Saturday, May 1, 2010

Trying to Get to a Peaceful Place

When we begin to feel that we are not living our lives, but our lives are living us, then we begin to long for a place of rest, where we can restore our ability to make decisions, take actions, relax, instead of simply responding to pressures that keep coming our way.

People talk about feeling like they are "on a treadmill" that won't stop, or "on a rollercoaster" that just keeps going.

But, where does the pressure really come from? Although there may be a number of external pressures, responsibilities to job, family, friends, etc., the real pressure comes from within.

The treadmill, the rollercoaster, is an inner reality and experience. Going to an externally peaceful place may help one find an internally peaceful place, but the key experience is the internal one. That is the place where we experience our world most intensely. Within us is a place where we negotiate our interactions, make sense of our engagement and disengagement with life.

At times, this inner place feels like a place of defeat. At other times, it feels like a place of celebration. And, then at other times, it feels like a planning room, or an artist's studio, or a workshop. And, then, at times, it feels like a place of freedom and rest and joyful anticipation.

Sometimes we get to the point of interpreting our engagements in life in a negative way. By negative, I mean we understand our relationships, responsibilities in a way that diminishes our joy in living and may diminish the joy of others that deal with us. When this is happening, it is due to an inner imbalance, an inner depletion of liveliness. And, we are in need of restoration - from the inside out.

And, restoration and renewal may begin as we change our outer circumstances in a way that allows our inner lungs room to breathe, awaken, and begin to nourish and restore our joy in living.

Back in the days of ancient Israel, when Isaiah was a prophet, Israel was particularly interested in making alliances with powerful nations in order to insure their survival as a people in a dangerous world. After all, Israel was a small nation beside the great powers of Assyria and Egypt.

And, God inspired Isaiah to speak these words to an anxious nation: "In quietness and trust is your strength; in rest and returning you will be saved."

Before these words were spoken, Isaiah had been talking about the futility of putting trust in horses and chariots (military strength) and the futility of putting trust in Egypt or Assyria (political alliances with strong nations).

And, of course, there are many ways to respond to situations of anxiety. In a sense, being human is an anxious situation. We might seek our security in friends and family. We might seek our security in money and property. We might seek our meaning and security in keeping everybody happy. We might seek our security in keeping our reputation untarnished. We might seek meaning in our achievements at work or elsewhere. We might seek our security and meaning in pursuit of pleasure. And, all of these ways of engaging in life are alright when they are in balance, but to have balance in our desires and actions requires a profound inner stillness. It requires a profound "inner balance." If we have this, then we have a solid foundation to stand on. We have a sane standpoint from which to see and experience life.

But, the pathway to this inner balance is a mysterious one. The prophet Isaiah certainly points to it. "In quietness and trust is your strength; in rest and returning you will be saved."

This quietness and trust is that of Psalm 131. This rest and returning that saves - what is it?

Or, better, how does one do it?

In spiritual matters, we often talk of a "static" state of being (being at peace, having faith, having joy). We encourage and exhort each other at church and synagogue and mosque to "trust in God, be at peace, etc." But, what do we say to each other about how to get there? What can we tell each other about what the path is like? Instead of talking about a place of peace, maybe I ought to start talking here about the "way to peace."

Is the life of faith a clear destination that we have arrived at and can claim with confidence (e.g., "I'm saved") or is the life of faith more like being on a journey towards a desired but unknown land?

It feels more and more like a journey, a pilgrimmage towards the promised land, and like Israel, there is some real wandering in the wilderness for those who trust in God. Because, God does not reveal himself in the uplifting manifestations we would like at times, but reveals himself in the 'still small voice,' and in the unlikeliest of places like in the body of Jesus being tortured and executed on a cross of wood.

We have not been given a religious treasure that we can possess or claim or hold or store up. We have been invited onto a path. We have been called to follow. We are called into a future, into a journey, the outlines of which have been revealed to us in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a journey that is taken in trust, in hope, in love, and in forsaking all other allegiances but the deep and abiding allegiance to the living God and Father of Jesus Christ.

And, we have been given inner resources, but those are not in our possession either. We have to find the path to that inner sanctuary, that inner oasis, as well. And, the inner journey is maybe even more mysterious and unpredictable than the outer journey. There are wanderings within as a man, woman or child tries to find that which is holy, that which is pure, that which, as George Fox says, "leads you up to God." But, like a hard hike to a beautiful mountaintop, like a difficult path to a beautiful waterfall and pool below - that is what the inner exercise can be. There is an inner exertion and discipline that is similar to the outer exertion and discpline necessary to reach a place of beauty and rest and renewal. And, the journey each time is a little different, or even a lot different, but there is a common feel to it. There is a way of living in trust, and hope, and love, and in yearning for justice and good for everyone. There is a way of celebration of the very goodness and mystery of God - the Creator, Judge and Redeemer of all the world. But, it is something we can seek out and it comes to us as a gift amidst the struggle. It is not something "we have inside of us," but a relationship we discover within that is deeper than life itself. And, this journey is something we can share with each other; in fact, it may be that we simply can't take this journey alone - without trust. For the journey of faith is about discovering the mysterious union of love of God and love of human beings. The one comes in the other, with the other, arising from the one in whom all things hold together -Jesus, the Christ, the one in whom God was and is reconciling the world to himself and us to each other.

To experience that reconciling presence in the depths of the soul is to feel life itself at work. This holy experience is deep within and between us and others.

But, as you experiencing reconciliation, you become aware of alienation: from yourself and from others. The presence of God awakens a sense of alienation, because once we experience what it is like to be "at home" with ourselves, others, and God, we begin to realize how often we are "far from home."

But, we must experience this alienation in life; it is simply part of sharing in flesh and blood. The person who is most lost is the one who is lost and doesn't know it. But, there is no other way to live than to wander into the wilderness -that is the only way to make it to the promised land. And, we wander in faith and hope and love - these three, but the greatest of these is love.

Jesus wandered in faith deeper into alienation from human beings and from God than anyone. And, that is why he cried out from the cross: "my God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!?"

And, from Jesus' place of deepest alienation, God began the re-creation of life through reconciliation. If we trust God like this, and love human beings like this, then we will find ourselves in the experience of alienation. And, just at the point where we have had all we can stand and begin to cry out: "My God, my God . . . ," God begins to re-create and reconcile through us. Because we have been drawn into the beautiful, joyful, stubborn, recreative, persistent power at the center of life that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11. And, in Paul's experience of deepest alienation, he says: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." Somehow in the depths of his brokenness and alienation from life, Paul discovered this upsurging of new life. 2 Cor. 1:8-11. This is an inner discovery, an outer discovery - when we are reconciled to that which is inside of us and that which is outside of us.

These are some thoughts I am having as I try to find the way of peace.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Hunger for Peace and Grace and Truth

In today's society, there is a noticable hunger for peace and grace and truth. People don't come to church anymore looking for something real showy or fancy - they can get that on T.V. or in the movie theatre or over the internet. No, what people look for in church these days is something real, something humble, something decent, something free of anger and compulsion.

Churches used to make a living by fussing at people through teachings and interpretations of scripture meant to control and change people, but people like me and others in society, aren't looking to be fussed at. We want someone to speak a sane word to us like we mattered, like we shared the same reality and struggles of the speaker.

In today's society, people are looking for an unpretentious church, a place to worship in truth, a place to worship in peace.

So long as we want to bring our anger to church, our desire to control and our need for applause, people will find other places to be - other places where they might worship God in spirit and in truth.