Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

The Dancing God

February 26, 2007

Once again, I find that C.S. Lewis put his finger on things that I didn’t realize he had.

The words “God is Love” have no real meaning unless that one person contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.

I came across this idea first in the writings of Norman Grubb. I’m sure the realization didn’t originate with either of these two British gents.

What both of them are saying is that if God is Love, then He must be plural. He must be a community of at least two. One person alone cannot be Love, because there must be an object for His affection other than Himself. As it turns out, our scriptures describe three persons of God. The Father and the Son we understand (sort of). But this third Person evades description. Trying to describe our God strains our language beyond what it can handle, because even our concept of a “person” leaves some things unexplained here. Lewis goes on to say:

God is not a static thing–not even a person–but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person.

A dance. Now that’s beautiful. My apologies to all the old school Southern Baptists out there. But this is a truly charming and illustrative image. So much of my confusion cleared up once this idea got a hold of me.

It works for understanding the union of the Trinity, as my theology professors once pointed out. When they said it, they had to use a fancy Latin word for it (circumincessio) so that they wouldn’t feel irreverent. Everything feels more legitimate once it’s put in Latin, you know. Circumincessio indicates a kind of mutual enfolding which expands and contracts, so that they are one, and two, and one again. As if one Latin term doesn’t cut it, my professors felt the need to bolster this concept with a second, Greek term (perichoresis), which essentially means the same thing. But now it’s in both Latin and Greek, so it’s gotta be okay to believe, right?

But the Dance extends beyond the inner relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus said that we would come to know the same kind of relationship (it’s at the end of John 17, I’m not making this up). We are becoming one with God in the same way that He is already one with Himself (!)

If you think about it, this explains a lot. I have always gotten confused about whether I am separate from God or one with Him. Sometimes I pray to Him. Other times I feel like He is praying through me. But which is right? Which is better?

It’s a dance. You get what I’m saying? Watch two people dancing. They are two, then they are one. Then they are two again. Back and forth. Around and around. In front of, behind, between, above, below, apart, and together again. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? When two are joined in a dance, something arises between them that is more than simply the sum of two parts.

And that is what’s happening with us and God. Christ is in us, then He is above us. He is our every breath and heartbeat, then we turn and address Him as if He were with us instead of in us. We are meant to enjoy and preserve both. Sometimes we lose consciousness of His separateness from us, because we are so one. But then He comes to us and gets our attention as if He were introducing some side of Himself that we’ve never seen before.

There will always be more. His dance has spins and steps you’ve never seen. But always He brings us back into who He is, so that folks looking on will hardly be able to tell where He ends and we begin.

It’s a Dance.

Nothing New

February 1, 2007

There really is nothing new under the sun. Every time I think I’ve said something clever, or maybe even something that nobody’s thought of before, I come across someone who beat me to it. Truth is, I probably got it from them and just forgot. Flipping through my well-marked copy of Mere Christianity, I keep spotting statements by Lewis that I thought were my ideas. Or maybe I just forgot that he seems to have discovered the same things that the rest of us have been discovering.

I’ve just finished writing the first draft of a book (which I hope to title Christ in Y’all). And since I’m kind of “writing-ed out” for now, I think for the next few days I’d like to post some Lewis quotes that I’ve come across. Today I think I’ll start with this one:

…the very moment you wake up each morning…All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day.” (Beyond Personality, Chapter Eight)

Walter Hooper tells a story that in 1954, Bob Jones, founder of the fundamentalist university by the same name, once met Lewis and had a long private conversation. When asked later for his opinion of Lewis, Jones is said to have replied, “That man smokes a pipe, and that man drinks liquor — but I do believe he’s a Christian.”

That man was high-church, too. But I like ‘im.

Is All of Life Spiritual?

August 13, 2006

As a believer, you will have two basic kinds of interaction with the Lord: Quiet, intimate, internal times which are deliberate and focused on Him directly, and active, interactive, outwardly directed times which are more incidental. Both kinds of times are good for fellowshipping with God. In my understanding of these two kinds of times, neither is inherently “more spiritual” than the other, but they are complementary and equally necessary for growth in the Lord. Sometimes our walk is contemplative and other times it’s more “vocational” or even social. It’s all Him, though. And I don’t think there’s meant to be a strong distinction between these… they’re both ways to know Him. But the point of describing them is that we need both. Without one, the other suffers. Each one gives meaning to the other.

The same basic idea is true in marriage. Sometimes you have intimate times of focused, deliberate attention and affection. Sex comes to mind, of course, particularly since I’m male. But at other times you simply “live with” your mate and do whatever else it is that you do together. Both are a part of your marriage. If you only have one of them the marriage will suffer. Each one is meant to enrich the other. A marriage that’s all sex and no “hang out” would be shallow and superficial. On the other hand, a marriage that deliberately avoids physical intimacy would strain the relationship to the point of breaking except for rare circumstances. A healthy marriage has both.

Life in the church is the same way. Sometimes the saints focus their attention inwardly towards the Spirit of Jesus within; these are quiet times of affection and adoration with the Lord inside each of us. Other times their attention is directed outwardly towards the Lord in each other. They hear Him speak and they interact with Him in His many diverse representations. Any and every activity that the church undertakes is endowed with God’s Spirit because the Body of Christ is involved.

I used to say simply that “All of life is spiritual.” My mentors in the Lord taught me to see it that way, and to say it that way. That has always been the way that I have approched the things of God in my life. But my experience is teaching me something that they never taught me. All of life isn’t necessarily, automatically “spiritual.” A better way to put it is that “All of life can be spiritual.”

A spiritual activity is not defined as something done by your spirit as opposed to by your soul or body. That’s too atomistic– too reductionistic. The question is one of motivation. A “spiritual” activity is defined as anything done by a person who is driven by the Spirit of God in whatever he is doing. It could be balancing your checkbook. It could be playing with a child. It could be mowing a yard, going to work, watching a movie, or reading a book. It’s not only while praying or singing or sitting in silence.

It’s like asking “What’s Christian Music?” The answer is that a Christian song is a song sung by a Christian. Strictly speaking, a song cannot be “Christian.” It’s not about which words are used. It’s not as if a properly arranged group of words constitutes a song being Christian. When a believer writes a song about loving his wife, it’s a Christian song because it was written and sung by a Christian. It doesn’t even have to explicitly mention God or Jesus. Similarly, a song written by an unbeliever may serve well as a song of praise or adoration towards God when a believer appropriates it for himself (rememeber when Paul said “all things are yours…”).

It’s the same way with our lives. What makes what we do spiritual is not that we are doing the right set of things/activities that can be universally labelled “spiritual.” No, what makes them spiritual is that we are doing whatever we are doing as one “in Christ.” Whatever you do in word or in deed, do in the name of the Lord. Life cannot be divided into spiritual parts and non-spiritual parts. Incidentally, I believe this also holds true for the church. We should not try too hard to distinguish “spiritual meetings” from “non-spiritual meetings” of the church. That would produce an artificial division of the things that we do. To appropriate a beautiful phrase, “Can Christ be divided?” The implied answer is No.

All of life can be spiritual. HOWEVER… that does not mean that all of life automatically is! Paul wouldn’t have told them to do everything in the name of the Lord if that were so. There are ways in which almost anything a person or a church does can be “unspiritual.” Consider this: If even religious observances themselves can be motivated by the flesh, then certainly other things can be, too. How many times have I become sick to my stomach while listening to the prayers of believers who are laboring under the illusion that it’s all about their own self-improvement or “empowering”? I see the mark of the human flesh all over that. But this is no less misguided than when a group of free-swinging believers dedicate themselves to following every whim of their own natural cravings simply because they party under the illusion that everything they do is necessarily spiritual and divine in origin.

What I’m trying to say is that there are two opposite ditches to this path that we walk. Those naturally inclined to “spiritual things” sometimes downplay the everyday. They stress the transcendence of God at the expense of His immanence. But others flatten out our lives as if all things we do are equally “of the spirit” simply because believers are doing them. This shows no discernment of the Spirit. No sense of smell.

I look forward to the maturing of our vision, when we can see the pointlessness of running to opposite extremes when it comes to “walking by the spirit.” There’s so much more to say about this, but I’ve said enough for now. I hope it makes sense to whoever reads it.