I tend to loop through the Sunday lectionary for my daily reading. This week we’re approaching Pentecost, and John 20.19-23 was my reading this morning.
I noticed Jesus coming to the disciples hidden behind locked doors in fear. He’s not waiting for them to be ok, or to get sorted. His presence with them is not conditional.
“It’s ok not to be ok” — as some counsellors say (not meaning everything is fine, but that you are welcome here as you are)
We all know our own not-ok-ness. Whether that’s fear, confusion, over-whelmed, ill health, malaise, tired, worn out, low, lost vision. It’s these people, these not-ok people Jesus comes to console. And he freely gives them his Spirit — releasing them to be like him in the world.
Pentecost is coming. We’re not ok and not ready. And still Jesus breathes his Spirit on us.
This week as I settled into prayer I returned to the words of this Psalm. As you gaze and meditate on the words, which words stand out to you?
This week it was the words “unless the Lord…” which seemed to have the most resonance for me. I allowed them to come into sync with my breathing, so that my breath and and the words became a unified prayer.
“Unless the Lord …”
Life often has lessons to teach us about our limitedness. This week has provided many opportunities to teach me about my finiteness. I find these words of the Psalmist comforting, for I also am in need of power beyond my agency, am am in need of provision beyond my own resources, I am need to love beyond my own love.
“Unless the Lord …”
I acknowledge that things are limited also — I don’t need something, I need someone. Specifically, I need One who is greater — the Source of Life — Creator, Sustainer, Liberator and Lover — from whom, to whom and through whom are all things.*
“Unless the Lord …”
Unless you Lord are the one at work in our work, then our labour is in vain. Unless you watch over us, then our plans are vanity. Yet — if — if you are — if! [Pause.] I still myself. You are present and active; My whole perspective, and my manner of activity must change. May we trust you in our activity, and trust you in our rest. May we learn the unforced rhythms of grace.** We yield to You — Source of Life.
From you , to you and through you are all things.
* — Romans 11:36 (NIV) ** — Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
One of the many gifts of the Hebrew Scriptures are the expressions of lament which are given voice throughout. The Psalms record many of these — with cries of of “how long O Lord?”, “Why Lord?” … “when Lord?”
Note these words from Psalm 6:
“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.”
This Song of David, along with many other Psalms, provides us with examples of how the ancients prayed when trouble overwhelmed them. There is a brutal honesty here, creating a space to give voice to the pain and sorrow, and bought into the presence of God. Space for our dis-integrated selves be broken and poured out, laid bare before God.
What are your songs of lament? Do you find the stirrings of your soul in these Psalms of sorrow? Perhaps you hear your laments echoed in contemporary poetry or popular song. Perhaps you have been able to write your own poem loaded with honest, heartfelt emotion.
Last month as I sat down to pray I became aware of a deep sorrow and tiredness in my soul. I was reminded of a song I’d not heard for many years—as if it was singing within me. “Van Diemens Land” (sung by the Edge of U2) became my prayer of lament to God that day. And dwelling in that place the words and feelings became a prayer, integrating my whole self; and hope emerged amongst the sorrow and tiredness — I was not alone.
Spending time in self reflection can play a significant role in your spiritual journey. It can also be helpful before meeting for spiritual direction. A regular practice of journaling can provide a space for you to record your spiritual journey — recording your prayers, requests, interior movements and insights
Self-reflection can also help when deciding what to bring to a time of spiritual direction. This requires time and attention — so aim to set aside an extended period of time to this exercise where you look back over the recent weeks of your life.
Begin with a few minutes of silence, giving attention you your posture and breathing, allowing yourself to come to a place of stillness so you are spiritually alert and receptive. Allow some time to write down in a journal significant things which come to mind.
The suggestions below may help you in this process and work as springboards to your self-reflection:
As I review recent experiences and learning in my life, I notice…
Recently, my heart has been orientated towards… and my thinking has been concerned with…
Consider if there is an image, piece of music, a word or a phrase, that would describe how life has been like lately.
I am currently tending to my spiritual life and curating my heart in the following ways…
Currently, my spiritual life could be described as…
I sense divine invitations in these areas of my life…
A particular issue I’d like to take through a process of discernment is…
I have sensed the God’s presence (or absence) recently through these experiences, events and relationships…
I saw a makeshift sign/poster on a design agency wall the other day, it read “Show Up. Be Present. Tell the truth. Let it all go.” ‘Show up’ seems to be coming at me from a few sources lately. David Taylor recently asked the artist Jim Janknegt to give his top tips for being a productive artist. ‘Show up’ came in at number 5 on his list of ten. He says:
“I generally stick to my schedule even when I don’t feel like it. 90% of getting things done is just showing up. If I show up and just sit in a chair and stare at my painting or fall asleep I have not lost my momentum. Inertia is hard to overcome. Once I get started, I don’t stop.”
In the following video Elizabeth Gilbert also places emphasis on showing up, for these is a sense that in the creative process there is more going on that what we bring to the work:
For the creative we must know both discipline and grace. We must practice our craft, put in the work, and most of all simply ‘show up’. But, there is also a sense of grace. For, where does the scientists hypothesis come from? Where did those first few words of that poem come from? How did I just know to write it that way? How did I just know, the line had to follow that curve? Grace, I believe is present in our creative work, but we must show up.
Sleep also works in this way, sleep is a grace for the body, it re-vitalizes and re-juvenates us, it gives us energy of the coming day, and reminds us that the world can continue spinning with out our intervention. But a good sleep pattern also requires a discipline of sorts, nothing complicated we simply have to show up. And in this place dreams are made.
Finally, (also from David Taylor) –
According to Schwartz, courtesy of the Harvard Business Review: “The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to ritualize them—build specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.”