contemplative way

The contemplative way of spirituality is the way of stepping aside from anything and everything we think or feel that would distract us from what is present right here and now–the conscious awareness of God’s presence.

Signs

Dave Brisbin | 10.8.17
Ever notice how it seems to take longer to get somewhere you’ve never been than to get back again? Why is that? Watching every turn, wondering if you missed one, if there’ll be a street sign, how much longer…? I always like to look at a map of the whole route before letting the GPS lady lead me around by the nose. There is a certain amount of anxiety involved in going somewhere for the first time that is relieved once we have some idea of the overall shape of the journey. And what’s true for external journeys is certainly true for interior ones as well. We are always looking for signs and prophecies, plans and God’s will to help us see the way before we actually travel the way.

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But what Jesus is constantly telling us is that we won’t get the kind of sign we’re looking for if what we’re looking for is certainty. All we get is the “sign of Jonah,” the general shape of the Way that descends into the belly of the beast before it ever leads anywhere else. Jesus is saying that life is shaped like this, that the nature of the journey doesn’t require certainty or even clarity, and if you persist in clinging to those obsessions, you’ll never open to the trust that really is the engine of the only Way to Father.

The Gift of Subtraction

Dave Brisbin | 10.1.17
Meister Eckhart said that the spiritual life is much more about subtraction than addition, but what does that mean? Many spiritual teachers have spoken about the fact that life is divided into halves, but what is the distinction? Putting the two together, the first half of life is about building the physical platform for survival, happiness, meaning, purpose, identity—it’s about acquisition both physically and emotionally…about addition. The second half is about undoing all that, about the subtraction of layer after layer of manufactured identity and the illusion of certainty. It’s about coming full circle back to the garden where we play with Presence in the cool of the evening and become vulnerably secure in trust. But what does a second half of life journey cost and look like? 

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How do we know we’re in it? Here, Paul comes to the rescue with a beautiful moment of vulnerability and self-disclosure at Romans 7. In a passage that has traditionally been hard to understand, in this context, we see Paul showing us the push and pull, the disorientation and frustration of moving from the first half practice of law-following as righteous addition to the gift of finally letting go of the effort to be good enough, subtracting our way into the weakness that makes us strong in God’s embrace.

Outrunning the Rules

Dave Brisbin | 9.10.17
Anyone who’s played football had to learn the playbook and how to run the plays in the book, but the real play of football begins where the playbook ends. What do you do when the playbook has delivered you the ball, put it in your hands, and now it’s just you, a field full of linebackers, and a goal line? A great chef begins where the recipe ends and jazz players are defined by the music they make beyond the printed page. It’s a great irony that the church has traditionally told us that God will bless us if we just obey the rules, the law…especially considering that Jesus spent most of his precious time trying to tell us and show us that we can only begin to see the blessings God is constantly showering on our lives once we outrun the rules: 

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transcend them, graduate beyond them, fulfill them by becoming them—living with their original intent written on our hearts. Until and unless we begin to see that Jesus is trying to grow us up and over mere acquisition and obedience as the means to God’s love and approval, we’ll never experience the freedom of simply running downfield with abandon, the ability to make a feast out of whatever ingredients each moment provides, or the creativity in flowing with music that has never been written, and will exist only as long as we are playing.

Process to Person

Dave Brisbin | 8.6.17
When Jesus says that he is the Way, truth, and life, if we’re to take him at his word, what he is saying is that he is both a person and a process. The implications of this statement are radical, but we typically don’t even consider them as the church has come to focus almost exclusively on Jesus as a person and has lost the promise of process: finding the person/truth that makes us free. But though the processness of Jesus may be lost on us, it wasn’t on his first followers who called themselves “talmidey urha,” Aramaic for Followers of the Way…not followers of Jesus. 

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And even though Jesus was understood as identical with the Way, still their distinction pointed directly to the fact that we as followers actually do need to follow a Way, a process of becoming more and more identified with both Jesus and Way. So now as modern Westerners, we need to follow a process of unlearning that will take us from the person of Jesus we think we know to the process of Jesus that his first followers knew, that will then take us to the person of truth that will make us free.

A Palace in Time

Dave Brisbin | 5.21.17
Reading an article by a pastor who now consults and coaches other pastors on growing church attendance, building programs, and time management created a moment of dissonance that I needed to process. In coaching pastors on protecting their time, to focus their time on necessary growth, the author stated that a pastor can only have meaningful relationships with 120 people at a time, and in a church that group is always changing and needs to be managed to the point of actually changing phone numbers and cutting off access to those outside the current 120. Sounds harsh, contains truth, sounds antithetical to Jesus’ principles, but Jesus had inner circles as well. Hence the dissonance. How to balance?

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And what does it say of our view of time? The ancient view of time and timekeeping was so different than ours, it may be hard to make hard and fast comparisons then and now, but it again points to the necessary balance between mother and father, accomplishment and relationship that is key to kingdom living. Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes that we modern people are fixated on space, of filling formless time with things and accomplishments, but that God sees time as holy in itself, that the first thing God made holy was time—the Sabbath, a palace in time. To see time in a new way may help us to create a better, more holy balance between space and time in our own lives.

Circle Dance

Dave Brisbin | 11.27.16
Coming off Thanksgiving and probably the loudest family gathering ever, I realized that the gratitude we all felt and hadn’t quite put into words, was being expressed through sheer volume: through the day long dance of family members moving in and out of conversations and laughter and food and games. It was a constant motion, a giving and receiving that blurred into one thing that I suppose we could describe as family or love or long-familiar relationship. When we look at God from a Christian point of view, we’ve been asked to see three persons in one God, but what does that mean, and why is it important? What does it offer each of us day in and out? 

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The early church fathers come to the rescue here, giving us the word that for them came closest to what they saw when they looked at God: “perichoresis.” It literally means “circle dance” in Greek, and when we think of the ancient Greek traditional dances, whirling and turning so fast that individual dancers blur into one constant motion, we begin to see the point. Love needs a beloved; giving needs a receiver. If God is love, then God is already and has always been a blur of motion where love and beloved, giving and gratitude blur into one thing, one God. And in that notion of constant motion, we can see where we fit in, where we can enter the dance and be one with the blur.

Stark Raving Honesty

Dave Brisbin | 11.20.16
When a person gets up to accept and award or honor, whether a politician to a movie star, I’ve always wondered what exactly is meant when he or she inevitably says they are “humbled” to accept this award. That statement can be authentically heartfelt and can mean many things, but if we really break down what humility means, is it really humble? What is humility and why does Jesus hold it as such a primary value? In Jesus’ stories and parables, it is obvious to scholars that he is tapping into the ancient Jewish tradition of the “anawim…” those who are poor and lowly, meek and gentle, those who have been oppressed and marginalized to the point that they have nowhere left to turn except directly to God. 

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Jesus was born anawim to anawim parents, and what he’s really pointing to is that we are all really anawim, completely dependent on God for every breath, if we would only see the truth. And that is the real point: that as AA puts it, humility really is stark raving honesty—the ability to see ourselves as we really are. Completely dependent and imperfect, yet completely loved and accepted at the same time.

Changelings

Dave Brisbin | 11.13.16
Nearing the end of a year of almost constant change, worn out, ready for some sort of plateau or break in the action, the realization reaffirms that there is no plateau. There is no time in life that change isn’t constantly in process. Sit for a few minutes and watch the shadows move across your living room—subtle reminder of just how fast things are really moving in our lives. Most of us don’t like change, but if we’re not changing and moving, we’re not part of the action of God’s spirit, which is always in motion, always bringing change. 

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How can we know if we’re resisting change in our lives? It can be pretty sneaky the way resistance creeps in and takes over our character, but there are three clues implied in scripture that we can use to apply to ourselves and see whether we’re free to blow about with God’s wind or if our heels are leaving dark skid marks behind us.

Wedding Party

Dave Brisbin | 11.6.16
Walking my daughter down the aisle on her wedding day was just about everything I could have hoped for in such a moment. She was absolute beautiful in her dress, her mother and I love her groom, the setting and preparations couldn’t have been better. But even in a perfect moment such as this, I was of course aware of fractures between families and family members that had remained either unresolved or unspoken for years, and yet as the evening unfolded, there were moments of reconnection and reconciliation that deepened the experience. I couldn’t help thinking of all the mistakes we’d all made over the past twenty five years, all the hurts and resentments, anger that somehow led to this perfect moment of reconnection. 

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We need to look again at our notion of sin and failure if we’re ever going to see what Jesus is telling us about Good News and the shape of the Way to his Father. Julian of Norwich, a medieval contemplative writer and visionary tells us that “sin is behovely,” meaning useful or necessary to the experience of God’s love. Is there a place in God’s plan even for our sins and failings? Paul seems to think so as he guides us away from law and into the realm of radical grace.

Paradox: Living in Both/And

Frank Billman | 10.30.16
The Bible contains many mysteries or seeming paradoxes as it seek to describe our relationship and walk with God. Unfortunately, many of us who have been in church for a while have learned the “answers” to these mysteries. How do we re-enter a state of awe and amazement if we feel we have the answers to all the questions? How do we embrace the statement by Brennan Manning who said, “I wouldn’t want a God I could comprehend?” How will we ever be able to accept God’s unconditional love and unmerited grace—which are the greatest mysteries of all—if we can’t find a way to rest in the unexplainable?

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Everyone is recovering from something… Admitting this is the first step in spiritual life, because any unfinished business in our lives–trauma, unforgiveness, fear-based perceptions–fosters compulsive behavior and keeps us from connecting spiritually and emotionally.

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