Shekinah Glory


The Word Unchained
October 14, 2007, 11:22 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Religion, Revival, Sermon, Spirituality, Wholeness

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II Timothy 2:8-15

In the 20th Century Catholic mystic Henri Nouwen’s final diaries he relates the death of the profoundly developmentally disabled man named Adam who was part of the L’Arche community named Dayspring where Nouwen was pastor. Adam suffered from violent seizures and could not speak. Yet, during a particularly dark period of his life, Adam helped Nouwen renew his faith. According to Nouwen this mute, mentally challenged man helped him understand the central questions of Christian theology in a way that transcended statements of belief, and instead found joy in existence. Listen to this celebrated Yale theologian and world speaker write moments after the death of one of his congregation:

“I couldn’t keep my eyes away from him. I thought, here is the man who more than anyone has connected me with God and the Daybreak community. Here is the man whom I cared for during my first year at daybreak and have come to love so much…Here is my counselor, teacher, and guide, who never could say a word to me but taught me more than anyone else. Here is Adam, my friend, my beloved friend, the most vulnerable of all the people I have ever known and at the same time the most powerful. He is dead now. His life is over. His face is still. I felt immense sadness and immense gratitude. I have lost a companion but gained a guardian for the rest of my life.”

How can this be? How could a well educated, Yale professor say that a mentally challenged man, who could not speak taught him more than anyone else? It is the power of the unchained word of God. It is the foolishness of the gospel that we are taught in Corinthians by Paul. It is the message of hope that Paul can proclaim even in chains to Timothy. It is the word of God unchained!

When many of us who grew up in fairly restrictive religious communities hear the chains clanking to religion’s cell floor we panic. How can the word be alive, how can God be freedom? Isn’t this religion after all? We must live by rules, traditions, customs, commandments, restrictions, manners and laws? How will we know what is required of us? Then Paul takes us aside to gently remind us that even though we may put those fetters around our own wrists and place ourselves in the solitary confinement of religiosity there is now no law in which binds us. The God who is the same yesterday, today and forever is the same God of death, life, endurance, faithfulness, resurrection, transformation and yes change. It is when we deeply connect our darkest, deepest needs with that eternal source of grace that we find the unlimited nature of love.

Why does this seem so abstract, so indefinable, and so radically different from the paint-by-numbers religion that we are taught to rely upon? There are no self-help books that can give you the living word’s steps to personal freedom. It is not like a political scientist giving a detailed observation about why political freedom has not flowered in a middle-eastern country like Iraq. It is a freedom embedded deeply in God’s own name. When asked at the burning bush by Moses who the heck he was to tell the leaders of Israel sent him the divine response was to tell them, “I am who I am.”

We need an infinite God to respond to our finitude. There must be infinite ways to experience God and an infinite way to respond to God’s love. In our darkness we crave someone who is not too good to wade into the murky pit of our lives and give us companionship. When we have negated our own self to others and beat ourselves down it is comforting to find divine love and a creator that values all of creation. When our ego inflates to historic proportions and we become addicted to power and money there is one who cracks into our childish façade and feeds us humility. Only a God free from our finitude can save us from the demons of life that constantly shackle us to expect far less from ourselves than the divine wishes for us to experience.

While the popular 20th century catholic monk Thomas Merton taught about being a Christian contemplative in many of his books, when reading them I often think that for the word contemplative we could insert a disciple of Christ’s way. Merton points out in one of his letters this very freedom in which God loves us. He says:

The contemplative is not the man or woman who has fiery visions of the cherubim…but simply he who has risked his mind in the desert beyond language and beyond ideas where God is encountered in the nakedness of pure trust, that is to say, in the surrender of our poverty and incompleteness, in order to no longer clench our minds in a cramp upon themselves…The message the contemplative offers is not that you need to find your way through the language and problems that today surround God, but whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present to you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you have ever found in books or heard in sermons.

Only an unchained word of God can free us from our deepest prisons. It is not something that I, or anyone else can define, diagram or parse out for you this morning. It is a living word that requires active engagement and participation in working out its meaning. Lord God free us from those things that fetter us in this life so that we may respond to your living word.

Picture by taciturnal

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16 Comments so far
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Evening Brian~

What a beautiful post!

I can’t believe that you mentioned Henri Nouwen. For one whole year, I did nothing but read his books. Your reference to Adam, is the book that perhaps touched me more than anyone of Nouwen’s works.

It’s called, “Adam….God’s Beloved.” And all anyone has to do is read this work…and they’d see WHY he taught Nouwen more than anyone else. I actually read it in one complete sitting. Once I started, I could’nt put it down. I cried from the depths of my soul (even remembering now…makes me weep). You could actually feel God BEING, through this beautiful little soul.

You may have already read it, but if you haven’t….I have feeling it will touch you…as it I did me.

Thank you my mystic friend…you always say the right thing…at the right time!

Be well,
Ron

Comment by ron

PoD,

You are helping me work out my kinks. Take this as such. I have read and been astounded at what others have seen, others have written.

But lately, not so much.

Not to be a rabble rouser, but don’t we tend to make our experiences and even the Bible what we want it to be? We see suffering and we force upon it some deep meaning. We read a passage and force upon it a meaning far removed from the original words.

After all, we reason, God must be deeper. God must have meaning.

But I wonder if the meaning we impose on Him, on suffering, on our own trials is anything like Him.

What do you think? (Admittedly, I think on a much more pedestrian level than you. Maybe you have a better view.)

Comment by WhoreChurch

Ron~

I always feel so good after reading your comments. Can I nominate you for nicest blogger?

WC~

I think that it was Albert Schwietzer who said that looking for Jesus was like looking into a well filled with water and seeing our own reflection. I am not sure there is anything wrong with thinking about God in the context of our experiences, it is when we try to tell everyone else that their experience for God should be the same as ours. Admittedly I know very little about God, because my experiences are human. Yet, everytime I experience something that is greater than myself I hope that this is the Holy Spirit. Sorry my thoughts are a bit jumbled, tough day at the office.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Brian~

It’s ALWAYS my pleasure to visit here.

Thank you for the nomination, my friend.

Right back at cha’!

Be well,
Ron

Comment by ron

PoD,

My thoughts…

No one can have an experience “greater than themselves” by definition. I know what you are getting at, but experience is all in the meaning we place on it.

You went to the Grand Canyon and had a transcendental experience, not because the Grand Canyon is beyond natural experience, but because of the connection in your own mind between the vastness of the natural world and the work of the Holy Spirit.

I agree with you: I know very little of God. That’s one of the most frustrating things in my life.

There are times when God has moved in substantial, objectively observable ways. There are times when my faith tells me He is working in a more providential way. Then there are times when I see little or no evidence of His working at all.

Mystic masters writings are often cliches repeated by the faithful to absolve God of responsibility. “It was when I saw [insert terrible event] occur I finally understood God’s [insert appropriate word: purpose, plan, power, love, etc.]

Often the events repeated are devoid of any objective reference to God.

This leaves me with lots of questions. I know through practicing the Christian spiritual disciplines I have connected in tangible, measurable ways to something/someone I did not have connection to before. I believe that someone is God, though I don’t know what God even means. I appreciate the Gospels because I believe in seeing Jesus I am seeing the Father, yet I barely see at all either one.

So my thumbs twiddle, life muddles and I listen for the sound of a falling shoe.

Does this make any sense to you Brian?

Comment by WhoreChurch

Yes, this makes a tremendous amount of sense to me. I do not think that we are very far apart on our Godtalk. I agree that there is too much glib acceptence of God’s presence. You have described the way that I feel often.

Onto, the greater than myself comment. It is exactly in the natural experiences i.e. my experience of the Grand Canyon, talking with you about God or enjoying my daughter that I am participating in something greater than myself. I believe that this is the connection of the Holy Spirit that is talked about in the Bible. We are constantly confronted by things that bring us outside of ourselves. Maybe in our radically individualistic American culture we think that we are truly having a seperate, unique experience, but the Bible does not talk about salvation outside of community and nature. Both, when experienced, expand outside our own ego.

Again I hope I am making sense. There has been a ton of stress at work.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

It makes sense, though it doesn’t answer most of my questions–likely doesn’t yours either.

While the confessions recently brought to life by the Mother Teresa bio were pointed to as evidence she had lost her faith, I saw them differently (as you probably did as well.)

I saw them as the natural human struggle we all have when we have lived by faith for a long enough period of time, we have seen God’s work in undeniable ways yet we look around at our current life and world and see Him suspiciously absent.

It seems that those of us who pursue Him the most sometimes have the hardest time living in the space of “remain in me and I will remain in you.” Not because we don’t know Him, but because we do and we notice when He seems AWOL.

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” indeed.

And, yes, I do go through the same emotions as the Psalmist–“you are enthroned as the Holy One of Israel” despite my lack of seeing you today–but the desertion seems oppressive at times. Like today.

Today I need to write. I need to earn a living. Working with my hands as so not to be a burden on anyone else.

But I have no clear direction. No God-of-light career path.

Sometimes the hardest thing for me to hear from God is not “wait” or “no” it’s nothing.

Comment by WhoreChurch

Oh, and about the stress at work…

Just quit and live off Carol’s royalties.

Comment by WhoreChurch

I have read some of the Mother Teresa book. At first it gave me a tremendous amount of hope, but then I became frightened and depressed. It sounds like for very similar reasons. I have been alarmed by the absence that I often feel from the divine. It has been a life of prayer and reading of scripture. This makes me have unrealistic expectations that I will be different than many who have already gone the same path. Thanks for the honesty. Know that you are not alone in this struggle.

Although it is doing quite well I think that from the royalties of Carol’s book we will have enough for a nice weekend getaway (not enough to live on yet).

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Herculean effort coupled with almost immeasurably small result gets old after a while.

I think people get into ministry for several reasons:

Some do so because it feeds their needy ego.

Some because their reward is to see people’s lives changed.

Some because they believe they will be rewarded by God regardless of what happens here as long as they did the ministry they were called to.

I started in the first group and pretty quickly moved to the second. I guess most of my anger and frustration is seeing how much effort I put into loving the mainly unlovable to find out it didn’t make much of any difference. Maybe the only pure path is the third one, though I guess I thought even that more selfish than the second.

Hebrews tells me Jesus endured the cross because he knew the reward. I don’t know the reward.

Isn’t it God’s job to tell us what we need to know? I mean I can understand those who ignore him having trouble figuring things out, but what about those who chose the path of greatest resistance?

I know you don’t have any answers either, but it is good for me to write out these things and not pretend they don’t exist in my mind.

Oh, and tell Carol the real money will come in once she pens “The Tribal Church for Teens,” “The Tribal Church for Graduates,” “Chicken Soup for the Tribal Church,” “Tribal Church for Couples” and “The 40 Days of Tribing.”

Of course she could take a completely different tack and try “Harry Potter and the Tribal Church.”

Comment by WhoreChurch

You are right, I don’t really have any of the answers either. I do think that you have eloquently articulated a frustration that comes from being faithful. I most often identify with the faithful son in the parable of the prodigal. Yet, it is on the occassions that I am that prodigal that I am glad for the parable.

Just wait, I think that we are going to launch “the Tribal Church Study Bible.” That can only come when her sales hit Joyce’s numbers.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Joyce’s numbers? Really? What is Carol planning on getting for her soul?

No, just kidding, I know you were only joshin.

I spent pretty much all night up pondering life last night. I watched a marathon of “Soul Train” so I could later claim it was a “dark night of the soul.”

I feel better, so that must mean something, even though nothing has changed. We’ll see where we go from here.

I’m about ready to sign on as a gopher at a local homeless shelter just so I can look like I am in touch with God’s will. It’s easier to look like you are about the Master’s business than to be about the Master’s business.

After all, when it comes to ministry: “If the people smell, you’re not going to hell.”

Yeah, you’re free to use that one. It’s original.

Comment by WhoreChurch

Mr. Whore~

I am glad that you are feeling a bit better. I can understand how one could find God amidst vintage clips of Earth, Wind and Fire.

I will use that line quite often. From the uncontrolled laughter from Carol I know that it is a winner.

Last night I spent quite a bit of time trying to explain to members of my church what Pastor of Disaster meant. It was quite fun.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Disaster as synonymous with your church perhaps?

Sorry you are having a rough time. I only have to worry about pleasing myself, my redhead, my boys and my God and none of them are too picky.

Oh, and today the electric company informs me I need to please them as well–to the tune of $183.16. They’re bitchy about those kinds of things.

Comment by WhoreChurch

I am off to the Ham and Oyster dinner. The tough week was with sick members.

Peace

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Ham and Oysters? Sounds like a winning way to reach the Jews with the message of Jesus.

Comment by WhoreChurch




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