It is well…

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin — O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross I and I bear it not more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll:
The trumpet shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.

The words to this old hymn were written 143 years ago, as you might tell by the older language. They were penned by a Chicago lawyer named Horatio Spafford. He was something of a success in the legal world of his day and became quite wealthy. He had a wife and five children, four daughters and a son.

In the winter of 1871, his only son died. In the spring and summer of that year, Horatio invested heavily in real estate around the shore of Lake Michigan. That summer, a long drought gripped the city. As the summer broke into fall, the city of Chicago, built almost entirely out of wood, was parched. On October 8th the unimaginable happened — fire broke out and went uncontrolled for three days, ravaging the city. Horatio's investments literally went up in smoke.

Two years later in 1873, the family planned a European trip to help ease the lingering grief. As the day approached to board the transatlantic ship, a business crises prohibited Horatio from leaving with his wife and four daughters. He quickly made plans to follow a few days later on another ship. As the business crisis was coming to an end he got word that the ship carrying his wife and daughters had been hit by another ship and sunk within 12 minutes. Later when the few survivors were taken to Wales he received a cable from his wife. It simply read, "Saved alone." 

Spafford took the next available passage and traveled alone to meet his wife. The journey across the ocean no doubt was filled with sorrow and despair. The captain notified Horatio when their ship arrived at the approximate location of the disaster. On deck, looking out over the infinite landscape of water Spafford is said to have penned the words of this hymn.  

I first heard the story of Horatio Spafford many years ago as a young follower of Jesus. The traditional church I was a part of sang this hymn often. Knowing the background of the how this hymn came to be has always created an awe within me. The first stanza has left a wonder that such a faith would be available to one who endures life's tragedies.

It seems to me to be a testimony of a thankful heart. Thankful, not for the tragic circumstances, but thankful because of a deeper confidence that God is present in all of our circumstances. 

This is Thanksgiving week. As a nation we set aside Thanksgiving day to stop the normal routine and give thanks. My life's pilgrimage has had its little bits of crisis, nothing compared to Spafford's, but still they often felt like sea billows rolling. I am learning to have confidence in God such that, every once in a while, I truly sense the peace of Christ and can say, 'it is well with my soul.'

I pray you will enjoy your Thanksgiving Day this year however you get to celebrate. I'm grateful for you, that you would actually read through this little note, but also that your interest in continuing to follow Jesus and be transformed by the Spirit is like a light set on a hill for the community around you. 

Everybody needs one

We all need them. You and I really won't be able to follow Jesus into all of the places he intends to take us without one. There seems to be an abundance of them, and that's a good thing given the future of anyone who wants to go as far as they were created to go. The problem is not all of them either understand that this is their critical task or they haven't been trained or they don't have one themselves.

I'm talking about Pastors.

Those women and men whom God raises up to point us to Jesus and how to follow him are a great gift to the Church. Many have left behind promising careers in the marketplace with potential to earn a significantly greater income. Some have been pursuing God most all their life with an understanding (consciously or unconsciously) that this is what their heart was beating for. Each has chosen to follow and to be used by God in what we call Pastoral Ministry. They are to be prayed for regularly, for their work is dangerous, often lonely, and unique.

To me, the essence of this service is prayer. Their days are taken with opportunities to pray, it's their job to put it in language most understand. Because this task hovers around mystery no job description will ever fully define it. To the onlooker it appears as if they waist a lot of precious productivity time. And this is the great rub.

Pastors are people and as such have egos and selfish desires like all people have. In fact every one of them responded to this call out of a misshaped, sin filled, ego. Those that deny this, give them time. They'll come to see it. They are people who grow and are transformed like any follower of Jesus. Prayer helps them do this. Their privilege is to be called away from the pressures of the marketplace to pray for those in the marketplace. They pray for their congregations so they might know how to help their congregation follow Jesus in the spheres of life they are uniquely enduring.

This is the original pastoral assignment. There have been adjustments to the original plan which has diluted, distorted, and deadened this calling. For a lot of reasons the activity of pastoring has been changed to "program-directing messiah and manager."* When someone is in need of help, often they call their pastor. Pastors have some training in this arena and there are those who are better at it than others (as in every vocation). The help could be with something external or something more hidden, things of the soul. Helping another gets noticed, not that they necessarily are doing it for that reason, but at least they can file it in a report a little more readily than 'prayer time.' Helping gets noticed, it gets rewarding feedback. As I said, all Pastors have egos too.

The other all too common task is to become a manager. Every Pastor who has been trained to be a Pastor will tell you that administrating a building, overseeing a business meeting, recruiting, maintaining an organizational structure is NOT what they were trained to do. Now some jump in and do it admirably well. Others suffer through it with a new found motivation for Jesus' return. But again, management ministry gets noticed, it gets rewarded. At least the congregation can see what they're doing.

While the messianic and managerial tasks are all too often necessary they destroy the pastoral work within these servants. I know too many of these folks who find the pressure to perform and dance in these two attractions that they never learned to develop the necessary heart to engage in the original work of pastoring. Many fell victim in their early days to this pattern. They built a good resume around their accomplishments. 

But most never had a pastor themselves. They never had someone who was safe, to be prayed for in having their ego transformation rather than a new leadership skill or book given to them. There is rarely a safe place, a sanctuary, to share their soul's angst and fight against temptations or the repentance from falling into that temptation. Grace is rarely extended to Pastors. When it's not given to Pastors, it's usually not extended to members of the congregation.

For those Pastors who have a Pastor, who have someone to share their soul with, these are the ones who are finding the recovery of the original pastoral work. When they are praying they are able to walk with their congregation. They aren't recruiting them, they are listening to them. They aren't passing out cookie cutter advice. They become soul friends to people in the marketplace who struggle with walking out their faith in environments that bashes every effort a Pastor puts into a good sermon or lecture. A sermon or class lecture never transforms a soul. Providing a safe place for another and listening to another's uphill struggle is the gift that greases the sled for the Spirit to transform, to grow, to sanctify.

There is an ancient term which is used to clarify this pastoral work of prayer and tending to another's soul. It's called spiritual direction. This is what the original essence of the call to be a pastor was about. It's one reason Rhythm of Grace was formed. It is a pastoral ministry. Spiritual direction is offered to Pastors, but also to all who desire to walk in that lifelong calling to 'come, follow Me.' 

We're here to pastor; we pray, we provide a safe environment, we listen, we follow. If you'd like to explore spiritual direction, give me a call  and let's talk. We have a network of qualified spiritual directors to assist you in your pilgrimage.

Craig Babb

* Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant; An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing CO., 1992, Pgs. 178-181

The Poetry of God

I've said it before. Poetry is often hard for me. One needs to put forth a lot of effort and actually exercise the muscle of the mind. Not necessarily to think logically, but to think imaginatively. There's a difference. 
Everything is my educational background has been geared toward learning to think logically. I suppose I just never took the classes (if they were offered) in using the imagination. Which means, I never took a poetry class. 
But every once in a while a piece of poetry just absolutely ties me up, binds me to see images in my mind's eye that I've never seen before. It's such an experience beyond my every day. I see bits and pieces of truth that are so rich and satisfying, yet it always leaves me yearning for more. When I 'see it' in poetry it fills my lungs full, yet also takes my breath away.  I've come to believe that when poetry opens up my eyes I think I'm seeing what the psalmist hoped for when he wrote, "I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Ps 27:13.
It occurred to me the other day, on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, that people, and really all of creation, are the Poetry of God. It's His way of communicating the deepest truths of His heart. I've heard more profound writers communicate this truth so I know it's not something particularly new. It's just that somehow this truth has rung my bell a little louder. So what I want to do is try to read His poetry a little more attentively. As my Lenten experience this year I want to try to pay attention a little more to the rhythm and rhyme of His expression. 
It's been said that nature was God's first Bible, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-His eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." Romans 1:20. When I read poetry I have to read slowly and carefully, so I want to walk a little slower and pay more attention to what is around me. Poets use words and language, paper and pen just like other literature, but they use them differently. I need to learn to read God's poetry differently. I think that means when I'm out and about in traffic or a store I want to do something with that more than just buy something or get from point A to point B. That environment is the paper and pen God could use to highlight something of His heart to me. I need to go slower and attempt to be more careful, maybe intentional, to get it. This is going to take a lot of practice.
People are God's highest creation, so intricate, so complex. We all have our baggage, wounds, and neurotic behaviors but that doesn't take away from the fact that what God made is good and has been blessed by Him. To be able to read God's poetry within people I need to first, not only admit, but name, my own myopic lenses which I filter other people through. I see them and experience them and evaluate them through my junk! I need new eyes in order to read this kind of poetry. 
Secondly I need to extend forgiveness, which allows me to be with the other, just as they are, without requiring them to be written and formed just like me. Forgiveness is the flow of mercy that contains the life blood of God's grace. It's that grace that forms the poetic structure of each person. Again, this is  going to take a lot of practice. 
Each person is a poetic expression of God's heart. When I sit and listen to another I want to listen for and applaud the unmistakable uniqueness of that person, even as it is so different from me or the way I do things in life. They are created in the image of God, they are an expression of God, not in totality but as a little couplet of love. 
Learning to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living is what my spiritual formation is all about. I am so far from where I want to be in regards to reading God's poetry like this. But Lent is a season to explore my formation and change into the image of Christ. I pray whatever God leads you to in this season that you will find His grace to be more than sufficient and that you too might have fun reading some poetry.  
Craig Babb

"Let's try it again."

Those words echoed off the water and bounced off the enclosed walls of the swimming pool every day during swim season. It was during those years of high school I think I first discovered that I was made for community... just not necessarily competitive swimming. I loved being with the guys on the team, the camaraderie, the common goal. It's just that I was a horrible swimmer. Every day coach would walk the deck of the pool, whistle in hand, and shout the command..."do it again." 

We called it practice.

I think I didn't like swimming all that much because I didn't like practice all that much. I discovered my body just was not designed like the other guys, I never could relax, never had a smooth stroke. Everyday I'd pull myself out of the water with leg cramps. I did it because I liked being with these guys. They were friends. We were doing this together. 

Sometimes in January of each year, deep down within me, I hear the same call, "Let's try it again." Today that voice has more to do with my attempts at being a follower of Jesus. I'm learning to follow through some practices that I've chosen. Over the years I've discovered that I'm wired a bit different than others and so my practice is becoming more tailored to how I learn to listen for God's voice best. And so I practice. Practice means I don't do it perfectly and need to keep trying; that's inherent in the word.

Ancient Christian teachers taught about a practice schedule they called a 'regula.' That really means a 'rule' or as we call it a 'rhythm.' It's simply a chosen set of spiritual practices that help teach me to listen for God's voice throughout my day. Every January I set about to create a new rhythm. It's usually not really all that new, in fact very little of it is new. One of the insights I've had over the years is that my transformation is far more about learning what not do any more than about doing more stuff. 

When I teach others how to create a rhythm of life for themselves I ask these questions:
1. What do you enjoy doing, what gives you the greatest amount of pleasure? 
Most people find it kind of shocking that this one thing they enjoy doing could actually be a spiritual discipline, but it can, if you learn how to let it teach you to listen.

2. What are you already doing? 
Every one of us already has a rhythm of life. It just may not be helpful in growing your faith. But it is necessary to take an inventory of what spiritual disciplines you are already doing. Most of the time you won't need to add anything more. Here is a list of what some consider to be classic spiritual disciplines.
Circle the ones you already do somewhat regularly (I'll let you decide what 'regularly' means). Some of these are done with others and some are done privately.

Meditation          Prayer          Fasting         Study         Simplicity          Solitude         Silence         Submission         Service         Confession         Worship         Spiritual Direction         Celebrations         Secrecy         Prayer of Examine         Fellowship          Praying the Scriptures          Spiritual Reading          Bodily Exercise          Sabbath-Keeping          Retreats          Pilgrimage          Tithing          Journaling          Sabbaticals          Dream Interpretation

Looking at your list, are you surprised by how much you are already doing to help you learn to listen?

3.  Based on your current circumstance are there any of these on your list that you may need to change? If they are not helping you learn to listen then they are helping you to become very religious, and we know what Jesus thought about those kind of folks.

4.  What are you learning to listen for? Most of the time people think their spiritual practices are intended to give them some sort of spiritual goose bumps or warm feelings. You know, 'feeling closer to Jesus." Those things do happen...from time to time...but the purpose of any spiritual discipline is to first and foremost irritate you! When I teach on this I call it Holy Spirit irritations. But it's the irritation that we all too quickly avoid and run from. Some of us even attempt to blame the Devil and call it a demonic spiritual attack. The fact is, it's the irritations that transform us.

I'm learning the Holy Spirit uses the spiritual practices to speak to me about the things that hinder me from trusting God, from growing in faith, from allowing Him to transform me. These hindrances are deeply embedded and often feel like health, when in fact they are no more than my ego's ability to stay in control. It's the hindrances that Jesus was talking about when He said unless you lose your life you won't find your life. In another place he said unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies it only stays a kernel, but if it does die it produces fruit. Or again, take up your cross and follow.

So it's January again. A good time to 'try it again.'

The two greatest lessons I've learned over the years is that, first, I'm going to screw up, get used to it. I won't succeed like I desire. But even in my failure, Jesus loves me as much as ever. My failure does not stop Him from lavishing love on me. 

The second lesson is that I need community to practice with. You do as well. Do it with others. I know you think you can do it on your own, but that is more ego talking. I attend a group every weekday morning before work. It literally is my recovery group. I'm addicted to my way of doing things. This group shares the same goal, we have a comradery, a friendship. The simple involvement with this group to learn to listen for God's voice together through a simple prayer exercise in the Scriptures has been life changing. So my encouragement is practice together. 

If you want to learn more about your spiritual formation or the definitions and practices of some of the disciplines listed above, check out the course we offer called A Pilgrim's Process. For those of you who have been through the course, remember there is a significant discount for alumni! 
Craig Babb

I know you're busy but...would you take a moment and read this?

Caesar Augustus issued a decree...Luke 2:1-7

"What else could go wrong?" I can only imagine this might have been Joseph's thought upon hearing the news of a required census to be taken. Already his dream has been shattered. His world view has been turned upside-down. His faith is barely enough to get him through the day.
Joseph's dream of marriage to Mary has been shattered with the news that she is pregnant. His world view about how God works has been turned upside-down with an angelic visitation regarding Mary's pregnancy. His faith is left shaky but enough to questionably say, 'yes.' Now the oppressive government system is asking him to leave his income producing business and travel over difficult and uneasy terrain, with a pregnant wife, just so he can put his name on a piece of paper. Could the circumstances be any more tense and unpleasant?

I suppose they could, and I imagine if we dug a bit deeper we might be able to discover a few to add to the pile. But this is enough for me. Circumstances are things that happen to us. They can be good or difficult things, but usually I'm quicker to focus only on the difficult ones. These difficult circumstances are things I find myself crying out to God to either take away, fix, or simply whine about. And I could go on doing this for a really long time. It's kind of sad that I don't let the 'good' circumstance bring enjoyment and thanksgiving for as long a period of time.
Circumstances are things that happen to us, and they are one of the things God intends to use to transform us into the image of Christ. On our personal scale of, 'it's not fair,' difficult circumstances seem to only move us further away from how we think God works and thus miss the opportunity for transformation. 

Things happen to us that are initiated by others. Most of the time they don't know the impact it is having on us. They usually are doing it to somehow keep themselves in power or control of life around them. I really don't think Caesar Augustus thought about how difficult it would be to execute a census, he only wanted data and information that would be helpful to him. He didn't decide to mandate this order knowing that it would force a young couple to fulfill God's intention. And frankly I'm pretty sure Joseph wasn't thinking, 'Oh goodie, finally an answer to my prayer. I was wondering how I was going to get Mary down to Bethlehem in order to fulfill the centuries old prophecy about the baby she is about to deliver." Yea...I don't think so.

Yet here it is, the episode that changes the world. Joseph says 'yes' to his mandated circumstance. His 'yes' went far beyond appeasing Caesar's whim. He was obedient to Caesar but he was obedient to God first... "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife..." (Matt. 1:20-21). Neither act of obedience was easy. But both was used to transform him. 

What are the circumstances of your life these days? This is a season when we expect glory in heaven and peace on earth, but for many that's just a line in a song. Often during this season the pressures of year-end goals, expectations, relationships, or transitions seem to overshadow the meager faith we have because of the season. But in and through our circumstances God stands ready to reveal the intentions of His heart for us. He is bursting with hope and expectation that we will see the glory of Grace embrace us, just as we are, and let it wash away the residue of ego's battle to control. 

Our present circumstances may indeed be the very thing God uses to explode before us Emmanuel, God with us. That's how spiritual formation works. 
Craig Babb

Fear not...

"And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid...'" Luke 1:30-34

You've got to be kidding me!? First of all it's an angel. Even in the Bible how many people get a personal angelic visit? Count them. Not many. So the whole experience begins with a little bit of an out of the box kind of encounter. 

The words the angel speak are heard as a command which makes me understand that Mary was...well, afraid. I don't recall many Christmas songs written about knees knocking, hand trembling, lip quivering Mary. But there she is, as the commentators like to tell us, all of thirteen years of age or so, face to face with an angel. Scared and trembling. 

Upon hearing this wild and crazy plan God has in mind from the mouth of an angel, Mary's response was to question it. She actually has what seems like a very rational response, "How can these things be since I am a virgin?" 

I'm so grateful for this passage of Scripture. It gives me such a good look into the reality of life and the way God desires to transform any of us who desire to follow in Jesus' way. Not necessarily with angelic visitations (wouldn't that be an unbelievable testimony) but with an encounter of God's voice that pushes me into faith further than I currently am. There is the push to look at something beyond my understanding or comfort and there is the assurance of the power of grace to take me there. Ultimately there is a confrontation of fear within me. For spiritual formation to be genuine I think those four things are essential. 

God's voice, we learn to hear it first through the Scriptures, then through a variety of avenues. God's desire for our lives ultimately is about growing towards love in a way that is beyond us. God's assurance of His favor, or grace, is always present to empower us to go wherever He is leading us. What we bring to the table is usually fear. 

We're being invited to go somewhere we've chosen not to go before. This voice of God confronts our comfort, our sense of control, our security, or some measure of a sense of significance. If we thought this was going to help us in any of those areas we would have chosen it on our own already. Since these things are so powerful dynamic in our lives, when asked to by God to go beyond them, it can only first produce fear. 

Fear comes before faith. Fear brings all the rational arguments for why this will not work. Fear proves that in a just world I shouldn't have to forgive or give that much or speak to that person or maybe why I shouldn't keep quiet, or any number of rational arguments for why not love to what seems like the extreme God is asking. 

In true spiritual formation our fears must be confronted. Those fears can only be overcome by perfect love, which is God's love for us. If we don't believe He loves me perfectly then we will not be able to trust His favor, or grace, to take us beyond where we are. But if we, for a brief moment let His perfect love wash over us and accept it then we have just entered into a new level of faith. A faith that echoes Mary's words, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." 

Craig Babb

Mary was greatly troubled

The advent blitz is on. Many of us who grew up in the protestant tradition of Christianity didn't pay too much attention to the church calendar. Only in recent years has there been a rediscovery of this great tool to help bring focus to our faith development and practice.

Advent was about the only season in the church calendar that we understood. It was directly tied to Christmas, which as a youngster was, and is, the highlight of the year. Back then we just knew Advent as the time of year between holidays; Thanksgiving and Christmas. Advent also helped us zero in on that high holy time we knew as the Christmas break from school.  We were very religious back then.

As we have gotten older, we've put away childish things (sort of). Advent now is about looking back at the first coming of Christ and looking forward to His second coming. The theme of waiting is a big part of Advent as is remembering. As we wait for the future promises we remember the foundation on which our hopes are built. In-between is something different. 

In-between is called life. It's where we, who choose to follow Jesus, struggle to live out what we've been taught in an environment that usually isn't buying it. The appearance of the environment we live in seems like it never left the old version of Advent from our childhood. As we attempt to follow Jesus' way we find ourselves constantly being challenged.

We've come to expect this. We call it being a disciple. After all Jesus seemed to demonstrate that his life would challenge his environment, so it stands to reason that a disciple too shall drink from this same cup. Discipleship is the ongoing process of changing not only our view of the world and its varying cultures, but also the changing of our hearts toward these cultures.

Discipleship begins with hearing or being taught something new and different. We read, listen to Bible teachers, have sermons preached, all providing good information about the ways of Jesus. When the words we read or hear provoke discomfort within, then we are about to enter into the spiritual formation stages of our discipleship. Discipleship begins with information but it is not just about collecting information, it's about transformation, or change, of a soul. A disciple realizes that if this new insight is to have the transformative power in the soul, it has to replace something or someway in which I am currently viewing the world or culture I live in. 

This is pictured perfectly in Mary's life when she hears the words from the Angel Gabriel that she had been given grace to execute her task (that's what highly favored means). The text says she was greatly troubled at these words. If what the preacher, teacher, or this case the angle was saying is true, it means she's going to have to let go of something significant in her life. Maybe it was here dreams of what she thought life was to look like (which is generally the case for most eventual disciples of Jesus). This new word agitated the old dream, the old way of looking at things that she held on to. Alarms were going off within her. 

She could have left the scene and thought, "Hum, that was interesting. Nice to know that God has grace for me, that He loves me. I think this will help me carry out my dreams. I'll just add that information to all the lessons about life I've been taught by my tradition. I've got an ever growing notebook full of these wonderful lessons. I can't wait to share them." This is what happens in early stages of discipleship. But the fact that she was troubled, that it agitated and alarmed her indicates that she was entering into spiritual formation, a change of soul, not merely information gathering. 

Mary now entered into the in-between. The spiritual formation process is about letting go more than adding on. More about Mary's in-between later. Let me finish with this an unabashed advertisement and invitation to you. Please have a look at the course we teach called A Pilgrim's Process. It's all about the process of spiritual formation, the in-between.
Craig Babb

The inbox is full!

The inbox is full! Yours probably, too. So what's one more, because this one is from me, right? It's the Happy Thanksgiving, let's all be thankful, let's all be nice to others blog. One more reminder that maybe somewhere deep within us there is an original blessing that occurred before original sin messed everything up.

Of course the practical theology takes over and suggests that it will take a whole lot more than my being nice to change me and world (picture the epic Coke Cola commercial with the helicopter long shot of a bunch of people on the beach making a peace sign holding up bottles of Coke. Implication is if we could all just drink Coke the world would be a better place). It will take a deep radical reorientation of my soul to teach me to love the way the original blessing yearns within me. But lest you think I'm being cynical (what?!) I do believe it is possible, I firmly believe it is possible to be so transformed. I've given my adult life to moving in that direction. 

But here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving Day with reminders to be thankful. For all the history and fables surrounding this day I still think it's fascinating that as a country we do this every year. What fascinates me is that being thankful is probably the single greatest attitudes that turns the ignition on of a soul to be changed into the image of Christ. And we get a day off to do it! 
 So my admonition to you is GO DO IT! I'll let you figure out how it works best for you...but here is an old hymn that helps me get started. It was written by August Ludvig Storm over one hundred years ago. As with most who write with depth he was a man who had experienced deep deep sorry, but saw through the dark to see God's transforming light. Enjoy, and you know what? I am thankful to God for you, for reading this little thing, and allowing God to do His work of transforming you. 

Thanks to God
Thanks, O God, for boundless mercy from Thy gracious throne above;
Thanks for every need provided from the fullness of Thy love!
Thanks for daily toil and labor and for rest when shadows fall;
Thanks for love of friend and neighbor and Thy goodness unto all!
Thanks for thorns as well as roses, thanks for weakness and for health;
Thanks for clouds as well as sunshine, thanks for poverty and wealth!
Thanks for pain as well as pleasure-all Thou sendest day by day;
And Thy Word, our dearest treasure, shedding light upon our way. 
Thanks, O God, for home and fireside, where we share our daily bread,
Thanks for hours of sweet communion, when by Thee our souls are fed!
Thanks for grace in time of sorrow and for joy and peace in Thee;
Thanks for hope today, tomorrow, and for all eternity! 

Enjoy Thanksgiving,
Craig Babb


"All the people were astonished..."
Matt. 12:23

It is a rarity, this kind of emotion doesn't happen often. I suppose I've dumbed  it down so much that it's kind of like the word 'awesome.' We use the word too flippantly so that when the truly 'awesome' thing occurs we're not as taken by it. Astonished, I think is the same.

The other morning I ran across this word in a reading of Matthew 12:22- 32. It was embedded in the second verse of the reading. The word seemed to pop right off the page. It was that spontaneous moment in which I was given this little tiny gift of a single word, within the context of a paragraph, but the word itself became the whole deal.

The people were astonished because of what Jesus had just done. Astonishment is a very vulnerable experience, that's why it doesn't happen too often. To experience astonishment means you're not in control of your emotions as they respond to an event. Astonishment is an eruption. It comes from someplace deep within us. It either brings up with it a sense of wonder, awe, we might even say worship; but it is a conscious recognition of something beyond us and beyond our control.  Or it brings up with it fear, anxiety, fury, or anger; again an eruption of emotion we were not expecting and thus uncontrollable. 

Astonishment is so rare because we love to be in control or ourselves. My fight for what I think is survival depends on my sense of being in control of what goes on around me, at least as much as I am able. So I make my plans, chart my day, make appointments, instinctively think through my routes, make budgets, long range forecasts, goals; all of which are intended to give me a sense of control over my life. I think these things are mature aspects of being human and in themselves gifts from God. 

As with most good gifts from God it is all too easy for me to turn the gift into a god with the power to dictate my life. I create an expectation of life's ways and means based on these new gods. My heart begins to crust over and harden. My eyes begin to go blind to see only those things that fit into my little myopic vision of reality. 

Of course none of this throws God off of his plan. He is very aware that I follow the same pattern every other human being follows (read 'you' here). It is out of his love for me, a love that chases after me, that is buried deep within me because of the primal blessing, that he does something which forces the seismic shift deep within to erupt truth. It will either be a truth that so knocks me back such that I can't see or understand it all and I'm left with wonder, or, and this is more usually the case, the truth is so ugly as I see the true motives of my life. Of course the outcome is intended to be the same either way. 

One of the more sobering ancient definitions of the word astonishment is insane. I roll along in life thinking I'm sane, then some Kingdom break-in occurs, the eruption deep within me blows up and I find that this new truth, this true truth, seems to be insane! Kind of gives me pause to reflect on what sanity is and how much of my life do I think I'm the sane one only to realize I'm insane and that what I think is insane is really sanity. See what I mean? If you just read that and understand what I mean then you're insane too! 

Astonishment is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, plain and simple. But that fruit won't be born without a soil of vulnerability. Whether it produces awe and wonder or whether it produces the raw reality of what is buried deep within, the bottom line I think  is that astonishment is a sign I am being transformed, and that's what I desire. 
Craig Babb

Necessary or Essential?

They are not just necessary, but essential. It's necessary to eat, but there are essential things I need to eat to keep me alive. The same is true to stay alive and growing spiritually. Like an American supermarket with aisle of various types of 'food,' we have aisle of spiritual practices from which to choose. But when it comes down to it, there is precious little that is essential. One of the essentials is the practice of retreat.

If you treat a retreat like a vacation or merely recovery from a crazy schedule, you're going to miss the essentialness of the practice. In as much as a retreat can be used to vacate from the regular schedule of life or can have a focused goal such as a concentrated time for study and reflection or completion of a project, the real essential of retreat are the twins of silence and solitude. 
Nothing...hear me again...nothing, will feed the soul to provide intimacy with God as will silence and solitude. These two disciplines are practiced in a concentrated form most effectively during retreat. These two disciplines on a retreat, or an extended period of time, fosters what every Christian spiritual guide since Jesus has taught regarding the necessary steps in growing in faith. 

Within the Scriptures, from the desert tradition, from Augustine, from monastics, from Calvin and the reformers, to present day Dallas Willard and other spiritual formation/ongoing discipleship gurus, all have said the same thing. If you want to grow, if you want faith to increase, if you desire to become more Christlike, if you want to live in the Kingdom of God, if you want holiness and sanctification...however your tribe likes to portray must grow in knowing God and self. 
The basic stages of knowing God and self are about data. We learn from information gathered. So we read or attend Bible studies, listen to sermons and teachers, go to conferences, take tests all in order to gain good information. I really don't think this should ever stop. There is so much to learn and the options for learning about God and self in this way are legion! 

But somewhere along the way the 'learning' must shift. The shift occurs when we put the book down and learn to rest in the knowledge we've accumulated and let experience now be our teacher. By this I mean let the words fall deep into our soul and give it the opportunity  for time to unearth buried experiences or thoughts. The most essential way you do this is through silence and solitude. 
Dallas Willard has said that silence and solitude are the two most radical disciplines for Western Christianity. That's a bold statement. But I think he is right. Nothing...and hear me again...nothing dislodges the attachments we have that keep us from holiness, sanctification, intimacy, Christlikeness, again however you want to state your spiritual goal as solitude and silence. 

But why are these two practices so radical for us? Because when you practice them you will not be able to control what happens; and that is the idol of Western Christianity. That is what we run from or try to squash quicker than any heresy of our control oriented sense of orthodoxy. We will be confronted with the truth about God and the truth about ourselves when we give space and time for silence and solitude. And the best environment in which to practice silence and solitude is on a retreat. 

It is the passion of Rhythm of Grace to teach about and provide opportunities for followers of Jesus to practice ways to know God and know self. We like and we use information to help the mind understand concepts regarding God and self. But we also know that complete learning and growth goes far beyond just information. So we work to provide various environments in which to move to experience in the context of trained guides and leaders. Each of our experiences provides some measure of silence and solitude. 

One way to practice is by joining us for our next Alone/Together retreat. Click here to learn more about it. Realizing everyone has various types of commitments and life styles we provide a variety levels in which you may participate from overnights to all day. Again, click here to learn more about our next retreat. 

Craig Babb