Archive for the ‘Faith’ Tag

Spiritual Virtigo   14 comments

confusion boxMy mother in her quirky way used to make us Christmas gifts of various kinds.  This  Christmas I noticed my dad is still using a bathrobe she made for him 30 years ago.  She must have made it out of upholstery material, because it is soft and warm on the outside and stiff and scratchy on the skin-side.  My older brother David once unwrapped a gift from her and responded graciously, “I love it!  What is it?”  Indecipherable love.  God’s been putting together a special gift for me this year as a resource for my spiritual growth, and it looks like a box full of confusion, without an instruction manual.   God, you know I’m already depressed, right?  What the heck do I do with this?

Hundreds of years ago St. John of the Cross descended into “the dark night of the soul” and left a consoling account for those who followed.  The Christian psychiatrist Gerald May describes his own experience of it:

[This spirit of virtigo] seems specifically designed for people like me, people who refuse to relinquish the idea that if only I could understand things, I could make them right.  Having lost the old willpower and its satisfactions, we desperately try to figure out where we have gone astray.  “What’s happening here?  Where have I gone wrong?  Maybe my problem is this… No, maybe it’s that… Perhaps I should try this… Or that….”

Every effort at soul-diagnosis and cure fails.  We are left in the dark.  And that is for our salvation, May says: “Sooner or later, there is nothing left to do but give up.  And that is precisely the point, the purpose of the ‘dizzy spirit.’  In each relinquishment… reliance upon God is deepened.”   I’ve been mapquesting God for directions to my soul’s healing and taking every turn He signaled.  Apparently I’m in the Slough of Despond not from getting confused and careening off the road, but from following His bullet points.  He drove me straight into the bog.



There are some advantages of sinking into the quagmire.  No worries about getting lost if you’re already there.  No wrong turns to make if you can’t move.  No real expectations to fail if there are no goals.  If it’s God’s move; all I can do is wait… and trust.  That’s always the tough part, especially for us hard-working, self-reliant types.  “Be still and know that I am God” is a much deeper concept than I realized–not simply self control in quieting myself, but learning to patiently accept God’s time-outs for my soul, letting something work which I cannot see or measure and over which I have no control.  Who knew being out of control was a sign of spiritual progress?

boy and teddy


Posted February 1, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Hard Living   6 comments

stormAs I said in my last post, I am stuck with God.  When Jesus got weird on his disciples (John 6), many of them left.  He asked his twelve, “Will you leave too?”  and Peter answered, “Where else can we go?”  Yes.  Exactly.  We’re in the middle of the ocean, freezing cold, living on bread, squatting on steel decks and the captain of the boat says, “Feel free to leave.”  And where would that be?  Trust me, we are not staying because we like it here.  St. Teresa of Avila once complained to God, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

As I ended my last post, this story in John came to mind, and I felt bad for not having Peter’s good attitude.  He answered Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”  I heard Peter saying, “You’ve got it all–peace, joy, fulfillment.  Why would we leave?  We like it here.”  I was confusing ‘eternal life’ with ‘the good life’… spiritually speaking, of course–the delights of fellowship with God.  What was I thinking?  You want encouragement of the Biblical kind?  Acts 14 tells us that the apostle Paul was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith,”  –what was his supportive message?–  “and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’”  What ever happened to “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”?

happy baby

Jesus’ message was loony: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life.”  These are the “words of eternal life” to Peter?  Everyone was stumped, and many left Jesus over this cannibal homily–“If we understand what he is saying, it’s a problem… and if we don’t understand what he is saying, it’s a problem.”  Simon Peter, for all his flowery speech, was just as baffled.  Had he known Jesus spoke of his own sacrificial death, Peter would have corrected the Son of God himself.  For Peter, this was the one thing the “words of eternal life” could not possibly mean–the cross.

I think in all his fog, Impetuous Pete spoke the truth after all.  There is nowhere else to go because these are the words of eternal life, even if it leads through more pain and perplexity than other roads.  Those who stayed with Jesus after this sermon did so in confusion, not clarity, but they found him worth trusting right through the dark.  Even Peter finally followed him to his own crucifixion.  That is the one serious problem with resurrection–you have to die to get there.


Posted January 28, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Walking Blind   8 comments

partsI have been soul-sick for several months now.  But today I feel okay.  Both the pain and the relief are inexplicable.  I accept mystery… as long as it stays theoretical.  But I find practical mysteries at best annoying: where are my glasses, which street do I take, why is the car making that noise?  When not knowing is costing me money or making me late or (more profoundly) hurting my relationships or my heart, I become agitated.  For me, ignorance is not bliss, it is often agony.  My method for coping with a scary, unpredictable world is to figure it out, experiment till I get it working, find new configurations for the parts lying on the floor.  As long as I have untried options, I can keep hope alive.



But I seem to have run out of options.  I don’t know why I am depressed and I can do nothing to change it.  It is a mystery of the worst kind.  Mystery is just a highfalutin word for confusion, and being lost and blind does not make me happy, especially when I bash my shins every other step.  Kimberly is struggling in the same way, and it has driven us to our new year’s resolution or annual theme of life: be okay with not being okay.  It is our stumbling way of embracing faith.  It doesn’t light our path or clear away the rubble, but it is our way of handing back the situation to God: “We’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work, so we’ll try to adjust ourselves to whatever might come.”

I commented to Kimberly in our prayer time two nights ago that I’m stuck with God.  If I thought I could find more peace with the devil, I’d look up his address, but I know leaving God would make me even more miserable.  I can make no sense of what God does, but I trust who He is, and for now that has to be enough.

Posted January 24, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Inventing Tradition: Simplicity   Leave a comment

We think of traditions as ancient, honored customs… but they had to begin somewhere, sometime.  After all, the first Christmas was in a pile of barnyard hay with a few dirty sheep-herders gawking nearby (the natty, gift-bearing VIPs showed up later).  Jesus was not born in a room full of colored lights and snow-flake medallions.  Even the angels singing out in the muddy fields didn’t show up for his party as far as we know.  So Kimberly and I decided to start from scratch in creating our own unique holiday traditions.  We planned to emphasize a different aspect of the season each week of advent… only it isn’t playing out as we had expected.



We both like Christmas conifers, and the use of evergreens in winter speaks to us of life outwitting death, of stubborn hope in the midst of barrenness.  So we decked our banisters and brought in a scrub tree from the yard.  My idea was to decorate in stages, emphasizing each particular advent week focus, but our scraggly, homegrown tree looked more like a sign of want than of hope.  It started life as a weed in our flowerbed, and not having the heart to toss it out, I dug it up and planted it in the back yard.  It has been growing there for four years, completely neglected, and is now 6 feet of meager, sickly green thistles.  Those barbs were painful enough to scrape against, but since the branches were so weak, we had to shove decorations deep inside.  We should have worn long sleeves and gloves.  That pathetic see-through shrub had all its defenses up… a tree thick with issues… how appropriate for our home.  It was truly a symbol of life… life as we know it.


To put a positive spin on our impecunious Christmas, our first week spoke of simplicity.  No lights, tinsel, streamers, or presents under the tree.  Even if we had a star, the top of the tree was too flimsy to hold it.  Kimberly and I live out of a shortage of resources.  I didn’t have the energy to find and care for a nice pine or fir, or even the initiative to plan that far in advance.  I had a little energy, and with it I transplanted a sprout, and now we have a tree, spindly as it is.  Having fewer resources makes for a tight circle of possibilities, and that may feel like a bare prison stripped of goodness or a narrow shelf above a sheer cliff.  We have felt that at times.  But a simple lifestyle may also be seen as freedom from the clutter of excess and from the need for a wider cleft in the rock.  We have fewer choices and less to protect, and that helps us focus on what is truly important, helps us enjoy the simple things more richly, gives us access to one another’s hearts more openly and easily.  The only difference between a simple lifestyle and an impoverished one is faith, and that difference is profound.

Posted December 13, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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From Garbage to Glory [God’s Love Letter]   8 comments


Matthew 1:5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab.

Garbage CollectorIn America, our job defines us.  It is the first, most important identifier when we’re introduced, “Good to meet you.  So what do you do?”  Sometimes it’s even tacked on like a surname: Joe the Plumber or Bob the Accountant.  With one word we label, categorize, and define someone from the moment we meet them.  Just imagine if your meaning as a person was distilled into the name Karen the Harlot.  You are suddenly no longer a person, but a commodity, and the worst sort of commodity, associated with all that is unclean, cheap, and dark.  When someone hears “prostitute,” they do not think of giggling children, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and butterfly kisses.  Rahab was part of a cursed race of uncircumcised philistines and she was known as Rahab the Harlot.  Then God came.

In the gospels, Jesus was a trash-magnet.  The discards of society were drawn to him like the starving to a feast of love.  They found in him the acceptance and respect and embrace they never knew.  Like father, like son they say, and the God of Israel was the Father of all widows and orphans, the poor and lost.  He saw in Rahab what no one else saw, and said of her “I want her in the royal line as mother to my Son.”  The beauty in all of us  originates always with God, and it is our faith, not our goodness, that opens the door to his glory.  Those least able to “make a name for themselves” are the ones most welcoming of grace.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom heaven.”



2,000 years after her first appearance,  we find Rahab again.  Her past has not been air-brushed away–she is still “Rahab the Harlot”–because grace does not re-write our past; it transforms that twisted frame into an instrument of glory.  She is now immortalized in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith as a model for us all to follow.  God embraces a pagan prostitute simply because she opened her arms to him by faith.  God does not ask us to patch together the shredded pieces that make up our lives, but asks us to trust him with those tattered remnants.  He makes all things beautiful, all things placed in his hands.

This 3 minute video is a remarkable parable of grace

Posted December 10, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Hope in the Storm   Leave a comment

For the last few days things have been looking up, I have felt more positive than negative, more times of calm than of anxiety.  I would even say I have been happy.  But I have been reluctant to share for fear that folks will suppose me “back on my feet.”  We all give a break to those who are going through a hard time–we give them more patience, gentleness and concern, and a lighter load.  But once they have “recovered,” we suppose their strength has returned and put them back in the harness.  My personal experience is very different from this picture of energy simply lost and regained.

I once  had armor so thick nothing could touch my soul, including real and deep love.  Those defenses by which I kept the world at bay I laid aside to seek my true self and connect vulnerably with others.  And once I stepped into the wind of my fears, the wounds that had been festering for decades were exposed.  I have been attending to them now for ten years, but they are forty years deep and my soul is still quiveringly sensitive to any scrape against them.  

Kimberly and I talk about our personal and marital “bubble.”  When I am in my own bubble, untouched by the storms of life, I can eventually come to a place of peace as I have in the last few days.  When Berly and I are on the same page, which is most of the time, we share a bubble and reinforce that sense of security.  I can nestle into God’s love.  But the bubble is easily burst as the wind and sleet dash against our nest–a phone call or email, a memory, a bill, a frown… even a sunny day (like yesterday) can depress me, reminding me how dependent we are on lawn mowing jobs that I have no energy to hunt down.


I can be content and even happy inside our bubble, but it is a very fragile peace, constantly threatened and often breached. Without some refuge from the world’s criticisms, disparagements, impatience, and harshness, I am simply battered relentlessly. And my spirit can find no air to breathe, no space to move, no pause to rest.  I am reduced to emotional survival.  So I withdraw to my nest to build up strength to face  the next nor’easter.  This, to my mind, is the biblical “fight of faith.”  Unfortunately, the storm can reach inside my little knothole, and often does.  Sometimes all my energy is used to keep it out.  It is always threatening to strike, and the closer it gets, the more difficult it is to find a place of peace, a gentle space in which to rest and heal.

But in the last few days, I sense a change. an ability to keep the storm outside and God and me inside the bubble of faith that keeps the shame and doubts at bay, a potential to respond in healthy ways to shame-driven tasks of the past.  I am able to see God as on my side regardless of my weaknesses, blunders, myopia, and erratic progress.  Perhaps I am finding a new way through the hurricane, though it is a strange direction to take as I will soon share.

Posted March 20, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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God’s Love Letters #1   3 comments

I have so often misconstrued Scripture, oblivious to the grace that created each thought, that I found I could not read the Bible without feeling condemned.  My legalistic filter poisoned the Bible for me.  I studied it so diligently and thoroughly from this skewed perspective, that every re-reading of its pages undermined my hold on grace.  I have gone several years now without any regular reading of Scripture.  It has been just me and God (with Kimberly’s help) working to free me from this darkness.  I think I have gotten enough grounding in grace that I can return to the Word to discover freshly its life-giving power.  I’d like to share with others the grace I discover in these pages.

Matthew 1:1  This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Matthew’s genealogy was written for the Jews, and so we assume he wrote it as he did (beginning with Abraham instead of Adam, for instance) to tap into the Jewish sense of identity and even pride in their ancestry.  I was beguiled by Jewish veneration of David and Abraham into forgetting their great failures, which the Bible intimately describes.  When Matthew highlights the marred women in Jesus’ ancestry, I see a wink from God, as though he took as much pleasure with the seedy side of his Son’s family line as the royal side.  Israeli ancestry was passed down through the father, so Matthew carefully traces Jesus genealogy from Abraham through David straight down to Joseph… but at the last moment seems to dismiss its relevance by remarking that Joseph was not Jesus’ father anyway (biologically speaking).  Even the greatest heroes, anointed prophets and kings, passed on nothing of their character, authority, power, or greatness through their bloodlines to Jesus. Rather all flowed the other way, from Christ to them. Jesus is not presented here as the greatest of a long line of great men. He is juxtaposed against all others—all others are sinners and he the only Savior; all others receive grace, he alone is the source of grace.

So when Matthew begins by calling Jesus the Son of David and of Abraham, he does not only want us to call to mind their greatness, but also their failures.  THEY TOO needed a Savior.  The story of God’s grace is so profound in both these men’s lives.  Abraham, as Paul repeatedly reminds us, was declared righteous not by his goodness, but by faith.  This justification and life he received was not the reward of faith, as though faith is such a wonderful thing that it calls for the reward of eternal life.  Faith was merely the access point for grace, like a receiver for radio signals or a solar panel to absorb the sunrays, or an open hand to accept a gift offered.  Abraham did not earn anything by some virtue of faith, for faith itself is a gift.  In his natural self he was rather characterized by unbelief, not only regarding Ishmael, but even Isaac’s birth.

David was also deeply flawed,  a murderer and adulterer (both capital crimes).  The Psalms pour out his acknowledgment of his sinfulness and need for God’s grace.  I have seen David as a hero to emulate, a man responsible for his own goodness and greatness, as though his title, “man after God’s own heart,” was about David replicating God’s virtues rather than God’s own heart being infused into David.  Abraham and David were two of our greatest, but both knew they needed a Savior–that is what I want to emulate: a conviction of my neediness.  I am on spiritual par with the holiest and greatest saints in history:  the ground is all level at the foot of the cross, and we not only start our spiritual journey there but end it there as well.  We all come from the gutter and end up in the palace, crowned as royalty, and the only bridge from that beginning to that ending is grace.

God built the bridge; we walk over it.

Posted January 5, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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