A Mosaic of Images on Joy and Prayer

I come from a tradition that is suspicious of written or scripted prayers, believing that spontaneity is a sign of sincerity and casting askance glances at those who must borrow the words of others in order to talk to God.  Then I became a mother and realized that not only were my own words in prayer untrustworthy at times, but there were also events in life for which words would not come. Praying the examen of conscience at the end of a day has often given my tired brain a place to go and an outline to guide my conversation with God.

Light When It Comes by Chris Anderson is a guide book for the practice of “paying fierce attention” to life in order to enhance one’s prayer life and to ensure that we catch all the stories that matter.  At the end of the day, it is helpful to me to remember that I have an audience with God and to review the events of the day with thanksgiving, paying attention to emotions, to the ways in which guidance has come and miracles have happened.  It is also a time to offer up all the failings and disappointments for forgiveness and grace and to make plans for a more Christ-centered tomorrow.

In the midst of this reflection, I find that life distills down to a series of moments.

“The only place I can be is the moment.
Everything else is an abstraction.” (25)

Chris Anderson intersperses his teaching on joy and prayer with vivid re-tellings of moments from his own life in a way that I found to be jarring at first:  a story about a yellow warbler calling “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet”  jostles around between a vignette from a funeral and a description of the sound of his son playing the harmonica with a Bruce Springsteen CD.  Eventually, though, these disjointed stories began to “appear in their real potency,” just as the unsettling stories of Scripture do when we let them speak for themselves and to communicate beyond the stained glass and the flannel boards.

Reviewing the events of the day in the presence of God is an opportunity to face the darkness as well as to remember the joy.  This too is part of the paying attention, part of the humility that acknowledges that “God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things“– including the things we wonder about.

The author examines servanthood from his perspective as a church member and a deacon, acknowledging his own mixed motives (the only kind of motives available to humans), and the thirst that tries to satisfy itself with something other than Living Water (Praise?  Order?  Certainty? No, these do not quench the thirst . . .)

He portrays service as a learning process:

“Whatever else it is, the story of Jesus is the story of letting go and the giving up we have to do every day of our lives.” (86)

This paying attention to life means that God shows up in surprising ways:  in the midst of confusion, on the days when I don’t like myself, when what I really need to do is to stop analyzing and to start trusting. It is a recognition of the humility of a simple “and” when viewing the pieces that make up the mosaic of our lives, not striving for or forcing our way into “thus” or “therefore” before light has come, but offering up the individual events, both good and bad, so that the creation of the mosaic is, in the end, left to God.

Chris closes with two premises that bring the pieces together into a joyful whole:

  1.  “God is present in every moment and in every molecule.  His grace and His love are nowhere less than complete and full, anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time.
  2. The love of God and the grace of God are freely given, are nothing but gift, [and] there’s nothing we can ever do to earn them.  No matter how much I read or pray or do good works, I will never be more loved by God than I am in this very second.  Yes, we should strive to be better, we should strive to be more moral and faithful people, but not in order to merit the love of God but rather as a loving and grateful response to it.”

Having said all that, it is not in premises that Light When It Comes urges us to find our life, but rather in the blessed randomness of holy joy that flows into the wildly disjointed pieces of our moments and our days, making of it all a gift.

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This book was provided by the William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Finding Rest in Humility

Apparently, in addition to all his better-known gifts, Thomas Jefferson was a gardener. His experimentation with horticulture added over five hundred new fruits and vegetables to the world, but he was never able to successfully cultivate a vineyard at Monticello, his beloved Virginia home.  Here’s why:  the French varieties of grapes he coveted had no resistance to the tiny root louse which feeds on the roots of grapevines and thrives in North American soil.  His dream of a beautiful vineyard was being, quite literally, cut off at the roots.

Hannah Anderson shares Jefferson’s gardening woes as an illustration of the effect of pride on the human heart.  An infestation of pride not only cuts peace and joy off at the roots, but also heightens stress levels and causes the oblivious host to strive for levels of self-sufficiency and competence that we were never meant to shoulder.  In Humble Roots, Hannah shares a number of definitions of humility that give structure to her words and that also reveal the important role that a humble heart plays in the formation of a soul that is both grounded and nourished.

“Humility is accurately understanding ourselves and our place in the world.  Humility is knowing where we came from and who our people are.  Humility is understanding that without God we are nothing.” (56)

In directing our gaze to the lilies of the field, Jesus invites His followers to a humble dependence on His provision.  With 75% of Americans reporting that they experience some level of stress on any given month (21) — and all its attending health issues — a humble acknowledgement of our need can be life-saving.

“Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated.  Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result.” (103)

This clear view of the self reveals that most of our struggles are rooted in a pride that exalts and prioritizes our own feelings over all else.  It takes a certain amount of courage to agree with John the Beloved Disciple’s assessment that God is “greater than our hearts.”  The humble admission that He “knows all things” — and by extension that I do not know all things — is a tremendous first step in admitting the limits of human reason and in acknowledging the truth that all is gift.

“Humility remembers both your human limitation and God’s transcendent power.” (157)

Proverbs 16:9 yields truth that eases my control issues with the knowledge of the choreography that exists between my decision-making and God’s sovereignty, for indeed, plan as I may, it is God who directs my steps.  How glorious that God invites me to dream, while also reassuring me that I need never lose sight of His ultimate control as the One who is writing the patterns for every figure of the dance.

“Humility teaches us to find rest in confession.  Rest from the need to hide, the need to be perfect.  We rest by saying, both to God and others, ‘I am not enough.  I need help.'” (186)

Life here outside The Garden means that no one is immune from brokenness and fallibility, but humility alleviates some of the sting, for when we freely confess our brokenness to God and others, we are free to grieve it, to stop hiding it, and to take grace.

There is irony in Hannah Anderson’s choice of a title for her book, for it quickly becomes clear that it is pride that lives in the roots of humanity.  Thus, it becomes the lifelong journey of the Christian life to uproot all that is harmful (or, depending on one’s perspective, to cooperate with God in His uprooting) and to transplant (by grace) all that redeems.  In the meantime, having read and allowed the truth to land on plowed soil, I’m enjoying the message that “God raised Jesus up because this is how God responds to humility.” (199)

And on this February day in which my refrigerator is playing host to two tomatoes that can only be described as “plastic,” my gardener-soul is nourished by this lovely sentence:

“A sun-ripened tomato is one of God’s clearest acts of common grace.” (118)

In Humble Roots,  Hannah Anderson has drawn a clear connection between the cultivation of those sun-ripened beauties and the pursuit of soul-nourishment, peace, rest, and an end to the ceaseless striving.  Using metaphors as earthy as our clay-based bodies, she cooperates with the Word of God to reveal that the quality of life we most desire will not come to us through power or reason or productivity or any number of quick fixes, but, rather, through roots that are sunk deeply into a theology of need and answering grace — and a humble acceptance of a life that is lived close to the ground.

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

The Enneagram and The Road Back to You

I googled the term the first time I heard it, not even sure how to pronounce it.

Enneagram:  “Any – a – gram”

Named for a nine-sided polygon, the Enneagram distinguishes and describes nine facets of the human personality, nine different ways of being, nine unique manifestations of the image of God on this planet.  In The Road Back to You, Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile provide a clear, humorous, and sensitive road map for the journey of self-discovery that happens while studying the Enneagram.

Here’s a summary of all nine types and connections:

capture

It’s important to note that with the Enneagram, motivation determines type.  So, for example, if I believe that a friend is feeling sad, I may reach out to her with a phone call for various reasons:

  • If I call because I see myself as a champion of the sad and despondent, I may be an 8.
  • If I’m motivated by a desire to comfort and to create a safe space for that friend, I am likely a 2.
  • If I join my sad friend in her place of sadness and mirror the entire range of her emotions, I am probably a 4.

The way we take in information has a huge impact on the way we see the world, and the Enneagram provides a framework for understanding this, as well as a new vocabulary for expressing ourselves, for living alongside others, and for delighting in the mystery of our individuality.

To be honest, I’m not entirely settled on my Enneagram number.  I kept hoping that Ian and Suzanne would say, “And if every time you read about one of the types, you think you ARE that type (or at least have all its weaknesses), then you are a _______.”   (They didn’t say that — ever.)

It’s also important to understand that the Enneagram types are not convenient pigeon holes for filing yourself and all your friends into neat little Bento boxes, and this is one of the strengths of the concept.  Because human beings operate at all levels of health and dysfunction, not all Type 1 Perfectionists are on a mission to make over the entire universe in their own image.  Not all Eights are bent on world domination.

If you are curious about your type, you can take an online quiz, but then you will need to do some further reading and research to discover what significance that number has for you.  Suzanne and Ian have also produced a podcast with an abundance of helpful information.

Additionally, it’s important to note that each Enneagram type will manifest characteristics of a neighbor number.  This is referred to as your wing.  For example, when I took the online test, it determined that I am most likely a 3 with a 4 wing (3w4).  If I were a 3w2, I would be much more charming and intimate, but I would also drive my friends crazy trying to be the star of every show.  As a 3w4 (if that’s what I really am), I am introspective and more authentic than the 3w2, but also more conflicted.

Of course, knowing all this won’t change who I am, but it does give me an understanding of the raw material I’m working with so that I can get out of my own way and become a God-honoring version of a 3w4, trusting for grace to deal with the weaknesses, and capitalizing on the strengths that are there.

The Ennegram is also a helpful tool for understanding how others are viewing the world.  Suzanne and Ian have said it well:

“The Enneagram shows us that we can’t change the way other people see, but we can try to experience the world through their eyes and help them change what they do with what they see.”

The authors have also provided a “field guide” for understanding the other types with a “What It’s Like to Be a _________” at the beginning of each type’s chapter.  Eye-opening!

It is clear that the Enneagram doesn’t just provide numbers attached to numerical excuses for us to stay in our present ruts or unhealthy behavior patterns. Understanding my weakness and frailty is true self-awareness.  It is also a call to spiritual transformation.  Thomas Merton has said, “For me to be a saint means to be myself.”  While this may be overstating the point, it’s not by much, for if my efforts to “be a saint” pull me into a personality that is not my own, but rather some concoction of traits that I’ve admired in those I consider to be “saints,” I’m doomed to jettison myself out of that ill-fitting craft and conclude that sainthood is just not for me.  The beauty of self-understanding is the knowledge that saints come in all types and sainthood is as various and multi-colored as the creative genius of God.

The Road Back to You begins and ends with a blessing for the journey, words spoken over those who are about to wake up to the wonder of discovering the true self, and to find more of God in the process:

“May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the façade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.”

Amen.

Let it be so.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The amazing graphic showing the Enneagram is a creation of Lisa Burgess of LisaNotes, and it is used, gratefully, with her permission.  Be sure to hop over to her place and read her great series on the Enneagram.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.