The sun came up this morning. In fact, it’s been coming up everyday for quite a long while from what I understand. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that. It’s one of my bring life back into perspective tools that I pull out when I feel myself getting a little out of kilter (is that primarily a western Kansas phrase?) in essence realizing my spiritual center has taken a few hits and needs some attention. As much extroverted energy that I have, I realize that quiet and downtime is as basic to human life as water, air, and food. We don’t always recognize it as easily. When we haven’t had food, we get hungry which triggers a response. When we haven’t had enough liquid, we get thirsty which triggers a response. When we are spiritually bereft or “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” as Matthew says, I’m not certain we always recognize the effects on us quite as easily. Or maybe even in the recognition, we don’t take those signs as seriously because we don’t quite believe being spiritually empty is life-threatening. That is unfortunate, because in so many ways it is.
When I reflect on the foundation that I count on to get me through difficult parts of the journey, while I love steak, and a well-cooked burger, and sometimes the comfort of potatoes and cream gravy, the food that keeps me going me physically, when connected with people, becomes that which sustains me spiritually and renews the hope which is essential to life. Through habit and inertia I can intake food and water, but without care and relationship and connection to a God of grace and mercy, physical sustenance becomes empty of meaning or purpose. Without meaning or purpose outside ourselves, the emptiness cuts so very deep in ways we sometimes cannot even articulate.
The world and the particular cultural context in which we live seeks to convince us that our highest value is independence. If we can just have enough money, the right house or car or job or title, great health and nutrition and weight and skin, enough but not too much knowledge, appropriate amounts and use of social media – I could go on and on – all that is supposed to help us be perfectly independent – to not need or have to rely on anyone else for our survival or happiness. That we can then choose when or if or who we want in our lives, and of course, we can decide who we do not want to ever have to see, or hear, or acknowledge in existence. And you know how that all adds up? Loneliness, deep and painful and often debilitating loneliness. Loneliness that cannot be fed or watered away. Loneliness that cannot be laid at the feet of someone else, but becomes our responsibility to risk reaching outside ourselves to find connection with and for others.
Reinvigorating and renewing our spiritual center, whether we are introverts with extrovert energy, or extroverts with deep introvert needs, happens when we are willing to name the challenge of doing soul-filled and spiritual work, and that work needs a sacred rhythm of individual and communal and communal and individual. It’s marvelous to spend time in my individual devotions and listen for and attend to the presence of the Holy. What I also know is if I’m then not in a community of learning and worship, my ideas and perspectives and way of understanding is never challenged or held accountable. How marvelous to believe God and I are always right – you know, as long as God agrees with me. *snort* As important as that individual time is, equally important is time in small groups, in serving community with others, and in congregational worship. In groups of folks we either know well or have never met before, we are so often gifted with different insights and perspectives. That may challenge us, it may cause us to ask new questions we thought we already had answered, and in the process we grow together as brothers and sisters in the mercy and grace of this, unwilling to fit into our already well-defined boxes, God. And in the heart of God is our true life and hope.
So I’m re-focusing intentional time on my spiritual center with the rising of the sun today. Not a bad day to decide that since it is Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of the season of Lent. I will protract more needed time alone, and I will, with great joy, start the all-church Lenten study with the Thursday morning small group tomorrow. I will get a needed morning off on Friday and am hoping to be over the coughing part of the flu enough for a quick run and the thinking and reflecting time that offers.
Then Saturday evening and Sunday we will worship together in this season that invites us to know in our penitence and honest reflection on ourselves and our faith, that God’s mercy and love and forgiveness is steadfast in faithfulness and blessing in all times and for all people.
How is your spiritual center in these rather trying days for United Methodists? Can we trust a sacred rhythm of the individual and the communal, of the receiving and the giving of self and time to others, of the personal devotion and the gathering for worship, of the willingness to put ourselves into small groups of folks with an open heart to listening to others experiences of the holy as they listen to ours? I do not doubt that God is moving this day and every day. We simply do well to put ourselves in places to open and raise our awareness to that holy presence in the midst of the journey together.