Lingering in God’s Presence

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I cannot tell you the name of the blue flower in today’s image, but what I can tell you is that the beauty of God’s creation often takes my breath away. This image did that. When I first saw it, I stared at for quite a long time. You might say it stopped me in my tracks, slowed me down for a moment, caused me to wonder. That’s not a bad thing, slowing me down. It does not happen easily.

So what does it mean to slow down and linger, to linger in God’s presence? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the very brief story of Anna.

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

What strikes me about Anna is that “she never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.” She lingered in God’s presence. Perhaps God honored her devotion by allowing her to see the Christ child.

And then there’s this small snippet of Joshua’s story:

 . . . When Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:9-11 NKJV)

Joshua lingered in the tabernacle even when Moses, his mentor, left it. Perhaps it changed him. Perhaps because of his devotion in lingering in God’s presence, it was Joshua, and not Moses, who received the honor of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Of course, we are not certain about any of that. Certainly we do not linger in God’s presence in hopes of receiving some reward or honor. At the same time, developing the spiritual discipline of abiding — lingering — in God’s presence brings its own reward.

What are your ways of spending time in God’s presence? Reading scripture? Writing scripture in a prayer journal? Yoga? Walking a labyrinth? Praying? Journaling? Taking in the beauty of nature? Creating a place of silence? The ways of spiritual discipline are endless.

One thing is certain: lingering in God’s presence does not just happen. We enter that sacred space and linger there only if we commit ourselves to do it. Not in a legalistic manner that is more religious than spiritual, but in ways that slowly open us up to craving that time with God, needing it more than we need to “accomplish” our never-ending daily tasks.

When we reach that place, we might discover that lingering in God’s presence is life-giving. We might suddenly realize that we are lingering in God’s presence easily and often, that it has become a part of life.

So how in the world did a blue flower get me here?

I’m not sure, but I think it is because God can be found everywhere, in any moment, in any space, in every stillness, in silence and music and birdsong, in whatever we hear and feel, through anything our eyes can see — even a blue flower covered with dew.

And in that space, we are transformed.

Amen.

“Me!”

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When I was younger, my primary life goal was to make people like me. It was something of an obsession, and it caused great harm to my spirit. For you see, I thought I had to be everyone else’s image of me. So “me” became changeable and malleable in the hands of a variety of other people. In my mind, they just had to like me.

The conundrum of life: how to accept that not everyone will like me. Maybe even most people won’t like me. So here’s the sad, but inevitable result: “me” became someone I didn’t even know. I lost myself in the impossible quest to be accepted and liked.

Then came the metamorphosis. It happened around age 47. I think what started it may have been reading the book by Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.

My sisters in cyberspace, you should read that book. The thing that nearly frightened me enough to make me put the book away is the descriptor after the main title. So here’s the title of the book, in all of its feminist fullness: The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.

Well, when I read part of the book’s description — the “journey from the Christian tradition” part — it scared me to death! I had no intention at all to journey away from my Christian tradition.

I read the book anyway, and it changed my life and launched me into a journey I could never have envisioned. Sue Monk Kidd led me on an incredible, circuitous journey through fear, anger, healing, and eventually, awakening and transformation. Of course, I could never see myself turning away from my deep connection to what Kidd described as “the deep song of Christianity,” But I did discard the voices that kept me in my place, and kept me quiet, for so many years of my life.

When those discouraging, disparaging voices were silenced, I heard my own voice, finally. With clarity, my voice declared “me,” exactly the woman I was meant to be, precisely the woman God was calling to ministry. By embracing my full humanity and my spirituality — that looked very different than my religiosity had looked — I found myself.

“Me” was awakened, out in the open, in the middle of God’s world and smack dab in the center of God’s will. Oh my! Now no one would like me! When my words spoke Gospel truth, people didn’t like me. When I tenaciously followed God’s call to ordination, people didn’t like me. When I dared to preach (from a real pulpit) lots of people didn’t like me. When I worked as an advocate for women and children harmed by violence … well, no one at all liked me then because I refused to back down.

I like this quote from Denzel Washington:

“Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons.”

There it is! The real, unadulterated truth! So as my spirit continued to irritate everyone’s demons, I was finally living my life as “me!” And that, my sisters, was a good place to be.

I hope you are in your own “good place.”

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On another note, please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness at the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website, please visit this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A Go Fund Me page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please make a contribution at this link: 

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

On Being a Mystic

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A breathtaking sunset over Arkansas’ Mount Nebo photographed by Josh McCray.

Some Christians tend to be frightened by the word “mysticism.” The word “mystic” raises irrational fears based on a misunderstanding of mysticism as a part of the Christian’s spiritual experience. So what exactly is a mystic? A mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief systems to an actual inner experience with God.

That brings us to the sticky concept of belief systems. Christians definitely have belief systems, sometimes rigid and judgmental belief systems. The reality is that there is never a shortage of persons spouting out their beliefs, beliefs that are often based on systems of fake religious piety.

A life lived in the spiritual realm of God is much, much more than a set of rigid beliefs. Spirituality is much more than what we think or what we say. Spirituality is who we are, our inner spirit, our soul that dances to the rhythms of the God who dwells within us.

Richard Rohr understands the inner spiritual experience.

Until people have had some mystical, inner spiritual experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideals of Jesus or to really understand religious beliefs beyond the level of formula. At most, such moral ideals and doctrinal affirmations are only a source of deeper anxiety because we don’t have the power to follow any of Jesus’ major teachings about forgiveness, love of enemies, nonviolence, humble use of power, and so on, except in and through radical union with God. Further, doctrines like the Trinity, the Real Presence, and the significance of Incarnation itself have little active power. They are just “believed” at the rational level.

– Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

Any of us can believe at the rational level. We can easily formulate a set of personal doctrines, doctrines that often hold us captive to self-righteousness and rigid relationships with others. To be truly free is to be open to the winds of the Spirit, to rest in the presence of God, to follow Christ into places of deep need, to give ourselves over to inner spiritual experiences.

When we live in the comforting place of the mysticism of spirituality, we will not find in ourselves a judgmental spirit that uses our beliefs to denigrate those whose beliefs differ from ours. We will not find in ourselves the need for the criticism and condemnation that results in divisions.

What we will find within ourselves is the ability to love as Christ loved, the longing to bury our souls in the gentle grace of God, the deepest desire to transform the world around us and thus create the “beloved community.”

So I, for one, want to be a mystic. I want to live in the very center God’s spiritual realm, to be moved by the Spirit, to scatter the love of Christ in all the places I walk.

May God make it so.

How Should We Live?

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I am moved by hymns and often make their words a part of my prayers. This hymn, “When the Church of Jesus,” has long been one of my favorites. It challenges us to live in the world as a people of compassion and caring.

When the Church of Jesus
Shuts its outer door,
Lest the roar of traffic
Drown the voice of prayer:
May our prayers, Lord, make us
Ten times more aware
That the world we banish
Is our Christian care.

If our hearts are lifted
Where devotion soars
High above this hungry
Suffering world of ours:
Lest our hymns should drug us
To forget its needs,
Forge our Christian worship
Into Christian deeds.

Lest the gifts we offer,
Money, talents, time,
Serve to salve our conscience
To our secret shame:
Lord, reprove, inspire us
By the way you give;
Teach us, dying Savior,
How true Christians live.

Fred Pratt Green, 1969

How should we live our lives? In what ways does Christ compel us to service? Does the life of Christ inspire us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?

As the hymn says, “Lord, reprove, inspire us.” May it be so.

The Soul of Music

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Music is the stuff of the soul, a universal language that speaks to the depths of our being. I have long been a devotee of the choral composer John Rutter. I have marveled at his art and his giftedness. I recently read an article about his faith. Here is what he said.

You certainly have to have a sense of faith. That is not usually difficult for a musician, as musicians move easily in the realm of the mysterious and the transcendent. I don’t think it matters whether you are a signed-up believer of one particular faith.

I learned also that his faith is not of a specific tradition. It is more about spirituality than religion. He describes himself as a reverent believer at the time he is working on a sacred piece. He adds,

When I take a sacred text I believe every syllable of it while I am setting it to music because I think it’s part of an artist’s job to enter into states of being which are not necessarily his or her own. As long as I’m writing or conducting I am a firm believer and when I have finished I go back to being what I am the rest of the time, which is Agnostic.

Regardless of our religious tradition, God places a kind of brilliance within us. John Rutter, no matter his faith, has inspired the world of sacred music for decades. Music emerges from the soul, and John Rutter has created music of the soul.

I invite you to listen to his brilliant arrangement of the hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth” at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PaMkj4_H8WM.

On Spirituality

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I have been asked many times to explain the difference between religion and spirituality. So today, I will give it a try.

Most of us long for a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and that Longing typically involves a search for meaning in life. We call that longing for connection spirituality, a universal human experience that touches every person. Spirituality asks its own questions about life and identity, such as:

Am I a good person?
What is this feeling I have deep inside myself?
What does it mean to abide with the Divine?
What is the meaning of my suffering?
What is my connection to the world around me?
Do things happen for a reason?
How can I live my life in the best way possible?

Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, says that “spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or the sacred.”

Perhaps the most meaningful explanation of spirituality comes from its root: The word spirituality comes from root words in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek that all mean wind, breath, or air—that which gives life.

In my spiritual quest, I look for the breath that restores my life, the fresh wind of the Spirit that carries me on the wings of the morning, the air that allows me to breathe in the world that surrounds me.

 

Spirituality and Religion

While spirituality may incorporate elements of religion, it is generally a broader concept. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, nor are they entirely distinct from one another. The best way to understand this is to think of two overlapping circles like this:

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Venn Diagram of Religion and Spirituality

In spirituality, the questions are: where do I personally find meaning, connection, and value?
– In religion, the questions are: what is true and right?
Where the circles overlap is the individual experience, which affects the way you think, feel, and behave.

 

Obviously, spirituality is difficult to define. Words do not seem adequate to describe something that is swirling inside every person. It’s a soul thing, and everyone has a unique soul. But, as always, the words of Bishop Steven Charleston offer us the most eloquent description.

I have been thinking about the cycle of spirituality. It is very much like the rain cycle. First we rise up into the clouds, seeking out inspiration, and then we return to earth, entering into the ground of reality to bring forth new life. Spirituality only works when that cycle continues. Too much time in the clouds and we disconnect. We fail to nourish our own world. Too much time on the ground and we wither. We miss finding renewal. Spirituality is a process, a balance, a constant movement between the high winds of wonder and the organic struggle for the birth of hope.