2016 Archives

Blinded by Expectation

Dave Brisbin | 10.2.16
What worries you most? Honestly going through the pantheon of all that occupies our thoughts and disrupts our sleep not only shows us our fears, but what we expect will relieve them in terms of the outcomes over which we obsess. Now imagine that you were suddenly free of all that worry, anxiety, and stress. What would that actually feel like? Jesus says it feels like Kingdom. Maybe we’ve not had the experience since we were still in the garden of our childhood, not knowing we were naked, with nothing separating us from the moment of waking through the cool of the evening with Presence. Arguably, all of human life is a working through a return to the Garden of our childhood. How do we do this? What keeps us from seeing the journey clearly? 

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An often overlooked passage in the New Testament has given the church fits trying to interpret why John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, sends his own disciples from his prison cell to ask Jesus if he is the “expected one,” or if they should look for someone else. It’s amazing that someone with John’s credentials should ask such a question, and the church has scrambled to find mitigating reasons, but the simplest answer is that even John was blinded by his expectations of what Jesus as messiah would do and be and was not finding what he expected in his cousin. If John, the “greatest prophet born of woman” could be blinded by expectation, then we can too, and the way to Kingdom, back to Garden becomes a concerted effort to be present enough to see what is right before our eyes.

Setting a Trap for God

Dave Brisbin | 9.25.16
How important is prayer? A kneejerk reaction says of course it’s important, essential to our spiritual lives. But a more important question may be what kind of prayer is essential to our spiritual lives? When you take all the different types of prayer that we commonly think of as prayer—recited prayer, freeform prayer, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, praise—what is common to all of them are words. Words form the basis of most if not all our prayers, and yet words can never capture the deepest parts of our spirituality or the relationship we have with a God who can’t be seen or expressed in any way. The Hebrew word for prayer, slotha, points back to the roots, sela, which is actually a hunting term for laying a snare or setting a trap. 

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Prayer to an ancient Jew meant to incline toward, lean in, focus, adjust, tune in, or literally to set a trap for God–to clear a space interiorly and exteriorly and prepare to receive and connect with God’s presence. We need more of this kind of wordless prayer, time regularly spent stepping aside from the words and images, the shields we carry around in our minds that limit God’s presence and scope in our lives. One form of this kind of prayer, centering prayer, comes from the earliest years of the Christian tradition, and practicing it regularly will take us a long way on our journeys of faith.

Intimate Trust

Dave Brisbin | 9.18.16
The Bible makes a big deal about knowing God. There are dozens of references to knowing that tell us this is an area to which we should pay attention. And we have been, but the solution of Western Christianity for the past 500 years to search scripture for any and every bit and piece of data to add to our collected theology has nothing to do with what the writers of scripture had in mind. To know in Hebrew is something borne of long, close association. It is an experiential knowing that could never come out of a book. Our word for such knowing is intimacy, and tellingly both words also serve as euphemisms for sexual relations: the closest and most intense knowing we experience as humans. 

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Jesus tells us that eternal life is the state of knowing God and himself, since he is one with Father. All these figures of speech—the best we can do in words to describe the infinite—now coalesce to form a picture of knowing as intimacy, the oneness that grows out of years of daily practice and simple showing up. It is not intense emotion that shows us our intimate moments, it is the quiet certitude of bare belonging, the trust of acceptance that comes with all that time together.

Happy Warrior

Dave Brisbin | 9.11.16
On the 15th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, we take a moment to remember the shock and grief of that day, how it changed us and the world, and just what kind of journey was begun that day for both our nation and for us as individuals. Especially for the 20% of the nation’s population that knew someone hurt or killed that day, 9/11 began a hero’s journey, a rite of passage for those who were willing to answer the call, and move through the pain and grief to enter a new place in their lives. When the returning Jewish exiles gathered within their newly rebuilt walls around Jerusalem, their elders read the law of Moses to them and explained what it meant to generations who had not heard it while in Babylon. And the people wept at all that had been lost to them as a people. 

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But Nehemiah reminds them that this is a day of celebration, even in the midst of the pain and loss; that they need to eat and drink and remember that the joy of the Lord is their strength. So answering the call to our hero’s journey has as much to do with holding on to the joy of the Lord as it does with any specific task we must perform—to perform those tasks with our tools in one hand and a sense of both adventure and humor in the other that will take us through even the most terrible challenges as happy warriors.

Rocks and Hard Places

Dave Brisbin | 9.4.16
Ever notice how Jesus is able to get out of every thorny situation the religious leaders of his day throw at him? They bring him a woman caught in adultery and ask whether to stone her knowing he’ll run afoul of either Roman or Mosaic law no matter how he answers. Or they ask whether it’s lawful to pay Roman taxes or which is the greatest commandment of all and many others with the same intent. Each question is a carefully crafted attempt to put Jesus between a rock and hard place where any answer would discredit or condemn him with the people. How does Jesus know what to say, how to wiggle off the hook? 

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Is it just because he’s God’s son that he has special knowledge or is there some principle or perspective he’s using that can guide us as well. Jesus is showing us that whenever we’re caught on the horns of a dilemma, forced to choose between bad and worse, there is a third force or element that when brought into play, raises our perception above the rock and the hard place and shows a safe passage home.

Gavin’s Bench

Dave Brisbin | 8.28.16
There are some days that are just hard. Hard to break through to meaning and purpose, hard to get up in the morning, hard to do what is required this day. On one such day, wondering if I could really do the day, with my car at the intersection where a right turn took me to work and the day’s activities, I sat and thought and then turned left toward a local wilderness park. Not knowing what I was really looking for, I found a bench with a plaque dedicated to a child, an infant, Gavin, who had died fourteen years before. The parents’ pain screamed through the engraved words until I looked up through bright green leaves lit by a perfect morning sun to the flawlessly blue sky beyond and asked no one in particular, “Why does it have to be this way?” 

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I asked for Gavin and his parents, but I was really asking for myself. This is life lived as a human. The juxtaposition of beauty and cruelty, joy and pain. How do we navigate between the two and keep our cars turning right toward the activities our daily lives? Jesus shows us we need to turn left regularly too, to sit on Gavin’s bench and just breathe and be for a while, feel the morning sun and remember why we’re here. I left Gavin’s bench feeling better, not because anything had changed in my life, but because a small reconnection with all that is changed me—for that day.

Freely Being

Dave Brisbin | 8.21.16
Most of us have heard the line that freedom isn’t free, usually in the context of supporting our military, but is there a truth in that slogan that can help us along Jesus’ Way? When we examine what the goal of Jesus’ Way really is, we start thinking of love, peace, tranquility, service to others, closeness or knowledge of God, but what are any of those without the complete freedom to be all of those? 

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Jesus tells us that if we follow his Way, we will know the truth and that truth will set us free. It’s all about freedom, because any love, peace, service, relationship, or knowledge that is coerced or born out of fear is not part of Jesus’ Way. The Way to radical freedom costs us everything—everything we think we know about ourselves, life, the world, God, and until we are willing to “pay,” let those things go and die, we will never see the radical freedom to simply be that is right in front of us.

Moments of Unforgetting

Dave Brisbin | 8.14.16 Before you can teach someone to practice presence, whether “online,” throughout the rough and tumble of each days details, or “offline,” in meditation, centering prayer, or silence—you first have to stoke the desire for presence, which means you have to show some benefit to the effort. The truth is, who we think we are in our minds, described to us by the voice that speaks in our heads, is not who we really are. We are not the voice in our heads that speaks in English or Spanish or any language. There is a deeper identity that remains hidden as long as we are listening to the voice. 

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That deeper identity is the one that can play in Kingdom and follow where Jesus leads, but until we quiet that voice, we will never know what we are missing. We have literally forgotten who we are, who we were as the child that Jesus holds up as emblem of Kingdom. But these moments of pure presence, where the voice quiets or at least we stop listening, are the moments of unforgetting, moments we begin to remember that child inside, who we really are.

Present Time

Dave Brisbin | 7.31.16
What are God’s greatest creations? When it comes right down to the nub, arguably, they would be space and time. Space, because matter doesn’t matter if you don’t have a place to put it, and time because nothing exists at all unless it has duration—exists for some time. Jesus said to seek first the Kingdom and all else would be added…in this life, apparently, we must seek that kingdom first through the experience of space and time before all else is added. 

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To be present to what is now is at once the goal and practice of spirituality properly understood. Did Jesus practice presence? Absolutely. Reading between the lines of story after story of Jesus’ life and work and prayer, we see the unmistakable marks of deep presence both in the midst of a busy, detailed-filled ministry and at times of solitude and silence that he sought in the wilderness as respite. To read between the lines and understand the Way of Jesus from the point of view of presence to space and time is the first step to following that Way ourselves.

Defending Mystery

Dave Brisbin | 7.24.16
Any look at the contemplative way of life eventually brings us right up against mystery, against the limit of what we can and can’t know in much the same way that science reaches the limit of its ability to describe phenomena edging closer and closer to infinite temperature, velocity, size. How much can we really know in this life? But more importantly how much is necessary to know in order to live in such a way that we can fulfill our purpose here as humans? If you really think about it, what would life be without mystery? The mystery in magic and stories, Christmas presents and each other is what keeps us interested and alive, guessing and engaged. 

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To solve a mystery, to kill a mystery with an intellectual solution is to experience a momentary resolution and then the grief of the loss of the aliveness. The sin of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day was to kill mystery with the law—as if following the law perfectly gave us the understanding and control over life and God that we crave. In defense of mystery, Jesus holds up the child as the image of kingdom, because kingdom is the experience of the magic of mystery, the ability to live contentedly without the fear-based obsession to know and control…to experience a world where God’s presence is real and where trust and vulnerability and fearlessness can all live together at the same time.

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