It’s Monday March 23

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

It’s Monday March 16

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

It’s Monday March 9

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