Trust in the Slow Work of God
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955)
Welcome to my blog! This is a space where we can ponder together what it means to be transformed into the image of Christ. This transformation is a long journey with many twist and turns but it is one worth taking. If you’d like to know more about how I can come alongside you or your church through the ministries of spiritual formation and direction, please contact me. I’d love to chat.
Here is some of what I’ve been pondering lately:
In the summer of 2015, I had the great privilege of traveling to Guatemala with my cohort from my Master’s program in Spiritual Formation and Leadership through Spring Arbor University. We spent a week there grappling with the relationship between spiritual formation and social justice. On one of our field trips, we went to the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG). AT FAFG, scientists work tirelessly to exhume and identify Guatemalans who were ruthlessly murdered and thrown in mass graves during the Guatemalan civil war. The building is filled with dry bones. One of the verses in Scripture that anchored this trip for us is found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. I was tasked with writing a blog about this day and how these verses impacted me as I walked the halls of dry bones at FAFG. You can check out that blog post here: http://msfl.arbor.edu/2015/07/17/breathing-life-into-dry-bones/.
These verses in Ezekiel 37 have continued to linger with me long after returning to the States. Ezekiel encounters a valley of dry bones, Israelites murdered and thrown into mass graves. All those still alive after the fall of Jerusalem would have had to walk past these bones during their exile to Babylon. In the midst of this horrific tragedy, God calls Ezekiel the prophet to wander around the dry bones. It’s here that Ezekiel and God have a conversation about God’s power over life and death. God re-creates flesh for and breathes life (ruah, Spirit) into these once dead bones. At God’s word, the very breath of God spoken through the prophet, these bones are resurrected. It is a beautiful promise of new life ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, who is the first fruits and pathway to our resurrection into this new life (1 Corinthians 15:20).
As I ponder this breath of God and how it re-animates dead things, I see a beautiful link to formation in Christ. Christian Spiritual Formation is the process of being transformed into the image of Christ. In this process, we cooperate with the Spirit of God who is fashioning us into a people who more naturally allow the life of Christ, His way, to live in and through us. It’s a long process, a slow work that often involves dying so that new life can be breathed into us. In the dying off of our old selfish ways, we become more animated with His Spirit and seed planters of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. We come to more naturally love God and all of His creation. This slow work is a surrender to the Triune God who is represented in Ezekiel 37 and in Jesus….and in us as we let His Spirit do its re-creating work in our lives. For me, this is so much of what spiritual formation is about and why I am so passionate about the ministry. He takes our wounds, the lies we believe, and the masks we wear and gently shows us that they are no longer needed. He invites us to discard them, to die to them so that we can live a life that is a clearer reflection of His image. Are there dry places in your life that need the re-animating, resurrecting breath of God’s Spirit? If so, how will you respond to His invitation to be revived?
Lately I’ve been enjoying a book by Jan Johnson titled Meeting God in Scripture: Forty Guided Meditations. I highly recommend it for those seeking to be transformed by the Word through a slower more meditative reading style. This week, I came across a meditation on Luke 8: 26-39. I have to admit that I have never felt like I could relate to the demon-possessed man from Gerasenes before today. I’d always looked in on this passage from the perspective of Jesus or His disciples. Today was different as I felt my heart pierced by these verses, “For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out in a loud voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me?’” Yes, my heart was pierced and I wanted to believe that it was out of compassion for this man. While I do think that compassion was a part of it, underneath that sense of compassion, I related and it hurt.
It’s not that I relate to demon possession…this would be a different blog entirely if that were the case. No, I related to the tragedy of living in a tomb for a home. I related with the feeling of being alone and confined with no place that felt safe to be loved, seen, and enjoyed. Twenty three years of abuse will do that to a person and I found my heart breaking again with the memory of it all. I wonder why today? So many years have passed since my freedom came and so much time with Jesus breathing new life into me. Why today? I think it’s because old habits and beliefs can rear their ugly heads in times of uncertainty and loss. These past eighteen months have held some significant losses and uncertainties for me and, if I’m honest, I’ve gotten a bit sideways with myself and with God. I have forgotten how He loves me, sees me, and enjoys me. In the forgetting, I’ve also been hiding. Hiding from letting Jesus have at this pain till it was fully transformed into something with wings. I had forgotten how much Jesus wants to be life, home, community, and refuge for me. How is it that getting a bit sideways can cause so much forgetfulness?
Sometimes when I forget all that my God is and has been for me, I can forget that when He comes to me it’s not to torture but to set me free. Yes, I could relate to that part of the Gerasene man’s story too. The question, “Jesus what do you want with me?” and the plea to be dealt with kindly resonated within my soul today. I realize that I had been wincing and holding my breath as if Jesus were coming to do anything other than heal. Old habits and lies emerge under pressure of pain sometimes. But that’s not the end of the story for this man, for me, or for you. You see, Jesus had come to set this man free but all he knew was aloneness, torture, and confinement. He couldn’t see that truth and compassion incarnate were approaching him because he looked at Jesus through the distorted lens of all he had experienced. I can do that too and it keeps me from seeing clearly. How about you?
The passage nears conclusion with the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, restored and clothed. I can’t help but wonder if this took some time. I don’t think clothes appeared out of thin air even though Jesus could surely have done so. No, I think they had time together, they shared words and stories. I wonder if Jesus showed him the mountains and the seas and told the man how much God delighted in creating them and in creating him. I wonder if Jesus told him that His love would never bind him but would always set Him free. I think Jesus invited him home, to make his home in The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even as he sent him on with a mission and purpose to “go and tell” and to experience home in his own community. Full restoration; that is what God does…for the Gerasene man, for me, and for you.
I invite you to read Luke 8:26-39 or any other passage from the Gospels that you feel drawn to and ask the Holy Spirit to give you a holy imagination so you can enter the story. Allow yourself to be there, to taste the dust, to hear the words uttered. Where are you in the story? What stands out for you? What in your life is needing restoration and healing?
The Intimacy Project
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG)
Jesus asks some great questions in this passage from Matthew. Have you ever taken stock of just how tired you are? Do you feel worn out or burned out on religion? Put another way, are you hungry for more than you’ve experienced of God at this point in your journey? If you can answer “yes,” it may be time to explore new ways of meeting with God through different spiritual practices. Throughout the ages, Christians have cultivated deeper intimacy with God by engaging in spiritual practices such as silence, solitude, fasting, and contemplative prayer, just to name a few. These practices help believers connect more intentionally with God, themselves, and others. Through spiritual practices, we can learn the unforced rhythms of grace as we abide in God’s love.
If you are hungry for more of God, the Intimacy Project may be for you. Through the Intimacy Project, you will find a place to learn the unforced rhythms of grace, to remember that God’s love for you is more than you could ever imagine, and to experience that love in safe community. The Intimacy Project was developed by Deb Turnow, a friend and fellow Spiritual Director based out of York, Pennsylvania. The project is an experiential journey consisting of five 2-day retreats over a nine month period. During each retreat, Deb Turnow and her co-facilitator will create the environment for participants to become more aware and attentive to the movement of God in the midst of their daily life. During each 2-day retreat there will be brief times of teaching, extended time in self-reflection and spiritual practices, and times of group processing. Last year I had the opportunity to participate in The Intimacy Project. I found the group process to be healing, inviting, and respectful. The teaching was insightful and the extended time in self-reflection and the spiritual practices were deeply transformative. I can highly recommend this opportunity to abide in God’s presence!
Deb will be bringing the Intimacy Project to a couple of locations outside of York, Pennsylvania this year. One of which will be here in Indianapolis at Sustainable Faith Indy. I will be working with Deb at this location as well as the one in Scottsdale, AZ. I hope you will consider joining us at either of these locations. Please click on the link below to learn more and to apply to be a part one of the upcoming Intimacy Project retreats.