Monthly Archives: April 2016

The progress of my soul

(Having recently read Fr. Stephen’s post at Glory to God for All Things (click here to read), I felt moved to write a bit on “progress”. Certainly my aim is not to contradict any of Fr. Stephen’s excellent points – but rather to take the discussion in a slightly different direction.)

Is my soul making progress on its way toward God?

O yes it is – it is!

How can I be so sure? Well, let me tell you what Jesus said:

Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. (Matthew 7: 9 – 11)

Jesus has taught me that His Father is my Father and that I can ask Him for anything. Jesus even invited me to be on intimate terms with our Father, so intimate that I can call Him, “Abba”.

And so, every day, I call upon my Abba. I thank Him, I praise Him and I ask Him for help. I ask Him for many things, for myself and others. I ask for the Holy Spirit to bring His gifts, to work in me and through me.

I cannot imagine that my Abba does not give these good things to me. (If He did not, that would make the words of Jesus untrue and that cannot be.) Because He is my Abba – and I am but a child – I trust that He knows what I need and exactly how to take care of me.

I do not know, but He knows.

Of course, my Abba wants me to find my way to Him. This is why He made me. He never wanted me to get lost like this – but He hasn’t given up on me. If He had, He wouldn’t have sent Jesus to find me. And He wouldn’t have sent the Spirit to teach me.

So I trust that my soul is making progress. The funny part though is that, with me being but a child, I don’t always know when I’m going forward or when I’m going backward. In fact, I’m the worst judge of this there can be.

Sometimes my Father has pointed this out to me, a bit sharply even, but always with love.

I might think proudly that I have made great progress because I am praying often and with great joy. (I might even secretly think that I am holier than the others who don’t go to church or pray.)

But Abba has a good cure for this pride of mine. He takes away all the joy! I didn’t realize at first that He was doing this – it didn’t seem like the sort of thing my Father would do. But then, slowly, I understood.

It was His way of showing me how I did without Him. Ugh. That should have been enough to teach me not to take credit for His gifts!

Unfortunately, however, me being but a child, I learn slowly and make the same mistakes over and over. Abba is so kind and loving though that He doesn’t hold back His gifts for long.

When I repeat my mistakes and am struggling in the joyless place, sometimes I think I have gone backward. I think I am getting farther from God than ever.

But I am no judge. From what people tell me, these times may be when I am learning and growing the most. If God were teaching me to swim, I’d be learning more when my feet were kicking and my arms were swinging than when He was just holding me up, now wouldn’t I?

Not being able to make sense of all of this backward and forward stuff, how can I know I’m making any progress toward God at all? Could I be such a disobedient child that I will never find my way to Abba?

Such a thought sure is scary. I know I can be pretty disobedient at times – even though sometimes I don’t realize it until later, when He shows me what I did.

But I’ve learned that I don’t really have to be scared. Jesus told me that I just need to keep asking and our Father, who loves me even more than my earthly parents, will give me what I need.

I know that I am making progress – I’m not just spinning my wheels. But I know this, not because I’m good or because I’m getting better in some way, but because I trust Him. I trust that He’s doing in me what He promised to do. He’s making me a new creation. Without Him, I’d never be anything.

He is my Abba and I love Him. But even this is true only because He loved me first and is now showing me what love means. He sent Jesus to find me and now He lives in my heart. And His Spirit is always here with me. I’m never alone.

With all of these gifts, even a lost child like me cannot stay lost forever. He just keeps drawing me closer and closer – as long as I ask.

And I pray that I never stop asking. But even if in my foolishness I do stop asking, He will come knocking at my door. That’s how much He loves me.

I just can’t help but trust Him. He is my Abba…

A good paint job

I lived most of my childhood in a lovely house on 12th Avenue in south Minneapolis. My earliest childhood memory is walking through the back door of this house for the very first time at age 3. It was a splendid new place with lots of room, a yard and only a few dark, scary places in the basement.

As a young child, of course, I had no understanding of what it meant to have to fix up a house after moving in. I had no particular standards for how things should be, as long as Mom and Dad were there, the house was warm enough in the winter (barely!) and there was food to eat. Our survival was never in question and I was blessed to feel secure in my new home.

However, as time went on, my father did a lot of fixing up. Again, it wasn’t anything I thought about. It was as normal as snow storms in winter. I used to spend long hours watching him at work. Some rooms had wallpaper on them that my father scraped off with great care. It didn’t matter how many layers had been there. It came off.

My father did a meticulous job. Perhaps this was because he was a chemical engineer whose career revolved around paint. Perhaps it was just his personality. In any event, if there was old paint on a window frame, it all had to be scraped off before any new paint could be applied. This meant the application of a paint stripper and the painstaking scraping of every little groove. Sanding to ensure a smooth surface was often a necessity as well.

I have fond memories of the summer the garage door had to be painted. Now that was a big job, approached in quite a different manner. Naturally, the old paint had to come off first. Endless hours of fascination ensued, watching my father wield a propane torch, then scrape; burn, then scrape. He was always very careful and, as much as I’m sure I would have liked a turn with it, I never got one.

It wasn’t until my early adulthood that I came to realize that not everyone approached a paint job like my father. When I moved into urban neighborhoods, typically older houses that had been divided into rental units, I discovered all sorts of horrors. Not only were there many layers of paint piled one on top of the other, there were places where people had obviously painted over flaking paint with little or no attempt to scrape.

How could this be? It did not take me long to realize that most property owners (of decaying properties in decaying neighborhoods) simply didn’t care to put in the work. They just wanted to touch things up enough so that they could move in new tenants.

Strange that all of this imagery should come to me this evening – while celebrating Eucharist with a small group of the faithful in Cleveland’s near west side. I was blessed tonight with the privilege of proclaiming the Scripture from the Acts of the Apostles (5: 17-26):

Then the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy, laid hands upon the apostles and put them in the public jail.

But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, “Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.” When they heard this, they went to the temple early in the morning and taught.

When the high priest and his companions arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin, the full senate of the Israelites, and sent to the jail to have them brought in. But the court officers who went did not find them in the prison, so they came back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked and the guards stationed outside the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” When they heard this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss about them, as to what this would come to. Then someone came in and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are in the temple area and are teaching the people.” Then the captain and the court officers went and brought them in, but without force, because they were afraid of being stoned by the people. (emphasis mine)

In another translation, the emphasized words read, “tell the people all about this new Life”. Last year, in the Easter season, I wrote of this very same passage (The new life). But what strikes me this year is the need for the stripping down to nothing that must occur in my life before I can fully receive the new.

And this is where the image of my father entered my mind unbidden. Stripping, scraping, burning, sanding away every last bit of the old paint before he applied the new. He didn’t just slap another coat on over the old – to hide its flaws or dinginess. No, he worked with great care. Remove the old. Then apply the new.

In His grand design, our Father in heaven works with a similar level of care. Once we left His way, falling into sin and death, His plan was neither to abandon us nor to simply cover over our brokenness with repetitious rituals, hiding from us the reality of our true state. No, He made a plan, born of Himself, to give us a new life.

In this plan, we have work to do. Much like the “strip, scrape, burn, sand” of my father’s toil, we must labor to remove the layers of old life, of false life – of what is broken, sick or damaged. We must strive to strip away everything that is not Him.

Is there anything I would not give up for the Lord?

This question both haunts and inspires me forward in the labor. Not just thinking of the possessions in my life, though certainly there are too many of them. But what of other aspects of my life? Would I be willing to give up my reputation? My career? My family? My intellect? My ability to walk or see or hear?

It is not that I anticipate God asking me to give up all of these things – but the surrender of any or all of them could be part of the plan at any point.

Is there anything I would not give up for Him?

Of course, of myself, I cannot do this. Hence, even the effort to strip myself down to nothing for the new life is not something I can accomplish without the help of His Spirit. But I must be willing. Even more, I must want to with all of my heart.

If all I want is a quick coat of paint to hide my defects, the world will give me that in a hurry.

If I want a new life in Christ, I must offer myself to be stripped down by His love until nothing remains but the bare wood.

The bare wood of the Cross.

My life, my hope, my salvation…

Divine Mercy

I have been a bit neglectful of this blog because of giving much of my time and attention to the book reflection at Here to Pray. However, in the Catholic tradition, today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a special day for understanding, receiving and becoming the Mercy of God on this Second Sunday of our Easter celebration. (I am aware that my Orthodox readers are still in Great Lent but God’s Mercy is, of course, every day.)

I am not going to write of the Feast or the saint who experienced the revelations related to it – for I have not studied them in depth. But I do know of His mercy – and need to know it more and more until I am transformed by it. I long for it, I desire it more than anything.

I asked God this morning if I could have a little something today – some words, an image – to express this wondrous Mercy of His. He gave me the simple crayon drawing below, which I share with you. It is, of course, completely inadequate as any effort to portray Him will be. I made no attempt at His features, only to draw His love – as though that were possible…

Wash in His Mercy, bathe in His love. Rest in Him who alone makes all things right, no matter how wounded or broken they be. Allow Him to give you everything you need and be forgiven of all. Allow Him to take your heart into His and transform it, that the light of this moment may shine on and on…

Divine Mercy Sunday