Need some divine therapy?

Thomas Keating calls contemplative prayer the divine therapy. We are all in need of therapy. Our overwhelming feelings, confusing emotions, and need for perspective regularly send us out in search of the latest and greatest podcasts, books, sermons, TED talks, therapists, self-help articles, and “guides” of every kind. The sheer amount of time and money we spend on “therapy” in our world today is staggering. If you know me at all, you know how much I value counseling, life coaching, and spiritual direction. I have all three of these people in my life and I am immeasurably grateful for them.  

However, there is a tendency in most of us to externalize our personal growth. We often think if we just find that right thing, then all will be well. We often mistakenly think that if there is not outward, visible progress in our lives then we must not be growing. This is a mistake because some of God’s best work in our lives comes from periods of waiting. When we are waiting, we may feel like maybe God went away. When we are waiting we may not feel God moving at all. When we are waiting, we may wonder if this restlessness will ever end.

Great saints of the past have spoken of purgation, illumination, and union. Purgation (a purging) is that place where we are being stripped of everything that isn’t God. It can be painful, it can feel lonely, and we can wonder if illumination and light will ever come again. In these moments, we are like the caterpillar in its cocoon. We are waiting, and in this waiting – in fact only in this dark space – some wonderful things can be born if we will let them be. There is both a surrender and a fight inside the cocoon. There is a struggle inside that must occur. The wings of a butterfly become strong and colorful because of that struggle, from that time in darkness. If we cut the cocoon open early, freeing the caterpillar from its struggle, we will see a butterfly that is both colorless and powerless to fly. We must surrender on some level and resist the urge that comes to cut the cocoon shell prematurely. Sometimes we cut our own cocoon shell and we leave the present moment by numbing our pain with addiction, busyness, or spiritually bypassing the pain altogether. God patiently and gently invites us back to the present, the only place where His presence resides. The beauty and the power in our lives often come from God’s work in the dark.

Many of us think of prayer as something we need to do. We think of it as a time for us to accomplish something. I’ve prayed today, check, now what is next? Contemplative prayer is more of a relationship than a task. As one mentor of mine recently said, “It is like laying in a hammock with your lover.” Imagine praying as “hammock time” with God! It is more of a passive work. Some of the most important things that happen in our lives may be invisible but they are no less real.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “When trees are waving wildly in the wind, one group of people thinks that it is the wind that moves the trees; the other group thinks that the motion of the trees creates the wind.” In our world, we are trained to trust in the material, trained to think that it must be the tree moving that has created the wind, because the tree is what we can see with our eyes. God’s spirit, who moves freely like the wind, is every bit as real as the trees that sway in His mighty breath.

God is patient, kind, and always near. St. Augustine said, “God is more near to you than you are to yourself.” God abides, always, it is we who are often absent. May you draw near to the One whose love for you knows no limit, and may you lounge in the hammock with the lover of your soul today.

Stargazing with Russell

Last night, while staying in the mountains, I took my 6-year old son outside after dark to do some stargazing. We set up a bed of blankets and pillows and we laid down to look up into the night sky. It was a clear night and we were far from the light pollution of the city so we could see the stars in all their wonder and mesmerizing splendor. We waited and we watched until Russell saw his first shooting star!

After laying side-by-side for 30 minutes or so, Russell said, “I wish I could take the light of all those stars into my tummy because then I would be a glow stick.” I love the imagination, creativity, and mind of a child!

Some people worship creation rather than the Creator. Others are drawn to the Maker of those shooting stars. God’s creation is capable of pointing us to God.  I couldn’t help but wonder while laying there next to Russell if this was how a 6-year old articulates what Christian mystics call a desire for union. Or, maybe he just wants to be a glow stick! Who knows?! Either way, his child-like wonder was not lost on me.

It’s hard not to be in awe when you look up into a night sky. Isaiah 40:26 speaks to this wonder, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

When I gaze at the stars, I want to soak it all up inside me too, just like Russell, right into my belly and down to my toes. And even more, I want to be one with the maker of those stars.

Waging Peace In A World Full of Conflict

The Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’s best known parables. Its influence and notoriety has been so great that the phrase “Good Samaritan” remains in the general lexicon some 2,000 years after this little story was first told.

What is so powerful about this parable are the assumptions that the hearer/reader has about each character in the story: the man walking by himself on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the thieves who ambush the traveler, robbing him and leaving him for dead, the two religious figures who walk by the beaten man, yet do not offer him any aid.

And, finally, the Samaritan man who not only stops, but goes above and beyond to help nurse the traveler back to health. Even outside the parable, there is the legal expert who asks Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life, and then the follow up question of “who is my neighbor?”

So many assumptions about so many people. This story that Jesus tells takes all of these assumptions and seems to turn them on their head.

The characters that should be the ‘good guys’ — the priest and Levite — are portrayed negatively. The supposed bad guys — the thieves and Samaritan — are either barely talked about (the thieves) or exalted as the example to be followed (the Samaritan).

Even the legal expert, the guy who knows all the right answers, has trouble naming the hero of the story (when Jesus asks him who was the neighbor in the story, he answers ‘the one who shows mercy’ instead of simply saying ‘the Samaritan’).

To follow the God of peace and restoration is to upend all of the assumptions of our day and age. In this story of upended assumptions we can see what it means to wage peace in a world that is full of conflict.

Who do you need to see as God sees today?


All of creation has fallen from the state of Shalom that God originally intended. God is on a mission of restoration of peace, and we are invited to participate.

The topic of peace is a central area of concern for everyone, whether or not we would articulate it that way. Whether it be in the arena of interpersonal relationships, in our neighborhoods and communities, or simply as citizens of this world, we are all in need of peace and a restoration of Shalom.

Many people may cynically think of peace as an unattainable goal; something that sounds nice but isn’t realistic. Or perhaps some may think that peace is achieved through force; that whoever has the most strength wins. Some Christians may think of peacemaking as something that “we” as Christians bring to “them” as non-Christians.

The truth is that we are all in need of ongoing restoration and peace, and the Good News is that we are all recipients of the grace necessary to enact peace. We can all partner and participate in the restoration of Shalom that God is working throughout all of Creation.

The pursuit of wisdom

The pursuit of Wisdom seems to be an obsession for our culture today.

You can see this in the sheer number of podcasts, video tutorials on youtube, TED talks, and self-help books. There is a massive amount of searching for wisdom going on all around us.

But so much (if not most) of this searching is based on the assumption that wisdom can be found in a product that can be packaged and delivered to whoever wants it. Wisdom is found in the prize. In the thing. In the podcast, video, or seminar. We say to ourselves, “If I just make time and money to book that mindfulness yoga retreat in Costa Rica, then I will have the wisdom I need.” Or, “If I just hire that life coach, then I will gain the wisdom I’m seeking.” Or, maybe, “If I just listen to the right sermon, all my problems will be resolved.”

But in all this searching for wisdom, are we really finding it?

Wisdom is not found in the object (the spouse, or the podcast, or the next best thing) nor is it found through the behavior (the virtue, or living perfectly). Wisdom is found through the desire to find Wisdom. Wisdom is a person, and when you seek her with all your heart, you will find her.

 Out in the open Wisdom calls aloud,
    she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
    at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple
    love your simple ways?
  How long will mockers delight in mockery
    and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
    Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
   I will make known to you my teachings.”
Proverbs 1:20-23, NIV

What makes a fire burn

We just got back from northern Wisconsin, the land of cheese and lakes. I always know I’m back in WI when we stop at a gas station to fill up and the cheese department inside the gas station is bigger than the cheese department at Whole Foods. I think that is what Jesus meant when He said, “On earth, as it is in heaven.

Our week “UpNorth” on the lake is a strong, enduring Grade family tradition. Tim’s been going UpNorth his entire life and I’ve been joining his family every summer since we’ve been married. And being UpNorth gives us a daily opportunity to teach our kids about campfires. It’s interesting to me that it is always Russell and Lyla’s tendency to stack the logs in tight, to pile them on thick, and to keep adding and adding and adding more logs on the fire. But all that does is smother out the flame. As important as the logs are, equally important is the space between the logs. The same is true in life — and the same is true with our words.

It reminds me of this poem by Judy Brown, simply called “Fire.”

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire


simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.


God’s Holy Spirit is the fire that knows just how it wants to burn. I pray that this Holy Fire might burn bright inside of us today.

Questions from the book of Ruth

During the month of June, we are looking at the book of Ruth in the Bible. The story of Ruth in the ancient scriptures is incredibly relevant for us today. When Boaz, the faithful pillar of society, is confronted with the outside foreigner Ruth, he responds in a kind and pious way. He does not chase her away from his field, yet he doesn’t offer her anything except a blessing of hopeful provision from God.

It is the outsider Ruth who challenges Boaz to be more tangibly helpful to a person in her situation. She doesn’t just need a blessing, she needs food and protection. And while Boaz hadn’t kicked her out of the field, he also hadn’t guaranteed that she would be successful in her gleaning efforts.

Ruth subtly and slyly points this out to him, “I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls” (Ruth 2:13) with the result that he catches on and makes sure she receives what she needs.

So Boaz, the good and faithful Israelite, actually needs the voice of the pagan outsider to teach him how to be faithful to the God of whom he invokes blessings. Boaz may have known how to pray for God to do good to the stranger, but it took the stranger to teach Boaz how to make those prayers become actualized.

You can hear very clear echoes of this story in the New Testament book of James, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” -James 2:14

Praying for someone in need is one thing, especially someone like Ruth, the outsider. But what if our faith calls us to more than just wishing people well, and hoping for the best for them? How is an invisible God made visible in the world? It is by the hands and the hearts of those who follow that God.

St. John Chrysostom said “Do you think that the man-loving God has given you much so that you could use it only for your own benefit? No, but so that your abundance might supply the lack of others.”

What is interesting in this story (and perhaps most jarring) is that it takes Ruth (the pagan foreigner) to teach Boaz (the faithful pillar of society) what it means to care for those in need.

The book of Ruth raises all sorts of questions for us.

  • Who are the outsiders that I encounter daily?
  • What is my relationship to them?
  • How am I interacting with them?
  • What do they have to teach me?
  • Am I willing to listen?