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The Ancient Spiritual Quest for Richer, Fuller Life with God
There is an old story from The Desert Mothers and Fathers that goes this way:
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."
Around twenty years ago, I discovered within me a desire for something more, a longing to be more like Jesus. The New Testament not only portrayed Jesus as bringing salvation through his death and resurrection, offering eternal life, but as a teacher who called together disciples and friends, who introduced his pupils to the kingdom of God, who taught with authority, who performed signs and wonders, and who sent members of his company out into the world to teach as he taught and to do as he did, and to invite others to do the same.
Jesus told his hearers to “repent,” or, in Greek, metanoeó, meaning to “think differently” or “change your mind.” He invited those in his orbit to experience life abudant, to receive eternal life. What did he mean by eternal life? In John 17:3, Jesus put it this way: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Notice, eternal life is not a destination, but intimate knowledge—fellowship—with a person. The place of divine fellowship is experienced through the presence and an encounter with the person who makes that very place possible.
We’re called to be companions of God. Some have called Jesus’ issuance, “come to me,” The Great Invitation. We not only receive rest, but power. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” How will we be so empowered? John 14:16-17 says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” Jesus invites us not only to companionship, but to union. This union leads to transformation, to change.
The conversation above, between Abba Lot and Abba Joseph, points first to practice. Abba Lot fasts, prays, meditates, makes peace, and purifies his thoughts. But Abba Joseph holds out to Abba Lot the possibility of ignition, of contact between human life and divine life, leading to a catalytic form of combustion. The result? Fire. That fire is not generated within. It alights upon us, from without. Reminscent of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit again rests on us as tongues of flame.
This past week I attended a conference in Denver, Colorado. Those present sought to be in conversation regarding how we are spiritual formed, or conformed, and transformed, toward the image and likeness of Christ. We considered the claims that human beings are made in the divine image, derailed and deranged by sin, redeemed by grace, and restored by God’s lovingkindness and companionship. This claim points to a finished work, accomplished in Christ. But the application of Christ’s completed work is a process, revealing its effects in history, and unfolding, individually and personally, over the course of a life. Our sanctification does not happen in an instant. Instead, it is a journey. Growth in holiness is God’s desire for us. God supplies what we need. God guides us toward maturity, toward God, toward a fuller, richer experience of our belovedness in Christ, and our belonging as part of God’s family.
Fellow attendees were a kind of kindred, companions on the journey. And they reminded me of the things that count. We need reminders—people, books, stories, gatherings, songs, images, paintings, words scrawled on scraps of paper—reminders of what matters. Without reminders, we drift.
So reminded, I again seek to follow after Jesus, to take another step along his way. Others may follow along. That’s good! And a little scary.
On this note, I wrote a prayer this week. I’ve been gathering words that express the felt needs of those journeying through seminary, since I minister within higher theological education. But I know there are other friends of Jesus, who, just as well, need to know how to pray as leaders following Christ in the kingdom.
This prayer is titled, “A Prayer for Those Running After Me.”
I’ve met you, and I have continued to pick up my feet and walk the path you lead me along, listening to the things you said and say, doing the things you did and do, and living the way you lived and live.
Some have discovered I am your disciple. Some I’ve told; others have heard, and a few, looking beyond my life, saw you, in and through me. I consider that a miracle. In uniting yourself to us, you live, you work, you are on display, whenever, wherever, and however you see fit to reveal yourself.
People who have known I know you have expected my life to show signs of our friendship. But now, as I’ve begun further study, as I’ve grown more serious about my faith and more public in my expressions of commitment to you, people seem to expect a little bit more—a little more knowledge, a little more kindness, a little more wisdom, a little more know-how, and a lot more integrity.
But there’s no magic spell accompanying enrollment in a program or beginning a course of study; no secret, fast-acting spirituality enhancing pill; no holiness transfusion. I’m still me. You’re still you. I’m still yours. I want you to be mine, and by grace, you are. I’m still in process, on your way, seeking your truth, learning to conform more fully to your pattern of eternal living.
I’m calling people to you even as I walk after you. And some join my company. Others, not only I, hunger for you, your kingdom, and your righteousness. They are drawn to you as I am drawn to you. These companions follow me as I seek to follow after you. I know I am capable of, and that I do, wander off the path. I have lost and will no doubt lose the narrower, straighter kingdom way from time to time. Save me from leading others astray. If I divert, keep others true. And give me companions who, losing sight of me, keep sight of you. May they love me enough to call me back to the pilgriming fellowship of your friends.
The Apostle Paul exhorted those at Corinth to follow him as he followed after you. May I have the same boldness, inviting others to join me as I press ever forward. May I have the same confidence in your steady leadership, that you will keep, protect, and shepherd me.
I’m a little concerned others may follow me. But if I’m following you, I trust you to sort it out. Your sheep know your voice. Your people rest in the Father’s hand. No one can snatch them away. They are secure. I am secure.
May anyone running after me discover that we, together, are running after you. May I discover that you are the one who strengthens me, that your power has come in, as my salvation is worked out, that I may run the race in a manner that honors and glorifies you.
Christ is the light of the world. As he takes up residence in us, his light becomes ours. What begins as a spark may increase to a glow, and, nurtured and fed, may one day grow to become all bright, blazing flame burning brighly, not consumed, but fully alive. Glorious.
Making further progress in Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky’s Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Nature of Morality, and Stanley Hauerwas’s Fully Alive: The Apocalyptic Humanism of Karl Barth.
I finished Exhalation, a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang while traveling. Really enjoyed it.
Sights and Sounds
I watched the 2006 film The Departed and saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in the theater.
On the blog: riffing on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stress on reps.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - From the Coyote Song trail in South Valley Park, near Littleton, Colorado.