to my already crammed schedule. Thus, I had one more reason to avoid them. I’m just too busy. But, is it possible to re-think what you and I are already doing?
From Nathan’s chapter on meditation, “As I lay in bed quietly reflecting, it came as a bit of a shock to see that in commuting to work over the years, I had actually unintentionally been practicing meditation.” (p. 82)
I once heard author and speaker, Brian McLaren, refer to this as “Faithing our Practices.” In spiritual formation circles we talk a lot about practicing our faith. That little twist of a phrase, “faithing our practices,” invites us to examine what we are already doing and then ask how it could be done more intentionally, more thoughtfully as a way to experience the graciousness of God.
Do you walk your dog every day? Can you use that as your time to pray, to sing, to wonder in God’s creation? Do you commute to work? Instead of blaring mindless music can you mindfully pray for the day ahead; the interactions you will have, the needs of the people you will meet? Do you ever find yourself in the grocery store? Duh! Can you use that as an opportunity to pray not only for the workers behind the counter but all the hands of those who planted and harvested?
In other words, can you let your life—your present, ordinary, everyday life, be your teacher?
Nathan sums it up well, “I no longer see the disciplines as something unattainable, reserved for the super spiritual or stuffy monkish folks. Practicing the disciplines rather feels like a gentle and graceful attunement to seeking God in the everyday mess and simple things.” (p. 189)
It’s Monday: How will your life be your teacher today. Peace. Kai
Can you ever go back home?
Last week I traveled to the Twin Cities for the 25th anniversary of my graduation from Luther Seminary. Surprisingly, I was nervous. What would the place be like? How much had it changed? In what ways would it be the same?
What would the people be like? Would we pick up our conversations like old friends do, the time between our last meeting and the accumulated experiences we had simply being a pathway to a deeper relationship? Or would that same time and those different experiences be an invisible barrier, a reminder of the different pathways we have taken and the distance, both physical and relational, they have created between us?
As I turned the corner to Como Avenue in St. Paul and saw the seminary set on the hill I was bathed in nostalgia. My mind raced back to those years of our early married lives—no kids, no money, nothing but time to be with other young couples gathered around our hibachi grills, sipping cheap beer, and swimming in the big ideas we were learning in our seminary classes. (Ok, chances are pretty good we spent more time bemoaning the fact that the Vikings could never win the big one and/or dancing to Whitney Houston than we did discussing our systematic theology class.) Tears welled up in my eyes. How could it be 25 years? It felt like home.
But a strange thing happened when I entered the buildings. For all the ways the buildings had been upgraded, the experience was strangely the same—the same bell rang as we were called to each new session, the same displays of traditional worship garb ushered us into the space, the same stale conversations about “churchy” issues that at one time had filled my imagination now constricted my soul. Indeed, it had been 25 years. I recognized how much had changed within me in that time. I felt like a stranger in my own home.
So, there I was, longing for home and so glad I had been away, connected to the familiar but disconnected to the same, drawn to the memory of the past but grateful for my place in the present.
Can you ever go back home? I don’t know. But, I do know it was good to remember what was, especially as it shaped what is, and opened the way for what will be.
When my wife and daughter picked me up at the airport, my dog was awaiting me in the back seat of the van. When he saw me, even after just a few days, he whined with delight.
That’s when I figured it out. Maybe home is where your dog is.
It’s Monday. How can you be grateful for your present place in life today? Peace. Kai