Thursday, August 30, 2007

Meditations on the Christian Life

The past couple of days I've been reading my share of Henri Nouwen. He taught at the University of Notre Dame, as well as Yale and Harvard Universities. He later moved to Toronto where he shared his life with people with developmental disabilities. Much of his writings are founded in the intentional thought you would expect from someone with his educational background, yet the core of that which he writes about came as an awareness that came as he laid aside the prestige of his elite status, served the outcast of society, even living among those who could care less about how many letters come after your name.

Here are a couple of quotes that I found particularly penetrating:

The first is from In the Name of Jesus.

"A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God's first love." To live with an awareness of the One who loves is an aspect of Contemplative Prayer.

"Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from on urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own heart and God's heart. Contemplative prayer keeps us home, rooted and safe, even when we are on the road, moving from place to place, and often surrounded by sounds of violence and war. Contemplative prayer deepens in us the knowledge that we are already free, that we have already found a place to dwell, that we already belong to God, even tough everything and everyone around us keep suggesting the opposite." (42)

The rest are from Out of Solitude.

"More often than not, we not only desire to do meaningful things, but we make the results of our work the criteria of our self-esteem. And then we not only have successes, we become our successes... When we start being too impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to measure our worth. And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many grade-givers... Then we become what the world makes us… (22)

But underneath all our emphasis on successful action, many of us suffer from a deep-seated, low self-esteem and are walking around with the constant fear that someday someone will unmask the illusion and show that we are not as smart, as good, or as lovable as the world was made to believe… (23)

And so, when our actions have become more an expression of fear than of inner freedom, we easily become the prisoners of our self-created illusions." (24)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Forum

I'm getting pretty stoked about some elements of spiritual formation that we're going to be experimenting with this Fall at Calvary Temple. One of these is The Forum, and it is for men.

A number of things have helped facilitate my personal transformation.

Three of them are:
  • Being in a context of a cluster of friends having un-edited conversations about life, relationships and God.
  • Being a part of a road trip or some other kind of journey experience where we got out of town and just spent time together... Something happens when you leave the familiar surroundings... You often become more sensitive to the Heart, Voice and Presence of God.
  • Being in an environment where there is thought provoking dialogue.
The Forum is an environment that (hopefully-successfully) will encompass all of these three elements, plus frequent doses of fun.

What is it? I have a pictures of what it is in my head. I have a deep sense at the core of my being what it feels like, but I'm still struggling to find the words to portray it... It's a small group of guys connecting, but it's not a small group... It's an on-line life-on-life conversation, but it's not just a blog. It's a dialogue of a book it's not a book study. It's a weekend away, but it's not a retreat. All of these are components of what The Forum is, not to mention illegal amounts of fun. Let me try to break down some of the elements that make up The Forum.

We will meet together Face-to-Face twice during the 9-Weeks. Wednesday August 29th at 7:00pm in the South Gate Cafe & Saturday morning, October 6th.

On-going Conversation
In between our times together we will be conversing through the internet via a private blog. Some of us process information better - after the fact - even alone. For many, it is easier to put thoughts on the screen to be read, rather than in the air space to be heard. This is where the Online Conversation comes into play. Throughout the weeks of meeting together, we will interact with the ideas and concepts presented in the book, as well as other things that emerge during the conversation...

Book Dialogue
The ongoing conversation will spring from the book Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality by Rob Bell.

Weekend Away
We will finish up the conversation over a weekend away in Kalamazoo, Michigan (Friday October 26 to Sunday morning October 28). While away, we will carry on the conversation, have loads of fun, have some more fun, not to mention spend a full evening rock climbing at Climb Kalamazoo, Southwest Michigan’s premiere indoor facility.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bon Appetit - Finger Food

For many, prayer is a solemn experience. And though reverence and awe have a place, pray can be playful, interactive and dynamic. Prayer isoften filled with words, but prayer is more than words. In fact, words aren’t enough and fall short in expression. At times, prayer may be most fully expressed through non-verbal communication, music, even art and drawing. This message explores the use of words, images, art and play as means of prayer and interaction with God. This is the third message in the sermon series Bon Appetit.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Power of Rest & Naylah's Birthday

Last week, we as a family headed north to Brown City, Michigan. Our destination was Brown City Camp. It is a good place to relax, hang out with family and Micah and Naylah love it. Micah is especially fond of riding around camp, sitting in PaPa Keller's lap and steering the golf cart. The playground is a pretty big hit as well. We had a great time... Other than play zone at the playscapes (a.k.a. playground) and do my share of diaper patrol, I had no other obligations...

Normally during weeks like these, I can manage to fill every spare moment with something to do. Most notably reading a book, taking notes, or working on my laptop. And though all these things have there good and have there place, it can at times be a challenge to simply rest and simply be... We as humans, can get addicted to doing, producing and the buzz from the demand of productivity. So much so, that when there is nothing to do, we can begin to feel less than human, as if something is missing. As if, a sense of who we are and our value as a person is intricately interwoven with what we do. Sometimes the most spiritually productive thing we can do is - nothing.

As I look back, this is what I spent most of my time doing - nothing. This doesn't mean that I sat in the lotus position. I did my share of hanging out, chatting and playing with the family. What I mean is, I intentionally didn't do anything that could be calculated as something I was producing - doing - creating - etc. I didn't write anything. I didn't develop any thoughts or ideas for the purpose of communication or ministry. I didn't even crack a book open (though I took several to be sure). Consequently, I did read through two issues of Runner's World. All other reading was in Scripture, and even that was a more slow-reflective-meditative-musing of several passages.

Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is nothing.

Naylah's birthday falls right during camp, and since much of Charissa's family is at camp as well, it makes a great convergence spot for a little Birthday Extravaganza. Naylah's on a Stawberry Short Cake kick, so naturally we were all decked out with Strawberry Short Cake decorations, plates and so forth. Here are some snap shots of Naylah gift opening, candle blowing, cake stuffing experience. (I realize that I'm probably a bit bias, but Naylah is the cutest 2-year-old girl on the PLANET!).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Art of Meditation

Another component of Lectio Divina is meditatio: to meditate on the text…

For many, whenever they hear the word meditate, it automatically gets sidelined into the “New Age” category of things…

Yet meditation has always been at the core of Jewish and Christian Spirituality.

The Book of Psalms opens with a famous passage....that deals with the idea of "meditating."

1-Blessed are those
who do not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2-but who delight in the law of the LORD
and meditate on his law day and night.
3-They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
(Psalm 1:1-3)

The process of pausing and reflecting was often called meditation.

The Hebrew word for meditate means “to mutter or to mumble, to make a low sound.” It is used of the gentle cooing of a dove, the low growl of a lion, and the soft music of a harp. It was the habit of people reflecting on the Scriptures to turn the words over and over in their mind, and they did this by speaking the words, often in a whisper that sounded very much like mumbling. They would do this on an early-morning walk, on a garden bench in the afternoon, or on their bed at night. Going over and over the words worked something like a root stimulator, allowing the words to penetrate their heart more quickly and more deeply.

The Biblical concept is less about emptying one's head of everything and more about filling it with something. In Hebrew thought, to meditate upon the Scriptures is to quietly repeat them in a soft, droning sound, while utterly abandoning outside distractions. From this tradition comes a specialized type of Jewish prayer called “davening,” that is, reciting text, praying intense prayers, or getting lost in communion with God while bowing or rocking back and forth. This form of meditation-prayer goes back at least to David’s time.

The process of reflection was not merely a rote exercise. Notice in verse 2 the word that stands in parallel to meditate. It is "delight."

The pairing of these two words reveals that both the heart and the mind are essential in the process of reflection. Like sap and the woody fiber of a tree. Sap without the fiber results in formless life. Fiber without the sap results in lifeless form. Delight means “excited attention.” The writer continues his thought in verse 3...

3-They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and
whose leaf does not wither—
they do prospers.

The person who approaches the Word of God in this way is pictured as a tree.

But not simply a tree. A tree planted by and overhanging the “streams of water.”

This phrase is a technical term, meaning “water canals.”

The use of the term here indicates that the picture we are looking at is not of a tree that grows beside a river, which may flood or recede according to the weather.

It is a tree growing in a garden.

The eastern garden back then was usually walled and crisscrossed with irrigation ditches. These irrigation systems were often connected to some kind of water canal. The water could be shifted to different parts of the garden by simply moving a lever with your foot.

These trees in that garden grew under the care of a gardener who watched over it and controlled the flow of water into it. In such a well-cultivated and well-protected spot, the tree flourished. The picture is one of stability, security, beauty, vitality, and productivity. The tree is postured in a place conducive to absorb water...

“Meditation is the discipline we give to keeping the memory active in the act of reading," writes Eugene Peterson in his book Eat This Book. He continues,
"Meditation moves from looking at the words of the text to entering the world of the text. As we take this text into ourselves, we find that the text is taking us into itself.”

Lectio Divina - Marination, Lectio-Reading

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Father-Son Sand Sculpting...

Recently a group of young dads got together with their sons and went to Indiana Dunes Sate Park. Together we worked to construct a giant sand castle. Considering half the work-force (those under 4 years old) were trying to tear down the mammoth structure as it was going up, we concluded this building project a success...

...In addition, we came up with some creative alternatives to "Time-Out" that can be utilized while playing on the beach.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Art of Reading - Lectio

The typical "prescription" for spiritual growth is "read your bible and pray." At face value, both of these seem good, even worthy to be aspired. However, one of them may not be biblical. Have you ever pondered this? The Bible doesn't say: "Read your Bible." At least in how we typically understand the word read in our Western context.

The biblical word for reading has a much richer meaning than eyes moving across a page of print while the mind vaguely engages. We often read something once, and even then our comprehension is not very extensive. How many books have you read? How much content of those various books do you remember? The primary Greek New Testament word for read is anagonsis.

isn’t merely an eye to print exercise, it carries the idea of an intimate knowledge with the text at hand. It’s not merely information, but rather an in-formation. Reading, in a Biblical sense, transforms the whole person. The information is formed in the person. You enter into a relationship with the information – it becomes revelation. It implies an intensity, it’s an intentional knowing and re-knowing until one owns it, has internalized it and it has become an incarnational reality.

A number of years ago on "The Merv Griffin Show," the guest was a body builder. During the interview, Merv asked "Why do you develop those particular muscles?" The body builder simply stepped forward and flexed a series of well-defined muscles from chest to calf. The audience applauded. "What do you use all those muscles for?" Merv asked. Again, the muscular specimen flexed, and biceps and triceps sprouted to impressive proportions. "But what do you USE those muscles for?" Merv persisted. The body builder was bewildered. He didn't have an answer other than to display his well-developed frame.

Often we too can reduce spiritual exercises -- to improve our pose before an admiring audience. The heart behind lectio divina is to not just get through the Bible, but to get the Bible through us... That it might become living and active from the core of our being...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Food, Marination & Lectio Divina

Marination, also known as marinating, is the process of soaking foods in a seasoned, often acidic, liquid before cooking. This is a technique of adding flavor by immersion in liquid. It is commonly used to flavor foods and to tenderize tougher cuts of meat or harder vegetables. The process may last seconds or days.

During this process, the acid causes the tissue of meat to break down, allowing more moisture to be absorbed and giving a juicier end product.

There is a form of prayer that we can engage in that functions a lot like the process of marination... it's a form of prayer that adds flavor to our souls and tenderizes the hard areas of our hearts...that in the process of causing our inner-tissues to break down - becoming more absorbent and more saturated with the Presence & Life of God.

It's called Lectio Divina. In short, Lectio Divina is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God.

For centuries, people of the text have understood that Scripture isn't merely meant to be read or even understood, as important as those components are - but Scripture is to be-lived.

Lectio Divina is a way of approaching the text that “...intends the fusion of the entire biblical story and my story. A way of reading that refuses to be reduced to just reading but intends the living of the text, listening and responding to the voices of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ telling their stories…” (Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book)

Lectio Divina comprises four elements:
  1. Lectio: to read the text,
  2. Meditatio: to meditate the text,
  3. Oratio: to pray the text,
  4. Contemplatio: to live the text.
A European monk, Guigo the 2nd in the 12th Century elaborates on the form of prayer by saying,
“Reading, as it were, puts the solid food into our mouths, meditation chews it and breaks it down, prayer obtains the flavor of it and contemplation is the very sweetness which makes us glad and refreshes us.”

Thursday, August 02, 2007


The process of marination not only adds flavor, but actually tenderizes the tougher cuts of meats and vegetables. The process actually breaks down the tissues of the meat. In doing so, the element of meat becomes more absorbent and moist. Prayer can have a similiar effect, specifically the type of prayer known as "Lectio Divina." This type of prayer postures us in a way to become saturated with the presence of God. We become more absorbent of the things He is trying to communicate to us. We become more like Him. Flavor is added to our being. This message "marinate," is the second message in the series Bon Appetit.