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Posts tagged ‘release’

abundant life in the darkness

We were 20 minutes out from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport when the pilot came on the speaker with the routine update for passengers. He dutifully reported the balmy conditions that awaited us – even at 10:30 at night, the temperature would be 80 degrees. I fly enough to know the temperature reading is usually followed with a report about the cloud cover, something central to a pilot’s world, but not necessarily to mine. But this time the report made me pause: “Visibility is endless.”

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I looked out the window. It was dark. Really dark. I could see tiny lights on the ground that marked the outer band of development of this sprawling city. But mostly, I could see nothing. Endless visibility? Hardly.

Darkness and visibility don’t go together. Or do they?

The practice of contemplative prayer invites us to quiet our minds, set our egos aside for a moment, and lean back (as Tilden Edwards says) into our spiritual hearts. But when we do – when we actually release the images and ideas and random thoughts that pop into our minds, what’s left is darkness. Just me and my emptiness. And that doesn’t feel great. The darkness we meet on the inside is far scarier than much of the darkness we face in our everyday lives. I long for the light of my thoughts, the brightness of my carefully constructed ego with all of its success and pride and satisfaction in what I’ve built around me. I grasp for ideas and solutions that flow through my mind, eager to climb back out of the abyss.

And yet when I’m able, for whatever reason, to let go, to release what I’m clinging to, to fall into that darkness within, I discover something incredible. That the visibility IS endless. In the darkness, I can see Love. In the darkness, I can see Peace. In the darkness, I can see New Life. 

I’m grateful for the gift of the darkness. I’m grateful for the courage to let go and let the darkness close around me. Because when I release all I have collected to make me feel safe and loved and powerful, I discover true security, true love, true power in the arms of the Divine Creator and Lover of us all. Thanks be to God for the discovery of abundant life in the darkness.

abundant life starts with release

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Last night in worship, we used sand to represent our confession. Bins of sand lined the walls of the sanctuary with signs describing character traits and experiences that get in the way of our relationship with God: selfishness, despair, greed, self-doubt. As we added sand to our personal bags of life, the heaviness was obvious: we carry around a lot of baggage. After hearing words of forgiveness, the people were invited to come forward to receive the ashes on their forehead, acknowledging their humanity. Afterward, they could take their bag of sand and pour it out at the foot of the large standing cross erected for the season of Lent.

And so I stood at the altar, dipping my thumb into the black, messy ashes, and carefully marking a cross on each person’s forehead. I looked into their eyes, connecting with their stories and our shared history, and together we acknowledged that life is short, and that we will one day become ashes ourselves. The moments were precious enough in themselves, each person receiving the experience in their own way. But in the background, there was something more. There was a sound, and a movement stirring. As people began to pour out their sand, there was a whoosh. The sound of the sand leaving the paper bags accompanied the ashes as one by one, people continued to come with their baggage in hand. And the sound was the sound of release, of letting go, of loosening our grip on old resentments and fears for the future. The whoosh was the sound of the Holy Spirit blowing through us, emptying us, and filling us all at once.

The sound of the sand pouring out was the sound of abundant life. We begin to live when we let go of all that binds us, that holds us back, that keeps us preoccupied. Christ calls us to receive new life, but how can we accept this great gift when our hands are already full of heartbreak and anxiety and envy? It is in the release that we are filled. It is in letting go that we are able to grasp real love, real life. Abundant life begins with the whoosh of pouring out ourselves and trusting that Christ will fill us with all good things.

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