Dorothy Day is featured in the book ‘Streams of Living Water’ by Richard Foster. A fascinating figure, especially because she wasn’t a nun (not that there’s anything wrong with being a nun!) but was just an ordinary lady. I like the pebble analogy. I can cope with pebbles. Kindness could be a pebble – a smile, a friendly face. Too often we put pressure on ourselves because the world is such a sad place and we so desperately want to share God’s transforming love. So we try to ‘save’ the world and then everything becomes overwhelming. Dunno why we think we can ‘save’ anything since Jesus already did that, but… pebbles. I can do pebbles, by grace. Thank you, God, for changing pebbles into waves and waves into tides. May we never underestimate what you can do through one small act of love. Amen.
‘…all of these experiences and insights lead us to a pure love of God… We are not to retreat from society… Our experience of love propels us into the world in order to accomplish God’s work. Every social engagement, therefore, is an expression of our Christian beliefs.’
~ Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe, ‘Longing for God’
My daughter came home from school last week singing:
“When I needed a neighbour, were you there? Were you there?
When I needed a neighbour were you there?
And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter
Were you there? Were you there?”
It’s been decades since I last heard that song. It made me think. For a long time, when I have asked God what He wants me to do, often the only response has been, “Be a good friend.” This I have found continually baffling. Is that it? That can’t be all of it, surely?
When I heard my daughter sing, I wondered what would happen if I swapped ‘neighbour’ for ‘friend’.
When I needed a friend, were you there?
And suddenly the penny dropped. It makes a whole lot of sense. ‘Neighbour’, in my mind, despite my knowledge of the biblical description, is a somewhat vague term. My neighbour is the person who lives next door, someone I smile at and say ‘good morning’ to. My neighbour is someone who puts out our dustbin when we’re away and with whom I share the occasional friendly chat on the driveway or over the garden fence (the neighbours on the other side pretend we don’t exist and never even acknowledge our presence, even though we have lived next door for over a year now!).
So ‘neighbour’ has certain cultural connotations, despite my intellectual understanding of its use in the bible. ‘Friend’, on the other hand, I can understand: I can be a friend and I’m doing the work of God. This doesn’t mean I can use this as an excuse to only spend time with people I really like and consider it a job done, but it makes the idea of ‘love thy neighbour’ a little more accessible.
So this is what happened over this past week: Jesus tapped me on the head. I wondered how I could have missed it for so long, given that Jesus’ entire ministry was spent with His friends. D’oh!
Love your neighbour. And this is how you do it: be a good friend.
“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
“But remember the root command: Love one another.”
John 15:11-17 (The Message)
No matter where we start, our life with God must pass through the cross. In a day filled with all sorts of spiritual options, it is hard to recognise the enduring testimony of this uniquely Christian approach. The idea of the cross and the sense of sacrifice it entails call us to a path different from every other.
~ Longing for God by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe
‘Prayer is the deliberate and steadfast action of the soul’ wrote Julian of Norwich. At its most basic level, prayer is simply talking to God, but the nature of prayer – what it is, how it works, how it benefits us and others – has much greater implications.
There are some common misconceptions about prayer that are rarely spoken of within the Church, which is a huge shame. These misconceptions can lead to a sense of distance between oneself and God, diminished relationships with God and with fellow believers, a sense that God isn’t really listening or, worse, an idea that God is like some kind of heavenly slot machine who will give me what I want if only I can pray the right words, or have enough ‘faith’ (this is not faith – this is superstition, hence the inverted commas), or do the right things (this is living by rules instead of grace – also false). But God has never been a heavenly slot machine!
Right through the bible, from the very beginning, God communicates with His people on His terms – and these terms are always those of love, of relationship, not seaside superstition.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1 (NRSVA)
Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe write about Thomas Aquinas’ ideas on prayer in their book ‘Longing for God’. They write that he identified several problems or ‘mistakes’ about the nature and function of prayer:
- The world operates independently of God – in which case it would appear that God is utterly disinterested.
- Everything is fixed – if it is all already fixed, why bother praying?
- God changes His mind. ‘This belief arises out of our temptation to interpret certain passages inadequately, or our egocentric hope that God will soften the consequences we bring into our life by our own actions.’
Further, they say:
‘Prayer is not telling God what we think, or simply thanking Him for His provision of food and drink. Rather, it is our active, intentional effort to understand what God is doing and how we can join Him. Thus through prayer we become co-participants with God. God’s will sets everything in motion. Our will, directed by devotion and prayer, allows us to participate in His purposes.’
Longing for God, Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe
Prayer is a gift, a wonderful gift.
Humility… is a result of seeing ourselves properly. It involves recognising that our gifts and abilities need to be developed further. It understands that others have gifts and abilities as well. Humility allows us to see our role in the greater purposes of God’s design without feeling threatened by the achievements of others.
Foster & Beebe, Longing for God
Happy are those who are humble;
they will receive what God has promised!
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires;
God will satisfy them fully!
Matthew 5:5,6 (GNT)
I think humility is always a good place to begin. This is a kind of motto for me, if ever I am confused or befuddled (which happens to us all more readily than we care to admit). In our me-obsessed world, humility is often confused with weakness or lack of confidence. It is neither. On the contrary, humility is not self-degradation at all but a recognition of the true value of myself and others as children of the Most High God. We are one in Him, so there is no requirement for pride. If I belong to God, I don’t have to be ‘better’, and I can never be ‘worse’. Comparison and all its ugly trappings are gone. Humility is freedom to truly be who God made me to be.
‘…it is God who initiates contact with us, and not our own activity that leads us to God. That being the case, how do we understand our longing for God, and its place in our experience of God’s grace and redemption? Ultimately… we cannot manufacture God’s initiative, but we can prepare for it by orienting our will to Him.’
Foster & Beebe, Longing for God
‘Reason reminds us that we are made in God’s image…’
Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe, Longing for God
My husband wrote an interesting take on this with his post ‘Does God Play Dice.’
I think I have always (somehow) understood that loving Christ requires sacrifice and that there is a deeper learning to be had in the sacrifice. There are paradoxes within paradoxes, it seems to me. St. John of the Cross talks about those of us who are (for whatever reason) weaker needing consolations. It took me a while to figure out what ‘consolations’ are, never having come across the term before two years ago. It is so different to the charismatic/evangelical protestantism of my adulthood, or the wishy-washy, wet-weekend in Portsmouth, middle-class Jesus of the non-conformist churches I grew up in (no offence to Portsmouth). Indeed, the main criticism of the charismatic/evangelical church of my adulthood could be that it focuses too much on ‘consolations’. I am not criticising; as Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe point out in Longing for God, every movement has its flaws. It is wise for us to be aware of them, lest we be deceived into thinking ours is the only ‘right’ way, or that ours is always the ‘best’ way. Everything begins with humility, as Teresa of Avila is so fond of saying.
Maybe people desire consolations because, as Pascal said, human beings operate, spiritually, on different ‘levels’ (I think it was Pascal, it may not have been). It’s all the way through the Interior Castle, too. I know Teresa of Avila wrote to address the needs of her Sisters (she says so in her introduction), and proclaims herself weak, but she does talk often about consolations.
The reality of suffering can make the strongest of us buckle and long for God’s touch with a yearning beyond anything else we will ever know. Suffering can, and does, bring everything into stark, sharp focus. Some of us experience suffering, and darkness, in order to learn the glory of the light. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that and I would hate for someone to be put off God because they’re miserable and think they’re not ‘good enough’. The reality is that none of us are good enough. None of us deserve the consolations that God does give. This isn’t criticism of the post below. Just thoughts. It is a very thought-provoking post, as usual from Contemplative in the Mud. What a blessing!
In conclusion, God is always good, even when life is not, and as Ann Voskamp says, all is grace. Now here’s the original post:
When I was first starting to take Christianity seriously, I read George Macdonald. (He is a Scottish-Protestant writer of sermons and various fantasy stories. You may have heard of him if you’re a C. S. Lewis fan, for C. S. Lewis thought very highly of him.) I liked his books very much. They were some of my first introductions to what Christianity actually looks like, and although I’m obviously not a Protestant, I learned a lot from him.
For one thing, I’ve always taken it for granted that what he said about the purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth is true (I’m paraphrasing): Jesus didn’t come to do everything and then leave us happy but unchanged; he came to make us like him.
And this Jesus died on the Cross. He died to everything and all: physically and also in the deeper things, for his friends abandoned him and…
View original post 115 more words
Addendum (12/11/13): I should perhaps have qualified the comments below by saying what I mean by ‘Evangelical’ and ‘Fundamentalist’, because these can mean different things to different people/cultures. I consider myself Evangelical. I believe it is important to live a life that shares the Gospel and that my life’s purpose is to live out God’s message of Love, as embodied in His Son, and as demonstrated in the New Testament. I would not use the word ‘Fundamentalist’ to describe myself, however. ‘Fundamentalism’ conjures ideas of people for whom being ‘right’ is more important than anything else, even to the point of causing harm; forgetting the call to be humble, to be modest, to be kind, to be loving. I don’t and cannot identify with a Christianity which is so busy being ‘right’ that it forgets Jesus’ most straightforward command – ‘love one another’. On the other hand, some friends/acquaintances who may have fundamentalist tendencies are often ardent and well-meaning. I don’t condemn them, or indeed, anyone. May the peace that passes understanding be with you, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Some Christians, particularly – in my experience – some Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians, maintain a stringent grasp of anti-intellectualism. They cling to it as to a life raft in a stormy sea. Anyone who disagrees with them, so they say, must be a heretic, a snake in the grass, etc. This is wrong.
God gave you a brain so that you can use it. Just don’t get the idea that you know anywhere near as much as He does. Because you don’t. That is called ‘pride’ and it’s a sin that often gets forgotten in sermons. For some reason… Your brain is a pea drifting aimlessly in the wide expanse of the infinite universe (compared to God).
Nonetheless, there was certainly an intellectual tradition in Jesus’ time. This is why everyone was so amazed when as a young boy He was found arguing with the scholars in the Temple (see Luke 2:41-52) and why time and again in later life He argued with the religious scholars who made a name for themselves by being cleverer than everyone else (and by wielding this as a weapon instead of using it as a love-gift). As Followers of Christ we must maintain an intellectual curiosity about life, the world, etc., (as far as we are able with whatever intellectual gifts we have been given). To do anything less is to bury our talents and serve them up to God untouched and under-utilised (see Matthew 25:14-30). But that’s not where it ends.
It is common in British culture for the intellect to be prized above all else. Indeed, intellectualism is prized so highly that it becomes a ‘religion’ in and of itself. This too is wrong.
‘Social observers refer to our society today as a ‘knowledge society’… The problem with living on the order of the mind is that if we do not rise above it, we develop arrogance in our knowledge and know-how… Pascal suggests that people who live on the order of the mind and do not learn to use reason properly inevitably develop a pride that blinds them to areas where they are ignorant or ill-informed, including their need for God.’
Foster & Beebe. (2010). Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion. London: Hodder & Stoughton.