By jay chambers
Silhouette pines bush the night’s hair,
her dark wondering locks tossed down around my shoes.
Tall, slender rhododendrons wear their bridal gowns to bed
And tonight the star-map above my head
could guide you to the palace of God.
My thumping heart is one room in that great residence,
this silver clearing is another.
I need space in my life in order to speak low and tender with my Lord as the above poem written by my brother describes so beautifully. This space is best fostered when I practicing silence, solitude, and Sabbath. They are a part of the rhythm of my life—like favorite rooms. And after all these years of resting in these rooms, I have something new to share about my time in solitude and silence. For me these go together like matching socks.
The discipline of silence is interesting to attend to with the changing seasons here in the mountains. The wind through the pines and the swooshing feathered flight of birds overhead; the bark and chatter of squirrels in the woods.
In the winter, the air is cold and silent. No birds are singing. The squirrels are less active. Thus the silence is quite loud. Only the crunch of snow under my boots. I would have thought the whisper of God would have been more noticeable, but it wasn’t. Perhaps He is cuddling with the squirrels—keeping them warm.
This quote resonated with me about the current egocentric approach to Christianity:
I’m increasingly uncomfortable with current images of God found in books and workshops that mix popular psychology with a theology wholly devoted to self-realization. They seem to reverse the first question of the catechism I studied as a child, declaring that “the chief end of God is to glorify men and women, and to enjoy them forever.” I really don’t want a God who is solicitous of my every need, fawning for my attention, eager for nothing in the world so much as the fulfillment of my self-potential. One of the scourges of our age is that all our deities are house-broken and eminently companionable. Far from demanding anything, they ask only how they can more meaningfully enhance the lives of those they serve. ~ Fierce Landscapes, by Belden Lane
Of course this is why I enjoy walking in the wild and living in the mountains. It is hard to think of oneself as uber significant while living at the base of a fourteen-thousand-foot mountain. I bask in the thought of being “The Beloved” of the Father and I know that mankind is the crown of God’s creation, but the wilderness reminds me of how transcendent He is. My innate narcissism needs that constant reminder. I feel small in the wild and at the same time I feel as if the Creator-God is closer than my breath.
But in spite of my closeness with the one who calls me “Beloved”, there are those times when my demons come a callin’.
I found a process I have that has helped me when I feel an unwanted emotion. It is called “Welcoming Prayer.” I found it in as book called Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, by Cynthia Bourgeault
The three-step process is as follows:
- Focus and Sink In
- Let Go
Here is how I used in in my life: I am unusually sensitive to the approval and disapproval of men and yet I became a pastor. Go figure. I have found over the decades of serving God in the Church that I am either the hero or the goat. I don’t mind being the hero, but I loathe being the goat. I want to be liked. I want, nay, crave the approval of my congregants. It is my drug of choice. They don’t always cooperate.
A man shared with me a minor criticism from someone in the fellowship. It surprised me how much the criticism hurt my heart. I would have thought after all these years I would have grown past that. My head knew better—consider the source—, but my heart was wounded. I felt the desolation of God. Then I remembered this process, Welcoming Prayer.
The only way I could, in good conscience, practice this prayer was to try to obey Christ’s admonition to “love your enemies.” Enemies not being the criticizer, but the accompanying emotions of failure or inadequacy.
I thought, “How would I love my enemy?” The same way I would love my friend—invite them into my home for a meal. So, I invited the scary emotion of ‘fear of failure’ into a deep place in my heart, I focused on it. I smiled at it. I imagined opening my arms wide and asking it into my living room and to sit down on my couch while I finished preparing a meal of Apple cider glazed chicken, wild rice, and asparagus.
We didn’t speak. We just looked at each other. Me with a benign gaze, it with a menacing smirk. The more I cooked the less menacing the look. I offered the meal to it. It wouldn’t eat. It was time to go. I opened the door and bid farewell.
I’d like to believe that it will never return, but I am not that naive. Funny thing is when I began to clear the table of the meal I had prepared for my enemy, I found myself smiling and feeling another warm presence in the room—faint smell of a Carpenter that had worked hard all day in his shop.
And suddenly the painful room was changed into a palace.