Most of you know I’m a Christian. Sometimes I feel anxious admitting that. There are Christians out there who have done some terrible things and I’m ashamed to be huddled together under the same umbrella. But I am. I think I was practically born a Christian. And although it’s my own faith now, not just a family thing, having grown up in a Christian home means that all the Bible verses and stories are familiar. So much so that I often find myself checking out when reading or discussing a particular passage. I’ve heard ‘em all. I’ve studied ‘em all. I know all the answers.
So when our church started our series on the beatitudes this summer, I did an inward yawn. Been there, done that. When Gail started off the series in June, though, I was completely thrown. She intro-ed the beatitudes and outlined them in a way that I had to admit I’d never heard before. I was captivated. A whole new way to look at the sermon on the mount. Whaaaat? By the time Brian preached a couple weeks ago on “blessed are the pure in heart,” I was all in, all ears. And his exploration of the text penetrated in a way that few sermons have for me in, oh, maybe the last decade.
I can’t paraphrase it. You’ll have to listen for yourself. But this is the part that reverberated deep inside me. He said that the second half of the beatitude, the “for they will see God” part, implies that God already sees us. That we are not hidden from God. God always sees us. Sees us as we were intended to be seen and God comes near. That it is an invitation, God saying “I want you to see me seeing you.” So pull down the things that cover you, the fear, the anxiety, the pride, the attempts at greatness, the protecting, the guarding, the whatever, and see God seeing you.
I guess it struck me so because this has been a rough year. I lost two of my grandparents and it looks like I’m about to lose another. I was sick a lot last Fall, requiring 2 rounds of antibiotics and one trip to Urgent Care, I broke a toe on BOTH of my feet at the same time (seriously, who does that?) which meant weeks on crutches, unable to take care of the boys, and some really sad things happened to various close friends of ours. But I don’t feel like there has been any time to pause in the midst of all this. To really sit in my grief for my grandparents. To really feel the sadness that is simmering under the surface for my friends. There is just no down time when you have 2 toddlers. None. And if there is, by chance, the rare moment of quiet and solitude when I’m not running around thinking “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I have twenty minutes alone, what should I do?! what should do?! Shower?! Eat?! Sleep?!” I’m usually snoring in 5 minutes flat. It’s an exhausting season of life. Joyful, yes, but unbelievably exhausting. Time for introspection and reflection is really rare. So when I heard Brian say that God sees me, really sees me, I wanted to weep. Seriously, people. Almost started crying in the middle of the sermon. Even though I’m too tired and worn down to see myself, God sees me. And God draws near.
Fast forward a week or so. I was still sitting in that sermon, so to speak, trying to figure out how I might live into the reality that God is near. It’s kind of abstract, right? Enter Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren. I wasn’t too keen to read it, truth be told. I like old stuff when it comes to “spiritual” reading. Think Celtic Book of Daily Prayer, Oxford Book of Prayer, and so forth. But I had been given a Kindle for my birthday from a group of friends and I was eager to read something on it. Jason already had an e-version of Naked Spirituality and loaded it on the Kindle. Since I hadn’t purchased anything else yet, and was still in the middle of a different novel, I reluctantly started reading it one night, if only to try out my new gadget. Within just a few pages I was hooked.
McLaren uses 12 different words (help, when, please, etc) to introduce and center 12 spiritual rhythms. I’ve only read one word and its corresponding spiritual practice so far – here. McLaren defines it as “The practice of invocation and presentation, awakening to the presence of God.” There is a lot that goes into it and again, I won’t try to paraphrase. This excerpt sums up the practice part of it. You simply say “here” -
“Here I am, at this point in history, within today’s swirl of politics and economics, within epochal shifts in climate and plate tectonics, and within the ongoing drama of human civilization and its discontents. Here I am, at this point in muy own story –as a child, a teenager, an adult, a senior citizen. Here I am, on this hill, on this grass, looking up at this sky. Here I am, on this unique day in the history of the universe, with that bird singing over there, those planes flying overhead, these plants springing up around me, each thing with its own unique luminosity.Here I am, in this predicament, in this catastrophe, in this boring afternoon, in this hospital bed with all this beeping, buzzing, humming equipment. Here I am, with all my problems and faults, all my embarrassments and mistakes, all my whirring conscious thought and all my subconscious rumblings and doubts. Here I am, walking down this aisle, taking this exam, in between these contractions, about to deliver this lecture, in the middle of this divorce, writing this book. I don’t have to be somewhere else—right here is okay. In fact, it’s the only place I can be to begin to awaken spiritually. Here. Now. Just as I am.”
This practice seems perfect for someone who is busy, busy, busy with 2 little ones ever underfoot. A way to stop what I’m doing, even if just for the briefest of moments, to acknowledge, ”Here I am, in the presence of a mystery. Here I am, in the presence of a Presence who transcends, surpasses, overflows, and exceeds every attempt at definition, description, and even conception. Here you are, whoever you are, however similar or dissimilar you are to my preconceived notions of you. May the real I and the real you become present to one another here and now.” I’m perhaps not quite that articulate when I’m changing diapers, of course. Here is what it looked like for me yesterday…
I suppose this seems like a pretty minor practice. Just saying “here.” But it’s sustainable and it’s simple and it brings me back to that beatitude and Brian’s sermon. I acknowledge that I am here and God is here. I see God seeing me. Or as McLaren puts it, “How much higher and wider and deeper and richer our lives become when we awaken to the presence of the real, wild, mysterious, living God, who is bigger than our tame concepts of God. As we sense an inward vocation from God and toward God, we can respond with presentation, saying, ‘Here I am, Lord. I present myself to you, presenting yourself to me.’ We begin to live with a perpetual Here I am, and Here you are, in our hearts, inviting constant, vital connection, unbroken communion, lifelong friendship –starting right here, starting right now.”