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Spirituality and the Spirit

I have previously written about spirituality in what might be called a generic sense: as a human capability. A simple way of understanding the spiritual side of human nature is to see it as the capacity for self-transcendence.

candle-tipI have explored this idea here:

As I say, it is possible to see all of this as “spirituality” in a generic sense. It’s a human capacity.

But, to go further in discussing this, I need to draw on ideas explicitly from Christian theology.  At this point, the Christian perspective gives us some help in understanding how human spiritual capabilities connect us with God and with the world around us. The helpful concept in this case is the idea of the Holy Spirit. Our human capacity — and yearning — to reach out beyond ourselves is answered by the reality of God’s Spirit reaching to us. This is only natural to expect. We have an desire to connect with a higher reality than ourselves. Our desire to breathe is answered by the air around us. Our desire for food and water are answered the reality of food and water. Our desire for a connection with God  — which would give a framework of meaning to our lives and our moral choices — is answered by the Holy Spirit of God. (more…)

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The Prayer to the Holy Spirit

emmaus-logoSince 1985 I have been involved in the Walk to Emmaus movement of the United Methodist Church.  When the Chrysalis weekends (for teens) began in Michigan, I quickly became part of that. More recently, I have been a part of the Keryx prison ministry movement which is a similar weekend but held for the inmates of prisons here in Michigan. (In other parts of the world, the comparable prison ministry is called Kairos.)

All of these are an outgrowth of the larger Cursillo movement that began in the Roman Catholic Church, in Spain in 1949. As Protestants became interested in the Cursillo, many Protestant versions began to arise. The Walk to Emmaus is simply the United Methodist version. Chrysalis is the United Methodist version for teenagers. But, there are many other Protestant versions of Cursillo as well, including: Pilgrimage (Presbyterian), Via de Christo (Lutheran), Episcopal Cursillo, Tres Dias, DeColores in Christo, etc.

It is characteristic of most of these Cursillo-type weekends that at the beginning of the several talks (traditionally called “rollos”) given on the weekend some version of the following prayer is recited by the participants: (more…)

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Some Quotes from the Internet

internet-wrldBoze Herrington gives us a heart-rending account of his involvement in a prayer group (associated with the International House of Prayer) that evolved into a dangerous cult. The account centers around the death of the cult leader’s wife (Boze’s friend) Bethany. He writes: “But it is clear that when Bethany died, she was part of a community shrouded in fear and hatred, a community where those who spoke out were treated as though they didn’t exist. Their loves, desires, opinions, feelings, and whole personalities were invalidated, all in the name of God.” At The Atlantic here: The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult.

Jonathan Merritt on the public’s response to Christian leaders: “The point is that people don’t like mean people and judgmental people and power-hungry people, regardless of their religion. Most people dislike Christian jerks because they are jerks, not because they are Christian. (According to a 2013 Barna poll, about 51% of self-identified Christians are characterized by having the attitudes and actions that are “Pharisaical” as opposed to “Christlike.”)” Here: What the Pope’s popularity says about American culture. (more…)

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Some Things Christians Could Agree Upon Even If They End Up Having To Agree to Disagree (About Gay & Lesbian Issues)

debateThe controversy in the Church over the morality of same gender sex has flared up again lately with the appearance of a new wave of books on the subject. Now evangelical and (otherwise) conservative authors are advocating the moral acceptance of same gender sex — for those who are so inclined. (This includes one book that I find rather interesting myself.) And, there has been a strong and angry reaction against this — causing one publisher to be removed from the National Religious Broadcasters. While the controversy has entered a new stage, it still appears that Christians are bitterly opposed on this issue. In the United Methodist Church, there has been talk of schism over the issue — though I personally doubt that that will happen. All in all, Christians seem no closer to being able to agree with one another about the morality of same gender sex than they ever were.

There are two opposing views. I call them Side A & Side B. “To put the difference in simple, perhaps overly simple terms: SideB believes that gay/homosexual sex is immoral. SideA by contrast believes that gay/homosexual sex is morally equal to heterosexual sex.”

And, one might wonder, in the face of a disagreement so bitter, divisive and deep, whether there could possibly be any common cause among the disputants. Are there, in fact, some things Christians could agree upon, even if they find they disagree on the morality of same gender sex?

Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I think there are. (more…)

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What is Spirituality?

Oddly enough, Christians often have a difficult time talking meaningfully about spirituality. It is as if words fail us at this point.

candle-tipWe are at the edge of a mystery. We are talking about the ways of God — and the ways in which humans find connection with God. We are not used to thinking of this as something which is open to analysis and investigation. After all: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NRSV).

I certainly do not wish to deny this. But, this does not mean that the experience of human spirituality is beyond discussion or analysis — at least to some degree. Yes, there is a mystery to the way God works. But, truth be told, we are surrounded by mystery continually. there is a mystery to the way the world works. We are often unaware of this — but, still, it is true. There is so much about life and the world that we do not — and apparently cannot — fully understand. But, this does not stop us from talking meaningfully about the things we can understand. (more…)

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The Individual and the Community – Psalm 25

I’m still continuing my introduction to Psalm 25. I have commented here and here about the themes I see in Psalm 25, but I haven’t said a word so far about the structure of the Psalm. This hardly seems right. It is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. But, I wanted to give you an idea why I find this Psalm so interesting.

Hebrew AlphabetWell, the structure is interesting too. This is one of those alphabetic psalms. The first verse begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the next verse with the next letter, and so forth. (Other such psalms are 9, 10, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 and 145.) The last verse is outside this structure. So, verses 1-21 are alphabetic in structure. Verse 22 is like a postscript comment. Commentators are quick to assert that verse 22 comes from a different author, though (of course) that need not be true.

It’s always good to know about this alphabetic structure. Then, we do not expect too much from the Psalm — the constraints of the alphabetic structure limit freedom of expression. Craigie writes (p. 217):

but, inevitably the acrostic pattern imposes certain limitations on the poet, and as a consequence there is not a clearly developed internal sequence of thought within the psalm. The verses alternate between prayers or petitions and expressions of the psalmist’s confidence in God.

But, there is one very interesting feature: verse 22 stands outside the alphabetic structure. (more…)

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G. A. Studdard Kennedy: Keep On Seeking!

G. A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929)

G. A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929)

The faculty of faith is not meant to kill the faculty of criticism and the instinct of curiosity, but rather to keep them keen and alive, and prevent them dying of despair. Faith is the mark of those who seek and keep on seeking, who ask and keep on asking, who knock and keep on knocking, until the door is opened. The passive, weak-kneed taking of everything on trust which is often presented as faith is a travesty of its truth. True faith is the most active, positive, and powerful of all virtues. It means that a man, having come into spiritual communion with that great personal Spirit Who lives and works behind the universe, can trust Him, and, trusting Him, can use all his powers of body, mind, and spirit to cooperate with Him in the great purpose of perfection; it means that the man of faith will be the man of science in its deepest, truest sense, and will never cease from asking questions, never cease from seeking for the reason that lies behind all mysteries.

— G. A. Studdert Kennedy , The Hardest Part (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1919), p. 83-84.

Found on the Internet: here.

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A Prayer for Today

“I will give you a new heart and a new mind. I will take away your stubborn heart of stone and give you an obedient heart. I will put my spirit in you and will see to it that you follow my laws and keep all the commands I have given you.” — Ezekiel 36:26-27, TEV

Lord our God,
You are the source of all life:
Your Spirit moved on the waters of chaos
Bringing order and harmony and life.
You breathed into humanity the breath of life.

May our lives be touched and awakened,
for you send your Spirit to blow through heaven and earth
and you stir everything to life.
prayer&candle
Stir us.

May we long for your Spirit’s prompting
May we long for renewal and refreshing
for the sake of your promise
that we might do your will.

Grant that we become truly new creations in Christ Jesus
who cannot be overpowered by the evil of the world,
who can never be overcome by sin.

May we have new resolve to seek the highest good on earth,
that good which leads into Heaven.

Hear the prayers of all people far and near
who in these days are sighing in their hearts for the Savior.

We pray for them all as we pray for ourselves,
and we know you will hear our prayer.

You will send power
to lift up the hearts and souls of many people
so that there may be a great throng of your joyful people on earth.

In spite of all the misfortune, adversity, and danger in the world,
there will be a people rejoicing from one end of the earth to the other,
a people trusting in you
and sure of victory
through the great grace you give
in answer to our prayers. Amen.

 

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Obedience and the Spirit of Truth – John 14:15-21

greek-nt-openThe themes in this section of the Gospel of John resonate well with the themes I am often addressing at this web site. Jesus calls his followers into a life of obedience — and promises the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to them.

In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus preparing his disciples for the days to come with a long discourse: it begins in Chapters 13 and runs through chapter 16, with a closing prayer added in chapter 17. The passage under discussion today is just a brief snippet from that longer discourse.

This passage is memorable because in contains of the promise of the Holy Spirit. But, it is framed on either side by a challenge to keep Christ’s commandments. (more…)

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Not In Vain

N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” — 1 Corinthians 15:58 NRSV.

You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are — strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself — accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world — all of this will find it’s way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God. God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there.

— N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008). pp.208, 209.

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Larry Wood & Frank Macchia on John Wesley and Pentecostalism

This video — just posted today at the Asbury Theological Seminary Seedbed blog — fits so well with the themes I’ve been addressing this week, that I thought I would include it here:

 

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I especially appreciate what Dr. Macchia says.

Apparently this is part one of a multi-part conversation, so be sure to be on the lookout for later installments at the Seedbed blog.

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Spirit Baptism: Wesleyanism & Pentecostalism

Earlier this week I posted: John Wesley and Spiritual Gifts. There I attempted to show that while Wesley was open to both extraordinary spiritual gifts and miracles, he did not insist on them as proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence. So, now let me say something about the distinctive pentecostal and charismatic teaching about Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

pentecostwindow-4360485489There is a relationship between early Methodist teachings and the later development of Pentecostal teaching.  In fact, a direct line can be traced from the teaching of the early Methodists to the teaching of the early Pentecostals. Wesley’s preaching about the Christian life — and what he called Christian Perfection — gave rise to the holiness movement. The holiness movement, in turn, provided the seedbed from which the early Pentecostal movement would arise. Once people’s thinking about Christian experience  begins to go down a particular road, certain directions become inevitable. (more…)

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Holy Spirit, Self-Trancendence, Community

Reason_for_HopeThis conception of the Spirit’s relation to the human person and to human community rings true for me.

Pannenberg sees in the heightened exocentric capability of humans the basis for their uniqueness from other animal forms. In the being-with-others that characterizes their existence, they are able to transcend themselves — to look back on themselves again — and thereby to develop self-consciousness. This exocentrically based development of self-consciousness indicates [this] to him as well as the connection between humans and Spirit. Pannenberg credits the self-transcendence required for this process to the action of the Spirit, who lifts humans above themselves, so that when they are ecstatically with others they are themselves. For this reason self-transcendence cannot be accomplished by the subject itself. Rather, all knowing is possible only through the Spirit.

By extension, the same ecstatic working of the Spirit found in the individual is the basis for the building of community. In fact, community is always an experience brought by the Spirit, who lifts one above oneself.

 — Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989).

I expect worship to be an experience that lifts me out of my pre-occupation with myself. (more…)

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But, What About the Holy Spirit? – Colossians 1:9-12

paul-iconAs is generally the case with Paul’s letters, he begins by letting the church know he is praying for them. He really believed in the vital importance of prayer.

Prayer is at the foundation of all church renewal. We are regularly encouraged to pray. “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18 NRSV). We are given the examples of Jesus and Paul, who made prayer and intercession priorities in their lives and ministries. Before we need new ideas and quick fix solutions, we need prayer.

Prayer is at the heart of Christian ministry and at the heart of the life of the Church. This part of the letter is very important, and it’s going to take me a while to fully discuss this.

I need to begin by pointing out something about this prayer that seems odd at first. So, first some brief introductory remarks, and then some personal reflections. (more…)

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The Path of Moral Progress

These reflections from New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd seem to me to be close to the heart of Wesleyan theology. He is reflecting here on the significance  of the apostle Paul’s theology of the Christian life. Paul teaches that we are justified — set right with God — by faith. But, as with justification, what we often call “sanctification” (conformity to the image of Christ) is also by grace through faith.

C. H. Dodd (1884-1973)

C. H. Dodd (1884-1973)

The higher faiths call their followers to strenuous moral effort. Such effort is likely to be arduous and painful in proportion to the height of the ideal, desperate in proportion to the sensitiveness of the conscience. A morbid scrupulousness besets the morally serious soul.  It is anxious and troubled, afraid of evil, haunted by the memory of failure. The best of the Pharisees tended in this direction, and no less the best of the Stoics. And so little has Christianity been understood that the popular idea of a serious Christian is modeled upon the same type of character.

The ascetic believed that, because he was so holy, the Devil was permitted special liberties with him, and he found in his increasing agony of effort a token of divine approval.

Not along this track lies the path of moral progress.

Christianity says: face the evil once for all, and disown it. Then quiet the spirit in the presence of God.  Let His perfections fill the field of vision. In particular, let the concrete embodiment of the goodness of God in Christ attract and absorb the gaze of the soul.  Here is the righteousness, not as a fixed and abstract ideal, but in a living human person.  The righteousness of Christ is a real achievement of God’s own Spirit in man.

— C. H. Dodd, The Meaning of Paul for Today [1920]

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