How do you deal with pandemic fatigue? Here are some suggestions.
I am designing a course on the biblical imagination and spirituality of Eugene Peterson.
Eugene Peterson’s lifelong focus is on soul care, especially on spiritual formation and pastoral nurturing. This course will be a dialogue with his thoughts, teaching, and applications using his Eerdmans spiritual theology series: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (2005); Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (2006); The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus Is the Way (2007); Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (2008); and Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (2010).
The expected major outcome of this course is that students will have reflected on where they are in their spiritual journey, understand the dynamics of formative and transformative aspects of their spiritual lives, and be equipped to nurture their and communal spiritual growth both physically and in Cyberspace. The focus on this course is on spiritual formation and spiritual theology.
more details to follow
When In The Soul Of The Serene Disciple
When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.
Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.
What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.
Gordon MacDonald, writing in Leadership Journal Winter 2016 in an article entitled The Day I Hit a Wall
coined the word ’empty souls’ as when busy Christians run on empty because of their busyness. I like what he writes about preventing this:
Over time I have comprised a bulleted list of the insights that resulted from that December day so many years ago. I include them not because I have mastered them, but because they represent the direction in which I like to walk each day.
• My allocation of time and energy must begin by inserting Sabbath pauses into my calendar before work begins … not after work ends. Because ministry work never ends.
• I have come to appreciate the importance of searching events and personal encounters for the embedded messages of wisdom and discernment that God offers.
• I have tried to be sensitive to the various ways God makes his presence felt: in creation’s beauty and art, in suffering, in study, in various forms of private and corporate worship, in the wonderful stories of Jesus.
• I have gathered a small cadre of personal friends who know my heart (and I, theirs) and who are not reluctant to either encourage me or rebuke me when necessary.
• I have pursued the discipline of intercessory prayer for my family and friends, for the church in the world, for global leaders, for those who suffer.
• I have treasured the insights that come from the biographies of great men and women of God who have lived through the centuries
• I have come to love the Bible, to draw from its pages the thoughts and purposes of God.
• I have understood the importance of readily repenting when I am wrong and quickly forgiving when others have hurt me.
• I have made it a priority to move toward those who are weak and vulnerable with words of hope … as Jesus did.
• I have sought to discipline my lifestyle: to keep free of clutter, to downsize, to keep simple, to accept the obscurity that comes with the aging life.
• I have heard the call of God in my older years to be a spiritual father to any younger people who want to welcome me into their experience.
• I have determined to daily return to the cross and reaffirm my conversion and call to follow Jesus.
We need to avoid ’empty soul’ syndrome and Gordon gives very good advice.
Calling, Vocational Holiness and Spiritual Formation in the Workplace
9-13 September 2015
Malaysia Bible Seminari
Lecturer: Dr Alex Tang
Committed Christians are often concerned about discovering God’s will for their lives in terms of what occupation to take up or who to marry. The deeper question will be to discern what God wants them to be and become. Another concern is how they are to live and have their being in their workplace and marketplace. Central to this is how to maintain the vitality of their spiritual life and growth in the modern lifestyle that is extremely hectic and exhausting. This course will deal with Christian discernment or decision-making and the theology of God’s calling and vocation. It will examine Ignatian and Wesleyan approaches to discernment. The issue of hectic and busy lifestyles will be examined and approaches developed to nurture the spiritual life. The concepts of Missio Dei and Sabbath in their vocations will be developed.
While there will be some overlap with my previous MBS courses, this is a different course which deals with different aspects of our spiritual lives. My previous courses are 2012: Soul Care-The Art & Science of Spiritual Direction (caring for one another in ‘persons-in-formation’); 2013: Leading Change in Spiritual Formation Communities (leadership in a spiritual growing community – ‘persons-in-community formation’); and 2014: Dynamics of Spiritual Formation (understanding spiritual growth – ‘person with Christ-in-formation’). You do not need to have attended my previous courses to attend this.
Suitable for people who are making important life choices or are interested to know more about Godly decision-making and who are also interested to learn about spiritual maintenance and growth in busy and stressful lifestyles: pastors, lay leaders, church members, and seekers of truth.
Contact: Malaysia Bible Seminari Address: Malaysia, Selangor, Kuang, Lot no. 728 Jalan Kg Sungai Serai邮政编码: 48050
Phone:+60 3-6037 1727
I have often be queried why I titled my book Spiritual Formation on the Run. It was suggested that it should include ‘…run away from the busy life’ or ‘…run to silence and solitude’. It puzzled me for a long time until it dawned on me that to many people, spiritual formation or spiritual growth is incompatible with being on the run or movement. To many, spiritual formation will only occurs when we are still and silent, like on a retreat in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. I do not know where this idea comes from but it seems to me that too many of us are exposed to Chinese kungfu movies where the grandmaster or sifu only attain enlightenment (usually implied a higher level of martial skills) by meditation while sealed in a cave on top of some misty mountain. I often wonder how he (usually it is a he) handle his toilet needs. I guess this is reinforced by the Christian division of hyperactive Martha who was busy being hospitable to her guests, and her quiet contemplative sister Mary who was sitting and listening to Jesus.
Luke 10:38–42 (NASB95)
38Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Interestingly, this account was only found in Luke and happened immediately after Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). The parable highlighted doing good to all people irrespective of caste, religious afflictions and stations in life. Martha is associated with the active life while Mary with the contemplative one. Jesus seems to praise Mary’s choice as the correct one. If this is the only lesson from the passage, then Martha should come and sit at Jesus’ feet and everyone will go hungry without supper!
The houses in New Testament times are rather small so even when preparing food, both the ladies will be able to hear Jesus. The passage seems to imply that initially both Mary and Martha were involved in the food preparation. Then suddenly Mary left the preparation to sit at Jesus’ feet to focus fully on what Jesus was saying. Martha’s ire was that her sister was not helping her in the food preparation. Martha was busy and in a hurry. Maybe she wanted to produce an exception meal for her special guest. In her hurriedness, she was distracted and was not listening to Jesus. Jesus was speaking to everyone in the house, not just Mary. Jesus’ rebuke to Martha may be because she was not listening to him. This was because she was so distracted by her busyness. Martha should be preparing the food and listening to him at the same time as women are wonderful at multi-tasking. I am sure Jesus wanted to eat too. Jesus did not say, “Martha, stop what you are doing, sit down and listen to me!”
We all live very busy lives. From the moment we are rudely awakened by our alarm clocks to the time we fall asleep, we have to perform many tasks. Our ‘to-do’ list often runs to two or three pages. If being busy means that we have not chosen ‘the good part’ that most of us are in trouble. Not many of us have the opportunity to take time away to be in a retreat, to just sit and listen. There are bills to pay, houses to clean and kids to bring up.
There is a difference between being busy and being hurried. We can be busy without being in a hurry. Busy is an external condition where we have many tasks to complete. Hurry is an inner state where we are distracted because of the external busyness. This inner state of distraction means that our soul is confused, fragmented and disconnected with our minds, hearts and spirits. What is more significant is that the hurried or distracted person cannot hear the voice of God. What Jesus was trying to teach Martha (and us) is that it is not wrong for us to be busy (for which one of us is not busy) but not to be hurried and distracted. This is because when we are hurried and distracted, we cannot hear him.
This means that Christian spiritual formation and transformation may occurs in a busy life. However the process may be difficult in a busy and hurried life. Dallas Willard notes, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Is it possible to live a busy but unhurried life? Gregory the Great was the first monk to become a pope. He became Pope Gregory 1 from 590 to 604 AD. Gregory was a Doctor of the Church and a Latin Father. He contributed a lot to church services and is known as the father of Christian worship. In his busy schedule, Gregory was able to maintain a powerful devotional life. John Calvin mentioned Gregory in his Institutes and praised his contribution to the church.
How do we become unhurried in our busy life? Here are a few suggestions:
- Do not be a perfectionism
Martha may not be so distracted if she was not in such a hurry to prepare a gourmet meal for his visitors. Perhaps a simpler meal may allow her to slow down and listen to Jesus as she worked. Our home need not be so clean and tidy to be featured in Ideal Home magazine. We do not need to have that complete set of Minions from McDonald Kiddy Meals. Being less of a perfectionist may remove the strain of being a hurry.
- Prioritize your to-do list
Not all of the things on our to-do list needs to be completed. The world will not come to an end if we do not complete it. If Christ comes again then we do not need to complete it. Prioritize and do the most essential things first. Be realistic in assigning the amount of time to complete each task. Group similar tasks together. A bit of forward planning can help to eliminate hurry from our schedule.
- Take ‘minute’ retreats
A ‘minute’ retreat is to take a minute of your time during a busy period, close your eyes and calm your mind, slow your breathing and take deep breaths. Visualize a quiet room within your heart where you can meet with Jesus and say hello. This will break the vicious cycle of stress caused by your business. Stress tend to induce hurry in our inner life. You can close your eyes and do a minute retreat at any time and in any place. Except maybe when you are driving or skydiving.
- Keep things in perspective
In a particular busy period, ask yourself will what you are doing matters in five years’ time? Will it matters in a year’s time? Next month? Often answering this questions bring things into perspective. Having things in perspective helps to eliminate hurry. One of my favorite quotes from Facebook is a paraphrase of the Serenity Prayer: “Lord, give me coffee to change the things I can change and wine to accept the things I cannot, and chocolate while I figure out the difference!” Not taking ourselves too seriously and having a sense of humor helps us to slow down and not to hurry.
- Let go and let God
The need to be in control and a busy life is a guaranteed recipe for a hurried life. Most of us are control freaks. We need to learn to let go and let God take control of our life and of our schedule. Learning to let go means learning to say no. Letting go means focusing on things that has eternal value rather than chasing after things that offer temporary satisfactions. This also helps us to be more patient with events and people.
A hurried life is a distracted life. We can be hurried even when we are not busy. Even during our vacations we are hurried and busy. A distracted life is an unhealthy life. It harms our bodies leading to hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart problems. Our souls are also being harmed. We are restless. We feel disconnected and lost. There is lacking a sense of being anchored or grounded. We became swayed by every events that come our way. We are irritable and short fused. And we cannot hear the voice of God. Listening and hearing to the voice of God is what Jesus said as ‘only one thing [is] necessary’. So, take a deep breath and stop being in a hurry to finish reading this post!
St. John of the Cross is closely associated with the prayer concept of the dark night of the soul. Living in the 16th century, St. John was a reformer of the Carmelite order of which he was a member. He is regarded as one of the foremost Spanish Christian mystic. His well-known works include the Candicle of Love, the Dark Night of the Soul, Ascend of Mount Carmel and his poem Living Flame of Love. Actually all his works have only one theme and one book was often a commentary on the other. The theme is the contemplative movement of a soul to a unitive experience with God in prayer. The dark night of the soul must be understood in the context of prayer. In the last couple of decades, there has been a revival of usage of phrase ‘the dark night of the soul’ especially by evangelicals. Unfortunately it is often misunderstood as depression, spiritual dryness, or being patience in suffering.
To understand the concept of dark night, we have to aware of the context in which St. John of the Cross wrote. Firstly, he was a practicing mystic and a spiritual director. A mystic just meant a person who have experienced the closeness of God and is aware of the His loving presence. As a spiritual director, he was aware of the pitfalls and dangers of depending on experience alone. He described his works as spiritual theology. His focus was on prayer especially contemplative prayer.
Secondly, he was trained under the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas divided a human soul into two parts: sense and spirit. By sense is meant our attachment to the things of this world which include human relationships. The spirit refers to the cognitive part of the mind which includes the will, memories, and thinking. When St. John refers to the dark night of the sense and of the spirit, he was assigning different meanings to the common modern words we use; sense and spirit.
Finally, St. John comes from the apophatic tradition. Christian spirituality basically may be divided into two categories. The kataphatic tradition, to which most Protestant and evangelicals belong, believe that God may be known and described by language. This tradition utilizes creeds, doctrines and lots of words. The apophatic tradition believe that God is too awesome to be described. No human language has words to describe God. God can only be describe by negatives. The only way to describe God is by what He is not. The apophatic tradition is known as via negativa because of its use of negatives. Examples of apophatic theology include God’s appearance to Moses in the Burning Bush; the Name of God which may not be pronounced; and the prophet Elijah’s experience, where God reveals Himself in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11–13).
Prayer is human-God communion. Broadly prayer may be divided into linguistic or non-linguistic. Linguistic prayers which include verbal and meditative prayers are prayers that are practiced using our mind and language. Most Christians are familiar to this form of prayer. We ‘talk’ to God using words. The non-linguistic prayers include contemplative and unitive prayers. Here words are seldom used. It utilizes our other faculties to connect with God. St. John focused mainly on contemplative and unitive prayers. He observed that people who have are advancing in contemplative praying will eventually hit a brick wall on their way to unitive praying. Suddenly they will find their prayers dry, arid, or lose their sense of the presence of God. They may even feel that they have been abandoned by God. When these pray-ers have examined themselves and not find any hidden unconfessed sins, St. John described the stage they are in as the dark night of the soul.
St. John described two dark nights of the soul. One is the dark night of the sense and the other is the dark night of the spirit. Each in turn has a passive and active component. St. John suggested that God is teaching us to detach from our attachments to the world, and attach ourselves to Him personally. It is to teach us to let go and let God be God. According to St. John, the dark night of the sense and the dark night of the spirit do not occur sequentially but are both side of the same coin.
In the dark night of the sense, we are taught to detach ourselves from our worldly possessions, our loved ones and even ourselves. Most of the time, it is these worldly possessions that distract us from being fully present to God. In the dark night of the spirit, we are taught to detach ourselves from our pride in our cleverness, our memories (past), and our willfulness. We are also taught to let go of our past experiences of God as these experiences may bind us down. The passive component is letting God work on us and the active component is our willingness to submit and allow God to work. It must be noted that this is different from the Buddhist discipline of emptying of the mind and attaining the non-self. The goal here is not to empty the mind and self but to detach from all that bind us and distract us from God Himself. The aim of these dark nights is unitive prayer where one become fire.
Only when we have lost all our detachments can we stand close to God who is fire or ‘living flame’ as St. John noted. St. John also noted that not all pray-ers will achieve this unity. Many pray-ers perceive that during the dark nights, God has moved away. God has not moved away. Instead He has moved closer to us. So close that we are blinded by His light. Hence the darkness we perceive.
One metaphor which St. John like to use to describe the process of the dark nights was that of a burning log. When a fire was burning a log, first it dehumidified the log. Then it turned the wood black and charred. Finally “the fire brings to light and expels all those ugly and dark accidents which are contrary to fire” [Dark Night, Book II, Chapter 10]. When the fire of the Holy Spirit burns us, the initial effect is alarming and painful. As the damp log dries and become blacken, cracked and dry, in God’s refining fire, our real self is revealed – blackened, cracked and dry. It has always being there but the flame revealed the truth and the truth always set us free.
This progress of contemplative prayer to unitive prayer as illustrated by the dark nights of the sense and spirit is a useful guide for those who seek to deepen their prayer life. In the process, we are transformed. This process was not discovered by St. John. The early church tradition was very aware of God as refining flame and our purpose to be like God. Here is a short story from the Desert Fathers; Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’ If we will, pass through the dark nights, and become all flame.
One of the memorable moment of the retreat was when I was reading about Moses and the blazing bush and I looked up and saw a cloud with silver lining and a orange blaze behind the cloud. For a moment, it looked like a burning bush or flash of an angel’s wing.
I later found out that it was an iridescent cloud, apparently a rare phenomenon
If parts of clouds have small droplets or crystals of similar size, their cumulative effect is seen as colors. The cloud must be optically thin, so that most rays encounter only a single droplet. Iridescence is therefore mostly seen at cloud edges or in semi-transparent clouds, and newly forming clouds produce the brightest and most colorful iridescence. When a thin cloud has droplets of similar size over a large extent, the iridescence takes on the structured form of a corona, a central bright disk around the sun or moon surrounded by one or more colored rings. In one instance a lunar corona was observed, with the iridescent cirrus cloud 11–13.6 km (36,000–45,000 ft) above the mean sea level at a temperature of −70 °C (−94 °F). The pure corona was 9.5 km (31,000 ft) above the mean sea level, at a temperature of −60 °C (−76 °F).
Whatever it was, I am thankful for God for the glimpse. It was like a chariot of fire!