Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Clinging to God!

Joy – the passion or emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good.  A state of bliss.  Mirth, merriment, festivity!  Joy!

One of the major characteristics of the Christian, or so we are told
“Shout for joy to God all the earth, serve the Lord with gladness says the Psalmist (100:1,2).
“Be joyful always” insists Paul (I Thessalonians 5:16)w
“The fruit of the Spirit is love , joy, peace”  Galatians 5)

Christians are meant to be joyful.  But where is the joy?  All too often Christians are known not for their joy but for their grimness.  The story is told of the couple who went to the airport to pick up a visiting minister.  They had never met the person, but immediately picked out a likely suspect.  “Sir are you the visiting minister?”  “No” he replied, “It’s my ulcer that makes me look like this!”

How do we catch the joy?  We are bombarded with secular wisdom on the subject of joy.  There are video tapes, TV specials . . . Heck, you can buy the book!  Finding Joy: 101 Ways to Free Your Spirit and Dance with Life.  Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D, author.  Everyone has an opinion. Most of us have tried most of the advice.  Still the question remains.  How do we catch joy?  Today in John we hear the opinion of the expert on Joy – Jesus.  Hear his words.

Abide in me.

When it comes to the subject of joy one word seems to be essential.  That word is ABIDE.  If we would experience Jesus’ joy we must abide in Jesus.  We must place ourselves, continually, purposefully, in Jesus presence. We must rest in God’s love.  The image Jesus gives us here is powerful.  “I am the vine, you are the branches....Abide in me”  This image suggests that we need to be connected

Now we already know we can be connected to the wrong things... what we might call counterfeit vines.  A Lexus SUV.  Our jobs.  Our roles.  Success.  Wealth.  Jesus here reminds of what, or rather who is the right vine, the right thing to be connected to.  The vine is Jesus.  The vine is God.  You want joy?  Be connected to God.  Abide in Christ.  Rest in God’s love.

Now that is a simple thing to say… but not necessarily a simple thing to do.  God is not really all that easy to connect with.  Let’s face it . . . God is mysterious, awesome, BIG!  I mean really Big!  But it is more than that.  In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament we find the concept of “kabod” or transcendence.  God as the transcendent one.

Chiam Potok is a wonderful Jewish author.  In one of his books he offers a lyrical description of Kabod.
A quality of holiness, a quality of power
A quality of fearfulness, a quality of sublimity
A quality of trembling, a quality of shaking
A quality of terror, a quality of consternation
God of Israel
Who comes crowned to the Throne of His Glory
And of no creature are the eyes able to behold it. . .

Kabod.  Totally, Holy other.  It is hard to feel connected to something transcendent, infinite.  Someone once told me their major issue with faith was their concept of God.  They saw God as some sort of vague being, some great “other”… and kept picturing tapioca pudding.  The big guy in the white robe with the lightning bolt isn’t much better.

God, the infinite one is hard to connect to.  But there is another side to the God...  the immanent.  Immanence is not the opposite of transcendence, it is the correlative.  Immanence and transcendence are two sides of the same coin....

If transcendence is the infinite God, Immanence is the intimate God
This is the God who is present, and whom we “experience”,
I would say this is the Spirit within.  The teacher, helper, advocate, comforter that Jesus talks about.

And here is where we gain a clue about what it means to abide. . . We can’t grab hold of the infinite God.  By definition this God is too big for us… but we can connect to the intimate God, and in that way tap into the kabod, the transcendence of God
Like a branch taps into the living giving vine of the vineyard…’

So, how do we connect,  grab hold of God in such a way that the life giving presence is there and we can be fed loved, forgiven, nourished?

The word Jesus used to describe what we need to do is, again, abide . 
Abide - to wait for
to endure without yielding
to bear patiently
to accept without objection
to remain stable or fixed in a state
to continue in a place
Synonyms: Stay, continue, bear
To abide has to do with the concept of 'being' instead of 'doing'. Doing in relation to the Christian walk is: reading your Bible, going to church, praying, witnessing, doing good works, fleeing sin, etc. These are all good things to do as a Christian. These are things we should be doing.
However there is something we must remember.  This kind of lifestyle, of nurturing spirituality, being loving, patient, and giving…. This lifestyle is the result of abiding.  These acts are not “abiding.”  They are a consequence of abiding.  The natural fruit of a branch connected to the vine.  And we must remember we simply cannot live this way if we aren’t connected. If we try to live this way without abiding, without being connected…Then we shrivel up and burn out.  We are branches lying on the ground trying to bear fruit with no life giving power flowing into us.  Doesn’t work.  We end up dry and brittle, and there is no fruit.

At least no good fruit.  Just frustration.  Fear.  Rigidity.  Judgmentalism.  To abide in Christ is to be in the 'being' mode. We still are doing the things that God has called us to do. . . we are, as Jesus will say later in John 15… obeying. . . but we do what we do in the context of the connection we have with the intimate God.  It is this connection that is critical.  The relationship we have with Christ is more important than the things we do or don't do.

Abiding is experiencing God.  Abiding is feeling the presence of God more than intellectually exploring and examining, and coming to understanding God. . . .

Maybe a better word is the word cling.
We need to cling to God,
as when lonely and afraid, and  hurting
We cling to another

Clinging and finding in the holding
the touch
the experience of the other being there
the healing flow of love

Of course clinging doesn’t work if it is one sided

And that is the good thing about clinging to God
The nice thing is we don’t just cling to God
God clings to us… and as we desperately seek to love him
He seeks to love us back.  Jesus said, abide in me, AS I abide in you

We let God love us
And we love God back   Passionately, desperately….

And the more we need God, the more God is there.
The more we are stretched, challenged,
The more lonely and frightened we are
The more God is there, and the more important that connection is.
The more we love God, the more we experience the love of God back

The image that comes to my mind is that of a child, clinging to its mother in the middle of a thunderstorm… and then feeling the presence, feeling mom hugging back. . .

When we abide, we cling to God, and God clings back and through that connection flows the presence of God.  And in that presence… in that presence is power, potency, and yes, relief, and peace.

How do we cling?  Remember, it’s about presence, being connected.  How do we connect with other people?  We focus on them.   Think about them.  Talk to them. But mostly, its focus.  I was thinking about the concept of mindfulness.  Where you try to be, 100% present in the moment.  That is how I think about it.  Instead of being mindful, let’s say, of my breath, focusing, on breath in, breath out, in out….

I try to focus on God.  Can’t say I’m great at it, but I try.  I just keep turning my mind to God.  I have times when I stop (that is kind of what Sabbath is about), and I focus on God.  But mostly it is a matter of trying to do that all the time.  So, I just think about God, imagine God, listen for God’s voice no matter what I am doing. 

I walk through the woods… and think about God.  I thank God for the breeze, the trees, the snow, whatever is there is God’s creation.  I see God, I try visualize the God in each person I encounter.  Even the clerk in the store.  I practice as Brother Lawrence would put it, the Presence of God. That is how I think about it, and kind of how I try to do it.  We all have to find our own way to abide.  Meditating.  A half an hour alone by a fire with a cup of tea.  We all find our own way.  But we need to do this!

And what does life looks like when we abide in Jesus?  When we are connected to the true vine… when we cling to God.  It looks like – according to Jesus, joy. 

But this is the point.  What do we want to be?  Dried up?  Withered?  Powerless?  Or people who bear fruit and have joy?   The word to remember is ABIDE.

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