While I was driving to work this evening, I heard a radio segment called The Urban Man . Basically, this nerdy guy tells us all about the struggles to remain human while living in LA. Tonight’s was particularly interesting because his topic was about how we modern people are so addicted to distraction.

There’s a spiritual sickness in too much distraction and diversion. In my own life, I have certain tasks that I know I need to do, but so often I go for what feels less boring at the moment. This can lead to all kinds of weird habits and pursuits. It’s not that entertainment is bad. It has its place. It’s just when we’re so addicted to pleasurable activities that we can’t fulfill our responsibilities, or we grudgingly do things with our minds somewhere else.

There’s something spiritually rewarding and God-glorifying about accepting the work that we have and doing it dutifully and sacrificially as a way of obeying God. Henri Nouwen gives a great definition of obedience as “a way of listening to God” in his book Spiritual Direction . He also talks about deafness to God, or absurdity (ab sardus: not hearing) as the opposite of obedience. In this view, obedience isn’t so much a certain list of rules and duties, but a way of being in the world, a way of walking in step into what God is doing right in front of you.

So often I’d rather be so many other places than work, the DMV, Costco, a party of a friend of a friend, a job interview, etc. But by avoiding listening to God at those moments, I’m actually selling myself short, even disobeying and not being the person I’m created to be. Bonhoeffer has a really interesting quote about his calling in life that serves as the antithesis of this distracted, deaf existence that we all battle on a daily basis. He says, in his letter to Eberhard Bethge :

“I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. ”

It’s such a daily struggle just to be human and nothing less.  Truly living in this world means listening to God in everything.  That’s true humanity, and it glorifies God. 

As Irenaeus says, “The glory of God is a man fully alive”.

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fasting quote

March 31, 2008

“The question we need to ask with any spiritual discipline is, What does God want to accomplish through this practice? … Perhaps we can see, then, that the discipline of fasting has to do with the critical dynamic of accepting those limits which are life-restoring. Our culture would seduce us into believing that we can have it all, do it all, and (even more preposterous!) that we deserve it all. Yet in refusing to accept limits on our consumption or activity, we perpetuate a death-dealing dynamic in the world. That is why the discipline of fasting is so profoundly important today.Marjorie J. Thompson
Soul Feast

i unteach engrish

March 30, 2008

I’m an ESL teacher part of the time. A lot of people think this means teaching people who know absolutely no English, kind of like how most Americans know absolutely nothing of other languages. Actually, the rest of the world does use quite a bit of English. But is it recognizable? Sort of….

My students are no exception. A lot of my teaching involves helping students unlearn their “Engrish”.

dew dew

For more fun, go to Engrish.com

I’m privileged to live in a part of LA county where you can drive for five minutes, or walk for 20 and be completely surrounded by pristine nature — hills covered in chaparral, mustard flowers after heavy winter rains, sycamore and oaks in cool mini canyons and the smell of sage. Here’s some pics from a short excursion the other day…

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What God might say to us…….

by Scott Cairns

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,
.
relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.
.
Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.
.
Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.
.
Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—
.
these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.


post-lent blues

March 29, 2008

So I’ve been having a bit of a crisis this week after Easter. 40 days of Lent was a good challenge, and I was able to go without coffee the whole time (except Sundays). It was a good goal to have.

However, after a really wonderful and meaningful Easter, I felt a bit empty afterwards. Then, after a lot of thought and listening to an excellent podcast, I realized the problem. I had focused so much on Lent as an end in itself, and too little on Lent being a way of becoming more disciplined and self-denying throughout the year.

Our life in Christ is one of discipline and self denial, but too often we think once we learn a lesson or reach a certain plateau or mountaintop, that everything’s going to be easy from there. I can’t really believe that anymore. I have to live a daily life of self-denial and constantly put my flesh to death so that I can participate in God’s life, and not act like His enemy. It’s so extremely hard, but at the same time, so totally rewarding that Jesus can honestly tell us that his burden is easy and his yoke is light. My burden this week at times felt so heavy, as if I were carrying it alone. For some reason, I didn’t feel that way during Lent. Maybe it’s because I knew I was denying myself…….

This prayer from the Eastern Church helped me through Lent; it’s by St. Ephrem the Syrian. I think I need to continue to pray it daily, throughout the year:

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of sloth and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humility, patience, and love.

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen.

St. Ephrem

bleak

March 28, 2008

 

 

I’ve thrust open the door to my soul one too many times.

As I stood helplessly by, the senseless and apathetic revelry

marched across the threshold into the inner chamber.

They partied, drank, swore, and stomped.

They thrashed themselves together, writhing in fake pleasure

as I watched like a soulless ghost, excited to tingles,

 

yet their faces disappeared.

Their bodies vanished into the fleshy walls.

Over faster than the swing of the bolted door open.

All I’m left with is an empty, grimy room needing to be cleaned.

A wide-open door that I’m not sure how to close,

a busted lock hanging from its latch.

 

 

the destroyed room 1978

 

 

alex webb

March 28, 2008

My favorite photographer. His use of colors, shadows and composition have shown me the complexity and depth of an image. I love how he uses perspective, anonymity, and figures.

Quotes:

“I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch and wait and talk, and then watch and wait some more, trying to remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the secret heart of the known awaits just around the corner.

“Color is very much about atmosphere and emotion and the feel of a place.”  – Alex Webb

I think it speaks for itself. I need to pray more prayers like this:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that

I think I am following Your will

does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please You.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always

though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and
You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

 

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Imperative

March 26, 2008

By Scott Cairns

The thing to remember is how
Tentative all of this really is.
You could wake up dead.

Or the woman you love
Could decide you’re ugly.
Maybe she’ll finally give up
Trying to ignore the way
You floss your teeth as you
Watch television. All I’m saying
Is that there are no sure things here.

I mean, you’ll probably wake up alive,
And she’ll probably keep putting off
Any actual decision about your looks.
Could be she’ll be glad your teeth
are so clean. The morning could
be full of all the love and kindness
you need. Just don’t go thinking
you deserve any of it.