Tuesday, February 8, 2022

My Road To A Rule of Life - Part 2

Today I'm continuing my discussion of the journey that led me to developing a rule of life, which is, essentially the story of my journey to Jesus. Covered in the dust of my Rabbi, there has never been a time in my life when I have followed Him more closely or my relationship with Him and with the Father has been stronger, and this is the story of what brought me here. 

That being said, as I cautioned in my post yesterday when I made it clear I was not advocating leaving church, this is the story of MY journey, and nothing I am sharing here with you is meant in any way to convey that this is "THE way". As God created us each uniquely and individually, your personal journey should and will look different from mine. I am and always have been leery of anything that labels itself as, let's say, a "12 Step Program to Jesus", or "The Ten Defining Marks Of A Christian", as they tend to lend themselves to the "one size fits all" theory, which, of course, is never true. If you've ever bought clothing with that label, you know. It's not that I've never benefitted from such, so I suppose they have their place. But at some point it has to go deeper, become personal, or it will fail you. That's been my experience, at least.You have to find your fit!

Most of us can follow a list of rules easily enough, making lists, checking off boxes, and in most cases you will begin to see change. But as long as it remains about rules and regulations and never moves from a place of being something you do rather than who you are, it all becomes rather dull and robotic. I will even caution that the same could be said for a rule of life. When you strip it all down it's about a relationship with Jesus Christ and God the Father. For me personally, I think the difference in following programs vs developing a rule of life boils down to this. I've been through a lot of programs, attended countless seminars, and sat in church pews every Sunday for years, and everything I learned in all that time was about how to be a good Christian. But it wasn't until I developed a rule of life and began practicing the spiritual disciplines that I learned how to simply be with Jesus, and if you spend enough time with Jesus, eventually you'll become like Him. But just so we're clear, I'm not there yet, and because of that darn sinful nature of mine, I never will be this side of heaven. But in the mean time, I'm in training!

And so, in continuing my story, I want to share some of the other influences that led me to this place, and I'll begin with one of the most influential, the discovery of The Year of the Lord, also known as The Liturgical Year. I've shared about this before, and if you're interested you can read about that here. I mentioned yesterday a line from a song, Defender; "You know before I do, where my heart can seek to find your truth.", and the discovery of The Year of the Lord was exactly that for me. 

I thought I was just taking my girls to the library that day, when, uncharacteristic of me, I wandered away for a brief moment from the children's section and happened upon this book. Holidays and Holy Nights: Twelve Seasonal Festivals of the Christian Year by Christopher Hill. I hardly know a way to describe the impact that reading that book made upon my life. It may sound cliche', but it  felt quite literally as if I had been blind all of my life and now my eyes were opened. Or perhaps as though until that moment I'd always seen the world in black and white, and for the first time I began to see color. What really happened is that this was what I have come to refer to as "a holy intersection", moments in time when The God of the universe reaches down from heaven and places a piece of the treasure in a place where I will find it. Finding this book was such a moment for me. And while the entire book was instrumental in introducing me to The Year of the Lord, it was the words I read in the first chapter that were the most influential. I've shared them here at least twice, and no doubt will share them again.

"The whole point of the Year of the Lord is that there is more than one way to experience time."

That's what I read, but what I heard was God saying to me, personally, was; "It was I who created you. It was my plan to instill that insatiable, inquisitive, desire in you. Everyone looks at the moon at night and the sunrise by morning, but not with your eyes, my darling girl. The way you can't help but stop to observe the little bee drinking nectar from a flower? That's Me." I might have laid down on the floor and cried for hours that day. My entire life playing out before me, and all the voices that chided me for "my lack of urgency", that labeled me a "lolly gagger", "that girl never comes down to earth, always with her head in the clouds", "she's just like her father". Yes, "just like her Father" and "her father", which for the first time I realized was not a bad thing. Thanks, Dad! <3

It was in that moment that I actually moved in to what Eugene Peterson paraphrases in Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message) as "the unforced rhythms of grace", though it would be several more years before I truly began to recognize and understand that. But this was the beginning, that first step, the  first moment when I looked into the mirror and saw myself as God created me to be. No longer accepting the lie that my make up was somehow flawed by the mere fact that I "walked to the beat of a different drum", I found my rhythm that day, and I've been walking in it ever since.

In the days, months and years that followed I read voraciously, I could not get enough. This led me to other books, such as The Dance of Time: The Origins of the Calendar, which while steeped in mythology, I found fascinating as it helped me to understand how western civilization moved from the slower pace of freedom to the hurried and frantic pace of life we keep today. I love this line from a summary of Michael's book that I found on Amazon.

"He finds glimpses of a way of seeing before the mechanical time of clocks, when the rhythms of man and woman matched those of earth and sky, and the sacred was born."

Reading this book affirmed that the slower pace of life, a life marked by the changing of the seasons and the rising and setting of the sun which had governed my life from childhood, and which I had, in no uncertain terms, been forced to abandon (still true on some levels), was in fact the way most people used to live. If I was "odd" it was only because I refused to buy into the status quo. Myself and others like me were only different because we remained unchanged.

I've shared before that it was during this time that I discovered the blogs of several faithful Catholic women and for a brief time even considered converting to Catholicism. But as it has been my experience with most religions, I had problems with some of the theology. I've said so often along this journey that I am "Too Protestant to be Catholic, and too Catholic to be Protestant", and I would say that on some level, that is still true. It might seem odd for someone who has such a distaste for "programs" that Catholicism would appeal to me at all. The worship service alone might appear rote and robotic. But I discovered a depth of meaning in the services I attended that has been missing in my religious experiences for some time. While it was more evident in my experience as a child, as an adult, the services I've been a part of have leaned more towards a rock concert than a worship service. And here again, this is an area where I have finally found freedom.

It is simply in my God-given nature to long for beauty and reverence. I don't want to walk into a church building and not know that the place I am entering is holy, if that makes sense. Figuratively or not, I want to feel as though it would be a blasphemy if I were not to remove my shoes. This may all sound a bit poetic and perhaps it is. Again, this is MY journey. It isn't that the building itself is necessarily "holy", I know a lot of people who have memories of such places that are anything but. Which is, sadly, how we arrived at the sterile environments we so commonly find today, where the very idea of a cross on the wall is quickly hushed, "It would offend the seekers". I could go on. . . and on. Personally I am moved by the image of Christ on the cross, by the ornate embellishments, the glorious stained glass windows, the majestic chords of the organ. That being said, I'm keenly aware of the fact that without the gift, it's all just embellishments and trimmings. Once again it comes down to the difference between religion and relationship. Two people can dwell in the same setting and have two completely different experiences based on that truth alone, and it happens in churches across the world every-single-week. And that's not to mention the internal struggle I have with the magnitude and expense of the building itself, traditional and ornate and modern/sterile alike. There's a gnawing in the pit of my stomach that struggles with the fact that the money would be better spent on taking food into to the streets to feed the poor and homeless, who in spite of our best efforts, are most likely never going to feel worthy to set foot inside the door. Rather than expecting them to come to us, we should take Christ to them. So there's that and I that's all I'm going to say on the subject, for now, or this post will surely turn from what is now a short story into a novel.

I feel like I'm starting to ramble, and I think there were other things I wanted to share, but for what ever reason they seem to have escaped me. But I do want to share is this. As I said, it is my nature to long for reverence and beauty and I've found that. In great cathedrals (The Washington National Cathedral moves me to tears every time I visit), in small country churches with a hand full of members who are well older than I, and once in a hospital chapel where God met me when my grandmother lay dying. But I'm just as likely to be moved along a mountain path, looking out as I'm closing the blinds at the end of the day to discover a glorious sunset, and thanks to my dad, I can be moved to near tears just about any night, as I observe the moon on its slow and rhythmic trajectory across the sky. I think Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it best in this quote.

“Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who seeks takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Once again, and I know I'm repeating myself but it's so important and I would hate (sincerely) for anyone to miss it, it's the difference between religion and relationship. Since Browning mentioned blackberries, let's think on that for a moment, because it's a perfect example drawn from my own life. I used to hate blackberries, or so I thought. Until one day I came to the startling realization that I had, in fact, never tasted a blackberry. My mother hated blackberries, she said they were "too tart". And so I grew up naturally assuming that I would not like blackberries, either. (It was the same with  asparagus!) And I'll admit, the first time I tasted one, I did find it tart, at first . . . until I allowed it to linger on my tongue for a bit and discovered the sweetness. Blackberries are now my absolute favorite. It's the same with religion. Religion told me all of my life what I should believe, how I should act, what I should do to be a good christian. Not necessarily a bad thing, on the surface. Even my mother's opinion of the blackberry wasn't wrong . . . for her. But it wasn't until I developed a rule and a relationship with Jesus that I began to learn to be like Him, and tasted the sweetness of the life that "abides in Him". Religion asked me to conform to a belief system to become like Christ. Jesus invites me to be with Him, and in that, to become the woman he created me to be from the beginning of time. We are each a unique reflection of our Creator that casts a light upon the world that no other person is capable of reflecting. The world would be remiss if we never discovered it.

Last year when I was struggling with my decision to not be a part of a church body. I was praying and asking God to help me distinguish between guilt and conviction, because you know, the enemy is sly and the master of cloaking his lies. I specifically asked the Holy Spirit to aide me in this, and so I prayed and that was basically what I said, and that was that. A few minutes later I picked up the book I was reading at the time, Love Does by Bob Goff, and when I opened to the page where I had left off, these were the first words I read.

“I don't validate my faith with a church attendance scorecard. I think of church as a vibrant community of people consisting of two or more of varied backgrounds gathering around Jesus. ... For me, it's Jesus plus nothing—not even a building.”

And once again, I cried. Again, let me caution you that I am not saying that as disciples of Jesus Christ that we should not gather together in community. I believe that. Again, this is MY journey and this is simply what is right me for me at this time, but I do not expect it will always be. What I do expect is that once Covid becomes less of an issue (will that ever be?), that when I do move back into community, it will look very different from what church attendance has looked in my life up to now, though I'm not entirely sure.

And now in closing, I'll leave you with this quote from C. S. Lewis. God used this this quote, much like discovering the book at the library and opening up Love Does to the quote above. They were each "Holy Intersections" in my life.

"I want the presence of God Himself, or I don't want anything at all to do with religion... I want all that God has or I don't want any.'

I already knew, but I after recently watching The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C. S. Lewis, now I'm certain, Clive Staples and I, we're "kindred spirits".

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