Lord, I’m tired, worn out and if i’m honest, a little scared. There seems to be so much you are calling me into–it looks like too much for me to handle. But I can’t deny you’ve given it to me. It’s huge and awkward, like an over-sized beach ball, but it’s not heavy. In my quiet moments, I marvel at what you’ve entrusted to me. But today is not a quiet moment. Today I am feeling the chaos of to-do lists, detailed emails, articles to type, jobs to quote, family to attend to. I’m not able to make myself present to you. Would you, in your grace, dear Lord, make yourself present to me? Calm my flighty heart and speak peace to my whirling thoughts. Speak to the little fear, and give me greater love. Let me attend to you as you tend me and embrace your quiet and compassionate presence so that the works of my hands would be strengthened to do your will. Amen.
I’ve been teaching adult Sunday school this fall and we’ve been looking at things that will help us “return to our first love,” Jesus. So far we’ve talked about reclaiming our love of God’s Word, reclaiming God’s promises, and we just started in on learning to hear better from God. To do this, we’re back in the Bible, specifically, the Gospels where Jesus encounters ordinary people who get their minds blown by what he has to say.
Today, let’s take Nathaniel. Jesus first calls Philip, and then Philip tells Nathaniel, hey, I found the guy who the law & the prophets talk about. (Read the full story in John 1:43-51.) This is where Nathaniel famously makes his remark “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” As Nathaniel is walking down the road towards Jesus, Jesus says
“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathan′a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathan′a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
I have always found this an obscure passage! Why did Nathaniel make that comment about Nazareth? Why did Jesus say Nathaniel was “an Israelite indeed?” Was he being sarcastic? And why was it so important to Nathaniel that Jesus saw him under the fig tree?
One thing that is clear, however, is that Nathaniel recognized something different about Jesus, something that he was open to. And Jesus, in turn, was able to say exactly the thing–the very specific thing–that caused Nathaniel to have a revelation of who Jesus truly is. An incomplete revelation, but nonetheless very full and rich. Nathaniel proclaims the Gospel as he understands it in that moment. It is because of Nathaniel’s openness and recognition that Jesus promises him even greater things–Nathaniel is going to have his spiritual eyes opened wide to see the comings & goings of heaven.
There are three things I want you to note from this passage. The first is that Nathaniel spent time in the scriptures. This is implied in two ways; first, it’s clear Philip and Nathaniel have studied the Torah (the law) and the prophets together. We also know (from a note in a good study Bible) that a fig tree is known as a place for study and prayer. Nathaniel was a good student of the Word of God. Secondly, Nathaniel expected to see God at work in the world. Again, Philip’s message that the one written about in the law & prophets was here indicates that both he and Nathaniel were on the lookout for the Messiah. Granted, their idea of a earthly kingdom wasn’t what God intended, but they were on the lookout and that’s the important thing here. Third, it appears Nathaniel called it like he saw it. He had no guile, no deceit. Even his comment, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was an honest one. Jesus recognizes this about him–he is a “true Israelite,” a model Israelite, if you will.
Nathaniel is studying the scriptures, looking for God at work, and making honest assessments about the world around him. Jesus affirms these traits in Nathaniel and because of them is able to reach something deep inside him that makes him proclaim the truth of who Jesus is.
What do we need to hear from God, to encounter Jesus? Immersion in the Word, openness and an honest expectation that God is at work.
There’s not much we do as thoughtlessly as breathing. We should thank God for that. Can you imagine concentrating on something so hard that you forget to breathe and find yourself passed out on the floor–or worse? Unlike our heart rate, all of us have some control over our breathing. When we regulate our breathing we can convince our bodies to calm down and let go of accumulated stresses. How often have you been coached “just take a deep breath” in the middle of a stressful situation? Something as simple as inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly has a direct affect on our physical bodies and can also have a calming affect on our minds.
To me, I can see at least 2 spiritual practices that pertain to breathing. The first is a simple awareness of the stresses your body is carrying around and releasing those to Jesus. The second is actually imagining God’s presence coming to you through your breathing in a practice called “breath prayers.” Today we’ll practice the awareness piece.
Find a comfortable place and position for yourself, seated or lying down, it doesn’t really matter. Set aside 5-10 minutes for this practice. If you get easily distracted by wondering how much time has passed, set a timer–although try to make it a gentle chime rather than a disruptive buzz.
With a hand on your abdomen, take a deep breath through your nose. Try to fill your lungs to their capacity–you should push your hand out in front of you.
Now, exhale slowly through your mouth. Try to push the air out of your lungs from your abdomen up–your hand should come in towards your body.
Repeat this several times.
Breathe normally and pay attention to your body. Is there anything that seems tight that shouldn’t be? Or perhaps something kept coming into your mind and interrupted your concentration on your breathing?
Envision Jesus standing in front of you, and put that worry, that stress, that tightness in his hands. Let yourself imagine what he does with it.
Make sure you keep breathing! As you exhale, you may need to release that stress or worry again, or even repeatedly.
When your time is up, change position slowly and reflect. How do you feel compared to when you started? Were you able to let go of any difficult life circumstances or stresses and put them in Jesus’ hands? Do you think this might be a helpful practice for you to continue?
For a more straightforward approach to deep breathing exercises, I found this Christian counselling practice’s page. To avoid the rather labored version of Pachelbel’s Cannon, just turn down your computer’s sound or refuse to let the page use Flash.
WordPress can be a little pushy when it comes to blogging. They offer advice like:
- Post twice a week–every day is best!
- Check out other people’s blogs and “like” them. Better yet, post a comment and they’ll return the favor.
- Share your posts with your social networks. Build those social networks!
- Link to other blogs, or reblog other blogs, or blog about other blogs.
- Check out your stats regularly to see where people are visiting your site from and build those relationships.
All of this advice is designed to do one thing: “build traffic” or encourage other people to visit your site. This is good advice, if your goal is to have more and more visitors, to reach a wider and wider audience, to broaden your sphere of influence. Being important is what’s important, right?
There have been times when I’ve been driven to post more on my blog by my site views and click throughs. For someone who likes to be seen as “the expert,” it’s a huge temptation to build a sphere of influence on my own little corner of the web. But as blogging become a spiritual discipline for me, I’ve become more concerned about the state of my soul and the sincerity and truthfulness of what I post. Taking the time to reflect on the greatness of God and how I see that play out in my own life is becoming its own reward, as opposed to the “liking” of others.
I may never move beyond the audience of the 30 or so of you who check in each week. But that’s OK. My tiny, humble slice of cyberspace merely reflects my life among the millions and millions of other lives. The smallness of it doesn’t negate its importance in my own life and in some of yours. In this slice of space, God is glorified and his path is illuminated. To God be the glory, each and every moment of each and every day, in each and every post. Amen.
Shortly I’ll be sitting in the optometrist’s chair with one of those vision testing gizmos perched on my nose. My vision has never been good (that I’m aware of) but in the last year or so it’s been very bad. Gummy eyes from allergies, my first ever astigmatism, and it is, I’m afraid to say, probably time for bifocals.
Despite my poor eyesight I am used to seeing quite well. The technology exists to take someone like me who wears -9.0 contact lenses and correct them to 20/20 vision. Today we’ll be testing to see if technology can still make up the deficits of my aging eyes.
This past year I’ve been thinking a lot about seeing clearly and guessing at how poorly I must be seeing spiritually. With allergy eyes, having 20/20 vision is a day-by-day, minute-by-minute thing. My spiritual vision falls into the same category. I often feel as though I’m in a fog, groping for something familiar in a place I don’t recognize. Fortunately for me, the Holy Spirit still blows through my life and lives of those around me. Sometime I feel blind, but I can still sense the wind of the Spirit and turn into it, letting it orient me like a weather vane.
Lord, give me ways to find my way towards you and to help those around me find their own paths to you as well. Bless those who cannot see, but are trusting you in their blindless to lead them to their home in you. Amen.
Last night, when I was taking out an certain unnamed dog to do her business, the word “entrust” popped into my mind. It seemed to express something I was feeling and desiring, a true burden I’d been given by the Lord–the kind that Jesus describes as “light,” but still present.
I’ve recently gained two new directees/companions. This increases my number of directees to 2 or 3, depending on how you count. I am thrilled. I’ve wanted for a number of years now to be a spiritual director, really even before I understood what it was. My spirit is swelling with a great “YES!” that this ministry is coming to pass. And yet….these women are trusting me with their spiritual lives. That entrustment is both a gift to me and a solemn responsibility. Normally, responsibly is my nemesis, but in this instance, it seems properly balanced. I am not ultimately responsible for their lives, but I am responsible to be present to them, to pray with them, to share the burdens they share with me and to interceed for them.
This morning, as the word “entrust” came to me again, another phrase came, too; “compassionate presence.” I lived this phrase last year. It seems to me to sum up the attitude and aspect of the spiritual director. To be a wide, shallow bowl into which others can pour themselves, let themselves settle, and then look into to see themselves in relfection; I don’t just want this to describe me, I want this to be who I am.
Today has been a quiet day, so I’ve been able to let these two words bubble up within me from time to time. I let them linger inside me and I pray them and whatever comes out of them: gratitude, surrender, a little grief, concern and intercessions, settled-ness, quiet joy. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit. Let me reflect your glory.