And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. [...]
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
-Jesus, John 14:16, 20
I've been thinking about dancing. This is in part because my daughter made Cake Pops last night (with help from Bethany), and before my boys could have a second one, I made them dance across the room to K-Pop music (because: Cake Pop---K-Pop. Get it?). But also, we're in a theatre stretch right now as my wife performs the Sound of Music, and there is a ballroom dance scene that I've enjoyed watching. You see, Bethany and I have really different dancing styles. Hers is rhythmic and smooth and beautiful. My style defies labels. Simply put: I make other dancers look really good.
The thing that I like about dancing is that it brings us into movement and joy with others. Dancing (sometimes) involves shared movement, cooperation, and participation. And as such, it lends itself to some powerful spiritual imagery.
The ancient mothers and fathers of the faith understood that God's oneness dwells in community through the image of father, son, and spirit. But they understood that this Trinitarian relationship was a beautiful mystery, not as static and disconnected as modern Christians tend to view it. They saw it as active. Like a dance.
So for nearly 1500 years, we've had a word to describe this way that God's self interweaves in community. Perichoresis.
In that Greek word you can hear the meaning. "Peri," where we get words like "perimeter," and "choresis," where we get "choreography."
Literally, the word describes God as community, dancing in a circle. It's oneness, yet also cooperative, graceful movement. There is beauty to it all. It's sometimes called The Beloved Dance.
And as this imagery took root, those same Christian fathers and mothers began to talk of life with God in a similarly profound way. They looked at the scriptures and said that life with God (salvation) looks like people being invited into this dance. We are drawn into the very relationship that the Father, Son and Spirit share. And as a result, we are also drawn into their shared purpose in the world.
A dance is an interesting image for participating in life with God, isn't it?
Dancing with God feels very different image than completing a list of errands. It hits differently than a task-oriented faith. We dance with God, joyfully drawn into the relationship with such movement and shared identity that we become new beings. We become full of God's deep value, bursting with the shared love of God. As a result, we become ready to express ourselves freely, continuing the dance and continuing to invite more people into the beauty of God's spacious love and kingdom.
You are in Christ, and Christ is in you. You have the Holy Spirit within you, yet you also look for where the Spirit is at work around the world. The joy and peace of God's very self is available to you. This is living in the divine dance.
CS Lewis inspires me with his words about how central this mystery is for us in his book, Mere Christianity:
The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us [...] each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in the dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made … Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? … But how is he to be united to God? How is it possible for us to be taken into the three-Personal life? … Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ."
I'm feeling like it's time to claim some fresh metaphors for discipleship, and this one is actually so old that it's new again. Consider today, how is God drawing you to join in the dance?
Jesus, draw me into the shared identity and the shared movement that you have with the Father and the Spirit. I want to live in and live out of that love.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.
"Are you available to be dilated today?" My optometrist asked. I wear contacts, but my prescription hasn't changed in 20 years. Honestly, I don't really go in for checkups that often. I vaguely remembered getting my eyes dilated in the past, but it was years ago.
They administer these eye drops, and a few minutes later the pupils start getting really wide, so that a lot of light gets in and the doctor can examine you more closely. Apparently the eyes are not just windows into the soul. They are also windows into the nerves behind the eyes. Anyway, it's one of those things that they do to make sure everything is healthy back there.
What I didn't realize is that when my eyes got dilated, I would lose the ability to pretty much function at all because everything within 10 feet goes blurry for hours. My wife starting texting me in the office and I had absolutely no idea what all the fuzzy letters were trying to say. In fact, this was hours ago and I'm still voice texting this whole piece.
The only thing I could do was see farther away (through sweet roll-up sunglasses!). So I'm in the office and I look out the window and there is SO. MUCH. LIGHT. Every person on the street was glowing. Angels everywhere, walking on streets paved with light. It was surreal. But at least I could see clearly if I looked farther out!
For the next two hours, I couldn't do any mindless work. I couldn't distract myself. I couldn't check my phone, scroll meaninglessly, or read emails. I had no choice but to stop trying to focus on all the details for a while. I was only able to look the big picture. And, isn't it interesting, the big picture was glowing.
I think there's value i having our close-up perspective forced to a halt every now and then. When we take a step back and look around, we may find so much light in the larger story.
My generation of Christian leaders has sometimes critiqued the focus of past generations who spent a lot of time talking about heaven, the afterlife, and big heady concepts of God. We felt that it became too easy to overlook the issues and lives and needs of the here and now, right in front of us. I still believe that. Talking about how wonderful eternal life with God is while ignoring situations of suffering and injustice right in front of us is not what Jesus wants from us. And we have important jobs to do and responsibilities and children and meetings, all that. Being too ethereal all the time can make us lose touch with the details of life and how God is at work in them.
No one doubts the important role that the details of our lives and day-to-day moments play in our discipleship. But today I’m considering the proportionality of it all. If our lives are so knee-deep in details, only dwelling on small particular things that constantly need done, and small particular situations that we are in, we miss out on something. If we're not forced to do it, we may just forget to ever look up and consider the wonder of God’s world and our place in it.
It's healthy to allow the pendulum to swing in both directions, holding together the grand beauty of God’s redemption coming in fullness one day, in the midst of all the things that need done each week. God has been at work in the world for many generations. You are significant, and your life matters. But you are not at the center of this movement. Neither am I. What good news!
So many of our stresses are connected to the fact that we rarely look up, letting God remind us of the whole story. Love wins. Jesus is with us. The earth is the Lord's. All will be well.
It was nice to only be able to dwell on the big picture for a while today.
A few hours later, I was indeed getting back into the details, taking care of my to do list, setting up some meetings for encouragement (and writing once again!). But in my time of short-sighted blindness, I was grateful for the reminder to look at things far away, and re-balance my perspective as I follow Jesus.
Jesus, help me look up and rest in the grandness of your world and your story, giving me hope and strength for the details of my day.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
The great spiritual father and author Eugene Peterson used to tell a story about his pet dog when they lived in a Montana forest. The dog would love to find old deer bones in the woods and bring them back to the porch. After the original show off phase (dogs need constant affirmation to protect their egos), once the dog was sure everyone was impressed, it would finally saunter off and begin the real delight... chewing on that bone for hours, getting every bit of flavor possible.
Peterson says that often, the dog would bury the bone only to dig it up the next day and resume the gnawing. And while it did it would let out this low, delightful growl.
Isaiah 31:4 gives an image of a lion "growling over its prey," so deeply consumed with the meal before it that it wouldn't even pay attention to shouting shepherds in the background.
"Growling" here isn't an aggressive word. It's more like a pleasant purr of a completely contented animal that is all-consumed with enjoying its prize.
That's what Peterson was seeing as he watched his dog "growling" over his bone, tail wagging. And interestingly, that Hebrew word used for the growling lion in Isaiah is the exact same word used over and over in the Bible. But most often, it's used to speak of "meditating" on God.
The Psalmist uses it throughout the Psalms...
I will sit and gnaw on your Word.
At night I will savor your righteousness.
I will meditate on your works, O Lord
When the Psalmist speaks of meditating on God, he's talking about an experience of immersing himself in thoughtful enjoyment. He's sitting with the stories of God in no rush. He's thinking about the beauty of God's earth without distraction. He's savoring the presence of God with him. He's just sitting there, thinking about it. He's slowly, calmly.... chewing. Growling. That's the image.
So much of life is moving us away from slow, thoughtful chewing. We don't have time to ruminate on things. Quick! Figure it out! Form an opinion and share it, NOW! Ok, on to the next thing!
I feel that pull too, of moving away from thoughtfulness. Our lives cruise along at an unnecessary pace. Our devices, jobs, commitments, and entertainment can strip us of the space to really sit and growl over anything. Savoring and meditating is becoming a lost art.
But something happens when we take the time to chew on the goodness of Jesus.
We find that there's more flavor there than we realized. And there is far more nutrition in a slow meal than fast food. Becoming like Jesus and growing in wisdom means sitting and ruminating on the way of love. You can't rush through discipleship quickly.
Friends, we have to be intentional if we want to stay grounded these days. The beauty and intimacy that comes from slow moments of meditating on Jesus rarely come naturally. It will be a choice to slow down. It will be a choice to turn things off. It will be a choice to pay attention. But as we do, we begin to find that God's goodness is accessible in fresh ways.
The amazing thing about meditating on God's work is that it won't only impact us in the deep internal places. It will lead us to better neighboring too. A practice of thinking slowly on God's care will lead to patience. Ruminating on the heart of Jesus will lead to grace for others. Sitting in contemplation will lead to increased compassion. We will start to notice God not only in the written words of scripture, but written on the faces we see when we look up from the pages.
At my church, we just finished working through Genesis. I covered 22 chapters of the Bible in the last two Sunday sermons! It was fun, but my goodness, it was a lot of fast moving. I'm ready to just sit and chew a bit more. On a word, a phrase, a verse, a thought. I need a season of slow, growling meditation. Maybe you do too.
What would happen if you gave yourself some time today to enjoy chewing? Just a few unhurried, beautiful moments of thinking, with the Spirit of God quietly dwelling beside you?
Jesus, slow me down enough to be formed in new ways today.
He left the next day for open country. But the crowds went looking and, when they found him, clung to him so he couldn’t go on. He told them, “Don’t you realize that there are yet other villages where I have to tell the Message of God’s kingdom, that this is the work God sent me to do?”
-Luke 4:42-43 (MSG)
A few days ago I was doing a long trail run up in a nature preserve along the Pennsylvania/Delaware state line. It's a popular area for biking too. It's not uncommon for me to see mountain bikers along my routes, and because I am out there for a few hours, sometimes I see a biker more than once. This time, I encountered a man biking in the morning on a long Pennsylvania climb a few miles into my run. About an hour passed and I hopped onto a different trail system, this time in Delaware. And here comes the same guy, this time biking towards me on the gravel from the opposite direction. As he neared me, I don't think he expected to see someone on foot a second time during his long ride. I gave my customary "hey again" nod as we passed. But in the 3 seconds we shared, he found enough time to offer a quick statement, almost like an out-of-breath greeting of sorts:
"Jesus, you get around."
And then he was gone. I admit that my first response was one of pride, enjoying anytime that I impress a mountain biker. But about 30 seconds later, I started ruminating on the deep theological truth that my new biker friend had just stumbled upon.
"Jesus, you get around."
I mean, he does, right? Jesus gets around all over the place. And understanding that can keep us full of humility and expectation.
In the original Jesus movement 2000 years ago, I think there were a lot of people that probably said, Jesus, you get around!
Jesus was constantly moving to new places. Not in a frenetic way, but intentionally. He traveled miles and miles throughout his days, traveling to villages and synagogues, to homes and leper colonies. He spoke with a blind beggar one day, and interacted with a political leader like Pilate on another. One moment he's talking with a religiously elite Pharisee, and the next he's having a dignified (and scandalous!) conversation with a Samaritan woman. He went from the backcountry towns of Galilee all the way to the epicenter of Jerusalem. The distances that he regularly traveled were impressive in their own right. But it was the variety of people that he interacted with, and the variety of ways in which he did it, that left such a remarkable legacy. In just a few years, he impacted so many people in so many contexts. He healed. He freed. He fed. He taught. He forgave.
Jesus was always popping up in both expected and unexpected places (but nearly always in unexpected ways).
Jesus. The man gets around.
It was true in the time of Jesus, and I believe it is still true today. When Jesus breathed his spirit on his disciples and promised them that he would be with them always, it was a reminder that he was going to continue showing up all over the place as they did the work of extending God's love, mercy and compassion with their world.
In fact, Jesus multiplied his presence in that moment. But that can be hard to see sometimes, particularly because we have difficulty imagining Jesus at work in people, places, and ways that we aren't familiar with. We tend to act like Jesus is only at work in our church, our country, our sanitized and approved areas.
But Jesus has never worked like that. He gets around. And when we start to believe that, then we start to look for him in surprising places. The other day, I saw Jesus in a new friend- and I have no idea if they even identify as a Christian or not. I saw Jesus in a sunrise, with the reminder that the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. I saw Jesus in a story shared during our church gathering. I even heard Jesus in frustrating rant about systems of injustice from a friend suffering a loss.
Jesus shows up again and again. And in each of those moments, we have the opportunity to let Jesus move beyond our fences. And to be reminded that God's grace is spacious.
Jesus, you get around.
We don't need to have Jesus figured out. We don't need to understand exactly how the holy spirit works to trust that the range of Jesus is bigger and broader than we realize. And maybe that sort of awareness will lead us toward fresh hope and love as a result.
Jesus, help me notice the many places you show up.