When I started this blog I had no idea where it would go, or what I would write about. Now, 700 posts later...here I am. And I still have no idea what to write. But I do know where it should go. To God, whom blessed me with this insight, who brought me the men and women who have been my inspiration, and who gave me the time to discern and contemplate (and cultivate) these ideas.
To honor this achievement, it only seems fitting to do so by honoring the one person who has sparked a lot of my thinking, the late, great Belgian priest and author Henri Nouwen who gives us this prayer:
Grace is given to save our nature, not to save us from our nature.
Richard Rohr writes: “One of my favorite mystics is the English anchorite Julian of Norwich (1342–1416). After a serious illness, during which she experienced “shewings” or revelations of Jesus’ love, she wrote about the compassionate, mothering God she had encountered.”
John Philip Newell’s beautiful summary of Julian’s visions:
She says that Christ is the one who connects us to the “great root” of our being. . . .  “God is our mother as truly as God is our father,” she says.  We come from the Womb of the Eternal. We are not simply made by God; we are made “of God.”  So we encounter the energy of God in our true depths. And we will know the One from whom we have come only to the extent that we know ourselves. God is the “ground” of life.  So it is to the very essence of our being that we look for God. . . .
God “is in everything,” writes Julian.  God is “nature’s substance,” the very essence of life.  So she speaks of “smelling” God, of “swallowing” God in the waters and juices of the earth, of “feeling” God in the human body and the body of creation. 
Grace is given to save our nature, not to save us from our nature. It is given to free us from the unnaturalness of what we have become and done to one another and to the earth. Grace is given, she says, “to bring nature back to that blessed point from which it came, namely God.”  It is given that we may hear again the deepest sounds within us. What Julian hears is that “we are all one.”  We have come from God as one, and to God we shall return as one.
1] Julian of Norwich, Showings, chapter 51 (long text). See Revelation of Divine Love, trans. Elizabeth Spearing (Penguin: 1998), 123.
 Chapter 59 (long text). Ibid., 139.
 Chapter 53 (long text). Ibid., 129
 Chapter 62 (long text). Ibid., 145.
 Chapter 11 (long text). Ibid., 58.
 Chapter 56 (long text). See Showings, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Paulist Press: 1978), 290.
 Chapter 43 (long text). See Revelation of Divine Love, Spearing, 104. Chapter 63 (long text). Ibid., 146.
 Chapter 6 (short text). Ibid., 10.
Rohr, Richard. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation: Our Deepest Desire. May 30, 2019.
What does Jesus desire for us? Teri McDowell Ott asked this question upon reading John 17:20-26:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.
Here is Teri’s mediation/devotional on this passage. I’ve shared it here because I believe it speaks to the overall theme of this blog. I hope you find something deeper in this as well. Teri writes,
“Just as Jesus is in the Father, he desires that we are also in him—and that we are all one with each other, with Jesus, and with God.
“Being in Jesus” is John’s theological language to describe a state of communion essential for our faith. In the Eastern church, Christians view this state of communion as salvation itself—something that can happen throughout our lives, not just when we die. It’s a state of being so intimately connected to Christ that this connection shapes everything about who we are and how we live our lives.
“Many of our spiritual mothers and fathers believed this intimate connection could be accomplished through prayer and meditation. If you repeat a phrase of scripture or a prayer mantra long enough, it will eventually shape your heart and your life.
“Some members of religious orders practice the Jesus Prayer all day long: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner. They say these words until they become a part of every breath and every movement. The prayer becomes a part of their being, and they become one with the object of that prayer, Jesus Christ.
“A friend of mine from seminary decided to practice saying the Jesus Prayer like the monks do. He discovered an awkward yet funny consequence. All day long he would repeat the prayer in his head—including at his job working the switchboard at our seminary. One afternoon, when he picked up the phone, instead of saying, “Good afternoon, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary,” he caught himself saying, “Good afternoon, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.” I’m sure the person on the other end of the line was wondering what kind of connection she had just made.
“For John, communion with Christ is essential because it leads us to being in communion with others. If we love God and if we are communing with God, then this will lead us to loving and communing with our brothers and sisters. If we love God and are communing with God then we will find God in one another.
“A faculty member at our college turned to me (the college chaplain) for some advice. He was going through a difficult time and needed spiritual sustenance. But he wasn’t sure where to go in our community to meet his need. I was about to refer him to some churches in the area. Then I remembered something one of the incarcerated men said to me at the prison where I volunteer. “People think prison makes us hard, but it doesn’t,” he said. “It makes us brittle. We need people we can be vulnerable and real with to survive it.”
“So instead, I invited my faculty friend to teach with me at the prison. “You’ll meet Jesus there,” I told him. “I promise. I find Jesus in those men all the time.” He accepted my invitation.
Jesus prays that we are in him, but also that we recognize him in one another—“so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
“If we can be in Jesus and see Jesus in one another, then this will be our greatest witness to the world that Christ’s Spirit is alive and working among us.”
I suspect the invalid at the pool believed in miracles simply because he was there. While that might be true, Elizabeth Johnson described this man as “perhaps the least willing and the least grateful of all the people healed in the Bible.” Jesus asked him if he wanted to be made well. You think he would say yes. But instead of answering the question, the man grumbles and complains. As my friend Roxy reminded me, “Chronic illness wears on you.”
Now there was a belief that this pool of water had healing properties and that it could change one’s life. It was said that every now and then an angel would stir the water, the water would begin to bubble, and the first one into the pool would be healed. For 38 years this man sat there. Waiting. Watching. Hoping. Every day is the same. Not much changes. His life, in contrast to the pool, was stagnant.
How many of us sit on our mats and hope for something better to happen in our life? Have we become blind and crippled, unable to see that the deep well of life is not out there in that magic pool of water, but it’s here…inside us? Episcopal priest Fr. Michael Marsh argues, “The pool of Bethesda is an illusion. It deceives us into believing that life is to be found outside ourselves.” He says, “It tricks us into living an ‘as soon as’ kind of life – as soon as I get to the water… my life will be better, my problems will be fixed.
Perhaps there’s a voice inside you saying, “As soon as I graduate I can get out of this place.” Or “As soon as I find someone to love I’ll be happy.” Or “As soon as I get ahead in my career or make more money I’ll be satisfied and then all will be well.”
“The problem with this kind of thinking,” writes Marsh, “is it puts our life on hold as we sit on our mats, imprisoned by the circumstances of our life.” The imprisonment is so great, and so crippling, that when Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” the guy only has excuses why he isn’t. He is so focused on why he can’t get into the pool that he has forgotten what God is capable of doing inside of him.
Johns story reminds us that our wellness isn’t found outside our various circumstances, but within them. In the midst of our living, whether it’s our best or broken self, Jesus comes to meet us…speaking words of life and resurrection, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Jesus doesn’t help the man into the water, nor does he wait for the man to confess his sins or profess his faith. Jesus simply tells him what to do, and the man does it. He gets up and goes, taking his mat with him – the very mat he desperately wanted to escape.
My takeaway is this: Jesus meets us, and heals us…but our mats, our scars and stories, we still have to carry…they are a living testimony to God healing the world from within itself.
Healing isn’t based on us having ‘enough’ faith, but on the faithfulness of God. There is nothing this man did to earn Jesus’ approval or attention. It was done purely out of God’s love for him. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t heal so he can be praised or worshiped. He heals because that is what God’s love does. It redeems us and transforms us and makes us whole and well.
We too can learn to do all kinds of miracles simply by watching and doing what Jesus does. By the way we love one another, we are able to heal the brokenness in us and in the world. This doesn’t happen with war, or greed, or economic sanctions. God’s love is the balm that heals the world.
“Jesus doesn’t change our outer circumstances. He changes us” from within so that we can go out and be change makers. “He calls us into a new way of being, seeing, acting, speaking, thinking…so the world can get a taste of God’s healing love and be made well.” Jesus is offering you a type of healing that transforms the human condition – that takes your brokenness and makes you whole. He’s asking you, “Do you want to be made well?” How will you answer?
In his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway writes, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Jesus comes to us in our brokenness and open our eyes so we might see our cracks for what they really are – the true beauty of God at work in us.
You may have heard me talk about this before, but in the fifteenth century the Japanese created an art form called “Kintsugi.” It’s where an artist takes and repairs broken pottery with a special lacquer that had been mixed with gold. The final result is a new object that is more beautiful and more valuable for having been broken and repaired.
This illustration reminds me that we are cracked and broken people. Some more than others. But that’s not how God sees us. God is the artist. And Jesus is the gold that God uses to bind us back together, to make us beautiful and new. Because of Jesus, we are worth more simply because of our golden cracks. Like Hemingway reminded us, being broken is an unavoidable part of life. But through Christ Jesus, who gave his life for us, all of life is made well again. And when people see our golden scars they see God's divine grace and love in all its glory.
In Questioning Jesus, we are all given a choice: “Do you want to be made well from the things in life that are crippling you?”
Jesus is inviting you into a greater life, with more substance and wholeness of body, mind and spirit. Your restored life doesn’t happen “as soon as this or that happens…” but the second you answer Jesus’ question. “Do you want to be made well?” If so, then pick up your mat and go be who God made you to be, a perfect work of art – the divine image of the One who created you a beloved child, cracks and all.
Johnson, Elizabeth. Commentary on John 5:1-9. From workingpreacher.org, originally published on May 1, 2016.
Marsh, Michael. “Get up off your mat.” From interruptingthesilence.com, originally published on May 6, 2013.
Macdonald, Ian. From the sermon “Healing and Renewal” originally published on February 22, 2015.
“In very real ways, soul, consciousness, love, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same. Each of these point to something that is larger than the individual, shared with God, ubiquitous, and even eternal—and then revealed through us! Holiness does not mean people are psychologically or morally perfect (a common confusion), but that they are capable of seeing and enjoying things in a much more “whole” and compassionate way, even if they sometimes fail at it themselves.”
Love flows from God into [humans]
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
. . . Thus we move in [God’s] world
One in body and soul, . . .
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
—Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207–c. 1282/1294)
This is a wonderful homily and reminder of the challenges we face as we strive and struggle to imitate Christ in a world hell-bent on making sure we don’t succeed. It is written by
“For a difficult journey, minimal benefits, bitter cold, long months of darkness, constant fatigue and hardship. Most will quit. Honor and recognition in case of success.”
These were the words inscribed on a University of Washington men’s rowing crew advertisement I spotted recently while walking on the university campus. For those who know the history of the men’s crew at U of W, this advertisement will not come as a surprise. The team’s history is replete with times of dramatic struggle and monumental triumph. Perhaps most notable is the story of their quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics: an eight oar crew who were not expected to compete against even the East Coast American teams at the time showed astonishing strength to provide a winning story that would not be forgotten.
When I first came across the full-page advert for the men’s crew, I read it at least ten times over. It struck me that of all the ways in which the rowing department would choose to draw first year students to their sport, this was the way they chose to do it: not by enticing students with reward, but with the cost. Yes, there might be glory, the advert hinted, but that was not the compelling point. There would be no guarantee of glory to woo potential recruits. What was promised was pain and sacrifice; this was the U of W crew’s appeal.
This impassioned cry of the rowing crew made me think of certain aspects of the Christian faith that are not often mentioned, but still very real: times of felt darkness, a difficult journey throughout life, fatigue and hardship with the ever-present challenge to quit. Jesus Christ’s message to his friends and to those who would follow him shares similarities to the U of W men’s crew. At one point, Christ looked to his closest friends and told them that in the world they would experience trouble and suffering. Those are not exactly the cheery words one wants to hear from the leader of their movement.
Sometimes, as I imaginatively read between the lines of the gospels, I wonder whether any of Christ’s friends offered to help him with public relations. Maybe Peter advised Jesus to change his tact. I can imagine Peter taking Jesus aside and saying, “Okay, Jesus. This isn’t a bad marketing angle, but it isn’t a good one either! How about you try something like, ‘Okay everyone, ahem, as I was saying earlier, in the world you will experience trouble and suffering. But once you come to me, everything will be okay. You won’t face any trouble or suffering.'”
The problem with that imagined scenario is that it actually cheapens the truth of the gospel as good news. Yes, none of us want to face the pain and suffering that will come to us in living our lives. Part of us might wish that we never had to face pain or suffering. But what should not be missed is how Jesus spoke to a fundamental reality of this world and said that he was doing something about it. He validated everyone’s observations and experiences of pain, but he did not stop there. He continued: “But have courage—I have conquered the world.”
Jesus cited the grim truth of life that we indeed will experience pain and hardship and trouble. But have courage, he said. There is pain, darkness, weariness, and the real temptation to give in. Jesus didn’t try to erase this reality. But he answered it with the remarkable thought that somehow the Son of God joins us within it all. He also made it clear that pain did not have the last say. His life, death, and resurrection would change everything. And then he closed with a triumphant reminder, as if to say, ‘When things seem the bleakest, don’t forget that I have conquered even this.’
The University of Washington’s marketing also did not stop with pain. It closed with the hope that honor and recognition would come with success. And what was that success? Was it simply winning? Or was persevering through the hardships—long practices, total darkness, and pain—its own reward? The same could be said of those who answer the call to follow Christ.
For those who persevere, for those who remain with him, though pain and darkness threaten all around, there will be honor and recognition. We will hear those words from the Father, as if speaking to his own Son: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Nathan Betts is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
“The love in you—which is the Spirit in you—always somehow says yes. (See 2 Corinthians 1:20.) Love is not something you do; love is something you are.
It is your True Self. Love is where you came from and love is where you’re going. It’s not something you can buy. It’s not something you can attain. It’s the presence of God within you, called the Holy Spirit or what some theologians name uncreated grace.
You can’t manufacture this by any right conduct, dear reader. You can’t make God love you one ounce more than God already loves you right now. You can go to church every day for the rest of your life. God isn’t going to love you any more than God loves you right now.
You cannot make God love you any less, either—not an ounce less. Do the most terrible thing and God wouldn’t love you less. You cannot change the Divine mind about you! The flow is constant, total, and 100 percent toward your life. God is for you.
We can’t diminish God’s love for us. What we can do, however, is learn how to believe it, receive it, trust it, allow it, and celebrate it, accepting Trinity’s whirling invitation to join in the cosmic dance.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1090–1153) wrote, “Inasmuch as the soul becomes unlike God, so it becomes unlike itself.”  Bernard has, of course, come to the same thing I’m trying to say here: the pattern within the Trinity is the same as the pattern in all creation. And when you return to this same pattern, the flow will be identical.
Catherine LaCugna (1952–1997) ended her giant theological tome God for Us with this one simple sentence:
The very nature of God, therefore, is to seek out the deepest possible communion and friendship with every last creature on this earth. 
That’s God’s job description. That’s what it’s all about. And the only thing that can keep you out of this divine dance is fear or self-hatred. What would happen in your life—right now—if you fully accepted what God has created?
 Wm. Paul Young, Trinity: The Soul of Creation, session 7 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), MP4 download.
 Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Song of Songs, 82.5. This translation is from William Harmless, Mystics, (Oxford University Press: 2008), 55.
 Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (HarperSanFrancisco: 1993), 411.
Adapted from Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 193-194.
When we see others as God sees us, then we will be able to share the love, mercy and grace that God has given to us. We are able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus who walked with the intentions of a humbled heart.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It might surprise you to know that Jesus talks about love more than he talks about faith. This is not to say faith is unimportant - love and faith are one in the same. Both are very important to the way we do the will of God.
In this passage, Jesus specifically states that love is the mark by which we will be known. If we identify ourselves as Christians, then love must be the guide that leads our way to living as such...like Christ.
I would like to walk down that path, following the footsteps of Jesus; watching how he does God’s will by making love the centerpiece of his mission. I want to do this by returning to the words of the prophet Micah.
The first way we can show Christlike love is by seeking Justice. Today, Women’s rights are being challenged again. Basic human rights are being pushed aside for global corporations and special interest groups. And minority rights are almost all but gone. We are so divided that the scales of justice can’t weigh things evenly anymore.
John writes about some Pharisee who brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. By law these religious men had the right to stone the woman to death. Using her to bait Jesus, they asked him if they should obey the law or not. Knowing what they were up to, Jesus said, “Let any of you who is without sin cast the first stone.”
We like to play judge, jury and executioner – don’t we? The church if famous for that. We like to think our way of doing things is better than anyone else’s. This leads to all sorts of evil being done in the name of God. But that’s not the way Jesus walked. Because Jesus sought God’s will and not his own, he was able to do what was fair and right. As such, the men dropped their stones and the woman’s life was sparred because Jesus doesn’t just talk the talk – he walks the walk.
Jesus’ entire ministry is draped in love and showing kindness towards everyone, especially the minorities and the marginalized. Which takes us to the second point: Kindness. If we want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus then we can’t skip over this simple way of showing love.
Jesus is the poster child of kindness. He once met a leper who shouted, “Lord if you want…you can cure me.”(Mt. 8:1-4) We don’t know if the guy had faith in Jesus or just said this to anyone who passed by. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus recognized him and said, “I want to cure you.” That is kindness.
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Jesus judged the leper fairly through the lens of love and had compassion for the man. The law required that no one could touch a leper without become ritually unclean. They were to be avoided at all cost. They were pushed out into the wilderness to die alone. Again, Jesus placed kindness and mercy above the law. He reached out and touched the man. And he was healed. Because Jesus put God’s will first, this man could return to his family, his job, and the community – including the temple – where his story of being restored would bring glory to God.
Jesus teaches us that sometimes rules need not to be broken but simply looked at through the lens of God’s righteousness instead of our own need to be right. When we see others as God sees us, then we will be able to share the love, mercy and grace that God has given to us. We are able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus who walked with the intentions of a humbled heart.
This takes us to our last point…Humility. All four gospels tell numerous stories of Jesus putting other people’s needs before his own. But there was no greater act of humility, then what he did for us on the cross. This was a profound act of love that defined his entire mission.
Jesus faced an unjust trial where kindness was nowhere to be found. Through it, he remained virtually silent. There was no time for talk. He knew had to walk the hardest walk of all. Earlier that night, Jesus prayed “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
From his incarnation to his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus walked humbly with God. We can debate why he had to die – perhaps God really needed a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins – but we can’t ignore the importance of those words he prayed in the garden that night he humbled himself before his enemies: “not my will but yours be done.”
Our mission in life is to do the will of God – to walk the walk in the footsteps of Christ. And sometimes that requires making tough sacrifices.
Jesus did what was fair and just to sinners and saints alike. So must we.
Jesus showed kindness and compassion, he was loyal in his love, from the greatest to the least of these. So to must we do the same.
Jesus sacrificed his entire life so that we could live throughout eternity.
Are you willing to make a similar sacrifice? Are you willing to give up this life of yours so that God might live in you and be glorified?
Jesus told his disciples that the Son of Man will be seen for who he is, and that God will be seen too… through him. The moment that people are able to see God at work in us, God’s glory will be on display. So perhaps the best way to worship and glorify God isn’t just by going to church but becoming the church, the body of Christ that comes together seeking justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly before God. We are called to let God’s glory shine through us. And there is no better way to do that than by walking as Jesus walked…with God’s love as our guide.
I hope you are beginning to understand that to see and do what Jesus does enables us to learn and teach the will of God.
Jesus said, “Anyone who hears my words...and does them...will be like a house built on rock that can withstand the biggest storms of life.” Imagine facing your worst storms with love instead of fear. Imagine standing in love instead of revenge when people throw rocks at you, or push you way, or seek to crucify you.
It’s one thing to hear the words of Jesus. It’s another to live them so faithfully that God’s glory prevails triumphantly. If you leave here today knowing one thing, I hope it’s that you will be encouraged to let justice, love, kindness, and peace define who you are. May these be the markers that identify you as you walk with Jesus for the life giving glory of God – our creator, our savior and our sustainer. Amen.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal, journalist Elizabeth Bernstein writes about how conversations with strangers can help brighten up your daily life. She writes, “Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day. A pleasant encounter with someone we don’t know, even a nonverbal one, can soothe us when no one else is around. It may get us out of our own head—a proven mood booster—and help broaden our perspective.”
I am no stranger to this idea, of meeting strangers and seeing the Divine inside them. For the last nine years I have been experimenting on a more basic level by going out of my way to meet people I do not know. Last November (2018) I challenged myself to go out and meet 30 new people in 30 days. The results were amazing. But the conversations and stories I heard were even better.
Today, I was walking my dog in the park when I met Craig, a homeless man just waking up for the day. I don’t know what made me stop to talk with him, maybe I was feeling lonely or needing someone else to chat with than my usual crew. I just said, “Hello. How are you today?” Craig smiled, unsure what I was up to and then gave me a standard reply, “I’ve had better, but I’ve had worse.” I just sat down and asked him to tell me about it. He had a calm voice and body language. I could have judge him by the empty beer can next to the empty water bottle, or the deep red color in his eye. But instead I settled into his voice, seeing the Divine and listening for what I needed to hear.
Bernstein wonders why most people don’t enjoy talking to strangers like I do. “An encounter with a stranger, when pleasant, fulfills four basic human needs, according to Rachel Kazez, a licensed clinical social worker in Chicago, who advises her patients to talk to strangers when they are feeling low. We feel connected—it can sometimes be easier to open up and have an intimate conversation with a stranger because we know we won’t see that person again. We get to feel capable, because they don’t know our insecurities or setbacks. And the encounter may give us a sense of meaning or purpose, especially because a stranger doesn’t have to be nice to us.”
I’m getting used to striking up conversations with people I don’t know. And to the point above, I’m sure it’s why I am enjoying conversations with friends less and less. But more importantly, I have noticed that I am more present and more in tune with someone’s story whether or not it is true. Craig was trying his best to be honest, but like so many people I’ve met before him, the truth is not always easy to share. Stories eventually contradict. And that’s okay. Their truth is in their heart, and if they are willing to share it great. If not, at least I get a smile, a new joke, a couple of good laughs, and every now and then...some ancient wisdom.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”