Tag Archives: van Kaam

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 3

The image of the church as Christ’s bride contains striking implications.  It smacks of purity, chosen-ness, beloved-ness, togetherness, mutual reverence, and more.

Take for example:

Ephesians 5:31 “Husbands love your wives just as Christ  loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

With all my newfound responsibilities, the 30 minute devotional was bankrupt for me.  I had to discover a new way.  So, along side my then 3 years working with students in the areas of mercy and justice and global community, I enrolled in an academy for spirituality and encountered the thinking of Father Adrian van Kaam. Father Adrian was set to graduate from his Roman Catholic seminary six months prior to the Nazi occupation of his home in Denmark.  He spent seven long and hungry months sheltering and caring for terrified Christians, Jews, and Atheists from all walks of life.  That experience convinced him that our world needed and would need a practical spirituality that translated across many barriers for the sake of the gospel and rooted in the ancient 2000 year old Christian tradition.

For missionaries to North America and for Community Developers, life is never easy.  They have been called into some of the deepest issues possible.  And in the darkest alleyways they gain the blessed realization that God was there first. He has been working on the toughest issues long before they arrived.  And it is with him there that they find our motivation, the relationship, and the the willingness to go on.  Yet, what happens when they cannot sense him?  What happens when they feel that he has abandoned them? How does a missionary avoid spiritual burnout? How does a Community Developer tap into a holistic spiritual life, rather than simply trying to beef up his or her life of devotions?  How can we tap into the 2000 years of spiritual teaching that widens our view from isolated practices to a whole-life spirituality that leads us back to a quiet time like a thirsty deer to abundant streams?  How can we say “yes” to the bridegroom who is calling his beloved even in the ugliest of moments? That’s what this blog is about.

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 2

The early Christians, following the lead of Jesus’ parables and through his other teachings, began very early thinking of the church as the bride of Christ.

Take for example:

Revelation 21.9 “Then one of the angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

Like any relationship, like any marriage, intimacy is more than learning about one another. It is about cultivating a life of shared experiences and appreciation for one another in difficult times.   It is no different with God.

Fast-forward three years from my university chapel altar. Still wearing the grad ring, I had now been offered and accepted the wedding ring.   It was perhaps as I was changing a diaper or settling my bank account that reality hit.  I had a wife, a baby, and a real job.  I had taken on an occupation that confronted racism and poverty while preparing students to do just that. It all started to crush me really. The responsibilities of life outweighed a new realization: I could not solve local problems, let alone world issues, with my skills or cleverness. People were too complex.  The human heart was far more stubborn and habit ridden than I realized.  I was more broken that I had realized.  Now ten years out from that night at the university altar, I am saying that it will take my whole life to learn intimacy with God.

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 1

I began a journey about ten years ago.  It was a spiritual journey that culminated in a quiet moment within my university’s chapel.  I had followed this deep calling in my life that led me to Jesus and to a life devoted to his way and ministry.  I was mastering the spiritual life at break-neck speed.  My devotional life rocked.  I had read through most of the Bible a few times.  And I kind of sneered when my pastor’s wife lamented in one Bible study that it would take her a whole life to learn intimacy with God.  I wondered why I was flying so high.  Perhaps God had greater things in store for me.

So there I was at our university’s chapel altar.  I was kneeling alone late one night. The stained glass windows were dancing with shadows of flickering candles. I was deep in prayer.  On the floor in front of me lay my graduation ring.  A few minutes prior, I had taken it off my finger and set it before the Lord.  Internally I prayed this prayer: Lord let me be married to you.” Somehow over the course of a few years, I had intuited a long-standing Christian image.  Intimacy with the Father was something like a great marriage. It was the height of my early devotional life.  I was on fire.  I loved God and wanted to know him more.

The early Christians, following the lead of Jesus’ parables and through his other teachings, began very early thinking of the church as the bride of Christ.

2 Corinthians 11.1 “I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness.  Yes, please put up with me!  I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him”

Keith’s Big Year

This was a big year for me.

I graduated from the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality.  My wife completed a rigorous year of her master’s work.  And we somehow managed to keep raising a confident (though not altogether sane) 3 year old girl 🙂

It all culminated as I reflected at Palm Beach.  Actually I reflected as I lay on the wave line where the beach and the ocean constantly joust.  It was a spiritual moment.  Who knows what the other beach goers thought about this crazy beached man.  Eyes closed, on my back, sprawled, I lay my head on the wet sand. CRASH!  The wave came over my body.  The water ran away again.  CRASH! Another round.  Ever try this?  It can evoke real fear.  You never know when or how intense the wave will hit.  It was to me it was a grand metaphor of my year.   Taking the brunt of the ocean’s rage, the waves and sand worked together to slowly swallow my body into the earth.  It was a cruciform epiphany. All along, I cringed over the next wrathful wave to crash.

Over the course of a half hour, I slowly learned to enjoy myself.  The waves crashed just as hard, but I began to find joy in the power of the earth and its waters crashing over my legs on my torso and over my shoulders.  A peace and then an abandonment grew in me among the lily foam.

It was an abandonment hard won over 12 months.  An abandonment that helped me lead a group of students to San Diego then Cincinnati for a conference that would thrust us into modern abolition and local justice work.   It was an abandonment that gave me confidence among 13,000 Biblical Scholars in New Orleans.  It was abandonment that encouraged me to apply to PhD even so (I was accepted to 1 of 8 schools that I applied).  It was abandonment that got me through the seminars I directed for 100 pastors in post-January Haiti.  It was abandonment that I learned so acutely about in Pittsburgh finishing Epiphany.  And it was the abandonment among the Florida crest that reminded me to cast my cares to the One who holds us when the pounding waves of adventure, community brokenness, disappointment, and triumph swallow us into the ground.

Spiritual Reflection for a Global World: Finale

Our world is full of disaster and conflict.  Yet, somehow, God never-ceasingly fills our disaster and conflict with good things and good words.  It is our job to become people who can see and hear them.

I will leave behind now, my small series on Spiritual Reflection with a last word and the final step.

The last word is this:  even Jesus could not convince the religious elite that their ears and eyes were closed.  We will never convince them either.  Our role is to simply become people who take the space and time to worship, listen, argue, and apply what God gives us.  We are limited creatures.  God made us that way.  So, all we have to do is be faithful to the times that we are given and with the words and deeds that God uses in our everyday experiences to capture our attention.

Finally, after awe, careful and honest listening, and utilizing our logic, we enter into the double movement of “Affirmation and Application”.   Now, rather than refusing to accept our divine call (which emerges into our consciousness through formational attention), we can pivot from our fractured past into a future lived under God’s providing hand.  Now, we can move to the “Application of our Yes”.  We no longer have to live in worry. With our past words and deeds, we have not disobediently undone the promise of blessing in our life by the accumulation of disobedience.  We can firmly and gently enter into the implementation of our unique-communal life call inwardly confirmed that we are walking the path toward our destiny.  Like I mentioned before, this process of Spiritual Reflection for large decisions might last months, sometimes years; or, for small disclosures the process might last seconds or minutes.  Life sometimes demands split-second reflection.

Whatever the case, in order to live a life fully awakened to the revelation of our life call and the reality of its obstacles, we must build enduring spiritual eyes and ears.  Then, with the appraisal process integrated and digested into the core of our spirits, we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12.2).

The Essence of Spiritual Reflection: Part 4

Now comes logic.  Equipped with a sincere apprehension of God’s will, we argue and assess.  Do we feel consonant or dissonant about God’s nudging?  Do we have the right timing?  Perhaps there were another way to see things.  Our rationality becomes a human subset of our spiritual power.

And for all who are beginning to feel a heavy burden in spiritual reflection, remember that the essence of meditation should not be experienced as weight of responsibility; rather we trust that God is ever abundantly working out a plan for us, equipping us for our calling, and drawing us ever closer to the unique image that He implanted within us.

So to accompany logic, the move of appreciative abandonment (another term of Father Adrian’s) allows us to progress towards action knowing that the Mystery fills our lives with divine love and mercy.  Yes, the fabric of our universe demands consequences from our actions, but the Mystery unfolds a greater mission with infinite power through our feeble mistakes using all things for good.  We must let that hope guide our spiritual reflection. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously and brilliantly appropriates the insight of Theodore Parker that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Appreciative abandonment must not become a bulletproof vest for a reckless harnessing of human power and pride.  Yet, any action that follows this type of methodical abiding in awe-filled attention and after we utilize our facilities of reasoning puts us well on the journey of discovering God’s will and our unique-communal calling.  Then, when tempered by a full heart, we can hand over our projects and aspirations to the Mystery in an abandoned hope.  Thus it is true that, “In prayer, we trust God, even in the face of unknowing and uncertainty.”

The Essence of Spiritual Reflection: Part 3

We all struggle every day with what to do and who to be.  Our choices range from which scarf to buy– for your girlfriend who let you travel to Spain– to the change-the-course-of-your life decisions. How long and when we listen to the voice of God is a skill we must all learn to master.  I know of a lady who often stands in front of her open closet and lets God decide what she will wear for the day.  That may seem extreme, but in this fragmented and global age where a multi-trillion dollar advertising industry depends on influencing our identity, we must learn to trust in more than our frail cleverness.  We cannot see all ends.

van Kaam calls the second stage in spiritual reflection, “Apprehension”.  What he means is that after awe opens our spirits like like a flower to the morning sun, we are then in the best position to apprehend God’s nudging. Apprehension is like a bridge step that brings us from passive awe to an active weighing and balancing, the utilization of our God-given logic.

“Apprehension”, the second stage, therefore does not signify a timid posture; in the midst of life’s challenges we are not apprehensive.  Rather, here we can learn use a sixth sense.  Equipped with our intuition, we move carefully but quickly into acknowledgment, argumentation, and assessment (step three).

Many who did not abide in awe filled attention or whose pride secretly rules their heart falter here.  Politicians, for example, who may apprehend a logical move, may mis-assess the situation as they rationalize their way around the right response. It is important that we acknowledge our internal resistances and weigh pros and cons. But, apprehension must come first.   And, our cost analysis must always give way and be paved by brave assurance that the immense love of God will lead us toward good ends, even if it sometimes seems in the short run that our divine calling would undo our most important investments…