Tag: Jesus

Spiritual Reflection: Temptation…or Contemplation?

I am part of one of the most tempted generations in history. 

Today in the West, we have power that would have been undreamt of by previous seekers of spiritual truth. Many of us can eat what we want, when we want; we can travel nearly anywhere we want in the world; we can own pretty well anything we want.  And in each of these statements there is that phrase: “we want”…

graceemptiness FOP

One temptation is to be so focused on what we want for ourselves that we close ourselves down to anything else.  It is a dangerous temptation because we can close ourselves down to other people; we can close to growing in a spiritually creative way; we can close to God.

If we gain the world but forfeit our soul, there is no gain.  I wonder how many people realise that focusing too much on  material things and experiences, though pleasurable and fun in the short-term, can have unforeseen destructive consequences on our deeper selves – our souls – and on those with whom we share our beautiful but damaged planet.

On the spiritual way, we will face temptations, certainly.  Perhaps we will fall for many.  How can we keep ourselves focused on the right priorities and grow ourselves in healthy ways that develop our love for others and for God, and keep our hearts open?

This poem, on the theme of withdrawing from temptation, was inspired by the life and words of Francis of Assisi:

Who are we

To snatch at experience

.

When there is a grace

In the emptiness

.

That leaves the soul open

For fulfilment

.

Mattering more

than the mere minute

.

A fullness

Of living in God.

.

Francis knew the Gospels about Jesus very well.  The first recorded action after Jesus’ baptism in Mark’s Gospel is this:  “He was in the desert…being tempted…”  Even in spiritual retreat and contemplation, even for a “spiritual giant” like Jesus, there is challenge and temptation.

How can we protect ourselves from temptation?

How can we simplify and purify our lives and avoid temptation?

What can we do when we face temptation?

How can our spirituality come to our aid?

Snapshots of God

What would it be like to be directly taught by a great spiritual leader today?

What would it feel like, for example, to be one of the friends of Francis of Assisi, or one of Jesus’ disciples?

Neither of these leaders wrote long books or even studied at university.  But they did study people, and wrote their words on people’s hearts through their words and actions.

And what remains to us today – stories about Francis, plus a few writings by him – and the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) can never tell us everything.  They offer us a sequence of “snapshots of God”.

snapshots ofGod

A snapshot can tell us a lot but it does not define from every angle.  Many snapshots build up a pretty good picture, but they are not exhaustive.  And in between the snapshots there must be so much more that we haven’t seen!

So when I read story about St. Francis of Assisi, or a story or parable from a Gospel, I know I am only getting part of something so much greater.  Both Jesus and Francis spoke a lot about God.  But God is undefinable, ultimately.

One of my inspirers, the Franciscan Brother Ramon, uses a different metaphor, and compares the spiritual life to a vast ocean.   You can dip a toe in, then paddle a bit, then wade, then swim, before coming back to shore and dipping a toe into a different part!

“Snapshots of God” – we can learn so much from each part of each snapshot the Gospels present us with, and of each story we have preserved about St. Francis and his followers.  And this is true of so many other spiritual writings too.

If you have found this post interesting, perhaps you could share what gives you a “snapshot” of the bigger picture of life, whether or not you believe in God?

Best wishes,

Michael

Reading Stories of God

One way of approaching the Gospels is as stories of God.

The Gospels are collections of stories about Jesus.  Some people talk about “pericopes”: short sections of a few sentences, or more, that tell one complete story. 

We think the Gospels were basically collections of stories that had been passed around by word of mouth, and were then written up into the collections we have today, known as “Matthew”, “Mark”, “Luke” and “John”.

That explains why there is so much repetition between them.

But when you think that these are not just stories of an interesting historical person (Jesus) – though they are that – but that they are stories that reveal God – then reading the Gospels takes on a new life.

Because we are reading about the creator and sustainer of the universe and all life, including myself and yourself.

We are reading about the one who loves all.

We are learning about the meaning of life, of death, of love, and how we can change to live better lives.

The Gospels can seem quite strange kinds of books when you first read them.

But persevere, read a little bit at a time (remember the “pericopes” – short sections that tell one complete story), and see if you can feel how you are reading a story about God.

The Spirituality of Jesus (4) – The Seeker

The Spirituality of Jesus (4) – The Seeker

Jesus was a seeker.  He sought out followers and he responded to people’s requests.

In particular, he seeks out people on the fringes of society: people whose lives are not respectable; the “tax collectors and sinners”.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners” is one of his sayings that we don’t hear quoted very much today.  Perhaps we are all too busy trying to be respectable that we forget this fundamental call Jesus felt to the immoral? There is also the famous story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, and Jesus’ better-known words: “If anyone is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”


The Spirituality of Jesus (3) – The Mentor Leader

In my previous posts on this theme, I have explored how Jesus had a spiritual life, his relationships with other people (1); and how he had a mission to bring healing and wholeness (2). He also had an amazing, charismatic “pull” to him so that people flocked to hear him speak, people went to him to try to be healed, and some people left everything to follow him.

He was not a dictatorial leader but was more of a “mentor leader” (he was also a servant leader, and probably other leadership styles could be explored as well, but not in this post…).   A mentor leader – who has a concern to teach followers by word and by example.  A mentor leader who is close to his followers.  A mentor leader who cares for them.

Jesus’ followers do not have an easy time!  They are challenged and corrected as well as taught and cared for.  They are given arguably the best spiritual teaching the world has ever known, but frequently fail to understand it properly.  They witness miracles, but still doubt and get the wrong end of many sticks.

What patience is required to be a mentor leader.  What endless reserves to keep on giving and teaching when it feels like everything is falling on deaf ears.

Jesus goes beyond, of course, to death, and beyond that, too.

But he is an amazing model of the spirituality required to be a deep, wise, gracious, prophetic, mentor leader.

The Spirituality of Jesus (2) – Healing and Wholeness

I wonder how many people are searching for healing and wholeness today?   And to what extent is this a spiritual search?

Many of the stories about Jesus in the Gospels involve healing: the healing of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual diseases.  The Gospel writers see this as Jesus’ spiritual power of goodness that banishes evil from people’s lives

And in at least one story, a physical healing from blindness has metaphorical significance.  A man born blind is enabled to see; and it leads to a short exchange between Pharisees and Jesus: “Are we blind too?…If you were blind, you would not be guilty…”.

That metaphor of blindness and sight has echoed down the years.  Perhaps most famously in the hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton:

I once was lost

But now am found

Was blind

But now I see”.

Part of the healing Jesus brings is the spiritual healing of forgiveness:

“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’.

So “wholeness” seems to describe well what Jesus brought to many individuals that he met.

This was a powerful spirituality.  The ability to heal physically, of course, we think about more as a scientific skill today.  Healing psychological and emotional wounds is also about human relationships, though.  And forgiveness?  How many of us are searching for forgiveness today?

The Spirituality of Jesus (1)

Jesus, who is described in the four gospels (see previous post), is a man of spirituality.

Two aspects of his spirituality are of interest in this post: firstly his spiritual life; and secondly his relationships with other people.

Spiritual Life

Jesus believed in God.  He prayed to God and spoke to God as “father”.  He taught a prayer to his followers which beings “Our father in heaven”.  His example tells us a bit more about spirituality, which we could explore at another time: that spirituality can involve belief in God; that spirituality can involve a relationship with God; and that spirituality can involve prayer to God.

Relationships with Other People

Jesus had what we might call unusual relationships with other people.  Some people he called to follow him – he seemed to exude authority, and also took responsibility for his authority to lead, knowing the possible consequences for his followers. 

But Jesus also had an amazing inclusiveness to his relationships.  He related to enemies, outcasts, the sick, the blind, the paralysed, and the list goes on.

His example tells us how spirituality is not merely a private affair.  Spirituality affects the whole of our life.  Spirituality affects our relationships with other people.

The Spirituality of Jesus (3) – The Mentor Leader

The Spirituality of Jesus (3) – The Mentor Leader

In my previous posts on this theme, I have explored how Jesus had a spiritual life, his relationships with other people (1); and how he had a mission to bring healing and wholeness (2). He also had an amazing, charismatic pull to him so that people flocked to hear him speak, people went to him to try to be healed, and some people left everything to follow him.

He was not a dictatorial leader but was more of a “mentor leader” (he was also a servant leader, and probably other leadership styles could be explored as well, but not in this post…).   A mentor leader – who has a concern to teach followers by word and by example.  A mentor leader who is close to his followers.  A mentor leader who cares for them.

Jesus’ followers do not have an easy time!  They are challenged and corrected as well as taught and cared for.  They are given arguably the best spiritual teaching the world has ever known, but frequently fail to understand it properly.  They witness miracles, but still doubt and get the wrong end of many sticks.

What patience is required to be a mentor leader.  What endless reserves to keep on giving and teaching when it feels like everything is falling on deaf ears.

Jesus goes beyond, of course, to death, and beyond that, too.

But he is an amazing model of the spirituality required to be a deep, wise, gracious, prophetic, mentor leader.

Spiritual Reflection – In my beginning…

“In my beginning is my end” wrote T.S. Eliot. 

Our “end” means our purpose – if we know how or why something started (like an argument, or a problem), we can gain insight into doing something about it.  

Discovering meaning and purpose is also part of the spiritual quest…

beginningoflife AMTG

In some ways, human life is a journey away from beginnings – we don’t stay as infants but grow and change through childhood, adolescence,  adulthood.

But at some points, we can mark a moment of a really significant beginning (maybe we have had several moments like this), where life took on a new meaning for us.

The beginning of our spiritual lives may be a new beginning. 

There are other times where we have come to a realisation, or an “illumination”, when we begin to understand a little more about why we are here on earth, and what our spiritual way is all about:

 

The beginning of a life

Is not at first cry

.

But when the soul

Begins to know why

.

And moves in faith

That its purpose

..

And mission

Is beyond the present

.

In a future unseen

And a destiny.

 

It was simply reading the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, that collection of stories about Jesus, that inspired both this poem and this meditation. 

Mark’s Gospel does not begin with the baby of Christmas nativities, but with a powerful prophecy, with John the Baptist, and with his baptising of Jesus: a spiritual, defining moment, in which love is revealed.

In another gospel account, Jesus talks about “being born again”. 

Spiritual birth is like a second birth.  And we can continue to grow spiritually throughout our lives.  Our future is unseen; we have a destiny; and when we start to know why, we can also start to move in faith.

 

The Spirituality of Jesus (2) – Healing and Wholeness

I wonder how many people are searching for healing and wholeness today?   And to what extent is this a spiritual search?

Many of the stories about Jesus in the Gospels involve healing: the healing of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual diseases.  The Gospel writers see this as Jesus’ spiritual power of goodness that banishes evil from people’s lives

And in at least one story, a physical healing from blindness has metaphorical significance.  A man born blind is enabled to see; and it leads to a short exchange between Pharisees and Jesus: “Are we blind too?…If you were blind, you would not be guilty…”.

That metaphor of blindness and sight has echoed down the years.  Perhaps most famously in the hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton:

I once was lost

But now am found

Was blind

But now I see”.

Image by Ananta Sarkar from Pixabay

Part of the healing Jesus brings is the spiritual healing of forgiveness:

“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’.

So “wholeness” seems to describe well what Jesus brought to many individuals that he met.

This was a powerful spirituality.  The ability to heal physically, of course, we think about more as a scientific skill today.  Healing psychological and emotional wounds is also about human relationships, though.  And forgiveness?  How many of us are searching for forgiveness today?

The Spiritualities of Christianity – Spiritual Conflict

Bosch, ‘The Temptation of St. Anthony”

Spirituality can be about silence, inner peace and universal love.  But it can also be about conflict: temptations, trials, doubts, pain and death.

Bosch’s painting “The Temptations of St. Anthony” (above)explores this well.  St. Anthony is actually alone in the desert, praying.  But he is not alone.  His world is buzzing with thoughts, temptations, doubts and distractions – so the painting is crowded with weird demonic figures, and representations of most of the “seven deadly sins”…

And there are countless other stories of spiritual conflict.  The stories of Moses portray a man who retreated from slavery and murder, who experienced a transcendent vision of a burning bush before then facing political conflict with an enemy power and his own people.  Elijah heard a “still small voice” which he identified as God yet, like Moses, was engaged in political and spiritual conflict.  And of course Jesus retreated to the desert, where stories of temptation by evil live on in the Gospels.

I am reminded that when we explore spirituality, we are not necessarily in for an easy ride.  There is darkness within, as well as light.  We may discover inner wounds and frailties we were not aware of before.  We may need to seek therapeutic guidance and help from others.

But a seeking spirituality prevents our lives becoming more dangerous, as we slide into apathy, or complacency, or pride – or any of the other deceptions that surround the human condition.

Our spirituality is a many-sided phenomenon, as complex as life is. 

We must be aware of the costs and the dangers, as well as the undoubted benefits and attractions, as we journey on our spiritual way.

‘The Temptation of Christ’ – Limbourg Brothers

The Spirituality of Leadership

Recent posts have started to explore “the spiritualities of Christianity”, and have looked at what, to me, have been some foundational issues: the place of the four Gospels, “lectio divina” as a liberating way of reading the Gospels, creation spirituality, and the spirituality of Jesus.

And already there is enough material to start applying knowledge of spiritualities to life.  This post will look at applying spirituality to something that I am very interested in: leadership.

A simple way to understand leadership is through the word “influence”.  A mother or father feeds, loves and teaches their baby – that is a kind of leadership.  A teacher helps a group of children to learn more and more complex knowledge and skills – leadership, again.  In any human relationship there is the potential for leadership, as one person influences another.

Many of us, therefore, are involved in leadership, whether our context is home, a place of work, or in voluntary activity.  And I am interested in the ways that our spirituality can underpin our leadership relationships in two ways: through establishing values and perspective, and by energising and motivating us.

Establishing Values and Perspective

Spirituality can help us establish values and develop perspective on life.  For example, reading of the Four Gospels could help us understand the importance of love in the way we think about other people (our children, our co-workers, the people we help in voluntary work).  It could also help us think through very difficult issues such as helping someone with illness  or bereavement (the Gospels are full of interactions between Jesus and the sick and even the dead).   

Many people have found it helpful to begin each day with some reading, perhaps using lectio divina, as way of reminding themselves daily about what is of ultimate importance. 

Establishing values and perspective on issues of ultimate significance is particularly important in leadership, as anyone engaged in relationships and leadership constantly faces complexity, ambiguity and dilemmas on a daily basis, and we need to find a way to make decisions.  The values and perspective which our spirituality has developed help underpin sensible, calm and wise (we hope!) decision-making.

Energising and Motivating

Spirituality can also help energise and motivate us.  For some people, silence is very important, and this is a topic that I plan to say more about in a future post.  People also find daily prayer a helpful way to start each day.  For others, it might be listening to music or songs on spiritual issues. 

Spirituality provides depth to our life.  There is a foundation we can build upon and live from.  We have a framework by which we can make sense of all that life throws at us.

As well as being highly complex, leadership can also be highly draining.  So we need to have a way of “refuelling”.   Relaxation and leisure are, of course, part of the answer.  But pleasure itself has only a limited power to re-energise us for leadership tasks.  For deeper recovery, I believe that spiritual answers are required.

For example, I find that I am faced with questions of depth in my own exercise of leadership: What is the purpose of what I am doing today?  What is the right thing to do in this messy, painful and morally ambiguous situation?  How can I face and conduct successfully this difficult meeting today? 

In each case, spiritual preparation helps to remind me of my ultimate purposes. I am more than just the functional “leader” that others see. Life will go on regardless of whatever mistakes or sound decisions I make today. The quality of my relationships with others around me is paramount. And most important of all is my relationship with my God.

The Spirituality of Jesus (1) – Prayer, and People

Jesus, who is described in the four gospels (see previous post), is a man of spirituality.

Two aspects of his spirituality are of interest in this post: firstly his personal spiritual life; and secondly his relationships with other people.

Personal Spiritual Life

Jesus believed in God.  He prayed to God and spoke to God as “father”.  He taught a prayer to his followers which beings “Our father in heaven”.  His example tells us a bit more about spirituality, which we could explore at another time: that spirituality can involve belief in God; that spirituality can involve a relationship with God; and that spirituality can involve prayer to God.

Relationships with Other People

Jesus had what we might call unusual relationships with other people.  Some people he called to follow him – he seemed to exude authority, and also took responsibility for his authority to lead, knowing the possible consequences for his followers. 

But Jesus also had an amazing inclusiveness to his relationships.  He related to enemies, outcasts, the sick, the blind, the paralysed, and the list goes on.

His example tells us how spirituality is not merely a private affair.  Spirituality affects the whole of our life.  Spirituality affects our relationships with other people.

The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesco