Tag Archives: spiritual direction

The God of all of us

The other day when I was speaking with my wise spiritual director, I was imagining these concentric circles in my life, ones that stretch to China, Puerto Rico, Mexico, many states in this union, and narrow toward  local church, friends, and family.  I was reveling how faithful God has been to show that God is just as present in China as in this country, and the irony that sometimes it’s those inner circles–church, friends, and family–where we have the most trouble trusting and inviting God into our lives.

We may not give up on friends or family all that easily, we may continue to share our lives together, but we might just be going through the motions.  We might reserve our prayers and our hopes for far off places rather than those nearest to us.

We might have our reasons.  

Maybe a friend’s made it clear that God is not for her, a family member has been burned by the church and can’t bear to go near one again, and we’ve learned to choose wisely the topics we’ll discuss at church, with friends, and at home, because conflict and harsh words are inevitable.

A butterfly in Princeton.  My photo.
A butterfly in Princeton. My photo.

But as I reflected on the beauty of these concentric circles and the way God permeates them, I realized that it’s me, it’s we, who assume some people somehow lie outside them.  Even when those in our lives have made attempts to separate themselves from God, no one is truly outside God’s purview.  Even if I give up on people in my life, even if my faith is not really as faithful as I profess, God does not give up on me just as God does not give up on those around me.

Rodin Abraham and Isaac sculpture on Princeton University campus.  My photo.
Rodin Abraham and Isaac sculpture on Princeton University campus. My photo.

So I’m lifting up prayers for those in my “inner circle” this morning, those who I’ve neglected, but God hasn’t, and I’m not just asking God to grow others toward healing, wholeness, and ultimately toward God, but I’m asking for forgiveness for the limits I put on the God of all circles.  I’m praising a God for whom none lie outside, and a God who never, ever gives up, and I’m contemplating what it would mean for me to be just a little more faithful, and to truly believe and live as though none of us are ever outside God.

What would that look like for you?

Advertisements

God’s sturdiness

When my spiritual director asks me what God feels like during trials or joys, it’s a hard question for me.

I’m a thinker.  

Ferreting out the feelings buried beneath all those lofty thoughts (ha!) does not come all that easily to me.

Hydrangeas in bloom.
Hydrangeas in bloom.

But I practice a lot.  

Just like any other discipline, I practice faith to grow in faith.  I practice the rhythms of letting go and listening, that also do not come all that naturally to me.  And gradually God makes it clear that God’s been there all along, and yet, I come to experience God in new ways.

“Sturdy,” was my reply the other day, when my spiritual director asked about who God is to me lately.  It’s not in the Bible, although a host of other like adjectives– steadfast, firm, unshaking–do come to mind.

A church door in downtown Princeton.
A church door in downtown Princeton.

Sturdy feels humble, though, like it might have fit neatly into Jesus’ Aramaic vocabulary.  In the dictionary, one who is sturdy is strongly and solidly built, capable of withstanding rough work or treatment, and showing confidence or determination.

And when you think about it, despite some of the depictions of his fragile frame, withered on the cross, Jesus walked everywhere during his ministry, and he shouldered that heavy cross without complaint.

Jesus was rugged, dependable, and sturdy.

And I think the miracle of faith is that we, who are weak, whiny, and worrisome, we are invited to share in that sturdiness.  We carry it within us when we dare to give and receive love, when we refuse to abide by the ways of this world, but abide in God instead.  We become sturdy when we see and believe that God is making us new, by living in us and through us.

Walking with family in the desert.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Walking with family in the desert. Photo by Evan Schneider.

We become confident, not in ourselves, but in the sturdiness that inhabits hearts, hands, and feet.  Our fragile frames can endure great trials because of who God is, what God has done, and who we are becoming.

So this weekend, look for signs of sturdiness in those around you, in your life, in you.  You’re stronger than you think, because you carry not only the cross, but the resurrection within you.  

You, too, are a sturdy child of God.

The evangelist in me

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”                              —2 Corinthians 3:17

The Japanese bridge at Giverny, France in Monet's Garden.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
The Japanese bridge at Giverny, France in Monet’s Garden. All photos by Evan Schneider.

A few days ago, I met with my spiritual director and told her about this restful trip to France, the adventure of following God, and the newfound freedom I’m experiencing in simply being who I am in God.

She’s been someone with whom I’ve laid bare my concerns about this dual calling to ministry and anthropology, with whom I’ve questioned, sometimes painfully, how I can do both–that is, academia and Church work– and how I can carve a space for myself that truly and faithfully integrates the two.

But as we spoke, that question started to sound so misplaced, so trivial…and even unfaithful.  As she repeated my own question about how I might synthesize these two callings back to me, it all suddenly sounded preposterous.

Because I’m not the answer.  

Of course, it’s just about the most basic truth in the book, but I marveled as I realized that I don’t do this work of integrating, synthesizing, or redeeming.  That’s all God.

Delaware River.
Delaware River.

And God is good at it.  

As I mentioned yesterday, God deals in abundance.  For God, there aren’t categories and confines, limitations and boundaries, but God is the very definition of holism, the place where our callings find perfect harmony and symphony.

And suddenly I feel so secure in all of that, and it’s effecting everything: the way I live, the way I speak, the way I rest, and the way I work.  This security in who I am in God has prompted me to share the faithful parts of me with my colleagues in anthropology and to find that they can not only understand, but also value what I’m talking about.  It’s pushed me to bring anthropology into the classroom at the seminary only to find that future pastors find it challenging, instructive, and meaningful.  And it’s shaped how I talk, write, and minister to foster mothers and brothers and sisters in China, the academy, and the Church.

“And that’s the definition of evangelism,” my spiritual director replied as she heard me muse on my newfound freedom in this God who is so perfectly gifted at integration.

A private courtyard in Paris, France.
A private courtyard in Paris, France.

I nodded, and tried not to gulp or cringe.

You see, I have an uneasy relationship to that word evangelism.  It’s partly my reverence for culture and diversity that makes me suspicious and uneasy of the hubris and insensitivity that often undergirds conversion.  It’s also my own experience–the fact that I’ve learned so much about myself, my faith, and my God from non-Christians– that makes me wary of anything that smacks of evangelism.  And finally, there’s the trappings of that loaded word evangelical and its problematic place in American politics and culture.

But if I’m honest with myself, those objections to the term or the project of evangelism are once again, more about me and my problems, than about God.  When it comes down to it, I’m all about ministry that’s outside the walls of the Church, prayer that stretches across boundaries of believers and nonbelievers, and beholding the sacred in everyday life.  I’m all about a God whose news is so good it doesn’t just dwell within the walls of the Church, the hearts of believers, or least of all, me.  

Flower
More from Giverny.

I’m beginning to accept that God’s good news seeps out of me, in spite of me, and that is good, too.

So you heard it from me first.  Turns out I’m an evangelical who’s learning to love the evangelist in me, because God is abundant, faithful, and good.  Because I can’t do what I’ve been called to without God’s wisdom, patience, and grace.  And because I’ve been set free–from sin, fear, and death–and that’s worthy of a testimony or two today.

Amen.