Friday, February 28, 2014

United

When the heart and mind are united and resonate they form a channel of coherence, happiness and wholeness. When they are at extreme odds one feels deep states of a disconnect, upheaval and inner turmoil... a crisis. - Aunt Mary

Original Art by Mary Bottini
https://mary-bottini.squarespace.com/overview-2-1/

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hold Yourself

When I was growing up and I found myself disliking someone or even entertaining the thought that I hated someone, I would try to imagine them as a 2 year old child. I would stare at their faces, their gestures and I would watch the years melt away until they were just toddling about, vulnerable and in need of constant assistance. Seeing them like this, even for a moment, was enough to open my heart. I would find myself pitying them, cooing over them, giggling at their infantile motions, and finally... loving them.

As an adult, I have not been able to dislike many people. It's become part of my habit to imagine them like a child and ultimately loving them because of this. Jesus tells us that God loves us like this. I believe that he has given us the ability to love like he does. We share his heart when we choose to tap into that great, mysterious power.

It has only been in recent years that I've started to realize that I have to see myself like this too. I have to love myself like the little child that I am, the little tot that God sees everyday in me. How many times have I looked in the mirror and disliked what I saw? How many times have I heard the words coming out of my own mouth and hated what I said? Too many times to count.

What if I looked in the mirror, studied my gestures, looked into my own eyes and saw what Papa sees- a little child. Would my own heart open to the child in me, a child who doesn't deserve love but just gets it? Isn't that what we give babies? They didn't do anything, they just are loved. This is how God loves us. This is how we are supposed to love one another. This is how we are to love ourselves.

I saw this video today and it made an impression on me. I was so touched when one of the girls held the image of herself with such affection. This is how we should hold our beautiful, imperfect selves each day. Just like Papa does.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Blocked

Everything is energy and has a life force all it's own. Everything you encounter is energy that flows through you. Everything that you choose to hold on to will become blocked energy. You have the potential to become full of a boundless force of energy.


 I am reading The Untethered Soul: A journey beyond yourself by Michael A. Singer. Singer explains this reality in a way that has finally made sense to me. He asks you to imagine that you are driving down the road. You are passing trees, one after another. You see each of them for a moment and then they are behind you. You don't hold on to any of them but acknowledge each one and let it move through your awareness. Each one is taken in by your awareness but none of them are held by your awareness which means that you can remain present to the next ones that you will pass without missing any of them.

This is how he explains a healthy life should be. Everything we experience should be like those trees we pass on the highway of life. You experience all that comes your way, you feel it, sense it, take it in and then let it go.

If you are driving down this highway and for some reason a tree with a big knot catches your attention and you start thinking about it, wondering about where it got that knot, how it came to be in that spot, who planted it, when...suddenly your awareness if fixated on that one tree when you have already passed hundreds that you didn't even notice since all you concentrated on was the one that is far behind you now.


You whole experience of life is about to change because of what you didn't let pass through you. What I found so interesting about this analogy is that it is so neutral. Singer doesn't present these blockages as good experiences or bad experiences; just experiences that we hold on to. Any experience that you do not let pass through your awareness become "Samskara" which means "impression" in Sanskrit. Samskara energy spins inside you in a maddening circle that can neither come or go. You just hold it and cycle in and out of awareness around it.

Good memories that you hold on to because they make you feel what you felt in that moment can become just as blocked as bad memories that re-present themselves in your awareness over and over turning new experiences into shadows of a past hurt. Samskara energy is anything that you won't let go of. Anything that you cling to or push out of your awareness.

For someone like me, this hit home. I am a clinger. I have spent several years working hard on letting go of negative energy that has left me blocked, facing experiences that I tried to push deep down outside of my awareness so that I didn't have to feel them. I am slowly acknowledging old pain and releasing myself from the cyclical negativity it brings to my life. That makes sense to me. What caught me off guard about Singer's idea is that happy energy can also become a blockage.

I have stored thousands of joyful moments from my life. I replay memories of my Daddy over and over in my head until they no longer bring me joy but remind me that he is gone. I retell stories of my grandparents until they are transcribed on my heart but then when I see them in their altered and aged states those bright moments seem dim as their characters no longer live into those roles that I have assigned them. First kisses, dates, and conversations with my husband can even turn into a reminder of how much our relationship has changed from those early days of passionate disregard to social norms.




Holding on to the best moments of my life have left me in a tornado of energy that isn't going anywhere and even good energy spirals into a negative force holding you in place when you were designed only to grow. Energy that you cling to is nothing more than a blockage to your own highest potential.

Singer wants us all to become aware of our consciousness. What are you conscious of right now? Your center of consciousness is so much stronger than the pull of the energy that you are holding on to. Remember that it is you who is holding on to it so it is you who can let it go.

In order to let this Samskara energy go, Singer suggests that it is much simpler than you might think. When you notice (the tricky part is being aware of yourself enough to notice) that blocked energy rising up from its trap inside you, you should relax, reflect and let it go. open up your heart and let it pass through. Just stepping behind that energy flow and choosing to let it go on past you like all those trees on the highway is enough for it to move on. 

Singer assures you that once you start the practice of acknowledging blocked energy in your life, that all those old blockages will start coming to the surface more and more often so that you can deal with them. Sometimes they bring that pain that helped you to choose to trap them down deep and unacknowledged all this time. Just accept the pain, it is momentary, and then let it go. Another tree behind you on the highway of life.



"The alternative is to enjoy life instead of clinging to it or pushing it away. If you can live like that, each moment will change you. If you are willing to experience the gift of life instead of fighting with it, you will be moved to the depth of your being."



Monday, February 24, 2014

Sex Month




February is Sex Month in my world and it really doesn’t have anything to do with Valentine’s Day. It just so happens that I work at a church that promotes open conversations about sexuality in the safety of our sanctuary. I work with a small team of adults who lead a workshop called “Faith and Sexuality” for 5th graders. Then I lead a workshop with our 8th graders for the next piece of that Faith and Sexuality puzzle which is about attachment and the emotions of sex.

It is a lot of fun, actually. It has its perks if you get a mad kick out of horrifying unsuspecting kids. I'm just kidding...well, sort of. Although, I have to admit that I’ve probably made the whole experience too comfortable lately because the youth have been really open and seem less and less shocked by anything I tell them about sexuality.

5th grade is simple. The kids gather and we make sure they understand that God made them and he doesn’t make mistakes. We start in scripture to remind them that first and foremost they are His beloved children. Then we remind them that the changes they are starting to notice in their bodies are also part of an intentional plan. From there we make sure they get the difference between gender and sex. Then we break out into really comical small group situations where we basically get to explain everything that happens to boys and girls during puberty. Then we all come together for the climax of the experience where I get to tell them where babies come from. You will be amazed by how many kids hear this for the first time in our workshop.

It pretty much goes like this:

“Penis goes into the Vagina.”

Shock, horror, and occasional nods from the boys who reckon this makes sense.

Then there is the question from a girl “Do we HAVE to do that?” and my answer, “Nope.”

Then the next shock…

“My parents did that.”

Shock, horror, mild disgust; staring into space.

The next realization sometimes takes a few days to sink in. For some it happens in moments and for others it could be weeks but when it happens everyone knows.

“My parents have had sex more than three times!”

Yep. Sex feels good and people do it because they want to. That is a hard one to wrap a 10 yr old brain around.

We are starting at basics here and it is pretty amazing to be part of that experience. To have the opportunity to usher youth into their sexuality within the open and loving arms of the church is a gift. A gift! It is wonderful to look at a kid and say “I want you to know this information because the more you understand the better you will do at living into God’s plan for you life.” One of the key themes for the workshop is “When it comes to sex say know.”

We certainly encourage youth to wait until they are in a covenantal relationship before they experience the joys of sexuality, but it is wonderful to refrain from joining in the system of guilt and shame that the church has presented for centuries. I am glad to be a little part of making that go away.

By 8th grade it is a different experience. I don’t need to cover all the things they have heard from 5th grade or all the lessons they have learned in health class. They know the risks now, they have seen the STD pictures and they know they are not ready to become parents. They really don’t want to relive the moments when their health teachers handed out condoms right after they said "if you have sex you’ll die.” The contradictions of those health lessons just feed the frenzy of hormones confusing thoughts and emotions of the ill-equipped 8th grader.

We don’t talk about that stuff. We talk about the physiology of sex. The systems of creation that God designed so perfectly and invests into intimately to this day. We discuss how they all have meaning and purpose. That even the systems of our bodies and relationships connect us mind, body and soul to our Lord and the experience of his Love. We talk about attachment and how an orgasm literally releases hormones that tell you to nest. How even if you want sexual encounters to be casual it takes a lot of denial to keep them that way. It is a good conversation and each year the youth seem more and more comfortable and grateful to have it.

Another cool thing happens at Faith and Sex, every year I have parents and leaders tell me they learned something new and walked away with a whole new appreciation for the incredible gift of sex. I can’t tell which I love to hear more- youth living into a countercultural foundation about sexuality or adults walking away with a tidbit that might improve their experiences with sex. Either way, God is good and I am honored to just have a small part in it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Break




We hosted 11 parties in 11 days in December. Each evening up until we left for the holiday season we invited friends, strangers and neighbors over for dinners, drinks, cookie baking, really anything that could excuse gathering with people in our home. I felt so alive and in my element. I experienced a lot of joy.

Three slow days with Joel’s family offered another interesting Christmas experience as we celebrated the traditions from Switzerland. I have a lot of history in Der Schweiz so I have to admit I had a hard time being present. This is the first year that my family members weren’t with us for the wild in-law festivities. I have always enjoyed Christmas with Joel’s side of the family and looked forward to it but this year stung a little bit more than most with several family members missing. My grandparents spent their first Christmas in the nursing home and were too sick to join us which grieved me. My sister and brother-in-law were enjoying a long awaited Christmas with his family in England.I have to admit, I missed my family even though I was with my family. Memories of Christmas past were so close and so distant.

Then on December 26th Joel and I flew to New Zealand for two weeks of camping on the South Island. Epic. Two weeks of adventure, camping, most beautiful place on Earth, alone time with Joel= heaven.

Waiting to board our plane in Auckland to return home in January, I checked my email realizing that I did not know when we were actually returning home. It was not Saturday morning, it was Sunday morning. I thought I had a day of rest before going straight to work. As I swallowed that disappointment and shock, I glanced at the next email in my line up.

Before Joel and I left to go abroad we applied to be a CARES team with a group called Apartment Life. We really were excited about what might come of this but understood it could be a long time before we received a placement that we wanted. The purpose of CARES is to be the community building, event planners for an apartment complex. This is right up our ally.

I had hardly the time to start my traditional end-of-vacation-depression before I realized that I was reading an offer for us to move into a complex in South End (our number one choice). We were floored! Totally in awe of how quickly God worked.

By Monday we had accepted the position. By Thursday we had our interview, joint resume, and first two events proposed and planned. Saturday I helped my grandpa move back into the medical ward of the nursing home. Sunday my sister and bro-in-law joined my mom and friends to pack us up in about 3 hours. We lived in boxes with no bathroom (it has been torn out to be rebuilt). Movers came on Wed and we moved to South End.

As soon as we got our boxes into the new apartment we hopped in the car for a conference in Atlanta. We returned two days later, unpacked, and started our normal full time work week with the addition of our shared part time position of CARES team. Joel started back to class (final semester in grad school) and we both spent our 9-5 office hours at work and our 6-midnight free time hours tapping away on our laptops. 

Deadlines, expectations, necks on the line, pressure, sparkle, oh yeah and our normal busy lives filled our work weeks and we hosted our first event on our second Friday night in the complex. That Saturday I taught an all day workshop to 5th grade at work. Another work week went by and we prepared for more maddening hours at our desks at work and at home. This wasn't what I thought it would be like.

I broke down. It was too much. Too much expectation. Too much too fast. Too much on me. Too much on Joel. Too much pressure. Too little rest. I broke.

And then…a break.

I couldn’t pray, I just was begging. “break. break. break. break…” was my mantra. I felt guilty that I needed a break.  Our lives are good and we got everything we wanted. Guilt made it worse. "break, break, break..."

If my heart could conjure up a storm then I believed it happened last week. The street lights pressed an unusual brightness into our bedroom that Tuesday night and I knew that it was coming. God heard me. I think God heard many cries for a break that week.

The blanket of thick white clouds smelled crisp and cold, colder than cold. Snow was coming. It started to fall Tuesday night. It didn’t stop until Thursday afternoon. Flakes the size of silver dollars, ice, snow, ice. It was magical. It was quiet. It was right on time. It was a break. It was the break that Joel and I needed. It was as perfectly timed as every experience leading up to that moment.
That break gave us rest. It gave us time to catch up, get ahead and wrap our hearts and minds around this new calling-adventure we had said "yes" to. Sometimes it is just the right time for everything to break. Even as all of these pieces fall together perfectly, I still receive a lot of comfort that I believe in the God of the broken.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Holy Guts

Akaroa, New Zealand


It is like being twisted from the inside and the tangles that weave themselves around your guts reach out of your heart and pull you from external awareness. Trapped inside your own cavity you fester and ferment, rolling around, tossing on internal waves of raging truth. When it seems like the waves have abated enough for you to escape, you leap from your own chest only to realized that you are tied around the ankles by that creeping vine of understanding. It jerks you back inside, only a little deeper this time. Like a Venus fly trap it's sticky edges began to fold around you and you know that you cannot leave this cavern until you face the energy behind it. The energy is real and it is a truth that you know lingers inside your most hidden being but you have not claimed it as your own. It will not cease until you do, so you fight it or you just give in. I've always been more of a fighter myself.

This is how I have felt for a long time. Maybe it has only been weeks but I am starting to realize that twisting feeling has been gripping me for a while now. Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever been tormented by something that your gut is telling you but you don't want it or can't face it in reality?

Last month, my gut had enough and decided that I would not be comfortable or present until I face some very basic truths about who I am becoming. I am not ready to share them on Waked Up just yet, but I need to describe this process of proclamation.

This nagging truth, a present reality that I have not accepted yet, whatever you want to call it, I think it is the Holy Spirit.

I come from a faith tradition that believes Jesus meant it when he promised his disciples at the Last Supper that he was not going to leave them abandoned. I also believe that this covenant he made was meant for all of us and not just that gang of dudes in the Upper Room.

My experience with that covenant has left me in a relationship with the Holy Spirit. For me, the Holy Spirit has been clearly defined by this gut feeling I get from time to time. If my gut happens to be off kilter or perhaps I am doing a really good job at ignoring it, then the Spirit lives in my life another way. I've found that when I refuse to internally converse with this Spirit of Truth that this truth will seek me out in all the media and human interactions that I encounter.

Over and over in my life of denying God's call and believing that call is both large and small in my daily condition, the Spirit has spoken to me again and again in body, word and deed. Whatever the new message from Papa God might be, that Spirit makes sure it drowns me in every experience I take part in. I see the message on a billboard, hear it on the radio, read it in a book I chose just for fun, hear it coming from a friend's personal story, see it walking through the grocery store, notice it coming out in my own email to someone. Once you have been given the message it will surround you until you claim it.

What happens when you are bombarded with the message and ignore it is what I described in the first paragraph of this post. The torment that comes with ignoring the voices of the Father is maddening. The energy it takes to cling to your own control of a situation is exhausting, completely life exhausting.

Joel and I were in New Zealand in January and even in the most beautiful place on planet Earth, with the man I love, on a trip we considered #1 on our bucket lists, I had this persistent stream of voices pouring into my heart. Even when I was in the most epic of life experiences I could not escape the voice of the Father calling me. However, this time, I was not interested in his message so I ignored and ignored and denied the truth that had followed me across the globe.

I spent days tapping in and out of the present moment as I fought with all I had to ignore the continued message coming from everything I encountered. Joel noticed and I could not explain what was going on because I did not want to admit what was going on. It wasn't until we were nearly through our whole trip that I broke down and submitted to the word made flesh, this word that was being given breath with the acceptance it received from my acknowledgement.

I finally gave in. I claimed the message and then I spoke it into being to my husband. As soon as it was out the twisting inside me ceased and my whole presence was filled with peace. This peace that passes all understanding has been richly washed over me.

If you have noticed that your life is being filled with subtle messages of a similar topic and you have an internal car alarm going off as something other than your own thoughts are creeping into your awareness... don't ignore this. Heed the message, accept the truth and allow the Spirit to apply it to your life. It isn't worth the fight because the truth is that whatever God is pressing upon you is going to be so much better than anything you could have planned for yourself. Just give up and live!






Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Remember who invested in you



Gathered around the conference table that is now much too small for our growing staff at work, our head pastor shared his devotion from the session meeting the night before. He began with a memory of a special Presbytery gathering where Fred Rogers was asked to speak. Everyone had speculated much goodness would come from dear old Mr. Roger's that afternoon and it seems like no one went home disappointed.

According to our pastor's memory, Mr. Rogers hopped in the lectern and asked everyone to think of the people who invested in them over the years. He asked them to picture those people and remember all the ways they contributed to the success that they felt in that moment. Then he asked them to spend two entire minutes in silence simply settling in the flood of memories surrounding those amazing people who invested in their own lives. In that two minute time span, people began to tear up and our pastor said you could feel a deep emotional shift in the room.

All anyone could experience was an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

We began our staff meeting like that today and it sent me down a path of memories that all led to a destination of gratitude.

Who has invested in you over the years? Who can you remember for a couple of minutes today that invested in your life so that you could become the person you are today? How would your attitude be different today if you spent a few minutes remembering people like that in gratitude? Ol' Mr. Rogers...he just gets life doesn't he?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Time Limit



Life has been wild. The wilderness that we have experienced lately seems to all come together on a freight train of "yes's" leading up to this moment in time. The transitional stage we have entered is fast becoming one of the most transformational that I have experienced in a long while.

At some point I will share the tale of where we have been and where we are now but for tonight, I want to share a practice that we have encountered on this journey.

Joel and I have a lot on our plates at the moment. It has been common over the last three weeks that we both come home from a full day of work and sit down at our prospective computers and work 4-5 hours into the evening as the "work" still needs to be done. Two weeks of living this way sent me into a crying frenzy towards the end of the second week which has made me stop and think about how we have allowed our daily routines to be so undisciplined.

We have left no time for self care in this routine of "we have to get it all done!" It has been ages since we both have had so much to do that all other items in the life list seem meaningless because we have to get past the must's before we can feel free to do the things we enjoy. This is not sustainable, obviously.

Tonight, without consulting each other on it, Joel and I both practiced the time limit. We both worked 9-5 and then we came home. We spent an hour together when we got home, cooked dinner, ate with one another, caught up on life. We both saved personal items to take care of during that hour and did not work on them at work. Then Joel left for the library to work on his master's research and I spent two hours working on our new ministry administration.

About 9:00pm I stopped working on my computer. I just stopped. I still have plenty of deadlines to meet and much more I can work on but I stopped. I took a shower and decided that after cleaning my body that I'd clean my apartment and that would make me feel good about life. I walked across the living room prepared to fluff pillows and put instruments away when I picked up my neglected banjo. I accidentally strummed it and that sound just wrapped me in a familiar hug of comfort.

The next thing I know, I am playing banjo for about an hour before Joel comes home again. It was so pleasant and I learned an entire song that I have been meaning to figure out.

When Joel walked in he asked what I had been doing and I simply replied "I just stopped working after two hours and started playing banjo." He revealed that he had done the same thing sans the banjo.

Sometimes it is just as important to STOP working at the right time as it is to start working. I got a lot done and I could have spent my entire evening plugging in information and numbers but I didn't. I will do some more tomorrow. Tonight I can go to bed content that I didn't just spend a whole day disconnected from the moments that fill me with deep joy.

There is a time to work and a time to play...banjo.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Self Created Demons



The minute that you decide your demons are out of your control then transformation will never be harder to experience.

As Christians, we often hear one another talking about this spiritual battle between good and evil. More often than not that battle is articulated as something that we are not controlling. "This spiritual warfare is invading my life and I don't know why God is exposing me to this horror."

If we are remembering our filters of living, the window of experience from which I perceive all things and take in information, then my filter says something else.

I don't think that war is outside of us nor do I think that war is happening inside of us. I just don't believe there is a great force beating anyone down without their permission. I do understand that people have chemical disorders that give birth to physical manifestations of genetic tendencies like schizophrenia, manic depression, bi-polar disorder. I studied psychology and I do believe in those things. What I don't believe in is the repeated surrender to your own demons and then laying the blame on an external demon that is controlling you.

If Satan has the power to use us like puppets and turn us into self-resigning sinners then the good news of the Gospel doesn't have any stock in a world full of temptation.

From my earthly experience, I do struggle with many demons and the truth is that I have created most of them. Even down to strange OCD tendencies, I made them up and they give me some comfort somehow. I choose them and created them and then feed them. It would be easy to write a long essay about how I have felt tempted to leap from trusting in God during these very busy months of change, but I know that is something that I struggle with. If I am struggling with it then it is something that I can control. The best part is that I can invite God into that struggle and seek His almighty guidance to aid me in overcoming it.

When it comes to demons, I can't jump on the bandwagons of spiritual warfare. Yes, it is spiritual and yes, it has every sensation of warfare in it but what I want to express today is that it is not out of our control. If you want to make Satan a living being in your mind then go for it, but please don't give him/it so much life that you let him live in you. Satan to me, is the temptation, the inclination, the human struggle that creeps into your practice of living into the Christian life. That little bit of selfish gain, that harsh word when you are tired, that rage that you give in to occasionally, one more drink even though you are already drunk, are the creeping temptations that slip into your daily practice. These demons; the gambling, the continual infatuation with porn, the permission to over eat all the time are all created by you, by me.

We give ourselves permission to indulge in these created experiences. We make up a lie, a false sense of comfort or deserving around these practices and it doesn't take long before they become habitual. In fact, your brain will form around daily practices until they become habits, behaviors. This is why they are so hard to break. It isn't a demon knocking you down from the outside, it is your own brain molded to your own will. But guess what, you can change it. You can control it.

When I think about the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in each of us I understand that spirit in many different forms. One way that I believe God has provided us with this advocate friend is through our own DNA. We are designed to be able to adapt and change. It is really hard to change a behavior. First you have to amend a daily practice. Quit smoking, quit eating sugar, quit drinking, quit looking at porn, quit giving up when things get rough. Your physical and emotional body goes through withdrawal and sometimes there is even some sort of pain but then...in not so much time (around 2 weeks) it starts to lift. Your mindset changes as your physical practices change. Over time, your brain will change too and new cells will create new routes in your brain that feed your new behaviors that provide stability for your new self and new practice.

You see, we are made in God's own image. We are resurrection people. Just like our father we create good and bad and name it thus. Just like our father we die in bloody sacrifice to rid our own heart's of sin that separates us from his glory. Just like our father we experience the pain of that transformation and the fulfilling beauty of that new life.

Jesus told his Disciples (us!) that if we believe then we will do even greater things than he did. All we have to do is ask it in his name and it will be done. The added bonus to this beautiful understanding is that truly, when you go about the challenge of reclamation and destruction of your daily demons, if you ask for help from the one who loves us most you will receive it. All things are possible with God's love. 

You are only trapped if you want to be. The Good News is that you can choose your experience of this life and God is with you on the whole journey and you have no control over that.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reflections on Presence


I wonder if it is debatable what wilderness Jesus spent that time of temptation in. I have seen photos of the arid rolling hills where scholars reckon Christ wandered during those 40 days and 40 nights of hungry temptation. I have a different conception about it. I like to think that Jesus went into the city. Scripture says he was living among the “wild beasts and taken care of by the angels”. Aren’t our cities and our daily lives full of wild animals, distracting and indulgent while still offering experiences dotted with angels who serve and give even when they only have their time to share? Aren’t we also both of those things ourselves? Isn’t our daily walk filled with lifetimes of temptation and wouldn’t Christ encounter more reason to use his power for show or for selfish gain among the devils that live in each of us? As a human being, I think he had to live in the world in order to conquer that human desire over his almighty gifts. Not to mention, how did he get to the top of the temple when Satan suggested he throw himself off of it? Makes more sense to me that he was already nearby.

This idea has been a powerful theme in my own faith journey. We are actually living in the wilderness. Jesus intentionally fasted during that time because fasting is a way to cling to God in our daily motions. I think that kept him tapped in when the going got tough. It is that sense of being “tapped in” that I’d like to talk about today. In the wild organization of our daily lives there is not a lot of room for God. We spend a lot of time reading from our planners, sighing with satisfaction as we conquer our “to-do lists” and nodding in approval at folks who live the same way. Life in the city is hard and the best way to feel any sort of comfort is to become part of the system or create one yourself. We all live in systems that work for us. The trouble is that sometimes our systems systematically pulled us further and further from the one who can save us from the wilderness that consumes our souls.

After Jesus left the “wilderness” he had just found out that his cousin John (the Baptist) was killed. Mark 1 makes it really simple; Jesus goes straight to Galilee and says, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” Doesn’t get much clearer than that unless you are reading out of context and your question is “what is the message anyway?”

I think the Message that he is speaking of is a lot of things but one important part is the line that we skim over or perhaps imagine in a way that doesn’t turn into an action verb. Jesus says “The Kingdom of God is here.” Here. The Kingdom of God is here. Soak that in a minute….

Where is here? Was he pointing to heaven? Was he talking about a certain time of day? Was he talking about himself as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God?

I like to think that Jesus said that line real slow and pointed directly at his own chest. Then he walked  dramatically over to the person next to him and pointed  to her chest and said “here” and then to the next person’s chest and said “here”. The Kingdom of God is in you. Not only that, other translations use the word “now” instead of the word “here” which is even more fascinating. The Kingdom of Heaven is NOW.

Here we have two ideas that bring me to this Lenten season. In the wilderness of normal days, often parched of life, we have been given this absolute truth from the one who not only survived the wilderness but conquered it. The truth is that Jesus lives into a spiritual practice that I believe is the key for the fullness of life. Jesus was present. If you read any of the accounts written in the gospels about him, you will meet a man who was fully present to the people he was with in the moment. He told stories in the moment and didn’t reflect on past history or even dwell too long in the future. Jesus loved with everything that he was (and is). He loved with touch, truth, words, and wonder. He loved people right where they were and this transformed their lives. This transformed his life. I think he learned this in the wilderness. The way to break the cycle, to conquer temptation, to live into that life that Christianity promises is so real, is to live in presence.

Being present is a momentary choice; minute by minute you have the choice to be present to what God is doing in that moment. It is a daily practice of letting go of expectations, sometimes all expectations, so that you can see with holy eyes what God is providing for you to become part of. Each moment is a gift with doors opened wide for you to step in and become God’s love. You aren’t thinking about the future, which lets admit, really means just being fearful because you had all these expectation that might not be met. You aren’t dwelling in the past because you can’t even go back there so what does it matter now? You are present. It is simple. When you are living in the present then you are able to experience something that is only found in the present moment- love.

Love is not in the future. Love is not in the past. You can’t experience it in either of those places. You can only know love right now in the present. So often, I think we believe that Jesus’s love was only available during that time when he walked this earth like us. When you choose to be present to love in the moment then you know, deeply, fully that His love is burning through your daily motions and all it takes is a little awareness and practice to graph yourself to it all the time.

Living in the present is the most fulfilling practice you could take on. Suddenly, your routine turns into a life that you are living. The dullness of your job becomes a blessing of abundance and gifts. The pain in your imperfect family is a hallway of doors that read “comfort”, “consolation”, “forgiveness” and “permission to grieve”. Your life blossoms into a living purpose because you are tapped into His purpose and it is healing.

Being present takes practice. Your mind wanders and you’ve trained it for years to wander to what you could be doing or should be doing. Sometimes you train it to wander back through the words and places you visited once before. To be present you have to catch yourself and turn your thoughts to openness. What am I grateful for in the moment? What do I love about who I am right now? What do I love about this place or that person or this job? Who am I with? Am I with them for a reason? What did I just see? Is that a reoccurring theme this week? Haven’t I heard that message over and over? Why? How does it apply to my life? These are questions that bring you into the moment.

I think being present means that you are becoming love. You stop worrying so much or regretting so much and simply be. In being you have to become what Jesus is- love. There is no giving of love. There is no receiving of love. You are becoming love, fully tapped into the abundance and provision of the moment. What’s cool is that it is always there. All you have to do is try. You will mess up and get off course and I assure you that God will bless those feeble attempts and you will taste the blessing. So this Lenten season, if you do nothing else, become aware of moments you are not being present and try, just try to recognize God providing love for you right here, right now. Welcome to the Kingdom!