Practicing Awareness Means Trusting That God Can Speak To Others

My daughter and I hiked for seven miles this morning as we prepared for and extended backpacking trip.  We got on the trail around 6am, it was still dark but the sun was just beginning to influence the lighting.  What was unique was the rain and water left over from the evening thunderstorms.  It was the same  trail as other mornings and yet, it was completely different.

The trail was more slick than usual in some places.  The spider webs glistened with rain drops.  Our sweat clung to our shirts and shorts in the Georgia humidity.  It was all different.  It was all the same.

Here at Bethelview United Methodist Church, I find myself in what is a new office to me.  It is a new building and sanctuary and new friendships are beginning to be formed.  That is what I am aware of right now.  For the people of this church, it is different too.  A new pastor is here in the pulpit.  I bring a different style and different ideas.  It is all different.  It is all the same.

My vision disability requires of me to be more aware of what is going on around me.  I have to be more aware when I drive and when I walk.  Going up stairs or down a trail, I must be more aware of certain conditions.  My daughter, while hiking on the trail, was aware too.  She pointed out the inchworm climbing his string.  She got to laugh at crazy squirrels running about and the massive snail making his own way up the trail.  I was not aware of these things, not until she pointed them out.  We were on the exact same trail but it was all different and it was all the same.

Awareness is a practice of attentiveness.  It can include all our senses or it maybe we need to only use one of them.  Being aware means we also can benefit from other people’s senses, on their awareness, on God’s voice speaking to them (this can happen only if we believe truly, that God might speak to another person).  In the book of Acts, in chapter 9, we find that when Jesus was speaking to Paul… “The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (Acts 9:7).”  I suspect Jesus didn’t intend for them to see him but do we know for sure?  We find at the tomb Mary didn’t recognize it was Jesus after the resurrection (John 20:14).  Even those who knew Jesus were found to be unaware it was Him!

In this day and time where we face so much division, is it not surprising we are not aware when Jesus is in our midst?  Is it any wonder that we resort to frustration and anger?  It may well be all the more important for us to be about the spiritual practices and learning to listen to God and one another.

We are all different.  We are all the same. 

We all yearn to hear God.

Five Questions I've Learned from Vision Loss that Improve Awareness

Over this past year, the upper part of my eyes and vision, has grown stronger and adapted to being able to read better. Because reading is such an important part of my work, I have effectively given up reading for pleasure. Your eyes really can get tired!

I have also found that movies and television can allow my eyes a chance to relax. Movies are really great because everything is so big and the theater is dark, so my vision doesn’t have to strain. So with no new episodes of The Walking Dead right now, I’ve picked up watching two detective shows, Longmire and The Glades. While the shows are very different in their design, settings, and characters, both main characters are very aware of everything and everybody.

From the details of crime scenes, behaviors of suspects, and in the searching out for evidence, these two detectives are almost hyper aware of what is taking place. They are always observing, always questioning, and always learning. And like any good character (really the writers) knows, it is not just about the crime, they also have to be aware of themselves.

Just how aware are you of you? 

Because of my vision loss, I have to be hyper-aware of the
environment, people and traffic around.  I have found most people are completely unaware of others around them and it could be easy with low-vision to get upset when others are not paying attention.  I can get mad at myself for not being more prepared too.

As I have learned to be more aware of my environment and that has led me to consider my spiritual awareness.  Think about this five questions:

  1. How aware are you of your motivations, your passions, your thoughts, your questions, or your behaviors? 
  2. How aware are you of your responses to other people and are you aware of what assumptions you are making regarding them? 
  3. Are you projecting previous experiences onto a new experience? 
  4. Are you projecting your motivations onto other people? 
  5. Are you doing all this with God too?

I am pretty certain, even after 2,000 years, we don’t fully understand or have learned all there is to know about the Sermon on the Mount. It is at once liberating and convicting. Jesus is on a roll of examining the fulfillment of the Law when He says, "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:26-28 NASB).” Just how aware are you of this inner orientation? Adam Clarke’s words on this verse (and the passions), call us to being aware of our reality:

         Many would abhor to commit one external act before the eyes of [people], in a temple of stone; and yet they are not afraid to commit a multitude of such acts in the temple of their hearts, and in the sight of God!

Is it possible we are, at times, too quick to think the best of motivations of others and ourselves? Are we really aware of our inner condition or are we quick to think so well of ourselves we miss the ancient truth of Jeremiah that, "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (17:9 NASB)”

The desert fathers and mothers went to the desert, in part, to be away from the distractions of the world so they might become more aware of their passions and to wrestle with demons in their various forms. The practice of bands and class meetings of the early Methodists was to ask questions, to use these methods to be aware and be accountable. Sometimes we miss our motivations because we don’t take the time to be aware of ourselves.

This is part of what I think having a process of ordination does for the Church. My intent isn’t to cast stones at other traditions. However, we need to realize the Board of Ordained Ministry is more than just a gate-keeper in the United Methodist Church’s process. I think one underlying principle might be expressed this way: Those in ministry need to be aware of their own motivations, passions, and demons.

I do not always agree with the process or the decisions made by these boards who examine. What I do know, looking back on my process, was how being deferred made me more aware of myself and what God was preparing me for the work of ministry. I needed to be more clear, more aware. I needed to ask better questions.   I needed to know myself better.

This same awareness is what spiritual direction offers. It gives us

opportunity to have someone listen to the Holy Spirit with us, so we might be more aware of God’s voice and God’s leading in our lives.  I have found an experienced spiritual director makes a huge difference but this could be in accountability or even just daily time set-aside to be more aware of God. It is so much easier to be blissfully ignorant of the spiritual nature of our world. We can just tune it out as many have done or just crank the volume up and drowned out the Spirit’s silent voice as others have also done.

There is a hunger and desire in us to treasure the unique and the rare. To know ourselves and voice of God, we must make time to be aware.

Sit Down and Shut Up: Learning to Be More Aware

“Sit down and shut up!”

Every day of the school year, we’d get on the bus and hear our bus driver, Doug Crow, shout it out to us.  Sometimes it would be just him looking in the mirror.  Other times, he’d pull to the side of the road and get up, red faced and ramped up, and give us the line, speaking each syllable with the force of a semi-truck willing to incinerate anything in it’s path by shear force.

I don’t know if he graduated college or just finally got a better gig, but one school year, on the first day, Doug was gone.  His memory wasn’t though.  He is one of those who is forever present in my thoughts of growing up in Mississippi.

“Sit down and shut up!”

The story has been passed down from the early church that tells of a monk who went to Scetis to visit with Abba Moses.  He had gone to ask him for a word.  The desert father said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’ (pg 139, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

“Sit down and shut up.”

One of the great gifts I have experienced in participating in the Upper Room’s Academy of Spiritual Formation experiences has been the gift of your “cell.”  Don’t confuse it with a prison.  In our day it might be a “prayer closet.”  For the monk or the desert abbas and ammas, the cell was where everything was kept even though that “everything” was  not usually very much.

For me, the cell, my living space for a week, was a treasure.  It was more than just a hotel room or retreat space.  It was a space where I could be aware.  Awareness, writes Joan Chittister, is what we are practicing when we ask, “What do I see here of God that I could not see otherwise?  What is God demanding of my heart as a result of each event, each situation, each person in my life? (23, Illuminated Life).  It is a practice of not just hearing the words of another, but of listening to their soul and to the word of the Spirit of God.  It is a time to engage ourselves in what God is doing around us.

I think this is part of what Elijah is doing in 1 Kings 19, of being aware enough to hear God say, “What are you doing here?”  For Elijah, the cave was his cell, the place where he could be aware of God.  To be attentive, fully, not to what others are saying, not the noise calling for attention, but to be able to hear and know the voice of God; this is the practice of awareness.

So many voices seem to be claiming to speak for God.  There is pressure and influence being placed for people to choose sides for this issue or that issue. 

“Sit down and shut up.”

And so Abba Moses speaks again. 

May I Ask:  Who has told you recently you need to “Sit down and shut up?”  What maybe preventing you from being more aware?

May I Suggest:  If you’ve got time to read this blog, or watch a movie on Netflix, you’ve got time to sit down and shut up.  Just try it.  If nothing worse happens, you might just get a good nap.

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