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Archive for May, 2010

Because this was one of the most profound dreams that I have ever had (and it has stuck vividly with me over the past 8 years) and because I actually reference it often, I thought I would write it out here.  (The bulk of this was taken from a MySpace blog that I wrote in 2005, though I have filled in the rest of the dream somewhat.)

In the spring of 2002, I had a dream I will never forget. It was a wondrous dream, stemming out of books I’d been reading (‘Great Divorce’ by CS Lewis and ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyon) and an intense passion for holiness and purity and serving God that stemmed out of my internship with AIM the fall before, the New Testament class I was taking with Dr. Fairchild and even recent conversations I’d been having with friends.

And in the dream I came to a great and wide river. It was a turbulent river and on the other side was God’s country (as best as I can define what I understood in my dream). I was not alone, there were others who stood beside me.  And though it wasn’t in the dream (or I simply don’t remember it), we had all been on this journey together.  And when we had at last come to the border of God’s country, there was this river. And I knew we had to cross it. But the river was a river of fire. Everyone hesitated. But something drew me on. I knew I had to trust God that it was okay for me to cross. So I went right in.

And I remember that the river burned, the pain was real and yet somewhat distant as though a memory after the fact. It hurt, but it did not kill. I was not sure how long I was in the river, but I came to the other side. And when I did I was surprised to see that the heavy backpack which I had carried upon my back was now empty. All the weight had burned away. I felt light and clean and pure…
In fact, I woke still feeling light and clean and pure.  And that feeling lasted almost all day long.  I have had nightmares which I can’t seem to shake for  hours or days.  But this – this was wonderful and I would not have wanted to “shake it” even had I been able to….

It was actually a two part dream.  The second part was rather weird (and perhaps somewhat heretical) and involved God’s country having (or being) a cafe with high tables and in the center of the tables were miniature Hershey bars.  And they had to be small because even just a little taste was so pure and so real chocolate that you could hardly stand it.  It was marvelous! And God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit (in body – hence a bit of tritheism there) were serving us in this cafe.  And I, like Peter, didn’t feel that was right.  I should be the one serving, I kept thinking… and so that second part of my dream was bizarre and it has had its own meanings and implications in my life.

But the river of fire has stuck with me.  Though more faded than I’d like, the memory of it is almost still tangible.  As though even now I can somehow remember the feel of the burning and of feeling so clean and pure.  And this dream has resurfaced over the years in a myriad of ways.  And I suspect God will continue to bring it to mind as He continues to work in my life…

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I think often things come upon us and when we get through them we look back and see how God used that to work out something in our lives that needed worked out… Though there are times, and perhaps more frequent for those who are contemplative by nature or highly aware of their own spiritual journey, when we can see what God is working in us in the midst of it.  But have you ever known ahead of time what was coming up?

I haven’t even hit the curve yet, where the road bends back around that huge precipice which blocks my sight.  I’m not there yet.  I can’t even really see it.  But I know it’s coming.  I know the road will be rough and the terrain unfamiliar and the vegetation won’t agree with my stomach and the flowers will give off a smell that is almost too much for me.  I will meet strange creatures which I will fear but who are really only trying to befriend me…  Yes, somehow I know the road ahead.  And though I continue forward, I do so almost with a fear and trepidation.

Three things have begun to be woven into my life.  Or, rather, there are three strands which have now taken on a distinctive color and have captured my eye and are coming closer and closer together on the tapestry.  (And yes, I switched metaphors – I do that frequently.)  First of all, over the past couple of months, and perhaps through a particular friendship, I have become more and more aware of my OCD tendencies and how they affect little parts of my life.  I had already become aware in grad school that when I get stressed, I clean and organize more – as if trying to control the portions of my life that are left to my control!  But in recent months more little aspects of the OCD have been seen (and understood) more plainly.  Numbers, organization, order, lack of spontaneity, lists, patterns, social issues and control.

Control has also come up a great deal in the book I’m reading.  Invitation to a Journey frequently mentions how even when we have a relationship with God we try to control it and grow on our terms.  Over and over again – or perhaps I simply pick it out because I need to – he talks of relinquishing control fully to God.  In every aspect.  And to be honest, he mentions many areas in which I had never thought of control as being controlled or controlling.

And then there’s mime.  Mime.  O how I love mime!  I love the beauty of body and space and movement and expression and creating stories without saying a word.  I love the silence and depth.  I love the technique and teaching and creating and performing pieces.  I love mime!  But I hate the box.  I hate statues.  I hate anything that has to do with doing mime “on the street” and I really hate improv.  Now it is true that I enjoy mime improv more than speaking improv. And it is also true that I have already come a ways in growth with improv – in fact, I taught a mime improv class at the National Creative Arts Festival back in 2006.  But that’s just it.  I taught.  And to teach you have to have a plan.

I like plans.  I dislike improv.

I have come to realize more fully over the past few weeks (but it’s been gradually culminating for months) that the reason I hate telling random people that I am a mime is that I fear they will ask me to demonstrate, or to come and “mime” at their party or for a street event.  And the reason I hate this is because I don’t know what to do.  Not that I don’t know technique.  But I don’t know how to let my mind come up with it spur of the moment.  I simply don’t know how to play.  And it’s even worse when others are around.  For then I over analyze and I fear they will lead me down a path I don’t want to go on. (I was the same way in  acting class, always fearing during improv that someone would give me a title or position or past that I didn’t want.)  And, really, what’s at the root of all this?

Control.

There it is again.  And so I clearly sense that God is preparing to work in me on this issue.  And to work hard at that.  And I sense that mime and learning how to play and improv is actually going to be a means to and/or a way to show how God is working in my life.  And is it ever going to be difficult and painful!  I am actually quite scared.

But like that dream I had, where I stood upon the banks of the river of fire, knowing full well I must cross, I will not give the fear a foothold.  I will dive into that river of fire.  For though I may feel the burning of my skin, I know it will not be the death of me.  I will allow the river of fire to burn through me and purge me of this area so that I may come out the other side, pure and clean and light, no longer with that burden on my back…

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So I’ve been doing lectio divina for devotions for a couple months now.  I’d first been introduced to this practice of lectio (reading), meditatio (meditating), oratio (prayer) and contemplatio (contemplation) several years ago in seminary.  I went through a youth guide on lectio and I have a group guide for lectio and then my Beginning Again: Benedictine Wisdom for Living with Illness book shed some more light onto the ancient practice.

But recently, as I am reading Invitation for a Journey, it was brought up and described again.  I realized the other evening that while I am getting better at coming to a quiet place (and stilling my thoughts) and better in the reading and meditating and even the oratio part, I had been pretty much forgetting the contemplatio part!

Most of the books I had read simply describe that part as sitting silently in the presence of God.  Like those times when you are with someone very close to you and whom you love deeply and you just sit in silence together, the presence of the other person being enough without having to talk or be at some activity.

But Mulholland brought a new picture to my mind.  He used Psalm 131:2 to describe the contemplatio portion of lectio divina:

But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

And you know how sometimes you can read Bible passages over and over and over and just take for granted that you know the meaning but then someone points something out and you are totally amazed at the light it sheds?  That happened.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a mother.  But the “like a weaned child” didn’t mean much to me.  The NASB words it this way “”Like a weaned child rests against his mother.”  Mulholland pointed out that a weaned child no longer feeds at his mother’s breasts.  But this resting against her is simply being there, resting, in her presence, not asking or suckling on his own, but simply receiving whatever the mother has to give.

And that stopped me.  Content to receive whatever the mother has to give.  And at that point it is often just presence and peace… and a heartbeat.

You see, that picture of a weaned child content to simply rest upon his mother’s chest has stuck with me the past couple of mornings as I have gone through the lectio divina exercise.  After my reading and meditating and prayers back to God I want to be able to simply sit there and rest in His presence like a child in her father’s lap.  My head upon His chest content and resting like that weaned child upon his mother’s chest… and you know what? …when you are a child resting upon a parent’s chest you can clearly hear the heartbeat.  And your heart begins beating in time with it.

And isn’t that what I want most after all?  To be able to rest in the presence of God, to hear His heartbeat and to have mine adjusted to match His?  His heartbeat for the lost, the hurting, the hungry, the broken, the repentant and the unrepentant…

So I still struggle and strive each morning to engage in this practice of contemplatio.  To simply be still in the presence of God.  To put my head upon His chest and listen to His heartbeat.  And to let Him transform mine.

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Read Philippians 2:12-13 this morning for devotions.  And in my reading of Invitation to a Journey (by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr) the other night he spoke of this text in light of spiritual disciplines.  And he mentioned a necessary tension there.  So I’ve been thinking…

continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

“Work out your salvation” – “It is God who works in you”

which is it?

our work?  or God’s work?

yes.

both.

we can’t not have the one…

… and God asks of us the other.

God’s grace – our obedience

God’s call – our response

God’s transformation – our disciplines

paradox.

tension.

good tension.

needed tension.

hence the “fear and trembling” part

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The other day I was in the bathroom, standing at the sink and I remember looking up and seeing the clock.  And I’m not sure exactly where my thoughts were, but I do remember suddenly thinking, “Jesus, if you – you who are God and Creator – emptied yourself, how much more should I – I who am human and created being – empty myself?”

Then today’s devotional reading was this:

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very natureof a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

And this thread of thought was so clearly woven.  I need to empty myself.  Or, perhaps more rightly, to be emptied.  And I need to be a bond-servant of God and allow God to make me into the likeness of His Son – the likeness of Jesus.  Emptied of myself, servant of God, re-made into the likeness of Jesus.

And just as this emptying and servanthood and being in the likeness of humans meant humility and obedience and death and a cross for Jesus, so this emptying and servanthood and being re-made into the likeness of Jesus requires humility and obedience and death and crosses for me.

And it is not our names which our exalted.  But we strive to exalt God and to proclaim Jesus so that others will choose to humble themselves now, bowing their knees and confessing that Jesus is Lord.  Now.  While they still have opportunity before the end when they have no choice.  (For there will be a day, the day when Jesus is revealed in His glory – and His glory will be so overwhelming that even those who do not choose to serve or bow now will not be able to help but fall to their needs and confess that Jesus is, indeed, the Lord.)

Emptied of myself, servant of God, re-made into the likeness of Jesus.

Which means humility and obedience and death and crosses.

And all of this to the glory of God!

O, Lord, empty me!

And as my reading was turned into these thoughts and these thoughts led to that cry of my heart, the words of a song came to my lips:

Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
And any foolish thing my heart holds to
Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

(The song is “Empty Me” by Chris Sligh and you can watch it with lyrics here.)

O Lord, empty me.

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I am finally stepping forward from the crossroads!

I wrote my “at a crossroads” post on April 10th.  By the 18th I was pretty sure I knew what direction to head, but I felt there was something yet keeping me from embarking on that path.  And there was never a “big” moment, really.  Just lots of little nudges and the more I headed toward the path ahead, the more it seemed that is where I was supposed to be going. But I knew if I was going to dive in, fully, no looking back, I wanted to make sure the water was deep enough!  (Well, so to speak.)

I had an interesting, though good, meeting with my pastor.  About what I sensed God wanting me to do with the gifts and skills and passions He’s given me and if there is a place where I can fit in and serve the local body at my church.  The short and long of it is, there isn’t.  Not now.  In some ways I left with more questions than answers, but it got me seriously thinking about the possibility of needing to move to a bigger area, where arts are more prominent (which is a thought I’ve conveniently avoided for nearly four years).  The meeting also really brought me to the point where I knew the commitment to my path had to be a firm one…

And then there were conversations with my boss (also a pastor) and my parents and a couple of friends.  There were repeated songs that I kept hearing in various places.  There were hints and whispers in my devotional time and prayers.  There was even a wonderful release from a ministry I was about to plunge into that was not where God wanted me.  There were also cropping up hints of opportunities and possibilities and the dream I had been given originally was being revived.

And then there was the overwhelming sense that God was saying to me, “why do you keep standing at this crossroads asking me which path to take when you know very well what path I already had set you on.  Get on it and stick to it.  Don’t wander.”

And perhaps one of the best parts of all this is that I know it’s not going to be easy.  It’s not going to come quickly or easily and it will involve hard work.  And yet I’m filled with an overwhelming joy!  Far different from the good things I’ve gotten involved with that were exciting and hard work and yet did not fill me with joy (but instead left me worn and weary).

I was going to write this post last weekend.  But I am glad I didn’t.  Because we had a prayer meeting Sunday night at church.  I went because I felt that I needed to be there.  No particular reason (and I fought a hundred excuses not to go), but I knew I had to go.  I kinda figured I’d pray for friends who had recently lost loved ones and other requests for friends and family and the like… I didn’t know God wanted me there for myself.  The prayer meeting was organized and included worship and guided prayer and it was very well done.  There was a time of confession.  Began with a group confession and then silent time for our own.  And I felt strongly led to confess my wandering off the path God had put me on and repent (meaning to turn away from the wrong and to the right). And so I did.  Later in the service the altar was opened for personal prayer and I found myself going forward – to consecrate myself for this path and to pray for strength (and physical health) to go forward on it and not look back or wander this time.  And my pastor prayed with me.  So not planned.  So of God!

So here I am, boldly (yet humbly) stepping forward.  The path laid out before me is that of mime and the arts and teaching (and even some performing).  There are low hanging tree branches and hills and uneven turf and sometimes the road winds and sometimes it’s dark and sometimes it’s rainy, but it is the path I must walk.  And I will do so.  With joy.  Because that is where God has called me!

So I’m taking dance classes this month.  In July I’ll be teaching a 5-week mime class at the dance studio (with great floors and mirrors) – and they’re even paying me for it!  My chiropractor was pleased at my last exam and I’ve been exercising and conditioning and stretching regularly.  I’m hoping to offer some more “mime intensives” like I did last summer and there are other opportunities around the corner as well.

God is good.  And I am so thankful for the grace given me even as I have doubted and wandered!

I am stepping forward.

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Was reading Philippians 1:19-26

Christ … be exalted in my body

whether by life or death

to live is Christ…

this will mean fruitful labor for me.

Christ exalted in my body

to live is Christ

and fruitful labor

fruitful labor

not that I produce the fruit…

… but that I remain in Christ

remain

abide

in the life-giving, fruit-producing Vine

abide in Christ

to live is Christ

and this means fruitful labor…

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