Over the last few blog entries, we have discussed the invitation of allowing our hearts to teach us by noticing our hearts, letting go of judgment, and releasing what we tend to hold on to. Many times this invitation comes to us through our relationships with other people.
Col. 3:15 speaks to this and I am including it from two translations. The Message seems to bring the intention behind the Greek in focus. Looking at the NIV, as well, helps to give us a fuller picture.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. (The Message)
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (NIV)
The words “let” and "rule" are from a single Greek word. It is a command to allow this “peace of Christ” to have authority in our hearts. Paul doesn’t tell us to “make” it happen but to “let” it happen or to allow it. Often, we try to be what we think we need to be instead of allowing ourselves to be transformed. As we’ve discussed before, this transformational journey is passive on our part - we allow it, we open ourselves to the process.
The word peace can have a wide array of meanings in our culture. We tend to think of it as the absence of conflict. A Jewish understanding would be toward harmony, wholeness, health. It sounds like being brought together in relationship. This idea opens our understanding of this verse. Maybe it goes beyond the absence of conflict inside us or between us and others. Maybe it includes the invitation to allow what we notice to transform us toward wholeness.
The example of this wholeness is Christ. Paul speaks of the unity of Christ and the Father in Col. 1. This is our example of peace, this place of unity and the self-giving flow of relationship within the triune God. Notice in the NIV version, the peace rules in our own hearts first. The result of living at peace within ourselves impacts our relationship with others.
One picture that has helped me understand the absence of peace is in one of my favorite places, the ceramics lab. Let me invite you to imagine sitting at a wheel with wet clay moving beneath your hands. The feeling of the movement of the clay is a calming sensation.
Centering the clay on the rotating wheel was one of the hardest things for me to learn. When I first started spending time in the lab, my world felt like it was in chaos. I had to learn how to become centered, calm, in order to be in an emotional and physical state to bring that same stillness to the clay.
As the clay rotates with the wheel, you can notice a wobble or dissonance that shows the clay isn’t centered. It’s important to remove any wobble, even if it is barely felt, as the clay is formed into its final piece. A wobble, in the beginning, can quickly become disastrous in the process.
Noticing the wobble takes a stillness or quietness in your body and soul. I discovered that if I closed my eyes and became in tune to the feel of the movement of the clay beneath my hands, I can feel even slight wobbles. Once a wobble becomes noticeable, steps can be taken to completely center the clay.
This dissonance felt in the clay may be felt inside our own emotional and spiritual journey. I believe this is the invitation to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts. If we become still enough, we can notice a wobble within ourselves. If the wobble is left alone, it can cause disastrous effects in our own lives as well as in the lives of those around us.
In my own personal journey, I have felt that wobble or dissonance sometimes fiercely and sometimes faintly. This dissonance is an invitation to a deepening journey with God. Ignoring it, however faint, can become a place of violence in our lives.
Violence is a place of division, often caused by judgment towards myself, God, or those around me. Through my journey, I have found dissonance is best approached through contemplative prayer. It has become a helpful place to heal the divisions created through much of my life, both in my own inner self and in my relationships with others.
We are invited to bring all of who we are in all our relationships - not more or less to fit perceptions, but all of us. It seems this means noticing our own limitations and strengths, realizing what is or is not ours to bring. This requires humility and, at least for me, realizing our own tendency to push through. It is an invitation to refrain from judging our own strengths and limitations as being either good or bad. It becomes an invitation to notice the emotions that often uncover these places and to allow them to teach us.
Wholeness is about being present in the loving Presence, always. We do this ever so imperfectly. We are not called to do it flawlessly. The invitation is following this openness toward grace for the journey toward more spaciousness inside ourselves. It seems the goal isn’t being at peace but to follow the discovery and release of what isn’t peaceful. This can be a place of awareness that creates a spaciousness in our relationship with God and in that for those around us.
This journey of self-awareness isn’t easy but it is a gentle opening toward greater wholeness and spaciousness in our lives. A prayer I have practiced in this kind of space is The Examen prayer. I will share more about that practice next time. It is a practice that allows us space, without judgment, to discover God’s gaze of whatever we are holding.
I hear the term becoming awake or woke used in a lot of contexts lately. I’ve heard it attributed to realizing the oppression inherent in our culture and political system. I’ve heard it with regard to spirituality and becoming aware of our own journey toward inner transformation. In googling the phrase, I found articles about mindfulness, realizing our acceptance of abuse, and Eastern religions.
In Ephesians 5, Paul uses the phrase, Wake Up, Sleeper.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you (Eph. 5:8-10,13-14, NIV).”
In this passage, I am taken by the gentleness of being woken up. The picture that comes to mind is a gentle rousing from sleep like I would jostle a sleeping grandchild. So what does it mean to be asleep using the context of this verse?
At the beginning of this passage, it states that we were once darkness. In the past, darkness defined us. It seems that being in darkness is to be asleep or unaware of all that goes on; in, through, and around us.
Now we are light, we are defined by light. Paul is encouraging us to wake up and realize, we are light. This light consists of goodness, righteousness, and truth. He continues to state that as we are exposed or illuminated by light, we become light.
Paul doesn’t say we are the source of light. It seems we reflect The Light; God. As we allow Christ to shine on us, we become more aware of who God is, who we are, and how to view all those around us.
From this place of being asleep, defined as darkness, we are invited to wake up. We are invited to live as belonging to the light. This light is defined as God and is an enveloping light of love. This is where we belong. We live here in this Light. As we are exposed to God's light, we become God’s light to all those around us. It is really amazing to think about the implications of this idea.
So how do we allow God’s light to shine on us - Paul only states wake up. Our true and continual shaping is a lifelong process as we are exposed to the Light. Allowing God’s light to shine on us is more about deep listening in relationship than acquiring more information about God.
Instead of striving or achieving it on our terms, this journey of transformation is passive on our part. Our invitation is to allow it and to be open to God. This, I believe, is waking up. It isn’t about striving toward God’s light but allowing the process.
In my previous post, I shared about listening to our heart and noticing our emotions without labeling them good or bad. We are invited to notice what goes on in our hearts and the invitation is not to judge what we discover but to allow it to teach us. This really isn’t very easy.
In fact, after I wrote my last post, I noticed another emotion I labeled “bad.” I had spent time on a personal prayer retreat and it didn’t meet my expectations. God did not miss the trip. It just wasn’t like other times. I could deny my frustration and push it aside but the first invitation is to notice.
I purposed not to judge this emotion as negative and to let it be, rather than pushing it away. I’ve been practicing “letting go” or suspending judgment. I struggled to “let it go” and discovered I was actually resisting it. Even though I purposed not to outright judge what I discovered in my heart as negative, my resistance to it was a form of judgment. Resisting my emotion actually kept it from teaching me. So, really, my resistance kept me asleep, blind to what I was feeling. The invitation was to receive it instead of resist it.
This struggle in my heart did not feel peaceful in any way. There is a difference between pushing away or resisting an emotion and letting it go or releasing it. Could this be a pathway of being awake in all things? Resisting is a place of struggle and as I discovered leads to frustration. Releasing is more welcoming and grace-filled and seems to lead to a place of peace, grace, and groundedness.
Imagine a pond of choppy water. It is hard to clearly see through the water because the waves keep it all churned up. As we struggle, this picture of chaos represents our own hearts.
In contrast, imagine the surface of the pond still and peaceful, like glass. When the water is clean and still, one can see clearly through to the bottom. As a picture of our hearts, we can welcome our emotions to see what is underneath to our feelings.
We often react to our emotions, those first things we notice. Yet if we are can hold them to see what they have to teach us, we become aware of our feelings. Our feelings can teach us what we really hold true about God, ourselves, and those around us. Holding these feelings out to God to see God’s view, allows God’s light to penetrate the lies, fears, and doubts we hold as truth. This is a vulnerable place, which is why it is so difficult.
If our starting place is our own belovedness and God being for us, always, then it becomes safer to listen and allow God’s Light to wake us up. If God doesn’t condemn what we discover together, then who are we to condemn what we discover in our hearts? If God is for us, who can be against us, really?
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!