Forgive As The Lord Has Forgiven You

Forgive As The Lord

Has Forgiven You

(Col 3:13)

   Cool showers descend
And are quenching all.
Till drought is at end
With your drenching fall.

Then riverbanks burst
With reviving rains.
Turn deserts of thirst
Into thriving plains.

With pardon outpoured,
You have thriven too.
Forgive as the Lord
Has forgiven you.

by Stephen Wentworth Arndt

Earthen Vessels

Earthen Vessels (2 Cor 4, 7)

With wine and oil wash pure
The wound still oozing;
Spread salve and balm’s liqueur
On gash and bruising;
Pour myrrh and aloe-cure
God makes by using
Life’s mortar and the press
Of Love’s strong pestles.
Soothe each who in distress
Yet strives and wrestles,
With treasure we possess
In earthen vessels!

Poetry by Stephen Wentworth Arndt

Potent Poetry

I’ve recently been reading Margot Alder’s “Drawing Down the Moon” and was noting again the significant impact of poetry on Pagan spirituality. I think the resurgence of interest in poetry evident in Paganism, the emerging church, and the poetry slam scene is one of those characteristics of postmodernism. I’m finding its a great non-musical expression of worship too.

John Cassian on Ecstatic Prayer

I recently came across some interesting reflections on ecstatic prayer by John Cassian (360-435 AD).

“Our mind arrives at that incorruption of power … that is not concerned with considering any image, and indeed is not distinguished by any accompaniment of voice or words, but with the intention of the mind on fire. [This prayer] is produced through an inexpressible ecstasy of heart, by an unexplainable keenness of spirit, and so the mind altered beyond sense or visible matter pours forth to God with unutterable groans and sighs.”

Conferences 10.11.6

Researching further I came across a review on the book Cassian the Monk by Oxford University Press.

His [Cassian’s) Institutes and Conferences are a remarkable synthesis of earlier monastic traditions, especially those of fourth-century Egypt, informed throughout by Cassian’s awareness of the particular needs of the Latin monastic movement he was helping to shape. Sometimes portrayed as simply an advocate of the sophisticated spiritual theology of Evagrius of Ponticus (360-435), Cassian was actually a theologian of keen insight, realism, and creativity. His teaching on sexuality is unique in early monastic literature in both its breadth and its depth, and his integration of biblical interpretation with the ways of prayer and teaching on ecstatic prayer are of fundamental importance for the western monastic tradition. The only Latin writer included in the classic Greek collections of monastic sayings, Cassian was the major spiritual influence on both the Rule of the Master and the Rule of Benedict, as well as the source for Gregory the Great’s teaching on capital sins and compunction.

Apparently John Cassian played a formative role in the life of John Main, a significant (but problematic) figure in the contemporary Christian contemplative tradition.

Loving the Satanist

Jesus said to love God and to love everyone is the essence of true spirituality.

Dare we love the Satanist? The Nietzschian individualist? How can you love a person if you run away from every encounter? Would you welcome the LaVeyan as friend? If you fear unclean spirits, where has God’s Spirit gone? Has he fled? Ask the Spirit of Christ to free us from the herd mentality.

Body Prayers

The alt.worship collective has posted an interesting primer on body prayers:

“Body prayers are prayers in which the whole or parts of the body are used to express feelings and emotions. They are closely related to yoga and meditation as a method of feeling both at peace with oneself and in the presence of God. Some people find these more valuable than spoken prayers as they do not need to find the ‘right words’ to express themselves and communicate with God”


Faux unity

Lately I’ve been wondering if trying to educate mainstream Christians about contextualisation is a bit wrong headed. Besides the fact that it burns you out (I say this from experience), the reality is traditional-contemporary churches already are contextualized for their constituencies – the increasingly marginalized pool of modernists in western society. They don’t talk about it this way of course, or realize how culturally marginalized they really are, but should we have hernias over it? It works for them.

To extend this line of thought, let’s no forget their forbears, the Amish. Should we try and ram contexualisation theory down their throats too? Hassle them to be more missional? But the Amish practice contextualisation! They have luddite churches for cultural luddites. Perfect fit! They don’t need our theories. The fact that their mission field is vanishingly small doesn’t change this.

Maybe I’m being facetious, but I say this because for all our efforts to educate mainstream Christians about contextualisation, all we see to be doing is sowing division. We focus on our distinctiveness, rub it up the noses of other Christians and wonder why they react the way the do. No, I think what we need to do instead is re-evaluate Christian unity. What is our basis for unity with other Christians? How do we exercise patience, kindness, humility and other fruits of the spirit in relations with them? How do we avoid the conflicts that invariably arise when parallel monocultural missions are pursued (remember Rowandra, South Africa, etc).

I think the real problem we have with modernist Christianity is its tendency to promote a faux unity, a unity that is not based on universals. Like the Hebrew Christians insisting that all Christians should refrain from meat offered to idols, get circumcised and practice kosher living, the Modernist evangelical-charistmatic insistence that we should all adopt their metaphors, their theological emphases, should be expose for what it is, cultural imperialism masquerading as universal truth. I’m thinking we shouldn’t be berating modernist Christians for their indifference towards contextual mission theory, what we should be critiquing them for is the same thing Paul critiqued the Hebrew Christians for – universalizing the relative, over-emphasisng non-essentials, adding to the gospel for people not of their (sub)culture and erecting stumbling blocks on the path to salvation. The irony is, the most strident voices of “bible-only” preaching are some of the worst culprits of reading cultural relativities into the universal gospel message. So let’s pray about it, let’s look for what we do have in common with our Christian siblings, lets focus a little less about our own distinctiveness in modernist Christian forums, and where we do feel that critique is being called for by the Spirit, lets focus on what Paul did, cultivating authentic unity.

A final note: with the explosion of sub-cultures within global society, on the net and on the streets, will there ever contextualised churches for every subculture? Within easy reach? I think the reality is we will be faced with people who don’t culturally fit within any church for some time to come yet, and maybe never get it fully right. Culture is shifting too quickly to contextualise for every emerging possibility. In such as environment, can we say the emerging church will ever fully emerge? As I person who straddles both the emerging church and the contemporary church and gets a sore ass in the process, I’ve come to think that maybe we’ll never get contextualisation fully right, but what we do need to get right, and get right now, is a biblical understanding of unity cultivation.

Meditation in the Psalms

The Psalms are an excellent place to begin exploration of biblical meditation. Following are excepts of the more explicit references. I’ve left the more implicit ones out as this post is already excessively long. Often the whole psalm is a meditation so make sure you check out the psalms in their entirity if this wets your appetite. One thing to remember – the Psalms are not inherrantly Christian unless you view them from a New Testament context. Readers need to consider: how did Jesus reframe the law and embody the work of God?

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 1:2

In your anger do not sin;
When you are on your beds,
Search your hearts and be silent.
Psalm 4:4

When I consider your heavens,
The work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars,
Which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
The son of man that you care for him?
Psalm 8:3-4

May the words of my mouth
And the meditation of my heart
Be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
Do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
When they carry out their wicked schemes.
Psalm 37:7

My heart grew hot within me,
And as I meditated, the fire burned;
Then I spoke with my tongue:
Psalm 39:3

Be still, and know that I am God
Psalm 46:10

Within your temple, O God,
We meditate on your unfailing love.
Psalm 48:9

My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
The utterance of my heart will give understanding.
Psalm 49:3

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Psalm 63:6

I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
Psalm 77:3

I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
Psalm 77:6

I will meditate on all your works
And consider all your mighty deeds.
Psalm 77:12

May my meditation be pleasing to him,
As I rejoice in the LORD.
Psalm 104:34

Look to the Lord and his strength;
Seek his face always.
Psalm 105:4

Great are the works of the Lord;
They are pondered by all who delight in them.
Psalm 111:2

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Psalm 111:10

I meditate on your precepts
And consider your ways.
Psalm 119:15

Open my eyes that I may see
Wonderful things in your law.
Psalm 119:18

Though rulers sit together and slander me,
Your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Psalm 119:23

Let me understand the teaching of your precepts;
Then I will meditate on your wonders.
Psalm 119:27

I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love,
And I meditate on your decrees.
Psalm 119:48

May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause;
But I will meditate on your precepts.
Psalm 119:78

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Psalm 119:97

I have more insight than all my teachers,
For I meditate on your statutes.
Psalm 119:99

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
That I may meditate on your promises.
Psalm 119:148

I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
And consider what your hands have done.
Psalm 143:5

They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty,
And I will meditate on your wonderful works.
Psalm 145:5

New Spiritualities and Christian Myopia

I think part of the problem with discussing new spiritualities with Christian leaders is that the majority lack the breadth of experience and cognitive tools to perceive just how ubiquitous the influence of new spiritualities really are:

Three common misconceptions many Christians buy into:

  1. That increasing secularism equates to decreasing interest in God
  2. That affirmation of Jesus divinity equates to monotheistic belief
  3. That religion is based around theology

So when Christian leaders read statistics along the lines that 80% of Australians profess a belief in God, that 75% or so identify themselves with a Christian denomination, that 65% or so believe in the divinity of Christ, but only 8% or so attend church weekly, they draw the apparently logical (but faulty) conclusion that most Australians are basically monotheistic, nominal Christians, who have drifted away from an interest in church and God because they find it booring. Old style church can’t compete with the experience economy and the solution is to sex up the experience with better music.

But if you dig deeper, the fallacy of such thinking becomes more apparent.

Firstly, while Australians are becoming less ‘religious’ they are taking to ‘spirituality’ like never before. What we are really seeing is an explosion of secularised spirituality, of irreligious spirituality, that defies the conventions that the survey statistics were designed to measure. Secularisation, rather than ushering in the death of religion, has ushered in its de-institutionalisation, its commodification. The proof is in the book sales. I’ll keep saying it – Da Vinci Code! We are seeing a shift from formal religion to folk religion. If you think ‘secularised spirituality’ is an oxymoron, then its going to remain invisible to you.

Secondly, while most Australians retain a residual love for Jesus, that doesn’t make them nominal Christians any more than my residual affections for the Buddha make me a nominal Buddhist. Even many hard core Wiccans I know would happily affirm the divinity of Jesus. They would also however affirm the divinity of Diana, Kali, Pan, Mary, Hecete, and a host of others. See, thats the challenge of pantheism, the issue is not “is Jesus divine?”, it is “how can you tell me any of these gods/goddesses are not divine also? They’re all manifestations of Divinity aren’t they?” If witches, who consciously distance themselves from Christianity, can say that then should you be suprised that fluffy do-it-yourself seekers can too? I say this as one of a select group of Christians who have converted directly out of this paradigm without the secondary conversion into modernism. Monotheists are the ones starting to look strange these days! The pantheist worldview used to be fringe but now its increasingly mainstream, now its Oprah. They problem with missions in this environment is that convincing people that Jesus is divine doesn’t automatically make them Christians! All they may be doing is adding him to their religious shopping cart. How prevalent is pantheism? Its hard to judge, but there are some indicators. I’ll pick one – 35% of Australians believe in reincarnation. If you think all people who say Jesus is God are Christians by definition, a lot of this is going to remain invisible to you.

Thirdly, most religions aren’t centred around theology, most are centred around ritual, around praxis. Lets stop projecting western Christian understandings onto other traditions – then you might see further. I can’t recall the number of times Christians have looked at me quizzically when I affirmed that Yoga is a spiritual practice. “Its an exercise regime isn’t it?” My response, “So? That makes a difference does it?” Really, I think the inability to see this says a lot about Christian syncretism with the philosophy of Cartesian dualism.

Can we move beyond this myopia? Sadly, there is a lot of negative reinforcement to overcome. Think of the standard gospel appeal, “accept God into your life” Reality check! Many of these people may already have someone called “God” in their life, right at the centre. Just maybe not the one you know though. Incidentally I recently heard a gospel presentation where one of the apostles was described as taking God to a Jewish man. Can you see the filtering process inherent in such a statement?

And let look further. Buddha didn’t worship someone called “God”. Does that make him unspiritual? He’s the founder of one of the great world religions!

Philip Johnson recently asserted: “Those who believe in pursuing contextual missions inside the culture of late capitalism in the west must place alternative spiritualities and new religious movements close to the centre of their passion”. Are you ready to be that missional?

I know this is a bit of a rant, but I get tired of Christian leaders being so self-congratulatory about how open they are, yet time and time again taking the blue pill whenever the subject of contextualised engagement with new religious movements comes up. If leaders can’t handle it, how do you expect regular Christians to come to grips with it?

Wandering thoughts in prayer

When you tackle the subject of meditation and prayer, inevitably the issue of wandering thoughts comes up. It’s helpful to note that even quite famous contemplatives struggled with this issue. Following is an extract from Brother Lawrence’s, “Practicing the Presence of God”.

Eighth Letter: You tell me nothing new. You are not the only one who is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving. But the will is mistress of all our faculties. She must recall our stray thoughts and carry them to God as their final end.

If the mind is not sufficiently controlled and disciplined at our first engaging in devotion, it contracts certain bad habits of wandering and dissipation. These are difficult to overcome. The mind can draw us, even against our will, to worldly things. I believe one remedy for this is to humbly confess our faults and beg God’s mercy and help.

I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer. Many words and long discourses are often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in prayer before God, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man’s gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the Lord. If your mind sometimes wanders and withdraws itself from Him, do not become upset. Trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to re-collect it. The will must bring it back in tranquillity. If you persevere in this manner, God will have pity on you.

One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquillity, is not to let it wander too far at other times. Keep your mind strictly in the presence of God. Then being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings. I have told you already of the advantages we may draw from this practice of the presence of God. Let us set about it seriously and pray for one another.

NB: Brother Lawrence lived from 1611-1691.

Love – the true sign of meditation mastery

When you hear the word meditation, what comes to mind? Is it the saffron robed guru from India or the monk from Tibet? Is it the scantily clad supermodel sitting in a lotus position on a beach? Is it a medieval hermit sitting on top of a mountain? Maybe a young Wiccan sitting in a circle of candles? Whatever it is, I suspect few would think of a Christian. Yet, here I am.

In an image-saturated society, Christian meditators often conjure up a mental blank. We go largely unrecognised. Yet in a sense, that is the essence of the Christian path. After all, Jesus was quite critical of people who thought externals made them “spiritual” and never sought to stand out from the crowd in this way himself.

So what does make the truly spiritual person stand out? I think the apostle Paul summed it up perfectly in 1 Corinthians 13 – it’s not how flashy or gifted they are – it’s their faith, their hope and their love, but especially their love. This and this alone, is the true sign of spiritual mastery according to the New Testament teachings.