Category: Prayer

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Silent Word, Shining

‘Shine like lights in the universe, as you hold out the Word of life’ (Phil. 2: 15, 16).

A season of silence ends: now back to airports, bills, staff management, and decisions, big and small. 2020 marks our 40th year as a ministry. I shall covet quiet around the edges to reflect on where we’ve been, where next.

It helps to trust the Word has been sown deeply in our hearts and will bring forth fruit—His will deepening, growing, breaking forth as He sees fit. We position ourselves before Him as to reflect something glorious, His very Presence fanning into flame what pleases Him, be it at full volume or in quiet encounters.

I caught a glimpse of this last week as my son Nick preached an excellent sermon on the ‘holy family.’ (After much therapy, he wisely made no allusions to ours.) Afterwards, a young woman unknown to me but a big fan of Nick asked me who I was. When she discovered I was the preacher’s dad, she kind of fawned over me and I demurred: ‘Reflected glory.’

So it is with each of us. The Light has dawned in our darkness—the Word has found good ground in the broken soil of our lives and pleads to unfurl. God’s glory goads us, His silence begs to be broken by the Word declared!

Here we see the genius of this Church season. Advent begins with the promise of Light, with Christmas the Light dawns in Jesus, and now Epiphany—the showing of Christ through the witness of our lives. Epiphany calls us out of what can become an ingrown culture of missals, beads, postcard saints and swoony devotion. Yes, the chaos outside and within demands quiet. But the Word demands a hearing through the story of our messy radiant lives.

Show Christ! Use words! Break the silence between you and a host of delightful creatures in darkness who listen only to their own soundtracks and meandering, fractured narratives. I want everyone to know that Jesus can heal ‘LGBT+’ anything. He surpasses our tendency to settle on misbegotten ‘feeling’ states.

In saying nothing, we stoke deceived powerbrokers who criminalize our good news. Every new presidential candidate wants to outlaw ‘reparative therapy.’ Remember, this is not about a type of counseling. This is about silencing anyone with the courage to say: ‘I’m not sure LGBT+ identification is the best expression of your true self. Let’s walk together in Jesus; He will show you who you are…’

Our transformed lives say it best. Let us heed God’s word to Jeremiah: ‘If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesperson’ (Jer. 15:19). To be sure, silence helps us to separate the wheat from the chaff, what to say and what not. St. John Paul ll counsels us wisely: ‘We need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how He wishes.’

Sensitized by silence, the Word commands a hearing—treasures from darkness ready to flair into fireworks. This is our season to shine: God revealing Himself through our witness of His transforming love.

I won’t soon forget Jesus’ invitation last November to declare that love before the Kansas City Council. Sandwiched between the darkened minds of that Council and several rows of disgruntled LGBT+ers, I declared several truths that provoked satanic rage. A roar went up as the Spirit directed me to declare that persons like me deserve choice, that we who pursue chastity are now the endangered minority, and that the Council was in no way ready to vote on something they knew nothing about.

Surprised by my own words, I realized they were not entirely mine, in the Spirit of Lk. 11: 11 and 12: ‘When you are brought before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.’

As the Word received in silence burns in us, fan it into flames. Speak. Entrust the fire to heaven. Shine.

‘If I say, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His Name”, His Word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot’ (Jer. 20: 9).

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silent word pleading

Silent Word, Pleading

‘The true revolution comes from silence’ (Robert Cardinal Sarah).

‘How silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is given.’ Yet Christmas can clamor like a bullhorn and break the stillness in which we might otherwise meet Him. Don’t get me wrong: I mostly love the din of these days—grandkids whose marvel escalates to murderous screams in a few seconds, four large dogs traversing house and muddy yard, sweet exchanges among loved ones that in exasperated moments turn sour. Tis the season for brief regrets, lavish apologies.

What bugs me most is how quickly my largesse dries up, how fast I slalom from misty-eyed meditations on God’s generosity to rigid reactions to the flawed. And me, the most cratered of all…

I didn’t know how weary I was until I quieted myself. I became aware of a range of suppressed emotions—contempt for some, lust for others, empathy for afflicted ones that like a cancer turned on itself and tempted me with despair over their loneliness while reminding me of my own. Happy Holidays!

Running through all this like a dark river was external noise—the sludge of the Internet. When tired I grasp after my cell phone like a junkie to a fix. Not helpful. The divided world out there riles my own dissonance, be it impeachment wars or the nightmare loosed by LGBT+ insistence on primacy in everything (dissing Salvation Army for honoring heterosexual monogamy, demonizing persons who believe sexuality must be generative and not merely gymnastic, assassination for any who refuse to normalize moral disorder.)

‘Nothing is left but a wound of words, without perspective, without truth, without foundation. Quite often ‘truth’ is no more than the pure and misleading creation of the media, corroborated by fabricated images and testimonies’ (#56, Power of Silence, Cardinal Sarah).

But the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (Jn. 1:5). My yuletide muddle was right where Jesus wants me. Silent. Too tired for words. Only then does the Word come, swiftly, an invitation to be still and know this God for whom ‘silence is not an absence but the most intense of all presences’ (#12, Power of…Sarah).

I need more than a little of Him; I need to re-enter His depths and stay there, not lunging into another text or event in which I will manifest my real awful presence via sharp critique or inane comment (I excel at both, poor Annette).

I need to linger in the silence, opening my mouth only to receive the Word, like a baby bird being fed by its mother. No wonder Sarah declares: ‘Developing a life of prayer is probably the first and foremost battle of our age’ (#70). My battle. My responsibility. I must ‘make every effort to enter His rest’ (Heb.4:11).

That rest is silent adoration, where He just wants to love me. Period. He wants to inebriate me with His loving Presence. He cares about people so He cares about how I love them. When I am centered in love, I love better. So He loves me. In silence. He speaks only to remind me of that love. Unchanging. Focused. Jealous. More than enough.

Jesus intimated this to a Benedictine monk. I will take it for me too. ‘The purpose of My words is to unite you to Me in the silence of love. That is why friends and lovers speak to each other: to express what they hold in their hearts. Once these things have been expressed, it is enough that they remain united in the silence that is the most perfect experience of their love’ (In Sinu Jesu, pp. 108, 109).

In prayer, we can hear the Silent Word pleading: for our compromised dignity, for our need for mercy, for that primitive ache which is only satisfied in the silence of Love. May we seek and savor His quiet as 2020 dawns.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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trust advent

Trust

‘Advent means a heart that is awake and ready, which does not let itself become bitter and deadened by hard blows but stays awake and aware of the free coming of the Lord God. That is why this free God must be met by a free person…who may well suffer hard blows but without going under.’ (Fr. Alfred Delp)

Christmas invites us to welcome Jesus into the mangers of our lives. He alone can make a feast out of what frightens, even repulses us.

Gabriel, the scary angel of Annunciation in Luke 1:5-38, helps us here. How Zechariah and Mary respond to this intimidating creature (don’t be fooled by the androgynous darling of religious art who whispers gently) blazes a trail for me when life announces something dreadful. Rather than seize up with control, I now invite Jesus into the mess. I try and trust that new life is growing in what might otherwise kill me.

Christmas is rife with ugly announcements for lovely people: the cancer diagnosis, parents whose son returns home as a ‘daughter’, the spouse who splits, a church split by an unchaste pastor, death threats from offended LGBT+ers…

Zechariah helps me a lot. His response is much closer to what mine might be. He’s an old religious guy, guided and steadied by rules. Rigor mortis has set into any hint of womb-like elasticity. When Gabriel declares he will father the firebrand John the Baptist, he tries to mop himself off the floor by demanding a map, more knowledge, a strategy. ‘How can I be sure of this?’ he says. Thrown off, he tries to control the situation by insisting on a more logical prophecy. Like us, he demands of mystery what it cannot give.

Perhaps the wise old guy was a preacher who used words to control his world. Not for long. The angel gives him nine months to be still and listen to a voice other than his own. Gabriel mutes Zechariah as he awaits the Baptist–a humbling pregnancy for any priest! Yet rather than scorn Zechariah, I empathize with him. I too grasp for control when levelled by scary angels; noisy with intense, often indecent language, I lose my voice. But I don’t lose the invitation to new life! I’m just chastened a little until I simmer down and can trust God’s design in my distress.

Gabriel encounters Mary after Zechariah. Mind you, the angel’s annunciation to her is far more challenging. Not only has God willed Mary to become a mother, He Himself will father the child. Yet this overwhelming prospect doesn’t provoke a controlling response. Unlike Zechariah who grasps after facts, Mary counters a native fear with faith: ‘Tell me more,’ a response resonant with consent.

And trust. She leans into the mystery, content to grow in ‘the love that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph. 3:19) rather than flail for security in mere knowledge. Soon she will be filled with love’s fullness (v.20), our Savior, her Son, God’s only, expanding in her until she can contain Him no more!

I love her simple answer to angel Gabriel: ‘Be it to me as you said’ (Lk. 1:38). Henri Nouwen paraphrases this beautifully: ‘I don’t know what all this means but I trust that good will come from it.’

May Mary’s wisdom and humility become ours. A good goal for all the scary annunciations that await us in 2020? Spend less time grasping for security in vain things and lean longer into the mystery of divine mercy. I want to try and trust Jesus with every unsettling thing and so abide in peaceful love more than with alien passions like anxiety. Please join me.

‘What transformed Mary into royalty is that she recognized God as a God of challenge. She experienced what it means to be torn away from all normal destinies and, thereby, to be caught up in new possibilities. She stands as a healing and helping source of strength, right in the middle of what no-one can know beforehand.’ (Fr. Alfred Delp)

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Fearing the One I Love

Our trouble lies not in heavy-handed religion but in banal lullabies that assure us that God is love, all love, and only wants our best—‘best’ defined by our doing whatever we want.

Our trouble lies in the fact that we no longer fear God. We want the benefits of the Cross but not the call to carry our own. We have made Him in our image, not submitted to the One in whose image we are made. We then dare to shake our fist at any version of Him that gets in the way of our version of ourselves.

For this trouble Advent may not be long enough. For this the Church is genius. Our calendar year ends with Daniel’s apocalyptic vision of the Ancient One ascending His throne—radiant, smoking hot—His royal seat blazing—‘a surging stream of fire flowing out from where He [the Father] sat’ and received the Son before whom the whole host of heaven bows down and declares: ‘dominion, glory and kingship’ (Daniel 7).

In the middle of the fireworks God incinerates His main adversary–the Beast– while lesser beasts are granted a season in which to do their dirty work. Have these lesser beasts charmed us, made us beastly? They give us what we want, including just enough spirituality to assuage our touchy souls. We are sleepy, full of unbaptized ideas and vague discontent. We ladle another round of boozy good cheer and cry ‘abuse’ when the religious disagree with us.

Advent begins, our New Year dawns, not with dreamy glimpses of angels and virgins and starry nights but with an alarm. Wake up people! You think all is well? Think again! The first Sunday in Advent highlights Jesus’ Second Coming; His re-entry will be violent, decisive and conclusive. Of the two men out in the field, only one will be plucked out by Jesus to escape the terror at hand (Matt. 24). No wonder the second Sunday features John the Baptist’s call to repent of every worthless thing we cherish—to get rid of it now before Jesus Himself burns it up ‘with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:1-12).

God is love. And fearsome. For me, these first few days of Advent have been tough, full of minor humiliations that have exposed by touchiness and subtle adulteries of heart. I haven’t much more to offer Him than my sin. So be it. Better to burn now than later.

I fear this God. Yes, He loves me, deeply, ‘His Spirit longs for me jealously’ (James 4:5). He has laid claim to me through His blood and has a right to the whole of me. Every haggard part. All well? Nah: I’m burdened by pet beasts. Wellness to me is facedown, crying ‘dominion, glory, kingship.’ My happiness hinges upon full surrender.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Thanksgiving 2: (Inter)Personal Best

For the last 30 years, I’ve pounded the pavement as a long-distance runner. I ran the LA Marathon in 1989, beat my training partner, and never looked back.

Since then I ran alone. Hard. Desert Stream began to flow to nations; I ran through Perth and Paris, Johannesburg and Jakarta, Auckland and Amsterdam, Medellin and Milan, Hong Kong and Helsinki, Caracas and Copenhagen, Bangkok and Bahrain, Davao City and Dublin. Though I served with teammates, I ran alone, typically in the wee hours. I’ve breathtaking encounters with cathedrals and shrines lit by the sun’s first rays. And more than a few bouts with losing my way in a maze of ancient paths (pre-GPS). Sprinting wildly from one blind alley to another, I’ve come close to missing conferences. Jesus, lead on…

He helped me in the race. My impetus was worship—I ran to the songs that brought Jesus’ presence near. But I ran alone. Charged with Spirit, but alone. I ran through eviscerating conflicts. During one tough bout with international leaders my legs nearly gave way. Emotional wounds physicalized. I asked Him to help me to endure. He did; I was and am thankful for this refuge of the roads.

Back home, I trained and ran about 4-5 races a year. Alone. Post the weather-monotone of So. Cal., Midwest training invited me to enjoy the change of seasons—racing through 15-105 degrees. My mantra was personal best. I surprised myself. Just when I thought my legs had run their last, I beat my time. When I didn’t beat it, I pledged to train harder. I never suffered injury. Thankful.

Early this last year, I prayed for partnership. Our new intern Marco liked to run, had a base of 5 miles 2-3X a week. I asked if he’d train with me for a half-marathon. He committed and didn’t look back. We ran through hurting legs and humidity: in darkness and withering sun. We prayed before and did not talk much during. We needed all the breath we could get.

I loved partnership. I needed it. I faced two big challenges at the onset of our training. A dog roared out of the dark one early morn and took a chunk out of my arm. I nearly snapped my hamstrings (don’t laugh) sprinting for home in a goofy kickball game. My first injury. I couldn’t run anymore.

I wanted Marco to race and I wanted to keep my end of the training bargain. I knew it was unwise to push my recovery but I asked God for it anyway. He heard me. I restarted slowly and trained a little longer, painfully. Marco and I ran the race side-by-side in pouring rain—eyes fixed on Jesus and the best parts of Kansas City. Marco excelled—personal best. I scored too, interpersonal best. Thankful.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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