Over the past few weeks, I've seen, heard, and read Psalm 46. Last week JC preached on it, and the Bishop shared it as a closing prayer to clergy across the conference. It is one of my favorite scriptures because it inspires me to find peace and create peace in moments of crisis. It reminds me of the mysterious and tremendous power of God. God's presence on earth shakes the mountains and troubles the seas. God is the one that destroys the objects and obsessions of war and declares that He is the God of all. It shows God’s love of God’s people, God’s city, and all those who made up the nations (once at war), so that all that is left is God and people.
It is funny, but that is where I hang my understanding of John Wesley's image of God. He described it as our being in full relationship with God. In the scene painted by the psalm, I come to see that more clearly. By the end of the psalm, humans are merely in God's presence with one another.
That must be an exciting place. In some way, that must be what holy solitude is. Our feelings of separation are all too real for us at this moment. There are gripping anxieties, and fears to be in public, touch doorknobs, or even be in the presence of others. The concern for health, following the expertise and guidance of our medical and health professionals, is essential, but it can lead to loneliness and despair for many.
I am inspired by my wife, who hosts virtual coffee dates with friends and family. Everyone is feeling the effects of isolation. I am a social person, so I have been struggling with social distancing, but the cost of going to public spaces for human interaction is too steep, and there are many other ways to fulfill that need. Her actions gave me pause to think about my needs and worries as a person and a disciple. This time of social distancing is a time in which we can discover something about ourselves and one another. Now is a time where we can practice solitude, a time of spiritual spring cleaning if you will. It is a time to lay out those fears and anxieties we harbor in our heart of hearts and listen to how God wants us to grow.
I have learned that my business of being a pastor has affected my spiritual practices. With this unstructured time, I am remembering the importance of art, literature, and cooking as sources of my joy and catalysts for prayer and scripture reading. With the extra time for prayer, I am seeing my limitations and seeking God's hand in those areas. Also, I remember that I am a person who needs to spend more intentional time amid God’s natural creation. Tending to those spiritual practices is unraveling knots of stress and offering me a more flexible and creative mind when working alongside you all in ministry.
Spiritual solitude can sound like an odd practice to undertake. To some, it may seem like an ancient monastic (monk) practice that would have no space in modern society. I would point you to Henri Nowen’s small book The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry. He describes solitude as the furnace of transformation. Without it, we are yet slaves to our society and the selves we fashion to fit into it. Solitude is a place of the struggle (against that false self we create) and the encounter with the loving God. In scripture, we see Jesus go into the wilderness and be tempted. He was tempted with the needs of the body, with power, and with grandeur. We can relate to those same motives in our lives today. Unfortunately, it can be a ground of identity for some. Sometimes we can strive to be the most powerful, the most relevant, the perfect mother/father, or the most excellent pastor. We can quickly lose the self that God created in the pursuit of excellence. Jesus rejects those temptations and finds his identity in God. Jesus is no less relevant, compelling, or grand, as we see in the rest of the gospels. Jesus is humble and seeks to live fully with God. The challenge is knocking our idols and ideals off the sacred places in our hearts and minds that are reserved for God. It is to be fully who God created us to be. It prepares us to be vulnerable and face our greed, anger, lust, fear, or whatever else and turn to God for transformation.
In a practical sense, what does that mean? Perhaps, if you are like me, you have forgotten something in your daily prayer and devotional life. Or maybe you are struggling with following God's prompts in your personal life. Whatever it may be, God is present always to love and guide you. I encourage you to read through the Lenten devotional that the church put together. There are lovely focusing prayers to help you in this practice of solitude. Music is another powerful tool that allows us to meditate on scripture. You may have noticed the beginning of many psalms include instructions that hint that they were sung in worship. I encourage you to share psalms, hymns, and other music that comforts or inspires you with others this week.
May you grow in surprising ways during this time. May you be filled with inspiration to act on those things you discover. And may those actions bring connection, hope, kindness, and grace in this time of social distancing. Here is a psalm, a hymn, and a song! I hope they bless you.
Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown – Charles Wesley
Hand of God – Jon Bellion
I hope to see you online Sunday at NINE45, or 11:15 for worship. Blessings upon you, and I cannot wait to see you!