Posts Tagged 'divine'

What We Were, Are and Will Be

Courtesy of Schopenhauer.org

After your death you will be what you were before your birth.
Arthur Schopenhauer

We all wrestle with the concept of death.

Most of each day is spent in blissful ignorance of our fleeting nature. Other than the occasional action to push our last day further into the future via exercise or eating a certain way, the majority of our time is swept away in the river of mental occupations we encounter.

That’s fine, maybe even necessary.

Here, though, the German philospher taps squarely on the immutable fact of this life:

The soul is boundless.

What makes me me and you you is shuttled around in a body of four dimensions — length, width, height and time — for a set period before shaking free of the mortal coil. The qualities that define us, our quirks and habits and motivations, would all remain if we could somehow trade bodies as though they were T-shirts and jeans.

What does this mean?

Our uniquity is undeniable and unending.

Scripture speaks to this in various places, yet one in particular evokes a telling image:

The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.
Proverbs 8:22-31, NKJV

God had all of us under His arm as He breathed the universe into existence.

Before there was heaven or earth, light or dark — before before — He set about forming every soul to ever exist, each one different and precious — sacred.

Then, like any attentive parent, He must have huddled us together and gone to work shaping a cosmos so vast and intricate and beautiful we are able to comprehend a mere fraction of it.

He sculpted every mountain and valley and stream.

He flung the stars across the sky.

He set galaxies in motion.

We were present.

And we will be again.

U Can Reach Anyone

I’ve spent most of my life an ignorant Christian.

Until recently, only a handful of lessons regarding faith could be counted as having reached me. To be plain, most of what I heard in church floated from my consciousness the minute I stepped out the front door.

Very little of what I was taught was memorable.

As a freshman at Friends University, I sat in a classroom of about twenty-five people listening to my Basic Christian Beliefs professor, a soft-spoken and plain-dressed pastor named Chris Kettler.

Over several weeks, I’d become accustomed to the manner his quiet voice droned on, a gentle lullaby with little change in pitch or tone. I strained to pay attention — as I often did throughout college — in the hopes I would gather enough information from the lecture to make it appear I’d read the material.

One Fall day, a solitary fragment embedded itself in my brain.

“Some people call it ‘The Big U’, because,” he explained while drawing on the chalkboard, “there are three components to Christianity which demonstrate God’s grace.” As he continued, a light bulb went off in my head.

Everything finally made sense.

I have only recently — some twelve years on — come to understand grace in a real way, yet The Big U has been integrated into my beliefs from the moment Dr. Kettler presented it. Today, I wish to share it in the hopes it may be as enlightening to others as it was to me back then.

Even non-believers know the central figure of Christianity as a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who died on a cross two millenia ago and, according to the faith, rose from the grave three days later as part of God’s reconciliation with all mankind. The Father’s love is said to be expressed in the Son, but how?

The Big U explains God’s work in three simple parts.

1. Incarnation

Relevant Scripture:
Matthew 18:25
Luke 2:4-7
(Mark and John begin with Jesus’ baptism)

John 1 tells us “the Word was God” and He “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” His primary step, in order to better understand and reach His children, was to walk among them.

Without this, obviously, the progression is moot.

2. Humiliation

Relevant Scripture:
Matthew 27:37-44
Mark 15:17-18
Luke 23:35-39
John 19:2-3

In very basic (and understated) terms, Jesus — and, by extension, the Father — is humbled by the cruelty of those who take him prisoner.

A crown of thorns.

A sarcastic sign hanging above his head.

Taunts from passersby.

Torture.

Though the cross is Christianity’s recognized symbol, Jesus’ death at this midpoint is actually secondary to the first and third, in my opinion. It may seem sacrilegious, considering my beliefs, but lots of people died on crosses or hanging from trees.

The step is important, but victory was not yet achieved.

3. Resurrection

Relevant Scripture:
Matthew 28:5-9
Mark 16:8-18
Luke 24
John 20:1-7, 13-29

Now we have come to a matter of faith: Jesus rose from the dead to walk the Earth again. God proves, in a literal and figurative sense, only He can overcome death.

Further, He offers His children the opportunity to do the same through an act of lifelong devotion, that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This, God’s loving redemption of selfish humanity, is the embodiment of His grace. It is a uniquely Christian doctrine which is, by definition, as much undeserved and unearned as it is freely-given and all-encompassing. He did all the “heavy lifting,” we are asked merely to accept it.

God acted as any parent would.

The Big U is, in short, a Father doing whatever it took to see his kids.

Do You Believe In Miracles?

Courtesy Home-School-Coach.com

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.
Albert Einstein

On the long road back to California from Christmas in my hometown, this quote from the German-born physicist grabbed hold of my brain and begged to be pondered.

I turned it over and over in my head, arriving at this conclusion:

The central question is whether you wish to believe there is purpose to life.

The first case is guided by a belief disconnected people smack against each other coincidentally, a haphazard sequence of actions leads to events large and small. Day-to-day choices — and, by extension, life as a whole — are basically irrelevant.

In short, we merely exist for a time and die with some joy sprinkled in to make the grind easier to bear.

Such an attitude quickly leads to disillusionment and detachment — nothing really matters, why be concerned with consequences? We wander around grumbling about circumstances without understanding our worth or the boundless possibilities of every day between birth and death.

Our time is a series of inconsequential actions crossing over with others’ inconsequential actions narrated by the voice(s) in our heads.

It is very challenging to have an adventure this way.

In the second philosophy, every moment is imbued with design. Individuals cross paths in a specific order and for designated reasons. Lives are knitted together such that we are eager to see what’s next.

Thus, the whole universe becomes a symphony.

Each instrument’s sound blends into a magnificent result under the direction of a spirited master conductor. Every note resonates perfectly as one concerto bleeds into the next.

A “fantastic coincidence,” has implicit direction from a loving God.  When a “chance meeting” works out for good, there is a tacit acknowledgment of purpose, an unconscious nod to something pulling things together — regardless of how much one works to suppress it.

No matter how hard the heart, a question always comes up:

Is it “good luck”?  Or is it “good God”?

The miraculous goes beyond our willingness to accept.

It occurs and we can only shake our heads.

Deep down, we know.

Even the worst experiences — those in which the strongest believer turns to the sky and asks, “How could You let this happen?” — have value when viewed with perspective.

Heartache becomes a blessing instead of a curse.

Isn’t that a miracle?

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Waves

Courtesy Sulekha.com

I love staring at the ocean.

Having grown up in the Midwest, the waves I’m accustomed to are more of the “amber” and “grain” variety.  Since the first time I set foot on a Brownsville, Texas beach in my late teens, I’ve been captivated by the powerful flow of trillions of gallons of salt water.  Even though I’ve gazed at the surf in places all over the United States and Caribbean at least a couple dozen times, I’m still just as amazed and soothed by the sight of it now as I was then.

It mirrors the way God moves in our lives.

Sailors and surfers know the strength of the tide is “out there,” far off shore. What we feel washing across our ankles with a tranquil swish is a fraction of the energy created – a pale shadow of the unbalancing force generated. Occasionally, a stray wave reminds us of the magnificent power we are surrounded by, but in general what we experience hardly knock us off our feet.

We adapt to the gentle current and quickly lose track of where we’re standing.

There, with the water rushing over our toes, we easily forget we are in the midst of something far larger than we are — planted firmly on its fringe and unable to quantify its mightiness. The miraculous, the tremendous work of pulling together all of creation into a synchronous story, is done by Him “out there.” On the shores of this life, we fail to remember billions and billions of things are gathered together for what we perceive as the observable results of just one day.

God bends space and time to get us in the exact place to receive what we need when we need it.

Trusting Him is counterintuitive. The vast majority of His work cannot be seen. It’s challenging to even sense, as we focus so much on what is tangible and measurable.  Sometimes we acknowledge He is on the task of building something that will wash up at our feet, yet ignore the fact the sheer grandeur of His design would boggle our tiny minds.

Pacing anxiously, we check our watches and cross our arms in frustration.

We walk along like spoiled children, kicking the sand and utterly oblivious to the possibility He did anything simply because it falls short of the huge movement we consider appropriate. Wrapped up in our desires and our timetables, we’re exposed for the petulant, selfish, unappreciative creatures we are.

Miracle of miracles, He loves us and keeps exerting Himself “out there” anyway.

Breathe.

Have some patience.

The tide is coming in.

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There, in No Time

The comfort of being told someone is “in a better place” is lost on me.

For as long as I can remember, those words have floated through my head like a helium-filled balloon. The sympathy registers, yet the phrase itself mysteriously disappears on the wind–perhaps in the hopes it will land softly in the heart of another.

The kindness is deeply appreciated, though my heartfelt gratitude is likely muted by the absent-minded nod of my head.

Truth be told, I am somehow unable to envision Heaven as a place. The concept short-circuits in my brain before I can formulate an image, probably because our form works in four dimensions (length, width, depth and time). Despite all I’ve read and heard through sermons or programs of all kinds, these measurements seem vastly inadequate and my imagination gives up without really trying.

Using such feeble terms to describe magnificence leaves me wanting more. To me, attempting to shoehorn awe-inspiring grandness into pictures we comprehend is futile. (Yes, I am still guilty of it.)

One fact forever stirs the waters of my soul.

I took an astronomy course during my senior year of undergrad. I only attended about half the lectures because the hall was huge (no way to tell if I was gone) and my roommate was in the same class (we traded days).

Once, when it was my turn, I listened to the PhD from Pakistan discuss the phenomenon which acts as the splinter in my mind: astrophysicists want to see before before.

To begin, he talked about the age of the universe–something on the order of 13 billion years–and then wandered into the fact his colleagues were doing their best to point telescopes towards the center with hopes of catching a glimpse into the moment of creation.

Since light travels a constant distance in a year, the theory holds what happened at the dawn of time would be visible to us right now if we were to look in the correct direction. He said, in essence, we would lay our eyes on something incredibly foreign to us: a place (if you can call it that) in which a clock would never have to be invented.

No days.

No nights.

No months.

No years.

No time.

What I heard through his thickly-accented English amounts to this:

God works outside the bounds of our existence.

It follows, then, that eternity and everything in it would also. Upon death, seconds, minutes and hours would vanish. So, too, would length, width and depth. All that we perceive in this life is null and void, which leads to my persistent conundrum.

Even though John 14:2 tells us “there are many rooms” in the Father’s house, I feel incredibly limited by this frail frame, unable to know even the slightest detail of what is beyond it.

Strange as it seems, theoretical physics calms my heart.

All I can think is we’ll be there, in no time.

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The Gift from Above

“Please let it rain,” I whispered to myself as I walked to my car.

Knowing I was heading home to run–and having passed the better part of a week doing so in thick humidity–I welcomed the possibility of moisture from the heavens. Just the night before, I headed out after 9 PM and the temperature was still pushing 90°. The two days before that, the heat index had reached triple digits.

Noticing dark clouds in the southwestern sky, I humbly requested a break from the blast furnace.

You see, a few miles to myself has tremendous cleansing power. I imagine every runner would tell you the same, whether they head out in a group or alone. Something about the rhythmic motion calms the psychic seas and soothes physical tension.

Further, I find it difficult to believe there is someone out there without a concept of perfect conditions for their meditative mile. The personal nature of this exercise–a primitive dance with Mother Earth herself–invites each individual to find their own means to achieve the endorphin-laced nirvana known as “runner’s high”.

For me, a light rain and 70° temperatures is ideal.

The peaceful tympany of raindrops tapping gently against my skin and my surroundings amplifies the catharsis I seek when I leave the house. Thus, I felt a small measure of joy when I noticed the first spots on the pavement around three-quarters of a mile. Within a few dozen yards, a steady rain had set in.

I grinned at my answered prayer.

Soaked to the skin as I neared a mile and a half, I smiled and thought “I only meant a little,” and then pressed on to complete my four-plus mile course. A short time later, I passed a Methodist church on the familiar route to my favorite park with its sign flashing

Every good and perfect gift comes from above… James 1:17, NIV

I chuckled at this reply and contemplated how those words resonated beyond the pavement I was pounding and into my life as a whole. Strangely, I hearkened back to similar ideas from dissimilar works.

A snippet from Zen and the Art of Happiness reminded me that “every event that befalls you is absolutely the best possible thing that could occur–that there is no other event imaginable that could benefit you to any greater degree.” Then, my mind rolled delicately into the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, the infamous line that “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

The unexpected downpour could be framed as an inconvenience or an opportunity.

A day is infinitely simpler when you admit it could be better, then set about to make the most of it anyway. So, I had a chance to test my fitness in air 20° cooler than normal, lacking oppressive sunshine overhead. My stride remained fast longer and, since my core body temperature had not been elevated by the heat, I was able to do so with relative respiratory ease.

How often do we take advantage of surprises?

I had asked for rain.

I got more than I bargained for.

It didn’t “kill me” and I derived a greater “benefit” from the “gift”.

A good lesson for how we all might approach the present.

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The Faith Soliloquy

Faith is an inviting mystery.

It speaks to each of us in a language all its own. It’s a mish-mash of culture, education and experience that, inevitably, loses something in translation as we attempt to discuss our beliefs with another.

At the deepest level, we are attempting to express an intangible feeling.

Why I know is a challenge to explain.

How can I define my intuition for you? What words are forceful enough to describe the thrust generated by this drive? Can I begin to hope you hear the song emanating from deep within me?

What blares in my ears is faint to you.

This is why our convictions are so easily misunderstood. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

Belief consists in accepting the affirmations of the soul; Unbelief, in denying them.

Only one person is propelled by the instinctive pushes that help either of us navigate in the murky fog of life. Maybe we’ll choose to follow the path we’re shown or maybe we will second-guess it and head off in a different direction. The strength of those gut feelings is determined by what we have faith in, what we are sure is true.

To have faith is to mold an image of the future.

When confidence permeates a dream, it serves as a guide for inspired action–a kind of single-minded obsession bending time and space at will. Upcoming events are aligned according to expectation.

I can say, without a doubt in my mind, the days of my life–to and from today–are defined by my certainty and my own movements to prove myself right. My belief, regardless of how grand or small, will demand my effort carries it out. Whatever I have faith in, after a string of steps, is what I will see.

My future is a reflection of the believing action I take.

The life I am living today is the result of my choices and the consistency of my labor in the past. As I stretch my legs in new frontiers, I hold on to the knowledge my future is brighter than my history, more amazing than the limits of my current creativity.

I see the books I’ve published and the people they’ve helped, the doors opened where there used to be walls. I see a house, a wife, children–a life. I see something just outrageous enough it can be believed, because it’s the only way it can be seen.

The idea–and my assurance of it–is the whip at my back and compass in my hand.

It pushes me through fatigue.

It shapes my fear.

It accepts my failure.

It sharpens my focus.

It is my faith.

ALSO IN THIS SERIES

The Fatigue Soliloquy

The Fear Soliloquy

The Failure Soliloquy

The Focus Soliloquy

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