Labyrinths

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Don’t ever feel discouraged for wanting someone to hold you, to feel loved and known. Stop thinking “I shouldn’t be feeling this, I should be strong.” because the ache that is in you is natural, and no medicine on earth can rid the pain of wanting companionship. But don’t let that ache become a disease, don’t let it cripple your life, because you have so much to live for. When you have those aches for a love not yet known, take some time, write it out, take a deep breath; you are allowed to want love, you are allowed to feel deeply, and you are allowed to wish it came soon, but you are not allowed to let it keep you from a life lived fully.

You are not complete with someone else, you are complete now; Just learn to love the person you are, so that when you do meet someone great they will see the beauty that you hold, and love you all the more for the life you have chosen to live.

– T.B. LaBerge

The Meaning of “Yield”

Corn and Spider WebIn Anam Cara, John O’Donohue poignantly describes examples from nature that illustrate how yielding brings shelter, belonging, and protection. He begins by painting a picture of a field of corn in Autumn:

“When the wind catches the corn, it does not stand stiff and direct against the force of the wind; were it to do this, the wind would rip it asunder. No. The corn weaves with the wind, it bends low. And when the wind is gone, it weaves back and finds its own poise and balance again. There is also the lovely story of the wolf-spider, which never builds its web between two hard objects like two stones. If it did this, the web would be rent by the wind. Instinctively, it builds its web between two blades of grass. When the wind comes, the web lowers with the grass until the wind has passed, then it comes back up and finds its point of balance and equilibrium again” (p.102-103).

I’ve been thinking recently about how the different definitions of the word “yield” are interconnected. To yield, of course, means “to surrender” and “to submit,” but it also refers to the process of cultivation and harvest. To walk with God means to yield our will to His; “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Yielding is clearly for our good and His glory, but we still have to grapple with the fact that it is linked to suffering. In The Art of Happiness, Howard Cutler explains that in Western Society, “as suffering becomes less visible, it is no longer seen as part of the fundamental nature of human beings – but rather as an anomaly, a sign that something has gone terribly wrong, a sign of ‘failure’ of some system, an infringement on our guaranteed right to happiness!” (p. 121). As Cutler indicates, it is foolish to go through life thinking that we can avoid all suffering. On the other hand, prioritizing the virtue of yielding to God’s will does not mean that we seek suffering. Avoiding each of these extremes is the key to having healthy expectations of the suffering that life entails.

Choosing to crucify the flesh by yielding one’s will to God’s seems foolish to those who don’t know Him. Even for those who do, it is still a constant struggle. In Pilgrimage of a Soul, Phileena Heuertz tells us that “Decisions that stand in opposition to the status quo are not for the faint-hearted; they require courage, honesty and risk. These kinds of decisions release us into our destiny. Abundant life awaits each of us, but we must die to obtain it” (p. 116). God, Jehovah Jireh, gives us everything we need to walk the path of discipleship. He motivates us with His promises, provides a way out when we are tempted, and empowers us to co-labor with Him. Yielding is not only about sacrifice, it is also about great returns. To yield means “to bear” and “to produce by the natural process of cultivation.” There is an abundant harvest in store for those who yield to God! Psalm 1:3 assures us, “That person [who delights in and meditates on the law of the Lord] is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” So let us sit in His presence, wait quietly, and listen. Let us yield and “allow another the right to speak in a debate.” Let us “give as due or required” and relinquish possession of what we cherish most. Let us be gentle with ourselves as we learn to surrender completely and submit to Him alone.

Belonging

14155649582_ce5f7d202b_k I was listening to a sermon recently (“The Gospel of John 9:35-41”) and the pastor pointed out how in the story of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9), the sequence of events isn’t quite what we would expect. This man is rejected by his religious community, but Jesus receives him and meets the man’s physical need by restoring his sight. Then, the man is persecuted by the Pharisees. Finally, the man is called to believe in Jesus Christ. It’s a strange sequence for a spiritual journey: first physical healing, then persecution, and ultimately belief. This begs the question, in the lives of those around us, are we willing to let God work things out differently than we might expect?

Most churches today function according to a policy that people have to behave and believe prior to belonging. However, it has been suggested that a better approach is one in which people belong, believe, and then behave. Understandably, it is difficult for churches to navigate this triad of values because it raises difficult questions: Does belonging mean that people are eligible for leadership? Does this encourage doctrinal pluralism? Which doctrines are essential and which are nonessential? Instead of getting caught up in where people draw the line on these issues, what’s important is that churches start placing more emphasis on belonging first and foremost.

Even when people believe differently, it is possible to create an inclusive community. Barbara Brown Taylor explains this well in her book Home By Another Way. She writes, “If you and I are walking toward each other on a public sidewalk, our differences do not matter. We make room for each other. We may even nod and say hello. Our community at that point does not depend on our being in agreement with each other about anything except that we will share the sidewalk, where we both belong.” At church, everyone should know and feel that they belong. A sense of belonging is evidence of Christ’s love being expressed – people aren’t viewed as projects, and relationships aren’t undermined by an agenda. You just belong. And gradually, we come to realize that, as Leonard Sweet writes in Summoned to Lead, “We need each other: not just this other and that other, but each other. Every other.” May we realize the value and necessity of welcoming each and every other.

Just Love

In the book Torn, Justin Lee references Baptist author Tony Campolo who points out that this phrase is “just the opposite of what Jesus says. Jesus never says, ‘Love the sinner, but hate his sin.’ Jesus says, ‘Love the sinner, and hate your own sin. And after you get rid of the sin in your own life, then you can begin talking about the sin in your brother or sister’s life.’”

Love others. Hate our own sin.

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“I must have at least enough compassion to realize that when [other men] suffer they feel somewhat as I do when I suffer. And if for some reason I do not spontaneously feel this kind of sympathy for others, then it is God’s will that I do what I can to learn how. I must learn to share with others their joys, their sufferings, their ideas, their needs, their desires. I must learn to do this not only in the cases of those who are of the same class, the same profession, the same race, the same nation as myself, but when men who suffer belong to other groups, even to groups that are regarded as hostile. If I do this, I obey God. If I refuse to do it, I disobey Him.”

– Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Michelangelo’s Prisoners

Michelangelo_Slaves_Prisoner_Prigioni_Florence_ItalyAlthough these statues, collectively referred to as the Prisoners, are unfinished, they are housed under the same roof as the masterpiece David in The Accademia Gallery. Simply because they are Michelangelo’s creations, they are revered as some of the most beautiful sculptures. Rick Steves observes that the statues appear to be “fighting to free themselves from the stone. […] struggling against the rock that binds [them].” What a picture of humanity.

Everyone is a work in progress. Fortunately, as Ashley Peak reflects on in her blog post, “We don’t have to be fine and finished to be vessels or mouths of light, truth, and beauty.” God sees what is not yet and speaks as though it already is. As we seek to become the individuals He created us to be, we can rest assured that our value and identity is already secure, simply because we are His.

1 Peter 2:5
“you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”