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The Eternal Current is a book that will change the conversation in many churches today. Aaron Niequist weaves the personal and the communal together, as he shares his spiritual journey that ultimately gave rise to The Practice, a weekly worship gathering affiliated with Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, IL.
Niequist paints the portrait of a “practice-based faith”—one that is anchored in ancient personal and communal spiritual practices such as daily prayer (the Daily Office & the Examen), engagement with Scripture (Lectio Divina), weekly Eucharist, etc. These practices keep us from drowning, Neiquist says, when swimming in the swirling current of Grace. But these practices aren’t just for our enrichment: they are engaged “for the sake of others.” A practice-based faith is not just another church growth scheme; it is a path that leads to spiritual transformation as the Kingdom becomes a living reality in our midst.
If you’ve ever felt “there must be more” to Church than just showing up on Sunday morning, singing a few songs, putting some money in the offering plate and shaking the minister’s hand on the way out the door after the service, then this is the book for you!
Recently I captured this beautiful sunset over the mountains in East Tennessee as we were returning from a family outing on July 4.
It was on a road that I drove many times in years gone by. This was the road that I drove to go home from college. I’m sure the sun was setting many times as I passed this way before.
But I never noticed it.
Never, in the midst of the busy-ness of life, had I noticed the beauty and grandeur of the place I spent four years of my life in school and the first year of our marriage. Sitting briefly at the stoplight that evening may have been the first time I was ever truly present in that place.
As I have reflected on this photo, I realized that most of my memories of the five years I spent there are consumed with papers and deadlines, lectures and tests, working and trying pay bills–the minutiae of life as a college student.
Sometimes we can only see the beauty when we look in the rear-view mirror.
I wonder how many other stunning sunsets I missed because I wasn’t present….
In the midst of the chaos of life, how is it possible to maintain a calm spirit, a spirit of equanimity?
How do we find that “place of quiet rest?”
Last summer I had occasion to spend a few days at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky. This is where Thomas Merton lived in community, wrote, became a hermit, and now, is buried.
One evening, Fr. Carlos, the retreat chaplain, gave a talk about nurturing the hermitage of the heart. Drawing from the writings of Merton, he talked about the importance of nurturing a place in our heart to which we can retreat when the chaos of life threatens to overwhelm us. A place deep within that is settled, where we know we can turn to connect with the One who is the Ground of our Being, and there, rest in Him.
There’s a settledness that comes over our lives when we nurture the hermitage of the heart. We don’t have to frantically run around to find a quiet place, a retreat center or sacred space, to find peace and rest.
Because we carry it within us.
Nurture the hermitage of your heart.
Do you ever find yourself encountering a word or phrase over and over in the space of just a few days?
This last week or so the words have been slightly different, but the core concept has been consistent: awareness.
Most of us are more attuned to be aware of what we perceive to be God’s absence in our world. We see the tragedies and trauma that abounds in our broken world and we feel God-forsaken. But maybe the real issue isn’t as much God’s absence as it is our lack of an awareness of God’s presence.
On Mar’s Hill, Paul quoted a pagan philosopher who said, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Act 16:28).
Writing to the church at Colossae, Paul reminds them that in Christ “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Jesus told his disciples, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20).
The only absence of God that we experience in this world is a perceptual one. The inescapable reality is that we constantly live in the presence of God.
Today, attune your heart to God’s presence with you.
He strode to the microphone, stoked to share the verses he had mastered in the scripture memory contest in his Sunday School class.
Not to be outdone, he had picked the shortest verses on the list so he could learn them the fastest and claim the prize.
But as he stood there, his nerves got the best of him as he began to recite his verses from 1 John 4:
God is love……
and he panicked…..he couldn’t remember the rest of the verse. So he blurted out
….and that’s enough!
And it is!
The first few verses of John 15 are simultaneously beautiful and haunting.
But the beauty of Jesus’ invitation to abide in him is too often overwhelmed by the prospect of being removed, pruned, cast into the fire. The thought of not producing fruit–or enough fruit–and being cast aside, evokes fear.
How much of our fear, I wonder, is unnecessary, driven by bad translation and misunderstanding of the cultural reference to the viticulture of Jesus’ day?
The word translated “removes” or “cuts off” is airei, which is better translated, “lifts up.” In other words, the vine-grower takes care to lift up the young shoots, directing them upward and cleaning the dust off them lest they become contaminated and be stunted or else rot and perish.
So what is the “fruit” that these branches are supposed to bear? Fruit is the natural outworking of the inner life of the plant. It is how the plant reproduces itself; plants always bear seed according to its kind.
So if Jesus is in the Father (and the Father is in him [see John 14:20]), then the fruit that Jesus bore was the manifestation of the Father’s essence and nature. And if we are in Jesus and he is in us (again, see John 14:20) then the fruit we will bear is the manifestation of the Father’s essence and nature expressed in us.
Given this understanding, why, then, would he cut us off or destroy us if we are abiding but bear little (or no) fruit?
If the Father is glorified as we bear much fruit (John 15:8), then these verses become a promise that the Father will lovingly care for us, lift us us and encourage us, support and nurture us as his essence and nature is manifested in us, not hack us off and throw us into the fire. He has begun a good work in us, and he will bring it to completion, Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6.
So the next time we hear these verses from John 15 read, let’s hear them as an encouraging promise that we will be lifted up, not a threat that we will be cut off.