3 x S = 42

Have you ever wanted “The Answer”?Cosmic Twist

“What answer?” you reply.

THE Answer. You know… THE ANSWER. Like the Answer to The Question. The Great Question. The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!

For those of us who are Douglas Adams fans, we know how he dealt with the Question and the Answer… thus:

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Well, this has never entirely satisfied me, though I applaud Adams’ willingness to take on the subject. Libraries for centuries untold have been filled with the efforts of sages to solve the Mystery of Life. And, while my conclusions may well differ from Sage Adams here, I must say that a lot of my cogitation shares some strong commonalities.

So, here and now, I’d like to submit my own, subjective, non-scientific, anecdotal, take-it-or-leave-it-as-you-please, contribution to…

The Answer… to Life, the Universe, and Everything…

It is… 3 x S (Read as: “Three times S”)

[Consistent with the style of Adams, we will first describe the Answer, and then consider… What is the Question?]

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S1 = “Superabundance”

The First “S” is “superabundance”, the provision for needs vastly beyond the degree of need. Quantity, quality, diversity… so overwhelming that the result is not merely satiation and satisfaction, but actual delight. Take the Garden of Eden, for example… all the foods available there, all the grains, grasses, fruits, vegetables. The delight and companionship of animals of every description. The mist of the morning, the clarity of the stars, the cool of the evening, the wonder of the sun and moon. Or Psalm 23, being led beside the still waters, sitting at a prepared table, being comforted.

This is to be free of need, and free of greed.

Could it be that the very first requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be free of need?

S2 = “Safety”

The Second “S” is “safety”, the protection from or absence of anything that could threaten or cause harm. Was there anything unknown in Eden to be afraid of at the start? It has never ceased to amaze me that God set man to nurture and tend the Garden (often super-interpreted to mean “God sent man off to WORK, first of all!”… but… what was the “work”? He was assigned to do two things… tend/serve/nurture… and protect/hedge about. But, what did Adam need to DO? Mist rose in the morning to water all, the soil was rich with the vibrancy of pure primal life, there were as yet no “weeds” or “bad plants”, nor any pests or predator bugs or animals. A Garden initially arranged and landscaped by God wouldn’t require a lot of transplanting and corrective design. All that “sweat of brow” and “thorns and thistles” thing came AFTER the fall.

This is to be free of threat, and free of fear.

Could it be that the second requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly safe and free of fear?

S3 = “Significance”

The third “S” is “significance”, the sense that one is meaningful, important, and treasured to at least one other person. In the Garden, there was first… Adam. Adam and God, there they were. Made in God’s image, male and female, Adam and Eve created in God’s own image. Given free reign of the Garden. Able to eat of all but one tree. Naming each animal as presented by God. Called forth to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. Important to God, you think? Significant? Treasured? Or as in Psalm 23, sitting down at a table prepared for man by the Lord in the presence of enemies? Head anointed with oil? Cup running over? To dwell in God’s house forever?

This is to be acknowledged, important, treasured. This is to be free of the all too common fear that we and our lives are meaningless, that we are but cattle in a herd, a nameless cipher among a crowd of equally insignificant parts.

Could it be that the third requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly significant and treasured?

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As I pondered these potential “Answers”, and began to focus on the “Question”, I realized that this is a bigger answer than I can even define. This seems to hold true on every scale, in every application. Countries, races, kingdoms, empires go to war over a lack in one or another of these. Wars and genocides happen when a people gathers strength in order to meet what they consider a “need”, or a “threat”, or the hunger for “prestige”. States go to civil war for what seem to be the same reasons. Families feud, political parties wrangle, and individuals fight, maneuver, argue over these same perceived places of emptiness.

What to do? How do we promote joy, happiness, peace… “Wholeness” and Love?

Each of us have our own piece of Kingdom, our own relationships, our own sphere of influence. Whether this is community, home, workplace, church, or even one relationship at a time…

We know we are to “Love”, but that often breaks down at the “How do we do that?”

What if we try these three…

That every encounter be nurturing, meeting what need stands before us in the moment? Often the need is just some time and attention. Perhaps it is a meal, or a cool drink of water, or a gentle touch, or hug. (Obvious professional cautions apply, depending on the nature of the relationship.) Sometimes, the need is just silent presence.

That every encounter be safe, free of fear? Not just fear of physical harm or danger, but fear of being made to feel bad. Fear of being judged. Fear of being shamed or made to feel small or wrong. What if in each moment, someone felt their burdens lightened in your presence, rather than made heavier?

That every encounter be important and significant? That in the moments of interaction, the other person, group, party, were treasured as relationship to you? As if they were treasured by God Almighty? What if no one were an “interruption” or an “annoyance” or a “burden”, but rather they were a blessing to you as you are meant to be to them?

What’s the question, then?

What if the question is, “How has God always intended us to relate to one another?” What does it take to live a blessed joyful life? The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything…

And, how do we bring this about in our homes, our days, and our churches?

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3 x S = 42?

Maybe so. I just ponder these things now and again…

Grace to you, Gentle Reader! Bless! — The Little Monk

When God says Yes

Yes, Letters, Tablets, Arrangement, Font, ConsentI was sitting in the first meeting of my prayer group, anxious to get right into it. Another check off of another task of another thing I am doing in my string of things for God. Ok God you win, I quit my job, even though that’s what I’ve been asking for; I’m free-falling, I’m doing this crazy God thing and I am terrified. I need structure, I need walls. How can I exist without walls?

So I sit on the couch full well knowing that there is no agenda planned, just the three of us getting together to start this group, to pray, to be together. I moved myself onto the couch and felt myself just pouring out. I don’t know where I’m going, how I will survive, I’m struggling, I am afraid. There were so many days and years of no’s that I had resigned myself to the fact that the answer would always be no. I would live this way-forever. But not really live. Instead, I’ll just exist.

And so I start talking to my friend who was laid off and who recently found a job. We are talking about our journeys and our struggles and there was no agenda. We didn’t start out with prayer or a rosary. We did not read from a meditation. We just let the Holy Spirit guide us through the conversation which was laced with a lot of wanting to just simply let go. And the next words she spoke changed things for me.

One night I was speaking to God. I felt so rejected. All of the interviews were a no, I wasn’t getting any yes’s. Why is everything NO God? And then He said to me-

What about all the times I said yes?

So my friend starts recounting her yes’s, so many of them. And in my mind I started to recount my own. Even now I am sitting on a mountain of yes’s. Yes you can quit your job. Yes I have something else for you. Yes I am going to let you write. Yes and most importantly I am going to let you be a mom. In all those yes’s I couldn’t accept what He had done for me. Didn’t feel worthy, didn’t think He loved me that much. 

And I imagine there are so many of us out there like that. Prayers being answered and things falling into place yet we still can’t believe it. Or maybe like my friend you are focusing on the no’s not believing God for the yes, not remembering all the times He said YES.

So we sat and talked about all the yes’s. All of the wonderful things that God had done in our lives and continues to do. And the yes’s filled up the room and the no’s just moved aside. And the biggest yes of all, he said yes to us. 

I read a lot about the no’s. A lot about struggle. A lot about the bad things that are going on in this world. But I never take the time to reflect on God’s yes’s. They are stepping stones. They are blessings. They are road markers which lead me back to Him.

If you can’t count your blessings, count your Yes’s.

Joyfulnouncing! The Gospel

A week or so ago, I posted “Joyfulnouncing Jesus!” and ended that with a question:

Schnauzer Who Rules
“Commander Samuel L. Vimes” (“Vimes” for short. My resident Joyfulnouncer.

How do you personally, define “the Gospel” (feel free either to include that in the comment section, responding, below… or just note it down for yourself for next time.)

Thank you, for considering the question and for the responses that came. They were wonderful, spirit-filled, responses, and I am grateful to have prompted the reflection that yielded them.

I mentioned last time that when the Lord prompted me to go to scripture to find the “Biblical definition” of “The Gospel”…

“As I started to work, and dug into scripture a bit, I discovered some amazing things about these two words we use…. ‘the Gospel’…”

What I discovered was that when we go to the New Testament in original language, there’s this “gap” anywhere the English translations say “the Gospel”. There’s just this big white space corresponding… that what the Gospels SAY is this really cool descriptive VERB of the action… “happy-good-true-heralding”.  (Hence the post “Joyfulnouncing”.)

But here’s the thing… the “joyfulnouncement” is always “arrival”, “come-to-us-ness”, and “celebration”. The “good news” part of euangelizo CANNOT be “separated” as an “object” from the “joyfulnounce” part. But often, in English, we do that.

So, the essence of “proclaim the Gospel” (which can never be separated as a concept… the Gospel must ALWAYS be ATTACHED to “announcing”) is something like…

“Hey! Listen! He’s HERE! Love has ARRIVED! Your Lover has arrived!”

So, you see my problem with the “Index Card”/”Elevator Gospel” situation. The “announcing” is of a “relationship”. Just as my old friend put it, when I asked “what someone needs to know for baptism?”…  the answer isn’t WHAT they need to know, but WHO they need to know.

This got me thinking two different things…

The first, doesn’t help me at all as “an evangelist”. In the terms my former Pastor/Boss was thinking, an “evangelist” needs to have a “message”, a “script”, a “set of doctrinal propositions” to communicate and persuade someone to adopt. I could never develop such a script.

Nonetheless, there definitely IS, an “essence” to “the Gospel”. I’ve always “felt” it… (messy, sloppy word that, I know… “feelings” not a good guide, etc., etc.) but deep in the soil of my heart, I’ve always “known” it. But when I chase this cat, when I became utterly determined to “find ‘the Gospel'”…

I discovered myself at the foot of the Cross.

And this is true of every other single person I’ve ever known who “gets it”… who has entered into the beams of “grace”… who has gotten past the elementary principles of the world and eats meat rather than drinking milk. There is an “experience”… in every single one’s life that I’ve ever known, even though this experience can happen in a vast array of symbols, environments, traditions, styles, idioms, cultures…. every person who brings this testimony seems utterly unique,  yet utterly parallel, that…

There is a one-to-one encounter with Jesus, and in this encounter (which is undeniably REAL, though seldom, if ever “material”), Jesus’ love in its Infinite magnitude, washes over and through the person.  We can never effectively speak of, describe, the experience of another in these moments… but for one friend it was at their kitchen table one evening… for another, it was at the edge of the Miami River after throwing themselves into it to drown three times, and failing… for me, it was in prayer, at the Cross, looking at His eyes, face, hands, and hearing those words “Father, forgive them…”

In each and every case, what came about was the absolute “realization” (as in… “a truth becoming REAL to the individual”) of Jesus’ specific, individual, personal committed Infinite love for that person. It’s the “supernatural spark of the living connected relationship” between person and Jesus! It is a “moment”, an “experience”, a “realization”… after which, life is utterly changed and can never go back as it was.

And, of course, that spark, that moment, is “ineffable”… no matter how hard we try. That MOMENT, that RELATIONSHIP, is… as I’ve come to embrace it… “the Gospel”. And THAT, is simply lightning I’ve never managed to put in a bottle. I can talk “about” it. I can describe the circumstances, even the “feelings” to some extent. But the experience? The reality itself? No way… no words I know can wrap around that living Divine Spark.

The closest I’ve come is to invite someone to consider the following notion… “Jesus’ love for you, personally, is so great, so committed, so passionate and intense, that if you were the only person in all of time ever to have fallen… He would BEG Our Father for permission to come, take your place, and suffer all that He did… leaving His throne, living a sinless life, being rejected, betrayed, tried, condemned, tortured, and murdered in disgrace… all of that, just because He loves you that much, and wants you seated with Him at His throne.” Just imagine!

And, even more challenging for many… “The Fathers’ love for you, personally, is so great, so committed, so passionate and intense, that if you were the only person in all of time ever to have fallen… He would grant that permission, and DESIRE that Jesus… His Beloved Firstborn Son… leave His throne, come to earth as mortal man, take your place, and suffer all that He did… just because He loves you that much, and wants you seated with Him at His throne.” Just imagine!

Now, I’ll be honest… I “got” the first part of that… the “Jesus loves me this much” part… when I was very young. But it wasn’t until I was older… much older… and my daughter was grown with children of her own, that the FATHER approached me with the extent of HIS love! He challenged me… I could imagine, fairly readily, giving up my OWN life for someone I loved, yes. But! Could I imagine, even for one moment, loving someone so much that I would turn over MY DAUGHTER… my most beloved, who has never deserved such treatment… to the sufferings of Jesus, not for her own life debts… but for the sins of others?

Gentle Reader, that was a hard afternoon for me. I had never thought in those terms. I had never imagined the true depths of the FATHER’s love for us! For YOU, alone. For ME, alone. For him, and him, and her, and her, and them… alone.

Why? Because this is Who He is, and WHAT He is… He is not merely “a loving god”. He IS LOVE! Love Himself! He has no other way to be. No love happens but from, by, through Him. No one and nothing can love or be loved but by the “wiring” and “energizing” of Grace, of God Himself!

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Anyway, sorry, Gentle Reader. I get carried away with the magnitude of it all… God’s love… just… wow.

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But as to the Second Thought on Evangelism… on euvangelizo… on joyfulnouncing…

Suddenly today, I realized that my problem is that it’s like a “Fanfare!”, a “Trumpet Call” like Reveille, or Taps, or Ruffles and Flourishes, or Call to the Post. Here is a particular and peculiar sound, that has a specific meaning!

Well, for some reason this morning, this concept of “Fanfare” kept kicking me as I thought of drafting this post. I didn’t know why, but just let it roll on.

And then… the “trumpet will sound”… at the coming of Jesus ahead of us…

And then… the trumpets of Jericho…

And then… the Shofar… that the shofar or shofars travelled in front of the Ark of the Covenant, playing fanfare and calling the people to worship….

And something, suddenly, went “click” for me. (And I share it here, not to convince you… or persuade… or even “educate”… simply to share this thought, and see if it “fits” for you. If not, throw it away…)

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Suddenly, John the Baptist lit up in m spirit as a human “Shofar”… like the trumpet call in Godspell that introduces… “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”  There he was… John, the Herald… a human ram’s horn… making way for He who would follow… for the joyful arrival of the King!

A “voice crying in the wilderness” announcing… not a new “religion”… but the person… The Person… The Relationship of Unimaginable Inexpressibly Infinite Love and Embrace of Love Himself!

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And, what has all this got to do with us? Simply this…

Perhaps we are all called to be human Shofars… perhaps we joyfully announce the Arrival of the Beloved… and embrace one another, and total strangers, aliens, sinners… in the grace and acceptance of our expressing the Spirit’s Infinite Love for them. Perhaps we transparently reflect and refract that “lightning in our own bottles” to light up the dark places.

The Good News isn’t Bad News! Thieves, cheats, fraudulent tax collectors, adulterer’s, prostitutes… didn’t go traipsing miles up and down dusty rocky hills to John at the Jordan to be made to feel bad, guilty, miserable and worthless. Zaccheus (a wee little man), was bubbling over with joy upon being called down from his perch by Jesus, even though he was so snubbed by his townspeople they wouldn’t even let him get a view of the street!

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Anyway, that’s getting into the next post… This has just been about the “Lightning in the Bottle”.

Next time, a bit more on, “The Good News isn’t Bad News!”

Let me again, leave you with a question…

I’ve heard it said that “repentance” has to come before “forgiveness” and “reconciliation”.

Think a moment, and ask yourself…. is this true? Or not?

 

Until next time then… Grace to you — The Little Monk

Joyfulnouncing Jesus!

Schnauzer Who RulesI have this little gray dog…

When ANY of us come home, this little guy loses his mind with joy! He will wake from a sound sleep, or run in from the back yard, or leave his food bowl… anything at all… to leap up and down as high as he can jump (whether on you or just up in mid-air) to say, at the very top of his doggy joy….

“You’re HOME! FINALLY, you’re BACK! I MISSED you SO much! You were gone FOREVER!… (I counted)…”

And his overwhelming love is so clear and so profound… all the way from his wet black nose to his stub tail wagging faster than the speed of light… that no matter how tough a day it’s been, you just cannot help but smile, put your stuff down, and sit so that he can have a moment or two just to “worship you”… which he insists on doing.

Why is he so happy? Because you WEREN’T here… and now you ARE here! Now, his world is OK again. His life, his house, his security… are all OK again. When you WEREN’T here, he had to watch everything for you and keep it safe. But now you ARE here, so everything is safe, and so is he.

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Sometimes, little dogs can preach very well.

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I have recently discovered “The Gospel”. That may sound strange, but bear with me a moment.

For all my life… (a significant number of years)... I have “known”, The Gospel. But if you asked me to “articulate” it, I was hard-pressed. I could tell you a lot ABOUT it… but I was never satisfied, the Spirit within was never satisfied, with any articulation I could make of it… any words I could wrap around it.

My most recent “Church Boss/Pastor” got really frustrated with me one day, when he wanted all the Staff to be able to state an “Elevator Gospel”. (That’s a “sales” term, where a salesman, offering a product or service, needs to be able to rattle off the significant benefits and a strong close for sale of their product, if all they had were a 60-second Elevator Ride to present to their customer.  All the rest of the staff wrote up a little 1 minute presentation… basically Roman Road tract… and I could not. I wasn’t being smart or defiant… it’s just that “there were no words there for me” when I went inside my heart looking for them. All I found was the question, “What do you need?” That THAT was the essence of the Gospel as I know/present it… “What do you need to be whole? Where do you hurt? Where/What is the Void for Light to fill?” I tried to explain this to him… that any time I “do evangelism”, it’s always different, because it has to depend on where the person is empty… He didn’t understand, and I couldn’t make him understand.) Church Boss/Pastor was frustrated, but just wrote it off to my being “the weird Little Monk”… because I couldn’t prepare my own “canned gospel”. I couldn’t “write the script”. And he… “forgave me”… but he wasn’t happy.

And I wasn’t happy, because he wasn’t. I felt I had disappointed him, or defied him. And it wasn’t defiance. It was simple failure. My hands could simply not find any script I could write or type, and title “The Gospel”. And I checked and rechecked as I tried… and the Spirit was unyielding here. No matter how hard I dug, it was just an empty hole. There were no truthful words there for me to scribe. Not in “my own voice”… which was the essence of this task.

That “surprised'(?) me. I nearly say “worried” or “disappointed” me. I checked for if I were out of order, experiencing some quiet form of “snit” or “attitude” or something, resisting his authority. You know… “who does he think HE is, to assign me such a homework task!”… etc. But no, Spirit was clear… not the case. It was simply that *I*… my hands, my lips, were simply not permitted to do this. And if it gained me censure… oh well.

But it left me with a puzzle across these years. I learned to identify the puzzle as… “I cannot find, or have not found yet, my own ‘Elevator Gospel’.”

Now, perhaps my comment about FINDING my Gospel will make more sense.

“I’ve now FOUND my Elevator Gospel”.

And…

I know why I’d not been able to do it before…

A number of years ago, a young woman with special needs asked to be baptized. There was “resistance” among some staff, because she could not “pass the entrance exam”, and articulate the doctrinal requirements typical and customary for church membership. She had very limited comprehension… she couldn’t pass the customary “Sunday School Knowledge” test. So… powers that be wouldn’t move forward. She spoke to me about it, and I was tasked to do some research and look into this by Church Boss/Pastor… (since I knew some folks in Special Needs Ministry).

One of my mentors, in fact, was a national expert. So I wrote to him, asking… “What does a candidate have to know, to understand and comprehend, as far as doctrine or dogmatic competence… for baptism?” (with reference to a young lady with developmental and cognitive deficits.)

I expected a list of the doctrinal, dogmatic points that defined “minimum competence”…

  • Jesus begotten by God the Father
  • Born of Virgin Mary
  • Messiah, Savior
  • Sinless Life
  • Condemnation, Crucifixion, Death
  • Resurrection by God
  • Holy Spirit and Indwelling

You know… “The GOSPEL”, right?

His response to my question blew me away for its simplicity and accuracy!

“Salvation is a person, not a plan or a set of doctrinal statements.  Does the individual have capacity to know persons?  Does the person have an experience of Jesus as a living presence?  Has the person known Jesus’ love for him and responded by loving Jesus in return?  That’s it!  His grace needs no more than an opportunity.”

I blush to disclose…. I had forgotten this. It’s not “theology”, or “doctrinal competence”… it’s RELATIONSHIP! His response reminded me, ever so gently, that I’d been hanging with the “wrong crowd” for too long. Even to frame the question in the terms I had used, highlighted the wrong thinking habits into which I had slipped.

And there is the same essential insight I came to realize on the morning I discovered My Gospel! Looking into His face, experiencing His love wash over and through me… IS “The Gospel!”… “God holds His children in His Infinite Love. To this end, beyond all imagining, He came… sending His Son as Son of God/Son of Man… entering FULLY into our existence, with all it’s joys, sorrows, frailties, temptations, triumphs, and sufferings… to express fully and engulf us in His Infinite Love Everything… despite our pitiful and piteous needy nothing.”

I knew that this… this “Gospel Thing”… is important. The words… “the Gospel”… are often misapplied and abused, causing wounding, offense, tribalism, and fear.

All too often, this “Good News” is presented as… “You [sir or madam] are a worthless no good piece of evil trash… a sinner… rightly damned and doomed to hell on your own. BUT… right here right now, if you will cry out for rescue by Jesus… He will come and save you from burning forever… IF AND ONLY IF… you surrender and turn over your own worthless and helpless self to His Lordship. THEN He will protect you from the wrath of His Father, who will otherwise send you into the eternal death of hellfire your sins have earned as their just wage!”I

So I started to draft a post titled… “The Good News is not Bad News”… trying to focus on the Gospel as a Living Relationship of Infinite Love… as expressed through the Cross and Passion… rather than either a set of doctrinal propositions, or even a “set of books”… worthy as they are… of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

As I started to work, and dug into scripture a bit, I discovered some amazing things about these two words we use…. “the Gospel”… but those are for another post. This is enough for now.

Let me just build a bridge to a next installment asking this question:

How do you personally, define “the Gospel” (feel free either to include that in the comment section, responding, below… or just note it down for yourself for next time.)