Saturday, November 21, 2009

Continue to Continue

It's that time of year. If you are at all enmeshed in the academic world then you know what I'm talking about. Yes, Target has been celebrating Christmas (in the form of plastic wreathes and glittered cards) and holiday music is creeping onto the airwaves. And it's not even quite Thanksgiving yet. But, if you're a student (or teacher or both) then you're looking at the ugly end of term papers, projects, and piles of grading. It's easy for me to get distracted. I spend most of my time just getting and forgetting what I'm really working towards. In the last week I was reminded of a verse I learned as a scripture song in elementary school. "Whatever you do, work at it with all you heart as working for the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23). Try it. As you are getting through you daily tasks around the house, at work, at school, preparing for holiday trips, parties, and family gatherings, just repeat the verse over and over in your mind until everything you do is in its rhythm.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Guiltless--1 John 1:9, 5:18, 19

Don't let the devil control you with guilt. I think he leads good Christians into sin not for the sin itself but for the power of the guilt that comes from having knowingly done what you know and wish you hadn't done. He is betting that when you get on your knees to ask God's forgiveness, you will be so overcome as to reject His promise--unable to accept his forgiveness and forgive yourself. He is betting that guilt will overcome you, fester in you, turn into self-loathing and despair. Why drive a nonbeliever to commit a "petty" sin when a child of God could be brought to sin, and foster and nurture her subsequent guilt into a powerful leviathan, swallowing her whole?

Unfailingly There

On football Saturday mornings, in the Big 10 university town in which I live, it seems easiest to place the blame of distraction on the fanatics that parade through the streets in their school colors on their way from tailgate to stadium to tailgate. But on those mornings when I wake to early morning conviviality and as I drive against the football traffic to church, I kid myself, for they are hardly a distraction compared to the things that interrupt my daily prayer life and that I allow to disrupt my walk with God. It's these things, not raucous neighbors, that gnaw at the edges and weaken my foundation.

So what have I done but find another reason to escape. I think, If only I could escape this place I could be free of all temptation, all distraction, I could pray unceasingly, I could leave behind my the universities and studies, the people I dislike in my community, the Midwestern humidity and fickle weather. If only I...and I could...and I would...I...I...I.

Somehow along the way I have self-centeredly equated the difficulties in my walk with God with the difficulties and imperfections of my environment and I've been in search of an escape, an exit from the city to the hills. In this escape from the hard things in life, I've been risking running from God. A mid-twentieth century Trappist monk once admonished:

Some men have perhaps become hermits with the thought that sanctity could only be attained by escape from other men. But only justification for a life of deliberate solitude is the conviction that it will help you to love not only God but also other men. If you go into the desert merely to get away from people you dislike, you will find neither peace nor solitude; you will only isolate yourself with a tribe of devils.

But he adds these encouraging words:

No matter how distracted you may be, pray by peaceful, even perhaps inarticulate, efforts to center your heart upon God, Who is present to you in spite of all that may be going through your mind. His presence does not depend on your thoughts of Him. He is unfailingly there; if He were not, you could not even exist. The memory of His unfailing presence is the surest anchor for our minds and hearts in the storm of distraction and temptation by which we must be purified.

So I learn to keep praying, unceasingly, knowing God is there even when I cannot keep my heart centered. In the wildest moments of the day I reflect on his presence, "God is here. God is here," and depend on him to be my anchor, to keep me from running aground in a sea of distraction and temptation.

--quotations from Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (1961), pp. 52, 224